This time of year I keep my eye out for ramps, a stunning wild and rare plant with a unique flavor all of its own. Ramps have two green leaves the color of spring green with an oniony stem that turns from green to purple to a creamy white at the bulb and root end. I believe they are as beautiful to look at as it is to eat, but I am a total fan of green and purple foods.
There are countless ways to prepare ramps, but my favorite way is to grill them. When grilled, the harsh garlicky bite turns sweet and compliments the smoky flavor from the grill. If you have never tried them before, grilled ramps are simply delicious and the perfect introduction to their unique onion flavor. All you need are a couple of grilled ramps to pair with your favorite grilled fish, meat or vegetables with a side of potato salad for a memorable spring BBQ feast.
Likewise, grilled ramps make an excellent hors d’oeuvres. Mix them with fresh ricotta cheese and lemon zest then smear it on grilled French bread. The ricotta tones down the sharp bite from the ramps but is makes a creamy garlicky lemon blend that tastes great on grilled toast. Only use fresh ricotta cheese and not the commercial brands. The ricotta flavor of these toasts stand out with the ramps and commercial ricotta just doesn’t sing the way homemade or freshly bought ricotta does. Seared toast with a smear of ricotta cheese and grilled ramps are a crowd-pleasing appetizer at any cocktail party, graduation party, or picnic in the park.
If you want to have a more potent grilled ramp flavor, omit the ricotta just add 1-2 grilled ramps per slice of bread. Chop them up and arrange them decoratively on each slice then add a squeeze of lemon juice right before serving.
Ramps are a member of the Allium family with a harvest season of only three weeks in May/June. The taste is like a cross between garlic cloves, scallions and leeks yet has its own unique garlicky-oniony flavor. Often ramps are referred as wild leeks or spring onions, ramps are neither. They are simply and uniquely ramps.
Because they are rare and only grow in the wild, people get ecstatic when they spot them at the farmer’s market or out in the wild. Like a lot of rare food finds they have a devoted following among chefs, home cooks, and foragers. But their popularity has led to some problems. As I was researching ramps for my post, I learned that ramps are on the protected plant list in Quebec Canada and on the watch list along the eastern continental United States.
The reason for the protection status is because of over harvesting combined with the length of time it takes for ramps to make seeds, germinate seeds and grow mature enough for harvesting. Like a lot of wild plants, it takes several years. Because of the slow germination period, as explained in this article in Epicurious, only 10% of a single crop should get harvested over the course of the season. Unfortunately, as with most trendy wild foods, they are in high demand and command a high price. The higher the price the greedier foragers get and pull up more ramps than the regulated amount and the plant cannot sustain its life cycle.
Eat Ramps Responsibility
Once I learned about ramps protected status in Canada and being on the watch list in the US, I felt very guilty not only for buying them but posting a recipe with ramps as the main focus. I take these concerns very seriously. Yet, I believe if we eat ramps as a special treat and not excessively then the ramp population can sustain itself. It is the consumer’s responsibility to demand responsible behavior from the farmer and not support foragers and markets that do not follow the guidelines for foraging ramps. If we get greedy and take more that is sustainable and buy from individuals not following the rules, there is a strong likelihood ramps will get protected status list as it is in Canada. Hopefully chefs, and especially celebrity chefs, will take action and help protect ramps like they have done in the past.
More Ways to Cook with Ramps
Add fresh ramps as a substitute for chives in Cheese and Chive Herb Bread.
Replace the leeks with chopped and sautéed ramps then add to Leek Asparagus Risotto.
Mince then sauté ramps then add to the Farro with Mushrooms and Rosemary.
Use sautéed ramps to replace the garlic in Garlic Bread.
Grilled Ramps, Two Ways
Grilled Ramps are delicious hot of the grill or minced into fresh ricotta cheese and smeared on toasted French bread.
Serve hot grilled ramps with your favorite grilled meat or fish like Arctic char or with other grilled vegetables. Or, mix them up with fresh ricotta cheese, lemon zest and mint then smear on toasted bread for a crowd-pleasing appetizer. Perfect for a cocktail party.
Substitute grilled or braised leeks for the ramps with one clove of roasted garlic.
The toasts are best eaten as soon as they are make or the bead will get soggy and stale.
- 16 ramps
- 1 Tb Extra Virgin Olive oil
- 1 pinch of Kosher Salt
Grilled Toast with Grilled Ramps and Ricotta
- 12 slices of French baguette cut thin on the diagonal
- ½ lb. fresh ricotta cheese
- 16 grilled ramps
- Zest from half a lemon
- 5-6 small mint leaves chiffonade
- Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat your grill, gas or charcoal to up high with the charcoal pushed to one side.
Clean, dry and trim off the root from each ramp. Cut away any soggy parts of the leaves, if any. Place the ramps on a rimmed sheet pan and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil then sprinkle with Kosher salt. Toss the ramps about using your hands to get the olive oil and salt evenly distributed over the ramps.
When your grill is hot, lay the ramps in a single layer over your grill and away from the coals to cook with indirect heat. Turn them over after a couple of minutes and grill the other side until charred and beginning to get soft.
You can also grill ramps indoors with a grill pan on a burner. Depending on the size of your grill pan, you will need to grill the ramps in batches.
Remove from the heat and enjoy hot or make into an appetizer. If serving as a side dish figure on 2 ramps per person.
Crispy Toast with Grilled Ramps and Ricotta
Toast both sides of your bread until browned on your grill or under the broiler. Set aside.
Place the ricotta in a small mixing bowl. Cut the green leaves off the ramps and mince the ramp bulbs . Add them to the ricotta.
Set aside a few, about 3, ramp leaves for garnish. Chop up the remaining leaves and add to the ricotta.
Grate the lemon zest into the ricotta and add the chiffonade mint. Stir everything together and taste. Correct the seasoning with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Spread a spoonful, about 1 tablespoon, of the ricotta and ramp mixture over each toasted slice of bread. Garnish with thin strips of grilled ramp leaves and lemon zest. Serve immediately.
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