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A FRESH Point of View: Ramp Up For Spring

What looks like a cross between a leek and a scallion, but tastes like a mashup of onions and garlic? A ramp.

If you grew up in certain parts of the South, East Coast or Upper Midwest – especially in Appalachia or around the Great Lakes – you probably already knew that, and you’ve probably been eating them all your life. In some parts of the country, ramps are considered an early sign of spring, popping up in the first warmish days after winter ends.

But most of the rest of us have only started hearing about ramps the last few years, as chefs, farmer’s markets and food magazines have discovered them. They are considered a delicacy – in part because they are in season only a short while in the spring, and hard to get in many areas. But we have them at FRESH!

Sometimes called wild leeks, ramps have gotten more popular because of their intense flavor and aroma. Ramps are part of the same family as onions and leeks, and they do sort of look like skinny leeks, with slimmer stalks and smaller bulbs. Unlike a leek, however, you can use the whole thing, bulb, stem and even the leaves; a leek’s bigger, sturdier leaves are too tough to eat.

They are more pungent than a leek, more woodsy than a scallion, and yet not quite as strong as either garlic or onion. That means you can use them as a substitute for any of those vegetables. Try them roasted or caramelized as a vegetable side dish or as a component of a more complex recipe; paired with potatoes for soup, even added to a salad raw. You can make them into pesto, or pickle them. You can try them the classic Southern way – sliced, then boiled until tender, then fried in bacon fat till golden.

But for a dish with broad appeal, try this simple potato preparation – a trendier update of garlic mashed potatoes.

Mashed Potatoes with Sautéed Ramps

Serves 6-8

1 cup ramps, washed, trimmed and sliced
2 lbs potatoes, diced
6 Tbs butter, divided
Up to 1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

Place potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt two tablespoons butter in sauté pan. Sauté ramps over medium heat until tender, about five to ten minutes. Set aside.

When potatoes are tender, drain. Allow to dry in colander for about 5 minutes, shaking colander occasionally to remove excess water. Return potatoes to saucepan and add ramps, remaining butter and about 1/4 cup milk. Whip mixture with hand mixer; add additional milk to reach desired texture. (Dish will be chunky; if you prefer a smoother mashed potato, place mixture in a food processor and puree.) Salt and pepper, to taste.

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