I caught the passion for ramps over 40 years ago at my first West Virginia Ramp Supper whose sublime menu included ramps fried in bacon fat, corn bread, smoked ham, slaw, soupy beans, applesauce. For decades, I’d travel down to West Virginia to the Helvetia Ramp Supper to get a transformative blast of ramps, both raw and cooked.

Ramp supper in Helvetia, West Virginia; lauriesmithphoto.com

One of the best descriptions I’ve heard of that first bite was written by David Voodoon Noble, also known as The Ramp Moses:

The ramp fresh out of the dirt, the three leaves, the sinful smell.  Then the first bite of the year, into the raw ramp bulb.  The richly nuanced sensations which cross the tongue, then fill the entire mouth, the full brain after that, the quick shot down the entire spinal cord and into the pulse of spring waiting within us, then the magic of the ramp and the myths.

lauriesmithphoto.com

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 many of the ramp suppers in West Virginia are over, ramps will be available into the end of May in many markets.

(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 then rotating the harvest spot every year.)

Although I’ve cooked ramps in all sorts of ways, my go to method for using them in all sorts of preparations is Italian-style, braised in olive oil. I especially love them tossed with bucatini or spaghetti and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Sally Schneider

I cook the ramps in a simple two-stage process: first I sweat the bulbs in extra virgin olive oil with a pinch of peperoncino until they are tender. Then I add their leaves, cooking them covered until they are wilted and soft. 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.

Sally Schneider

Recipe: Ramps Braised in Olive Oil

Use this method of braising  ramps in extra-virgin olive oil as a base for any number of improvisations:  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.

You can make a long-keeping confit of ramps by saving the greens for another use and adding more olive oil to the bulbs, cooking them at low heat until they are tender. Transfer to a clean dry jar and refrigerate to use the rampy oil and bulbs to jazz up your cooking.

Makes roughly 1 1/2 cups

1 1/4 -to 1 1/2 pounds fresh ramps
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil or half oil and half butter OR rendered bacon or pancetta fat
1/8-1/4 teaspoon crushed dried Italian red pepper (peperoncino) or red pepper flakes
Salt

To clean ramps that still have their roots attached: Trim off the roots with a paring knife and slip off any discolored or dead skin the clings to the bulbs. If they are dirty, 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). Turn the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally,  until the bulbs are very tender and the greens are no longer stringy.  Turn off the heat. They’re read to use in whatever way you like; you can store them in the fridge for several days.

Recipe: Bucatini with Ramps, Olive Oil and Parmigiano

Here the braised ramps are tossed with pasta and Parmigiano Reggiano, a wild play on the classic Italian pasta with garlic, pepperoncino and greens.

The ramps are also delicious cooked with pancetta or bacon instead of the olive oil. Dice the pancetta and  cooked covered until crisp and the fat is rendered; then proceed as directed.

4 servings

Ramps Cooked in Olive Oil (see recipe above)
3/4-1 pound dry pasta such as bucatini, penne, linguine or orecchiette
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 – 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino cheese

Heat the olive-oil-braised ramps over low heat in a shallow saucepan or skillet. Cover and keep warm.

Put a large pot of water on to boil; salt the boiling water well. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still slightly firm to the bite. Using a measuring cup, scoop out about 1/4 cup of the cooking water and reserve.  Drain the pasta well.

Add the pasta and cooking water to the pasta pot and stir in the cooked ramps, using a rubber spatula to get every bit of the delicious oil.  Bring to a boil for 30 seconds. Toss to coat the pasta well , seasoning with salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper.  Divide the pasta among four warm shallow soup bowls. Serve at once passing the cheese on the side.

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