Are you a ramp enthusiast, waiting eagerly for Spring so that you can tromp around the woods, seeking your wild obsession? Or are you one of the many who get a bite and say, “what was the fuss all about?”
Or are you wondering, “Why is she talking about freeway ramps? Isn’t this usually about food?”
Ramps, if you didn’t know, are a variety of wild leek. Different from chives, which also grow wild, ramps are about the same size as scallions. Their leaves are wider, flaring from the narrow base to an inch-wide tender green that tapers to a pointed tip. The leaves are much softer than those of the standard leek, and can be used in your dish. But it’s the tender bulb and stem that is most prized. Streaked with delicate pink, the little alliums are full of sweet, oniony, garlicky flavor.
So, when I saw the ramps at the Farmer’s Market, I knew I had to grab a bunch. These were particularly petite, about as wide as a pencil at the widest point. They were wonderfully fresh, foraged by the same guy who brings wild mushrooms to sell. Even in their little packet, they scented the car with a wild fragrance.
The potent little leeks are also nutrition stars, packed with anti-cancer chemicals. Like all the alliums, ramps have immune-boosting compounds that work overtime. So, adding these to your always varied and colorful diet is only going to help.
According to Harold McGee, the green parts of leeks are high in long-chain carbohydrates, which are released into the cooking liquid to create a thicker, smoother texture. That property makes leek and ramp greens good for soups and stews, or even just adding body to a vegetable stock.
I decided to put them to use in a simple risotto, where a little creamy carbohydrate is much appreciated. My perennial Sorrel plant had reached the proper size for picking, so I listened to the seasonal urges of Mother Nature, and added the lemony greens to the mix. Sorrel is a sour-tasting green, a relative of buckwheat that is high in oxalic acid. (click to read a past entry about sorrel)
The ramps are so special, I scooped out the sauteed ramp bulbs to garnish the final dish. The ramp leaves and sorrel went into the pan, then the rice, quinoa, and white wine. Half vegetable stock and half water gave the rice enough flavor, without overwhelming the starring ramps.
From there, it is all about stirring in the warm stock and water, releasing the creamy starches from the rice as it cooks. The sorrel leaves turned a little darker in the cooking, but gave the dish an tingle of tartness that really worked.
So, if you come across some ramps, snatch up a bunch and try them in this easy dish. To me, this is a summary of what’s fresh and local, right this moment, where I live. The ramps are special, and their time is fleeting.
Let me know whether you think they are worth getting excited about every Spring.
Or whether you’d rather weigh in on freeway ramps. It’s all up to you!
Ramp and Sorrel Risotto with Red Quinoa
2 cups vegetable stock
2 cups water
1 bunch ramps
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup red quinoa
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste
1 cup sorrel, chopped
1. Pour stock and water in a pan and bring to a boil. Slice the white parts of the ramps into short pieces, and the greens into half inch wide pieces. Heat the olive oil in a wide saute pan and add the ramp whites, stirring over medium high heat until tender. Take them out of the pan with your spatula to reserve for garnish. Add the greens, stir a few times.
Add rice and quinoa and saute, stirring to coat with oil. When rice is hot, add wine and salt and cook until dry. Add ladlefuls of stock to rice and cook until absorbed before adding more. Start testing the rice for doneness about 20 minutes from when you added the wine. When rice is tender but not mushy, remove from heat and stir in sorrel, taste for salt. Serve topped with the sauteed ramp pieces.