Ramps, the pungent, garlicky wild leeks that make an all-too-brief appearance, are the earliest springtime treat. They’re foraged for just a few weeks each year, and have lately become a darling of the foodie world, so they’re often snaffled up by chefs before they hit the farm stands. I don’t know why I’m surprised, but I just discovered you can buy fresh ramps on eBay for about $10 a pound, including shipping. What condition the ramps would be in when they arrived is anybody’s guess, so even though they cost $15 a pound at my local grocery, that’s where I’m getting mine. A few ounces go a long way.
Ramps grow in moist, deciduous woodlands in the northeast. They’re tricky to cultivate, because the seeds are slow to germinate, and it can take five years for a plant to mature. My enterprising (and patient) neighbor saved a few of the ramps he bought last year that had roots on the rhizomes, and started a patch in an undisturbed shady corner of his garden. A dozen little ramplings poked through this last week, but as you should only harvest 10 percent of your patch, it’s going to be a while before he can eat any.
Assuming you beat the chefs to it, choose fresh ramps with bright leaves and firm stems. Cut off the roots and rinse the leaves, then chop them up and sauté them in a little butter, and you can add them to any dish in which you’d use a member of the onion family. They’re tasty with eggs, or in a stir-fry; they’re really good in risotto with Italian sausage, or as a substitute for leeks in a creamy potato soup.
One of my favorites is a mushroom and ramp tart. Sauté about 10 ounces of thinly sliced mushrooms and a minced shallot in olive oil for about 8 minutes, until the mushrooms give up their juices. Add 15 to 20 chopped ramps (4 ounces or so) and cook, stirring, for five more minutes. Let the mixture cool.
In a large bowl, whisk three eggs, three quarters of a cup of cream, salt and pepper. Stir in half a cup of Parmesan and a cup of grated Gruyere. Add the mushroom-ramp mix and stir to combine.
Line a tart pan with pastry (shortcrust, or a sheet of thawed, packaged puff pastry if you’re in a rush) and blind bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from the oven and raise the heat to 400. Pour the mix into the pie crust, and bake for about 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 and continue baking for 20 minutes, or until the top is golden. Allow the tart to cool for a few minutes before serving. It’s good at room temperature, too.