2007_04_food_pickledramps.jpgThe kind of attention being paid to ramp season has reached a fever pitch usually reserved for depraved celebrity gossip. Last season, after food blogger Augie enjoyed a pizza at Otto topped with ramps and a fried egg, several readers rushed over to the restaurant in attempt to order the same, and were promptly shut down by a noncompliant waitstaff. This year, Gothamist was shocked by a heaping side order of ramp greens at Telepan, and Grub Street is now reporting Mountain Sweet Berry Farm ramps have arrived at the market en masse; as ramps come to town, so goes the winter. Or something like that.

Spring vegetables such as fiddlehead ferns and morels are fickle things: their flavor profiles are nuanced; they’re hardly shelf-stable, and they all have unpredictable ETA’s. Like crispy, aloe-like fiddleheads and spongy, nutty morels, ramps are also best when foraged from forests where they grow wild, another factor complicating the vegetable equation. Greenmarket ramps from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm, and the ones sold to New York restaurants by specialty produce purveyors, are a clean, cultivated version of the wild leek. Ramps differ from regular leeks, baby ones included, in that their green parts are more leaflike, and less stalk; white ramp bulbs also pack a more intense allium (read: oniony) punch than leeks. And they’re only around for a few weeks.

Some basic information: Ramps should be kept bundled in damp paper towels, with a moderately tight outer layer of plastic wrap. To avoid hastening spoilage, ramps should be stored with their roots (if sold with intact ones). Don’t worry about any dirt or grit until you’re ready to use them. Ramps can be eaten raw or cooked; Gothamist ran a simple pickled ramp recipe last year around this time, and Epicurious has a few choice cooked-ramp recipes. Pickling is a surefire way to extend your ramp purchasing power. Provided here is a bread & butter-style recipe for pickled ramps from chef Matt Ross of East Hampton Point. Although the restaurant, which currently featuring pickled ramps on its spring menu, is perhaps more The Beach territory than New York City food world, Ross is a Pennsylvania native, where ramps grow very, very wild, so he knows what he’s talking about.

Pickled Ramps
Recipe by Matt Ross

1 pound of ramps, trimmed and cleaned

Pickling Mixture:
1 tsp yellow mustard seed
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp coriander seed
2 tsp turmeric
1 fresh bay leaf
2 cloves
2 star anise
1 cup sugar
2 cups white vinegar

Blanch ramps in 1/2 gallon of generously salted boiling water for two minutes
Bring pickling mixture to a boil and pour over the blanched ramps; let cool,
and serve.

Photo: Ramps waiting to be pickled by Rick of Rick’s Picks from Sweet Blog o’ Mine’s Flickr stream.