Spring has sprung, and that means ramp season is officially in full swing. You know, ramps: those cute, terribly en vogue little vegetables with the slightly unappealing name, that appear on every hip restaurateur's menu, and whose very presence has been known to incite riots at farmers' markets. But what exactly are these little green wonders?
What are ramps?
A good way to define ramps might be to describe the negative space, i.e. what ramps aren't. Ramps are not leeks, nor are they scallions, nor are they exactly shallots. Ramps (which are sometimes called wild leeks or spring onions, adding to the confusion) look like scallions, but they're smaller and slightly more delicate, and have one or two flat, broad leaves. They taste stronger than a leek, which generally has a mild onion flavor, and are more pungently garlicky than a scallion.
Why do chefs and cooks freak out about ramps?
Unclear. But they definitely do. If one had to wager a guess as to their popularity, it's because ramp season is short, and hence quantities are limited. They're typically foraged, like truffles, giving them an air of adventure. They're also one of the first vegetables to emerge from the defrosting soil after a long winter; waiting for the first ramps of the season has the anticipatory excitement of waiting for Punxsutawney Phil to look for his shadow. Food & Wine editor-in-chief Dana Cowin told AP, "It's like that elusive thing — the bad boyfriend, the jazzy car of the vegetable world."
How much do ramps cost?
A pound of ramps can run you $20 per pound, or $5 for a small bunch, though that price could go down as the ramp crop is expected to be larger than normal this year.
Should I freak about ramps?
As with all things, in moderation. There are consequences to the seasonal ramp-age, namely overharvesting. Wild foods advocate Russ Cohen has decried the mania, saying sustainable harvesting is necessary, lest long-term ecological damage be done. He recommends plucking leaves off of the tender plants and leaving the bulbs intact so that they can reproduce for future years.
So sure, freak in a controlled manner. Ramps are the gorgeous, perfect little cousin of the onion: delicious when fried in bacon grease, prepared with eggs, or delicately pickled. Ramps are so beloved in Appalachia that there was an actual King of Ramps, whose real name was Bato Crites.
Where can I get my hands on some ramps?
Check your local farmers' market. Otherwise, you might luck out at Whole Foods or produce markets. If all else fails, you can drop $162 for a five-pound box and have them overnighted to you.