Ramp mania, otherwise known as ramp season, is a brief but glorious time in the spring as ramps make their very short but loud descent on the cooking scene. Whether you first notice them on restaurant menus — think ramp pasta, pizzas, pesto and more — or find yourself scrambling to the farmers market early in the morning before they sell out, ramps are a delicious addition to any dish.
Technically a wild onion, and also called a wild leek, ramps have a garlicky-onion flavor and in the allium family along with scallions, leeks and onions, and can be used pretty much interchangeably with them, though they have a bit of a sharper, stronger taste. Physically, they are more similar to a scallions in size, except that they have flatter, wider leaves.
The entire ramp, other than its root end, is edible, which lends itself to being used in a variety of dishes. Simply sauté them so that the leaves wilt and the bulbs become tender, grill or roast them for charred and crunchy leaves, then add them onto pizza, mix them into pasta or pickle them to stretch out their season. You can also mince the bulb as a base for a dish rather than (or in addition to) garlic or onions, and then use the leaves to make pesto so it can be frozen and enjoyed throughout the year.
In the following recipes, a ramp dressing that mixes the bulbs with apple cider vinegar and whole-grain mustard is used three ways: to dress an everyday salad, a sheet-pan chicken dinner with roasted ramps, garlic and lemons and a potato salad. Because of ramps' hyper seasonal availability, you can sub 2 scallions, white and light green parts thinly sliced, plus 1 small garlic clove, grated or minced, for the minced ramp bulbs in the dressing to make these recipes year-round.
The ramps lend a gentle garlicky-onion flavor to the dishes without overpowering them, so that the bright, mustardy dressing can also be spooned over lox and toast, poured over hot, crispy potatoes or served with roasted salmon or seared scallops.
If you’re unfamiliar with ramps, here are some quick tips for storing and preparing ramps:
Storing: Wrap the ramps in a damp paper towel and store in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to a week.
Prepping: Like scallions, ramps have a thin film on them that needs to be removed (you can do it after cooking too, but it’s easier before). Once you trim the very end of the bulb with the roots, the rest of the ramp is edible. Make sure to wash the ramps well, as dirt can hide in the crevices of the leaves as well as the bulb.
Ramps are used two ways in this recipe: First, the whole ramp is added to the sheet pan so that the leaves become crunchy, almost like kale chips, while the bulbs soften. The garlic and lemon rinds caramelize and are seasoned by the chicken as it roasts so that everything has a rich flavor to it. The dressing is then poured over the chicken and ramps, giving it that necessary final touch of acidity. Serving it with bread to soak up all of the pan juices is a must, and making little chicken, lemon, garlic and ramp sandwiches is also highly recommended.
More of a German-style potato salad, this recipe cuts the potatoes before boiling them, rather than after cooking to save time. I’m a firm believer that the potatoes need to be hot to properly absorb the dressing and find that cutting hot potatoes involves more work than I would like to do. As you’ll see, the dressing is increased in this recipe to make sure that it coats all of the potatoes. The ramp leaves are also added to the boiling potatoes during the last 30 seconds of cooking so that the raw taste is removed, and they add a pleasant texture and color contrast to the dish.
This crunchy, tangy and creamy salad is balanced out by the ramp dressing and prime for variations and substitutions. Swap the toasted sunflower seeds for pumpkin, add in halved cherry tomatoes or crunchy radishes, depending on what you have in the fridge. It’s very forgiving and can be made year-round with the garlic-scallion dressing variation.