So what exactly is this elusive onion that’s taken the culinary world by storm? A perennial wild leek, the ramp has broad, edible green leaves and a tender stalk and bulb with a purplish tinge, similar to a scallion in taste and texture. They can be found growing in groups in forested areas throughout much of the U.S and Southern Canada, and are one of the first edible plants to pop out of the ground after a long, cold winter, making them a surefire harbinger of spring. But their season is especially short… the fragrant little onions are gone for good by mid-to-late May.
So what to do with a bounty of ramps if you happen to find them in the woods, or more likely, during a jaunt to the local Greenmarket? If they haven’t already been cleaned (a good sign, by the way), peel off the papery skin, use cold water to wash off the dirt, and use a sharp knife to remove the roots, leaving the entire bulb intact. Dry them carefully with a towel to remove all the water, then bundle them together to help retain moisture and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Essentially, you can substitute ramps for any recipe that calls for onions or garlic (they also make a mean pesto). But if you really want to wow your friends with ramps this season, try this studded sausage from The Vanderbilt in Prospect Heights, topped with a snap pea slaw and — glory be! — even more pickled ramps.
For the slaw:
1 cup sliced pickled ramp bulbs with 1/2 cup reserved pickling liquid
1 cup fresh sugar snap peas, strings removed and sliced thinly on a bias
2 cups shredded green cabbage
1/2 cups shredded red cabbage
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon spicy brown deli mustard
1 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
For the pickled ramps:
The reserved ramp bulbs from making the sausage
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cups kosher salt
3 pieces black peppercorns
3 pieces whole coriander
1 clove garlic
Wash the ramps and separate the greens from the white bulbs, reserve the bulbs for the slaw. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, plunge the ramp greens inside and stir for 10 seconds, then remove and chill quickly under cold running water. Squeeze as much water out of the greens as you can, then chop roughly and add them to the pork. Add the spices, garlic, milk powder, and ice and mix by hand until the spices are well integrated and the ice is absorbed by the meat. The mixture should be firmly held together and sticky to the touch. Allow the sausage to rest in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 hours, then stuff into the casings and twist into 4 inch sausage links. From here you can either grill, smoke, or poach the sausages depending on your taste.
In a large bowl toss the cabbage, snap peas, and salt together. Let sit for 20 minutes in a colander over your sink, this will draw out excess moisture from the cabbage. Return the cabbage and peas to the bowl, and dress with the mayonnaise mustard, parsley, the pickled ramps and their liquid. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and additional pickling liquid if desired.
Except for the ramps, bring all of the ingredients for the pickled ramps to a boil. Pour over the ramp bulbs, and refrigerate overnight. Remove the peppercorns, coriander, and garlic clove in the morning.