At the tail end of winter these garlicky treats called ramps appear in farmers markets and on the menus of trendy restaurants. Chefs are drawn to ramps for their pretty pink-tinged stalks, wide tapered leaves and delicate garlic flavor. Like yellow onions, garlic, scallions and leeks, ramps are classified under the genus Allium and that’s obvious from their strong pungent garlic flavor, scallion-like crunch and a bit of leek sweetness. Ramps have many names like wild leek, spring onion, wood leek and wild garlic. They grow in wooded areas throughout North America and are harvested by foraging.
Like onions, ramps are incredibly versatile and end up on restaurant menus in pesto sauces, on burgers, in salads and even pickled in cocktails. You can treat ramps like scallions: think delicious chopped up in tiny pieces raw or added to dishes for flavor a spike and some greenery.
The ramp craze has truly gotten out of hand and has lead the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Services to declare the declining ramp populations in Maine and Rhode Island a “special concern," and in Tennessee, ramps are also listed as “commercially exploited.”
Whether or not you choose to subscribe to ramp-mania, you’ll certainly enjoy their pronounced garlic flavor mixed with bright fresh tomatoes and parsley in this dish. This recipe calls for traditional spaghetti made with durum wheat but whole wheat spaghetti or quinoa spaghetti would work well.
Spaghetti with Ramps and Tomatoes
2 servings dry spaghetti (about ½ a pound)
1 small bunch ramps (about 10)
2 large tomatoes, cubed (about 1 cup)
½ teaspoon rock salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
First, carefully clean the ramps. Finely chop the pinkish white bottom parts and roughly chop the green leaves, discard the stems.,
Bring 6 cups of water to boil in a large pot and cook the pasta for about 8 minutes or until just al dente. Drain and toss with a tablespoon of olive oil and set aside.
In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chopped ramps and cook for 3 minutes, only stirring once so the leaves get crispy. Add the chopped tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and rock salt and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Add the pasta and parsley to the pan along with a tablespoon of olive oil. Remove from flame, stir a few more times and serve with freshly ground pepper and Parmesan cheese.
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Images: Ally-Jane Grossan