We have no idea how ramp-mania initially started. Because honestly, when’s the last time culinarians went rabid over scallions, or got all hot under the collar about cippollini onions (way more praiseworthy than ramps, in our mind)? 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 alike enthusiastically broadcast each sighting — “Franny’s serves ramps with bucatini and chili’s!” they cry. “Hurry, or you just might miss the spring ramps with hominy, morels, and aleppo pepper at Seersucker!”
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 tinge, 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 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 if you really want to wow your friends with ramps this season, try this studded sausage from The Vanderbilt in Prospect Heights, topped with a snap pea slaw and — glory be! — even more pickled ramps.