Ramps Revisited

Ramps and I started off on the wrong foot this year. It’s nothing personal against ramps; I just want to hate them because they’re so hip. But that’s not really fair. Ramps are pretty great: for one thing, they’re members of the onion family, and I could never hate an allium for long. And, in Minnesota at least, ramps start to appear well before even the earliest spring onions. Given the choice between locally-grown ramps and green onions trucked in from California, I’ll take the ramps.

In most cases, you won’t even notice the difference substituting ramps for green onions. One of Martha and my favorite dishes is a “Mexican Caesar Salad” (which comes from [cough] the Chevy’s & Rio Bravo FreshMex Cookbook; also, Mexican caesar salad? Where does caesar salad come from?) that combines green onions with cilantro, garlic, mayonnaise, anchovies and lime juice. I’d like to say that my sensitive palate picked up the extra grassy notes contributed by the ramps, but up against flavors like those they don’t stand a chance. Possibly a waste of good ramps, but on the other hand if you happened into a wild ramp bonanza and have more ramps than you know what to do with, this is not a bad way to use a few.

But what if you want the flavor of the raw ramps to stand out more? One of the best ways I know to highlight the flavors of fresh raw vegetables is spring rolls; what could be more spring-like than the flavor of fresh veggies rolled together with bean threads in a rice paper wrapper? Nothing, that’s what. Besides thinly-sliced ramps, I rolled in carrots, jalapeños, mint, cilantro, bean threads and cilantro chicken sausage from The Wedge. As the only onion the ramps contributed a distinct pungency but were balanced by the other flavors.

To some people, the idea of eating raw ramps –no matter what they’re balanced with – would seem barbaric. Ramps can be cooked too! They are excellent with eggs; I sautéed some thinly sliced ramps in butter until they were just starting to brown before stirring in a few eggs and queso fresco to make a frittata. With only mild cheese and eggs to stand in their way this was the best dish I’ve made recently for showcasing the unique flavor of ramps. They’d also  make a fine substitute for chives in topping scrambled eggs.

The challenge with ramps is that their timing – far and away the first vegetables of spring – makes them feel like they should be  treated with a special reverence. But hey, they’re just onions. By using ramps as a more everyday ingredient, I was able to taste them in unexpected ways.

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One comment on “Ramps Revisited”

  1. Brett Laidlaw 29 April, 2010 at 5:43 am

    I tip my sombrero to your Mexican caesar, and the rest of those delightfully rampy creations. You know, when I was teaching in China, way back when, in Chengdu, Sichuan province, I discovered that you could only get spring rolls in…wait for it…spring! Vendors would show up in the market for a few weeks with little portable stove-skillet combos and cook up the wrappers right there, stuff them with noodles and veg fresh from the market. Then they would disappear, not to return until the following spring.

    Happy ramping, happy spring~ Brett

    p.s.~ Stir-fried fiddleheads and ramps for us last night, just a splash of rice wine and soy.

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