We're coming to the end of the ramps season. I won't promise not to mention them again till next spring, but I'm eager to move on to asparagus, salads, and more summery things. It's probably true that ramps are a little over-hyped, and, in the stores, a little overpriced. For a wild foods enthusiast, though, they are also a genuine reason to celebrate--the first of the year's seasonal wild foods, delicious, abundant, versatile. I'll jump on that bandwagon.
In an "average" year we would probably be picking ramps into early June, but an extremely warm April got the ramps up and going, and now that the plants are sending up flower stalks the greens start to die back. You can still dig up the bulbs through the summer and fall, if you know how to find them, but I feel they're definitely best as a ritual of spring.
I unearthed a nice sackful of ramps last week for a last blast rampage. The greens weren't much good, but the bulbs were nice and plump. My main project for the season's last ramps was to try pickling a couple pounds of them. I should know by now that small-batch pickling is as easy as making a pot of soup, but still for some reason I find the prospect daunting. In fact, for these ramps pickled more or less following David (Momofuku) Chang's recipe, the hardest part was cleaning and trimming the ramps. This brine is lovely; it's a near-perfect balance of sweet, sour, and salt. Chang's recipe calls for rice wine vinegar, but to give it that Bide-A-Wee twist I used some of our own apple cider vinegar. Good quality unpasteurized cider vinegar is available in bulk at many co-ops.
2 cups water
1 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
scant 2 Tbsp salt
2 small dried red chilies, seeds removed (or leave them in if you want more heat)
1 tsp black peppercorns
Cleaned ramp bulbs with a couple inches of the stem left on
I had a pound and a half of cleaned ramp bulbs, which filled two tightly packed pints with quite a bit of brine left over. Two pounds of ramps would make three pints without being compulsive about packing efficiency. Leftover brine can be used to pickle something else.
Combine all the ingredients in a non-reactive saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for a minute or two. Line up the ramps prettily in the jar. Make sure each jar gets a bit of chili and a few peppercorns. Pour brine over the ramps to cover. Refrigerate.
Having never made these before, I'm not sure how long it will take for the ramps to become fully pickled. A couple of weeks at least, I'm sure. Refrigerated, they should keep for a few months.
I didn't wait to use mine. The very night I made them they went into two preparations. The first was a dangerously appealing "ramp-a-tini," a couple ounces of gin, capful of dry vermouth, twist of lemon, and around a teaspoon of the pickled ramps brine. Finish off with a garnish of a pickled ramp.
I sipped one of those while we put together a simple but delicious dinner of grilled pork steaks served over baby garden greens tossed with a creamy pickled ramp dressing.* To wit:
2 Tbsp heavy cream
2 Tbsp sour cream
1 Tbsp pickled ramp brine
1 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 pickled ramp bulbs, chopped fairly fine
2 tsp oil (something neutral like canola or sunflower)
salt and pepper to taste
Just mix it all together well and toss it with some hearty young greens. Our salad bowl this night contained frisée, red kale, baby turnip and red mustard greens, arugula, some lettuce. You don't want to do this very delicate lettuces. Here's what ours looked like:
Topped with your simply grilled pork steak, it should look like this:
And finally, the formula for the maple-ramp glaze I mentioned last post. In a small saucepan combine:
1/2 cup real maple syrup
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup chopped ramps--you can use the whole thing, whites and greens, if the greens are still nice; and, I haven't made it with pickled ramps, but I don't see why that wouldn't be good
Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Use it to glaze grilled chicken or pork toward the end of the cooking time. For the chicken pictured below, I added about a teaspoon of chili paste (sambal) to the glaze.
* This dressing was also inspired by a Momofuku recipe, for a buttermilk ranch dressing with pickled ramps, but the first time I made it I just used raw ramps. To make it that way, omit the brine, of course, and increase the vinegar to 2 teaspoons rather than 1 1/2; also add a couple of good pinches of sugar, or to taste.
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw