Jim Dillon of The Thousand Dollar Shop recently sent us this image of a unique play on ramps — wild leeks — that he tasted at Sobban, a local Korean-Southern fusion restaurant in Georgia which is his neck of the woods: Shrimp and Ramp Yakidori and Kimchi Rice Sushi Rolls wrapped with ramps instead of sheets of nori seaweed. Jim summed it up: Korean food concepts with Southern ingredients. PERFECT! a fine example of the way basic techniques can be used with a variety of ingredients, even those seemingly far afield. The key: using your imagination, asking WHAT IF? and seeing what happens. WHAT IF you used ramp leaves instead of seaweed to make sushi? I can’t count all the ways I’ve improvised with ramps, from pickling them, to infusing bourbon with them (long story) to my favorite sandwich: a slab of hot cornbread split and slathered with butter enclosing raw ramp leaves. In addition, I HIGHLY recommend Cyd McDowell’s recipe for ramp butter, which you can wrap and freeze, to have the enlivening taste of ramps for months.
Long ago, I devised an essential simple for cleaning ramps and then stewing them in olive oil (bacon or pancetta fat will work too), to make a mess o’ramps you can pair use in all sorts of ways: … as a side dish… …tossed with cooked pasta with Parmigiano Reggiano… …mixed into scrambled eggs… ….mixed into mashed potatoes or home fries …mixed into a basic risotto… …on toast with melted aged sheep’s milk cheese…
You get the idea. Once you know the basics you can go to town in all sorts of ways. The essential thing to know about a ramp is this: A ramp is really made up of two parts: the bulb is like across between that of a scallion or young spring onions and garlic. Firey when raw, it needs time to cook and mellow. The greens are just that: greens. They may be eaten raw, as an addition to salads, or sauted until wilted and tender. The best way to keep fresh raw ramps is to store them in a container with their roots in water, loosely covered with a plastic bag.
Recipe: Sally’s Basic Ramp-Cooking Method for Improvising
4 or so servings
1 1/4 -to 1 1/2 pounds fresh ramps
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil or half oil and half butter
1/8-1/4 teaspoon crushed dried Italian red pepper (peperoncino) or red pepper flakes
To clean ramps, trim off the roots with a paring knife and slip off any discolored or dead skin the clings to the bulbs. If the bulbs are still full of dirt, wash the ramps in several changes of water and drain well. (As you clean the ramps, stack into loose bundles, so the bulbs and leaves are lined up; this will make them easier to cut). Place on a cutting board and cut off the bulbs; cut the leaves in half crosswise. Reserve both bulbs and leaves.
In a large nonstick skillet, set over low heat, combine the the ramp bulbs, olive oil and 1/3 cup water; cover and cook until the bulbs are soft about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the peperoncino, and cook, tossing frequently, about 1 minute.
Add the ramp greens to the pan along with 1/2 teaspoon salt and about 3 tablespoons water. Cover and cook over moderately high heat, tossing frequently until the greens are tender and the water has completely evaporated about 5 minutes (if the water evaporates before the greens are cooked, add tablespoon or two more to the pan.) If too much water is left in the pan once the vegetables are cooked through, uncover, increase the heat to high and boil it off, or simply drain it off). Turn the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bulbs and greens are meltingly tender and the greens are no longer stringy.