Ramps are leeks that grow in the wild. They are very difficult to cultivate, which is part of their appeal and mystique (think truffles). Ramps are one of the first spring vegetables to appear in farmers markets and chefs’ menus after a winter of tubers and citrus. They essentially taste like a very garlicky leek or scallion. Below are a bunch of recipes that use ramps, including a recipe for Pasta Salad with Chicken, Green Olives, and Ramp Vinaigrette that will put those spring ramps to perfect use!
If you aren’t yet familiar with ramps, that’s cool. Ramps are a source of much pleasure for many, and some poopy snobbery for some. Some people go crazy for them, which means some people think they are overrated. To me, this whole discussion is a little silly. But every spring, many of us look forward to ramp season because these pungent little members of the onion family are only around for a short while. I’d rather leave the debating to others, and get to cooking them.
What Do Ramps Look Like?
They look somewhat like scallions but with a more bulbous bottom. Ramps have nice broad and long green leaves on top of slim white stalks with a plump base. There is sometimes a bit of purple on the slim stalk above the bottom.
Where Do Ramps Grow?
Ramps grow in the Eastern part of the U.S., up and down the East Coast, and then all the way west to Minnesota and Missouri. Canada and North Carolina kind of border the part of the country where ramps can be found. They tend to grow near wet areas, rivers, marshes, and such, near deciduous trees.
How Do You Harvest or Pick Ramps?
Once you find out where they grow, you’re most of the way there. Don’t be tempted to just try and pull one out of the ground. You really need to dig down around the root and then ease it out of the dirt. This is easier near a source of water where the earth tends to be looser, or after a rain. But if you try and tug it out, you will likely break it and leave the root in the ground. Some say — ok, that replenishes the ramps for the next year, but I think of harvesting responsibly and getting the whole shebang out of the ground.
How to Clean Ramps
Because ramps grow underground, the bulbs tend to trap a lot of dirt, especially at the root end. They need to be rinsed very thoroughly in cold water to remove all of the dirt. You’ll need to use your hands to dislodge the clumps of dirt caught in the roots of the ramp.
You can also submerge them in a sink or large bowl of cold water and keep swishing them around until all of the dirt is removed. Give them a final rinse to remove any last bits of dirt and grit and sand before trimming off the hairy roots at the bottom and using them in your recipe.
Ramp over-harvesting threatens to be a problem, so if you are lucky enough to find them, don’t clean out the whole patch — leave some bulbs behind so they can re-propagate. I personally only take about 5% of what the land near me offers, and every year there is more and more and more.
Some people advocate for only picking the leaves of the ramps and leaving the roots in the earth. In my experience, the ramps have increased year after year, so I stick to harvesting the whole ramp but taking only a small amount of what’s growing.
Ramps are essentially wild scallions, wonderful harbingers of spring and learning how to find them and then seeing all the things you can make with them is very exciting.Tweet This
How to Cook Ramps
Ramps can be roasted, grilled, sautéed, and also used raw in dishes like salads or pesto. They can be used for ramp risotto and other rice dishes, sauces, pastas and potato dishes, eggs, and on top of crostini, just for a few examples. Use both the white bulbs and the green leaves (the leaves are milder in flavor).
Their flavor is very strong when uncooked, so use judiciously. They can be prepared whole or sliced or chopped, similar to scallions or leeks, or really any member of the onions family.
7 Ramps Recipes to Make This Spring
So now we know more about ramps. And here are a bunch of recipes to put them to good use! Keep scrolling for the full chicken pasta salad with ramp vinaigrette.
The following is a recipe for Pasta Salad with Chicken, Green Olives, and Ramp Vinaigrette The saltiness from the olives and the onion-ey garlicky-ness of the ramps makes a seriously flavored dressing. This incredibly flavorful and easy to make pasta salad is perfect for a buffet or a potluck lunch. A powerhouse pasta salad for sure.
This is a pasta salad with a substantial ratio of chicken to pasta, which means more protein and more interest. And also, a big batch of pasta salad! Poached chicken is easy to make, but you can use grilled chicken breasts or roasted chicken. Whatever you have, whatever you like, and just shred that up.
Pasta Salad with Chicken, Green Olives, and Ramp Vinaigrette
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound ramps (about 40, cleaned, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces – leaves and bulbs both; see Notes)
- 1 pound rigatoni or other chunky pasta
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt (or more to taste)
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or more to taste)
- 2 ½ pounds boneless chicken breasts (poached and cubed; see Notes)
- 1 cup roughly chopped Picholine or other green olives
- In a medium sized skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté a little more than half of the ramps for about 15 minutes until very tender.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions, drain and rinse under cool water.
- While the pasta and ramps are cooking, in a food processor or blender, make the vinaigrette. Combine the rest of the ramps, vinegar, olive oil, honey, Dijon, salt and pepper. Puree.
- In a large bowl, combine the cooked ramps, cooked and cooled pasta, vinaigrette, chicken cubes, and olives, toss very well to combine thoroughly. I find it best to use hands for this to really get the sautéed ramps well distributed, but if that doesn’t appeal, of course you can use a spoon. Serve cool or at room temperature.
Cleaning Ramps:Because ramps grow underground, and the bulbs tend to trap a lot of dirt, especially at the root end. They need to be rinsed very thoroughly in cold water to remove all of the dirt. You’ll need to use your hands to dislodge the clumps of dirt caught in the roots of the ramp. You can also submerge them in a sink or large bowl of cold water and keep swishing them around until all of the dirt is removed. Give them a final rinse to remove any last bits of dirt and grit and sand before trimming off the hairy roots at the bottom and using in your recipe.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.