When it comes to vegetables, spring is the redheaded stepchild. Summer gets all the blockbusters like tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, and zucchini. Even fall and winter veggies get more attention: pumpkin, beets, carrots, leeks, broccoli, and brussels sprouts With the exception of asparagus, spring doesn't have too much, and what it does have doesn't seem to stick around for long. (In Alabama, we hold onto spring like a dog with a bone. We are lucky to get a few weeks past the A-Day game in Tuscaloosa before summer starts in.) But perhaps the ultimate, short-lived spring vegetable would have to be ramps. It is also the most over-hyped, hyper-obsessed vegetable out there. In case, you've never heard of ramps (a/k/a allium tricoccum), they are nothing more than a wild onion.
Every spring I buy ramps, but I can never cook them before they go bad. This year, I vowed not to let that happen. I asked the guy selling ramps at the local market—who frankly didn't seem all that enamored with them (which should have been a clue)—how he prepared them. With a shrug, he said simply that he just cooked them chopped up with scrambled eggs, like his momma always made 'em. "Really, that's it?" I asked. Surely, I thought to myself, there must be more to these things than that. After looking through the 36 cookbooks I own, all of which say nothing about ramps, I took to the Internet. Most of the recipes I found there were nothing more than ones where ramps substituted for onions, leeks, garlic, or some combination thereof. Eventually, however, I found one recipe that looked promising. It claimed to bring out ramps' pungent simplicity. Here is recipe I found on The Crepes of Wrath:
2 bunches ramps, cleaned well
2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
pinch red pepper flakes
Cleaning ramps is a bit of work, but it's worth it! Fill a large bowl with cold water, then place your ramps in the water. Swish them around to remove as much dirt as possible, then remove them from the bowl and give them a second rinse under running water to remove any remaining grit. Change the water and do the same with your second bunch of ramps.
Place the ramps on a dry paper towel, then top with another paper towel and pat out as much water as possible.
Clean the ramps by removing the tip of each stalk. Set aside (don't slice them - they're perfect as is).
In a heavy bottomed skillet, heat your butter over medium-high heat. Swirl around until browned and nutty, about 3-4 minutes. Add the ramps to the browned butter and cook over medium heat, turning occasionally, until the ramps are lightly charred and wilted. Serve with your favorite protein as a side, or enjoy them on their own.
And after much anticipation, we sat down for dinner and held our forks above these delicate spring denizens, quivering with anticipation. We all took a bite. Wow! Talk about being underwhelmed! The ramps had a decent flavor but their consistency left a lot to be desired. I thought they were a bit tough and stingy. Maybe these were simply not very good ramps. Perhaps I waited too long to cook them. Maybe I can't cook ramps. Or maybe, just maybe, ramps simply suck.
At least for the next 365 days, I'll have to let the mystery be because ramp season is over. I'll try again next year. In cooking, try anything twice or, in the case of ramps, three times.