Ah, I have finally captured the ever elusive ramp! I've wanted to get some ever since I heard of them a few years ago, but I didn't know how. Some people like Marc at No Recipes forage for the bulbs, also known as wild leeks. I haven't had the chance to go out in the wilderness and do so, but don't think I haven't wanted to. Everywhere I've gone lately in Connecticut, I've been on the lookout for broad-leafed leaves with a hint of burgundy on the stem. I've almost pulled out lilies of the valley from other yards thinking I had found them. But, alas, no luck. That's where the market came in.
I knew my only chance to find them was to check the market in April and May since they have such a short availability. After a discouraging trip to the Union Square farmers' market in mid-April to buy ramps, I finally found them in great abundance this past week when I visited the market with my fellow foodie Caroline. I checked all the stands beforehand for the best price and quality, settling on two bunches of the nicest ramps. After a long day in the city with a garlic-and-onion-like smell wafting from me, I was ready to go home. The next day would be ramp-cooking day!
Some tips on buying ramps: Look for young, white bulbs and bright green leaves that have not wilted. As ramps age, the bulbs start to take on the burgundy hue of the stem. If not using them immediately, wrap ramps in moist paper towels, place in a resealable plastic bag with a few slits cut into it, and store in the refrigerator for no more than a day. But really it is best to use ramps as soon as possible. When ready to use, wash the ramps thoroughly, removing any dirt. Trim the root end and use the entire vegetable as it is entirely edible.
I must say that the dish I created was pretty good for my first experiment with ramps. I decided upon a simple dish of pasta alla carbonara to feature the beautiful bulbs and leaves of this unusual vegetable. With just a little sautéing, the ramps in this recipe preserve their slight crispness and fresh garlic-onion flavor. Just combine with pasta, bacon, eggs, and Parmesan cheese and you have the makings of a simple supper.
Ramps with Pasta alla Carbonara
8 ounces spaghetti
4 slices bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch ramps (about 15 to 20), sliced
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
freshly cracked black pepper
Cook spaghetti according to package directions in liberally salted water. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water.
Heat oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add bacon and cook until fat has rendered, about 5 minutes.
Add ramps and cook until whites are translucent and greens have wilted, about 8 minutes.
Add cooked pasta and the reserved pasta water. Off heat, stir in beaten eggs and cheese. Stir vigorously so that eggs do not scramble. Season generously with pepper. Serve with shaved Parmesan. Yield: 2 servings.