The time has finally come again — high suns, warm days, cool nights and soft earth.
Vermont has entered her muddy, beloved spring, and with it comes the most eager of forageable delicacies: the humble ramp.
Like many forageables, timing matters when finding the garlicky, spicy ramp, which has deep red under-stalks and graceful, silky green leaves that wilt like ballerina arms under the shade.
With the chilly, early spring, morels, crocuses and ramps make their only appearance of the year for several weeks as the earliest gifts of Vermont’s deep, lovely woods.
Ramps are extraordinary. Fresh out of the ground they are more tender than spinach, with stalks a bright fuchsia gradient leading down into a scallion-like bulb that is driven down deep into the earth.
Bulbs are spicy, fresh, juicy and semi-sweet, and wonderful when plucked from their leaves and pickled in sugar and vinegar, especially with some floral chilies or herbs like cilantro or Thai basil. Stuff the mason jar with bulbs and fresh herbs, cover with a mixture of equal parts white vinegar and sugar, add some fresh sliced chilies, screw on the lid and water can it for several minutes to have pickled ramps for cheeseburgers and sandwiches.
Procuring them requires nothing grand. Simply plunge your hands deep into the icy cold, black earth to uproot these wild beauties, clean and de-throne them as you would green onions, and wrap in paper towels in zip loc bags to preserve.
They’re prefect with nearly everything rich, providing a nice bright, acidic and spicy note to buttery and rich dishes — grassy and with very subtle shades of natural sugar and a juicy crisp.
But as a chimichurri or pesto or in a basic marinade, ramps are the Lady Galadriel of greens. They’re delicate and yet pungent, the perfect accidental or experimental ingredient to make your dinner guests say “whoa ... what is that?”
Here, we’ll make a pesto to use over some grilled lamb.
Add around two cups of ramps to a blender or food processor and add half a cup of good olive oil (or butter), a teaspoon of your favorite mustard and at least one cup of toasted pine nuts or other toasted nuts (pecans and almonds work as well if you prefer). Pulse in the blender until they and the ramps are a delicate and paste-like texture, and be sure to include good salt and fresh pepper.
Bear in mind: butter is better to use if grilling because it sticks better when rubbing.
My partner picked up a butterflied leg of lamb, a gorgeous ruby and fatty beauty that I patted and dried with paper towels. Smother your meat surface with your pulverized ramp mixture, and let sit at room temperature while you pour a good glass of red wine. The ramps will get to know their new home, and the pores of the meat will open further to the oils of their wild counterparts.
Heat your grill to about 400 degrees and grease or butter extensively. Place your meat skin or outer-side down, lower the heat to low-medium (about 300 degrees) and allow to sear. Baste your inner side with butter as the skin becomes dry, and as you become frustrated with your mother in law, who said she would be there 30 minutes ago to help watch the kids.
In a catch pan, grab as much fat as you can and use it as a wash for some small, good red or fingerling potatoes. Their skin is tight and will pop and crack when roasted. Toss them in the meat fat and fresh rosemary with black pepper, salt and a touch of paprika.
Once your meat is overturned, baste it again in your ramp mixture and close the grill to impart your flavors. Take the rest of your ramp mixture and mix it with one tablespoon of a creme, like mayo or yoghurt, and some salt to taste, to serve over the finished meal with your potatoes.
Grill to your liking.
Ramps are a rarity and a joy to be scooped up if you know how to find them. They make wonderful canned pulverized mashes (like salad dressings, marinades and the like) but also amazing infusions if you pop a few into a bottle of vinegar or olive oil. And if you ever have trouble finding them, look for the red collar. Their beauty will stand out like tackiness at a bad wedding.
Just make sure you bring a trowel and a bag hiking between April and June.