Some say that an article I wrote many years ago in Saveur about the ramp festival in Helvetia, West Virginia helped ignite the passion for ramps — pungent wild leeks — that sweeps across the country every spring was. A farmer at the Union Square Greenmarket in NYC read it and realized that he had ramps growing on his property in the Catskills. He started selling them, and eventually organized a ramp festival at the market, spreading the hunger for them like wild fire.
I would love to think it is true but more likely ramps’ popularity is due to the kind of spontaneous combustion that happens periodically in the food world, where cooks in different places simultaneously discover a new flavor, technique or ingredient.
Being a truly wild food that seems to defy cultivation of any scale, ramps are a rare thing in today’s commodified world. They are truly delicious and have the effect of rooting whoever eats them powerfully in the season. Though the ramps suppers in West Virginia are over, ramps will be available into the end of May in many markets. They are even available by mail order from Etsy.
(Like any wild food, ramps should be bought should be bought from a vendor that harvests them in a sustainable manner, always leaving some undug in the patch to keep them propagating, and rotating the harvest spot.
Although I’ve cooked ramps in all sorts of ways, I especially love them braised in olive oil and tossed with bucatini or spaghetti and Parmigiano Reggiano.
I cook the ramps in a simple two-stage process: first I sweat the bulbs in extra virgin olive oil (or bacon or pancetta fat) with a pinch of peperoncino until they are tender. Then I add their leaves, cooking them covered until they are tender. This results are a mellow garlicky-oniony green that is delicious in endless ways: as a side dish, or topping for bruschetta, to fill an omelet, or layer into a potato gratin…I love them as is with shavings of sheep’s milk cheese. And of course, they make a sublime pasta per the recipe below.