We’re not exactly sure when ramp mania first started. But there’s no denying that in the last few years, the onset of spring has been officially marked by the appearance of ramps on restaurant menus. Food blogs, newspapers, magazines and Twitter feeds enthusiastically broadcast each sighting – “Gramercy Tavern serves Kale and Radish Salad with Ramp Dressing!” they cry. “Hurry, or you just might miss the Grilled Ramps served with Roasted, Free-Range Chicken at Tipsy Parson!”
So what exactly is this elusive onion that’s taken the culinary world by storm? A perennial wild leek, the ramp has broad, edible green leaves and a tender stalk and bulb with a purplish hue, similar to a scallion in taste and texture. They can be found growing in groups in forested areas throughout much of the U.S and Southern Canada, and have been a popular foraged food for hundreds of years. Ramps are one of the first edible plants to pop out of the ground after a long, cold winter, making them a surefire harbinger of spring. But their season is especially short… the fragrant little onions are gone for good by mid-to-late May.
So what to do with a bounty of ramps if you happen to find them in the woods, or more likely, during a jaunt to the local Greenmarket? If they haven’t already been cleaned (a good sign, by the way), peel off the papery skin, use cold water to wash off the dirt, and use a sharp knife to remove the roots, leaving the entire bulb intact. Dry them carefully with a towel to remove all the water, then bundle them together to help retain moisture and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Essentially, you can substitute ramps for any recipe that calls for onions or garlic (they also make a mean pesto). But why not really showcase your ramps by leaving them whole, and preparing them as simply as possible? Blanch and toss with butter, sauté with garlic and oil as a topping for pasta, roast and serve with meat or fish, or make a quick, tasty pickle, so you can savor their flavor any season.
Would you rather go the restaurant route? Now’s the time. Floyd Cardoz is firing things up at North End Grill in Battery Park with a Grilled Ramp and Mushroom Pizza, topped with Bacon and homemade Ricotta. And George Mendes adds ramps to Sea-Salted Chatham Cod at Aldea in the Flatiron District, which is served with a Soft Poached Egg and White Asparagus. You’ll find multiple riffs on ramps at Riverpark: Try Grilled Chicken with Freekah, Sugar Snap Peas, Spring Onions, Spring Garlic and Ramps, Whole Roasted Black Bass with Sauteed Ramps and Lemon Vinaigrette, or Crispy Sweetbreads with Ramps and an Aracuana Hen Egg. In Brooklyn, The Vanderbilt in Prospect Heights flavors pork sausage with ramps, making a snappy-skinned Rampwurst topped with Pickled Ramps and Sweet Pea Slaw. And at Seersucker on Smith Street, Rob Newton lets his ramps really shine by serving them as an entrée, accompanied by Morel Mushrooms, Custard, Hominy, and Aleppo Pepper.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For the next month, expect menus to be positively brimming with ramp-centric dishes… and we plan to make a concentrated effort to try them all!
North End Grill
104 N. End Avenue at Vesey St
31 W 17th Street Btwn the Avenue Of The Americas and 5th Ave
450 E 29th Street Btwn 1st Ave and the East River
570 Vanderbilt Avenue Btwn Pacific and Dean Sts
329 Smith Street at Carroll St