Ramps, or rampion, is the name of the spring sprout of the wild leek or Allium ampeloprasum. Ramps smell like garlic and taste like leeks or onions. They grow in wet soil from South Carolina to Canada and are often the first green vegetable of Spring. They have a root end that looks like a scallion and broad leaves that look more like tulip leaves.
In the 18th century, the shores of Lake Michigan were thick with ramps, and the Indians of that era called them Chicagou. The city that sprang up on the shores of Lake Michigan is named after the vegetable. The German name for ramps is Rapunzel, the name of a fairy tale about a girl trapped in a tower. It was Rapunzel’s mother’s craving for ramps that creates the problem in the story.
My son foraged ramps on the East Coast and brought them with him to cook up for dinner. He’s a good cook, and offered to make two ramp dishes: ramps, potatoes and bacon as a side dish to barbeque and ramp pesto.
He cleaned and trimmed the ramps. Like leeks, they are sandy. In a pan, he fried till crisp, four slices of bacon. He needed the bacon grease, so he didn’t microwave the bacon. He cut red potatoes in big chunks and sauteed them in the bacon grease till they were almost tender.
He then added the ramps, the juice of half a lemon and some finely chopped fresh rosemary. The bacon, which he cut into tiny rectangles, got sprinkled over the dish at the last moment.
Plated, it looks fresh and appealing. The taste is wonderful. The smooth, bland potatoes are crispy, the bacon flavorful, and the ramps are tender but not limp with a bright garlicky flavor. It’s delicious.
There were ramps left over. Because it’s a lot of work to find and clean them, my son decided to create ramp pesto to use every last leaf and bulb. In a blender he combined pecans, the ramps–both leaves and bulbs, olive oil, salt and pepper, lemon juice and zest. It looks like guacamole, but the taste is zippy, powerful, garlicky and rich. Tomorrow, we feast on ramp pesto pasta!