How to Cook Ramps

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Fresh ramps on brown table.

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 and 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 silly 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.

Fresh ramps on table.

What Do Ramps Look Like?

Ramps 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 in the soil 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.

Young boy cleaning freshly harvested ramps.

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, grit, and sand before trimming off the hairy roots at the bottom and using them in your recipe.

Ramp Sustainability

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 in Connecticut 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.

Pile of fresh ramps in spring.

Ramps are essentially wild scallions, wonderful harbingers of spring. See how to harvest them sustainably and use them in all kinds of recipes rom risottos to pastas to tapenade.

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How to Cook Ramps

Ramps can be roasted, grilled, sautéed, and also used uncooked 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.

FAQs

What part of ramps do you eat?

You can eat the bulbs and the leaves, and both are delicious. The leaves are milder than the bulbs.

What do ramps taste like?

The flavor of ramps is quite garlicky, though the flavor (like garlic) mellows a bit when cooked.

Why are ramps so rare?

Ramps are special because they only grow in the wild, in certain areas of the country, and they are only in season for a very brief time in spring.

Pile of freshly picked spring ramps on countertop.

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!

Person using a fork and a spoon to toss Ramp Pasta.
5 from 16 votes

Simple Ramp Pasta

This might be the first dish to make when you get hold of a bunch of ramps, either through your own labor, or via a farmers market, and you want to make something with them stat, without a whole lot of thought or time.  This is the most popular ramp recipe on the site, and once you make it, you'll see why
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Green Olive and Ramp Tapenade in white bowl.
5 from 1 vote

Green Olive and Ramp Tapenade

Tapenades, like pestos, and can be used in so many ways to spark up a meal. This one makes the most of ramps during their brief season, and briny green olives provide the base. Add a spoonful to sautéed mushrooms, smear some under the skin of a chicken before roasting the bird, use it on crostini, add to salad dressings, and more!
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Pasta Salad with Chicken, Green Olives, & Ramp Vinaigrette / Photo by Kerri Brewer / Katie Workman / themom100.com
5 from 29 votes

Chicken Pasta Salad with Ramp Vinaigrette

This robustly flavored hearty pasta salad with ramps and chicken is a total Spring treat when those wild scallions are in season.
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Pasta and Salmon Salad with Ramp Dressing
4.67 from 3 votes

Pasta and Salmon Salad with Ramp Dressing

A springtime pasta perfect for a picnic, buffet, or potluck. You can use poached salmon, grilled salmon, pan-seared salmon…any simply cooked salmon is perfect. Keep this dressing in mind for other pasta salads as well.
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Ramp Chimichurri Sauce / Photo by Kerri Brewer / Katie Workman / themom100.com
5 from 6 votes

Ramp Chimichurri Sauce

Chimichurri sauce is a very classic Argentinian sauce, usually made with parsley and garlic, often other herbs, and with a splash of something acidic like vinegar or lemon juice. In this case, ramps are the perfect stand-in for both the parsley (all those lush green leaves) and the garlic (those intense wild scallion bulbs).
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Spring Ramp and Pea Risotto in white pot with spoon.
5 from 1 vote

Spring Ramp and Pea Risotto

This risotto highlights garlicky ramps against the neutral creamy backdrop of risotto. Little pops of peas enhance the springtime nature of this lovely recipe.
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Pasta with Ramps, Edamame, and Sugar Snap Peas in a Light Parmesan Cream Sauce in white bowl.
5 from 1 vote

Pasta with Ramps, Edamame, and Sugar Snap Peas in a Light Parmesan Cream Sauce

A beautiful, elegant and easy springtime pasta recipe loaded with ramps and vegetables. The creamy, nutty sauce pulls everything together, and truly this feels like something you would be moved to order at a restaurant and think about the next day.
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About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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