Ramps are an east coast thing. We don’t have them here in New Mexico, and we don’t see them at Whole Foods, which is fine with me. They belong where they grow, and the same is true of fiddlehead ferns, as delectable as they might be. This means that every spring for years I’ve watched food people getting all excited about something I’d never tasted or been able to get my hands on. But all that changed last week when I got some ramps in the mail from Robert Schuller of Melissa’s.
They arrived in a big box that was carefully padded and well packed, but no amount of paper or plastic could keep their garlicky leeky smell from seeping through the cardboard. There was no mistaking that there were alliums in that box. Hidden among the folded mounds of paper there they were, resting in Oakley Sunglasses cheap their plastic bag. I carefully pulled the big clump of mud-covered alliums out of their bag and looked at them. It seemed they might not travel all that well, at least not for days on end as these undoubtedly had, from somewhere back east to Los Angeles and finally to New Mexico. The greens were a little funky but I immersed them in a tub of water and got to work cleaning them. After a long time and many changes of water I ended up with a tangle of skinny little buggers with shanks and roots like leeks and leaves like lily of the valley, and smell that was as much garlic as leek.
Not wanting to waste anything of my one chance with ramps. I covered the trimmed roots with water and simmered them slowly to make, in effect, a ramp broth. I left it on the stove when my husband and I went out that evening, and when we returned he exclaimed, “What’s that smell? It’s like wood, mushrooms and garlic!” It was interesting that just the roots simmered in water conveyed their homeland of woods and fungi, but I couldn’t smell a thing due to my encounter with juniper pollen late that afternoon. I woke in the middle of the night with the thought, “It was the ramps he was smelling! Of course!”
Once they were cleaned and wrapped in a dry towel and returned to the refrigerator, the next question was what to do with them. I consulted Elissa Altman who sent me an older piece from her blog, Poor Man’s Feast, which featured ramps on toast with quail eggs. That looked very good, but no quail eggs here, alas. There were some other thoughts—risotto and ramps, sformata wit ramps, but I decided to use half my collection a http://www.oakleyonorder.com/ soup made with the first spinach, sorrel and lovage from the garden— and that ramp broth. It cooked in about 10 minutes and after being pureed, ended up looking like Ireland and iron in a bowl. On the way to its becoming soup I scooped out some of the vegetables, added butter and toasted breadcrumbs and found them to be extremely good just like that, fortifying and somehow essential. Still, I went ahead and finished the soup. When it was finished, I could have drunk the whole pot. I detected and savored the ramps, but was also happily overwhelmed by the lovage, which I adore. It was then I realized that this soup tasted like a lot of spring soups I make because of those lovage leaves, only the ramps made it better.
This might not have been the best use for such a rare allium, but I’ve still got some left and those I’ll cook with softly scrambled eggs —chicken eggs, not quail, and no lovage.
What would you do with ramps?
Ramp, Spinach and Lovage Soup Makes about 4 cups
3 ounces or 2 cups chopped, cleaned ramps
2 ounces or a big handful, small sorrel leaves
8 ounces spinach, big stems removed
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups ramp broth or chicken stock
Sea salt and pepper
4 lovage leaves
Clean everything as needed. The ramps take a while so you might want to have those done ahead of time. Keep the stems on the sorrel if the leaves are small, unless you can’t resist ripping them off. I never can.
Melt the butter in a soup pot. Add the ramps, sorrel and spinach leaves, season with a teaspoon salt, and turn about in the butter for a few minutes. Add the broth or cheap oakley stock, bring to a boil, and simmer just until the ramps are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the lovage, then puree then taste for salt and season with pepper.
Serve very simply – just a pool of green, or with cream swirled into it. I used the creamy top of some yogurt and its slightly tart culture flavor was perfect. I also added a few pinches toasted breadcrumbs for texture, but you can skip this.