More pungent than a scallion and more precise in flavor than garlic—but reminiscent of both—the ramp is the market’s emerald harbinger of spring, and it is delicious. Here’s everything you need to know, including how to eat it.
What’s that weird thing at the farmer’s market that looks vaguely like a scallion but sports prettier, tender, more vase-worthy greens? That’s the ramp, a wild onion whose limited growing season and delightful taste have caused a boom in popularity in recent years.
Ramp season varies wildly, from a mere two weeks to about six weeks, typically starting in March or April, and they’re among the first things to go at the farmer’s market. If you spy them—they’re often labeled “wild leeks” or “wild ramps”— select those with bright-green leaves, and know that you can eat the whole bunch (after you trim off roots and the very bottom of the stems). Brace for a flavor slightly more pronounced than a leek, scallion, or onion, but less so than garlic—and somehow reminiscent of all four. Ramps can be mightily pungent, depending on where in America they grow, and they can be pricey due to their abridged season and the clamor for them.
Ramps are particularly popular in classic French, Italian, and New American preparations, but can also be used in Asian dishes. Eat them sliced thin and raw on top of rice bowls and salads or sauté them in butter or olive oil and fold them into potato salad with bacon, omelets, skillet-seared chicken dishes, or tagliatelle with cream. Spin them into pesto, toss them on to a pizza, or turn them into a wild jam. You can even broil them, as chef Hugh Acheson did for these knockout nachos.
Cooks will often call for sautéing the stems first, then adding the greens a few minutes later, similar to cooking chard, but depending on your taste for stems, sliced thinly enough, they can often go right into a pan with the greens.
The ramp is among the first signs of spring, and marks the move from the ugly but delicious veggies of winter to the tender spring cooking season. And if you want to preserve their life the whole year-round, no problem: Just pickle them!
Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Gourmet.com, Bon Appétit, Travel & Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and Epicurious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.