Ramp Up Your Spaghetti
Add a healthy twist to your Memorial Day Weekend with this prized wild green.
Photos by Leah Lizarondo
A few weeks ago, my friend and ramp enthusiast Stosh Perkowski lovingly offered to take me with him on one of his ramp harvests. Not able to tell me exactly where the field is, he asked me to meet him somewhere along I-376. I parked my car at a strip mall and rode with him and his 11-year-old daughter Patti to an undisclosed location. Undisclosed primarily because he wants to protect it from over-foragers.
Understandably so. According to Cavan Patterson, co-founder of Wild Purveyors in Lawrenceville, because of the nature of how ramp seeds germinate, it takes 5 to 7 years from the time the seeds are sown to the time they can be harvested. That’s a long time. Ramps also require special conditions to grow, usually a sloping wooded area with good soil moisture and drainage.
Both of these conditions make it difficult to cultivate ramps. Responsible foragers usually are protective of the sites they know of because the growing popularity of ramps have spurred destructive practices and threatened the species. In fact, in Quebec, it is illegal to sell ramps, and personal consumption is limited to 50 bulbs. They are also identified as species for conservation in Maine, Rhode Island and Tennessee.
Ramps grow in colonies and the most responsible foragers take care to harvest the “parent” in each colony and leave the young bulbs, says Cavan. This preserves the colony and protects the population of ramps from decline.
Ramps have a unique taste that is a cross between an onion and garlic. These flavorful bulbs are one of the first greens to appear in the spring and have historically been stored as health tonics — they are high in Vitamin A, C and chromium — for colds and other winter ailments.
The ramps I harvested with Stosh were the early-season variety. The flavor was very mild, and I used them in a salad as he suggested; it was delicious. The ramps I got from Wild Purveyors last weekend were more mature, and the flavor was decidedly stronger. They would be fantastic for pickling.
Cavan typically juliennes the leaves and adds them to scrambled eggs or potatoes and sautés the bulb for use in any dish as a replacement for onions or garlic.
Stosh shared a few ramps recipes with me — the delicious Ramps, Lentils and Brown Rice Salad is below. But first, I share my favorite, super-easy pasta recipe. (The great news? Both recipes serve a crowd. Perfect for Memorial Day celebrations!)
Be quick about it, though. Last weekend, Stosh went back to the patch we visited and the leaves already were starting to turn yellow. This is definitely the last week for ramps, so head over to Wild Purveyors and get your fix (or wait ‘til next year!).
Spaghetti with Ramps, Baby Kale and Pine Nuts
>> Yield: Serves 6-8
1 pound spaghetti
1 pound ramps
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ pound kale, de-stemmed and roughly chopped
½ cup broth
⅔ cup pine nuts, toasted
Fresh ground pepper
1. Cook pasta.
2. Separate ramp leaves from stems.
3. Trim the bottom of the stems.
4. Sauté stems in olive oil until translucent.
5. Add kale and ramp leaves. Stir.
6. Add broth and cover; simmer until leaves are wilted. Add more broth as needed.
7. Season with salt and pepper.
8. Remove from heat.
9. Add a few tablespoons of pasta water (optional).
10. Toss with pasta.
11. Top with pine nuts and more pepper. The Wild Ramp Salt from Wild Purveyors would be a great way to gild the lily!
12. Serve warm.
BONUS recipe: Ramps, Lentils and Brown Rice Salad
>> From Stosh Perkowski
>> Yield: Serves 8-10
>> This recipe is vegan and gluten-free
8 ramps (stems separated from leaves)
1 ½ tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 carrot, finely diced
1 ¾ cups dried lentils
5 cups broth or water
1 large bay leaf
1 cup long grain brown rice
½ cup pitted and chopped olives (Kalamata preferred)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
Kosher salt to taste
Black pepper to taste (freshly ground)
Juice of ½ lemon
1. Finely chop ramps stems.
2. Finely chop ramps leaves.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in saucepan.
5. Add the carrot and ramps stems and sauté until the ramps are translucent but not brown.
6. Remove to a large bowl.
7. Add ½ tablespoon of oil to the saucepan, and heat it until it shimmers.
8. Add the lentils. Sauté 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
9. Stir in the brown rice and the bay leaf. Sauté 2 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
10. Add 2 cups of broth and bring to a boil over high heat.
11. Reduce the heat to medium. Add more broth, 1 cup at a time, when the pot gets dry.
12. Decrease the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer gently until the lentils are just al dente. Do not overcook.
13. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
14. Stir in the carrot, onion, garlic mixture, the olives, ramps leaves, thyme and lemon peel.
15. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
16. Allow to cool slowly, or chill for 10 minutes. (The heat of the hot mixture will wilt the ramp leaves.)
17. Top with a drizzle of good extra-virgin olive oil and juice of ½ lemon.
18. Serve at room temperature.