Unique flavor. Short season. Locally foraged. What’s not to like about ramps? These first-of-spring vegetables, a near relative of the leek and the shallot, show up on menus as soon as the first snow melts. Diners love their not-quite-garlicky, not-quite-oniony taste, and Instagrammers swoon over the first fresh green thing they’ve seen in months.
Sure, they’re sometimes hard to source, but that’s just part of their appeal for many chefs. Scoring a cache of ramps is an opportunity to get creative with menus and showcase the fresh flavors of spring.
What are chefs’ favorite ways to prepare ramps? Pickling them can help extend the season a little longer, as can adding freshly chopped ramps to compound butters that can top pasta, vegetable or protein entrees. Grinding them into a pesto can make a bright-green, over-the-top special, or you can grill or fry them as a simple—and simply delectable—side dish.
Psst … wanna buy some ramps?
If you’re lucky enough to be offered ramps, make sure they’ve been responsibly, and legally sourced. For sustainability purposes, only 10 percent of a patch should be harvested every 10 years. Once you have a forager you trust, you can begin to select the best of the bunch. Look for dark green leaves, a scallion-sized stalk, and a total length of about a foot. Slender ramps will be less woody, so look for thin stalks.
If you’re on the road during ramp season, be sure to check out some of the ramp festivals that occur throughout the southeastern United States through the end of this month. The Whitetop Mountain Ramp Festival, held in Virginia every year on the third Sunday in May, offers crafts, music and barbeque, with a Ramp Eating Contest as the highlight of the day. There’s also a ramp eating contest at the Mt. Rogers Fire Hall Ramp Festival in Whitetop, Virginia, which will be held May 20th this year. “The winner gains respect by eating ramps at record speeds,” the festival organizers promise.