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What to do with ramps, spring's most fashionable ingredient

Seeing ramps at your local farmers market but not sure what to do with them? Here are some tips and ideas.
/ Source: TODAY
Trimmed rampsMaggie Shi/TODAY

We're well into spring, and that means one thing for farm-to-table chefs and in-the-know home cooks—it's ramp season! Also known as wild leeks, these garlicky, oniony alliums resemble scallions but have broad, flat green leaves, similar to lilies of the valley. At this time of year, you'll often see bunches of them at your local famers market selling for around $20 a pound (yep, pricey).

In recent years, hip chefs and foodies have become obsessed with ramps, partially due to their elusive nature—they're harvested wild and are only available for a few happy weeks every spring. Plus, they're one of the first greens that are available after a long, cold, vegetable-deprived winter. Seeing ramps at your local farmers market but not sure what to do with them? Here are some tips and ideas:

  • When buying ramps, ask the farmer how they're harvested. Because ramps have become so wildly popular over the past few years, there are have been issues with over-harvesting and depleting the supply. Responsible farmers make sure they're harvesting sustainably by leaving some plants behind to re-populate the area for the next growing season; some advocate harvesting only the leaves and part of the white, leaving the bulbs and roots in the ground.
  • If you're not using your ramps right away, store them in an unsealed plastic bag loosely wrapped with a damp paper towel in the fridge. The leaves will start to wilt after a couple days, so it's ideal to cook your ramps as soon as possible for maximum flavor and freshness.
  • To prep ramps, trim off and discard the roots, then rinse well in water, as they can be pretty gritty. You can slice or chop the entire thing; slice only the whites, as you would a scallion, and leave the green leaves whole; or leave the entire ramp intact, depending on how you're using it.

Ready to get cooking? Ramps are incredibly easy to use. You can often substitute them in place of scallions, onions, or garlic in your favorite recipes for a slightly different flavor. Or try these favorite ways to enjoy ramps:

Maggie Shi/TODAY
  • Make ramp pesto. Instead of basil, use an equal amount of ramps (both the white part and leaves). You'll end up with a pungent, garlicky sauce that's great tossed with pasta, spread on crostini, or served with chicken or firm white fish. (Tip: You can blanch the greens first to preserve their color and make the flavor a little milder.)
  • Add to scrambled eggs. Slice the whites, and chop the leaves or keep them whole—whichever you prefer. Saute in some butter, then add beaten eggs and scramble until just set.
  • Use as a pizza topping. Scatter whole ramps on your pie along with your favorite toppings (mushrooms make a nice pairing), then bake as you normally would for a fun spring twist on your typical pizza.
  • Toss with pasta. Chop the whites, leave the greens whole, and saute both in olive oil. Toss with spaghetti and serve garnished with lemon zest and grated Parmesan.
  • Mix into mashed potatoes. Saute the whites and greens, then stir into your favorite mashed potatoes. You can also toss sauteed ramps with roast potatoes to add a garlicky hit.
  • Serve as a side dish. Ramps are delicious and substantial enough to eat all on their own; simply chop the whites, then saute along with the leaves in olive oil, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Easiest of all, and oh-so-good
Ramp Rubbed Chicken