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Inspired Ingredients – Ramps

You may have heard a bit of hubbub about ramps in recent years. Or maybe you haven't––I myself hadn't heard of them until five or six years ago! All the more reason to read this blog to learn about them, because holy shit people, ramps are one of the greatest things that exist in the food world, and if you've not had them yet, you are truly missing out.

My friend Justin described the flavor of ramps as "like onion, garlic, and mushroom all rolled in one." I think he's spot-on. These wild members of the allium family grow wild only in Appalachia and some swaths of the midwest, only for about a month, and only in North America. Too bad for my robust contingent of international readers. The first time I had them was at Cobble Hill in Cedar Rapids, one of my favorite, go-to restaurants. Since then, I had been able to purchase them at my beloved Central Market in Austin, and roundabout April each year, I would buy some every time I visited. I even found some wild ramps off a popular walking trail in Iowa once!

I had my first ramps of the season this year at Victoria Blamey's residency at Stone Barns (review forthcoming!) but hadn't been able to find any in Charlotte. This past weekend, I drove through Asheville, which is right in the neighborhood of where ramps grow, and has a robust culinary market and hence strong demand for them, so I found plenty of gorgeous, just-foraged ramps at the Western North Carolina Farmers Market. I bought two bunches for $7, a total steal, and took some to my friends Justin and Jake's house, where we spent Sunday having our own little ramp festival!

One thing about ramps––they grow all over Appalachia, but they aren't cultivated, and have been subject to over-harvesting in recent years because of their insane cult popularity. Moreover, a crop of ramps takes five to seven years under ideal conditions to grow and mature! If you go out and seek them, it's a good idea to not take much of the patch. Some people say you should dig down and cut the bulb just above the roots, leaving the roots intact so they can grow again. Another thing you can do is replant the roots after you cut them at home, either back in the wild or in your own garden. I have also heard, however, that just being conservative about the amount of harvesting you do of a patch is sufficient, and many foragers will sell you ramps with roots included and insist they were sustainably harvested. Such was the case this weekend in Asheville. Just be aware and conscientious if you are to find them out in the wild!

You can do so many things with ramps, and the entire plant (besides the roots) is edible. They also are loaded with nutrients and vitamins, and have been used as natural medicine in indigenous and Appalachian cultures for centuries. I have made ramp pesto, ramp hummus, ramp jam, pickled ramps, grilled ramps, ramp frittatas, ramp scrambles... the possibilities are endless. And their flavor and aroma... so glorious. Your kitchen will smell of ramps for hours.

This past weekend, I shared one bunch of my Asheville ramps with friends Justin and Jake. Our first ramp dish was scrambled eggs, something that ramps elevate instantly. I split the bulb from the leaves and sliced the bulb horizontally like a leek, cooking it in butter for a bit until slightly transparent and fragrant. Then I chopped the leaves and added them at the end of the cooking until wilted. We added some cheese and truffle salt and white pepper, and the results were fantastic!

The best thing, though, was the ramp pesto we made. Your standard pesto recipe is just fine, but replace the basil with the ramps, and turn down the garlic a shade. I would suggest keeping a little bit of basil in there as well for a balanced flavor. We used olive oil, gloriously salty pecorino cheese, walnuts, and a bit of salt. You can also include a bit of lemon juice if you want a bit of tang. We tossed some pasta in the fragrant pesto and topped with pecorino, and it was so good that all three of us licked our bowls, and Justin took a rubber spatula to the food processor when he was doing the dishes.

It's a special crime to waste ramps, so if you want to preserve them, pickling them is a good idea, or you can make a glorious ramp jam and have the magic of ramps for months after their season. Ramp jam includes sugar, white balsamic vinegar, and bay leaf, and is a magical mix of sweet and savory. Goes great with all sorts of meats, but especially duck!

Some things I am excited to try with ramps: gremolata, chimichurri, and also deep-fried ramps, which I've heard are staples at ramp festivals in Appalachia! Might make some ramp chimi or gremolata with a steak.

Look for ramps at farmers markets or specialty grocery stores in the later spring months, or go foraging for them if you're in the midwest and points east (and north of Georgia). Just remember not to hog them!

There's so much exciting stuff coming up on the blog, for the two of you that read it! The semester is almost over and I am looking forward to a full THREE MONTHS of vaccinated summer travel, spanning 14 states and four countries! Here are some things you can look forward to:

  • Restaurant reviews from my first trip to San Francisco since 2019, including the temple of culinary artistry, Atelier Crenn.

  • A post about how to eat healthily (and fabulously!) while camping.

  • Review of the Red Iguana, the greatest Mex place ever.

  • Restaurant reviews from Chicago, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Miami, Charleston, Dallas, and Anchorage.

  • A look at Peru's culinary scene, including a visit to one of the best restaurants in the world in Lima.

  • More reviews of Stone Barns' Chef in Residence meals.

  • My first time salmon fishing in Alaska!

  • A look at Qatar Airways' QSuites.

  • Food and wine reviews in Greece.

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