I have never really considered myself an expert at anything, but if I were an expert at something, I would have to say it is foraging and using ramps. Ramps are the wild version of onions that grow in shady and sandy forest areas, often near rivers and streams, which is why I usually come across them while I am trout fishing.
Years ago, I would go out looking for ramps and not find a single one. I must have spent an entire season looking for ramps and didn't find any. Now it seems like they are all I see. If there are ramps around, I can find them.
Of all the spring foragables that people rave about, ramps are by far my favorites. I have tried ramps in just about every imaginable way; I am like Bubba from Forest Gump when it comes to ramps. I like to pickle them, fry them, and ferment them, and have made ramp fried rice and ramp omelets and ramp pesto and ramp chimichurri. I could literally go on for hours like that. One of my favorite ways to use ramps is to make a French onion dip with them. Last year I made a ramp kraut and holy god is it powerful, you don’t need much of it, but it is so good.
The only downfall to ramps is that they don’t last, for about two months I can find them everywhere and then the leaves die off and they flower. You can still eat the bulb portions but I find that they get a little fibrous in the summer. That is why I like to find as many ways as possible to use them and preserve them for the rest of the year. Things like ramp pesto and ramp butter freeze well and can be used all through the year.
Usually the month of May is packed with ramps at my house. I try to keep a couple of one-gallon freezer bags full of ramps in the crisper drawer in the fridge, so I can add them to everything I am cooking. I recently caught some fish and had the idea to wrap the fish in ramp leaves and then wrap them in bacon and grill them. It was some of the best fish I have ever eaten.
Another spring vegetable that pairs well with ramps is asparagus. The first recipe I got published in a cookbook was for a ramp and asparagus salad. I like to combine the two as often as I can. Last week, I had been given some beautiful asparagus and I already had a bag of ramps in the fridge, so I thought about how I would combine the two.
One of my goals for this year was to start cooking more vegetarian entrees. Not exactly easy things for a meat-eater like me to do, but I have been turning out some pretty great vegetarian options at home. Now I had the opportunity to make a completely vegetarian meal using some wild ingredients. What I came up with was this fantastic ramp and asparagus risotto.
Ramp and Asparagus Risotto
8 oz. of ramps
8 oz. asparagus (blanched and cut into bite-sized pieces)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
5 cups vegetable stock (kept warm on the stove)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Separate the stems and bulbs from the leaves and then diced the stems and bulbs. Cut the leaves into bite sized pieces and set aside.
2. Heat the oil and one tablespoon of the butter over medium heat, add the diced stems and bulbs and cook until soft, 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Add the rice and stir until all the rice is coated with oil and the rice kernels start to turn translucent.
4. Stir in the 1/2 cup of wine and continue stir until almost all the wine is absorbed. Then stir in the stock a half cup at a time, adding more stock before the rice absorbs it all.
5. Keep adding stock and stirring until the rice is the texture and consistency you like, at this point stir in the chopped ramp leaves and asparagus and add the remaining stock. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Add the last tablespoon of butter and stir until combined, serve with a little fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
Jamie Carlson lives in Burnsville, MN with his wife, Amanda, and their two kids Eleanor and Charlie. He works as an RN at the Minneapolis VA hospital. He enjoys hunting, fishing, foraging, and, of course, cooking. He believes that all food can be tasty if it is prepared with care, and he writes about his adventures on his food blog, You Have to Cook it Right. Follow him on Twitter at @youcookitright.