Visit the Union Square Greenmarket at this time of the year and you’ll discover that ramps, in certain circles, are a bit of an obsession. Also known as wild leek, ramson, or ail des bois, they are the first onions of the season and for me, the most immediate herald that spring has arrived. They look a little bit like scallions embellished with tulips leaves – a thin white bulb grows up into a a broad, smooth leaf. with a touch of burgundy or scarlet along the way The flavor is a delicate combination of onion and garlic, and they’re fantastic eaten raw, quickly sauteed in a little olive oil, or added into scrambled eggs. Pretty much any place you use onion or garlic or shallot, you can substitute ramps to impart a bright, clean, “green” taste.
Another part of the appeal is how fleeting they are. The season for ramps evaporates in just a few short weeks. Psychologically, to take pleasure in the arrival of the ramps is to “gather ye rosebuds while ye may”: one day they’re here and the next day they’re gone. Unless, of course, you pickle them.
Now, I’ve never pickled anything before in my life – it always sounded like a rather daunting effort to undertake in a New York City kitchen. Yet this weekend the idea came upon me and stuck. The surprise was that it couldn’t have been simpler: bring equal parts water, white wine vinegar and half-part sugar to a boil. Add mustard seed, fennel seed, coriander seed, salt, and red and white peppercorns. Pour the hot liquid over cleaned and trimmed ramps in a mason jar and let cool. Store in the refrigerator. Voila, you have pickled ramps for the next month. Now, of course, the question is what am I going to do with all these pickled ramps? Last night I tried some in place of cornichon with a ripe piece of Reblochon and they were delicious – the perfect sweet and sour complement to the ripe stink of the cheese. Next idea: topping off a good burger.