The end of winter/beginning of spring is a rough time to have blog friends who live in places like California. They torture you with their tales of how amazing the weather is and with their gorgeous photos of Meyer lemon trees and budding strawberries, telegraphing tales of warmth to us suckers from the Rockies to the East who have to suffer through the indignities of the winter-spring transition that usually means lackluster fruits without an end in sight. Even with the relatively mild winter we had here, this can be a rather frustrating process while we wait for spring produce and weather warm enough to finally start planting things. One benefit we do get this time of year, however, is ramp season, but because we aren’t allowed nice things for very long, that season is cruelly short.
It’s been almost a year ago to the day since I’ve last had my hands on some ramps: having taken the day off to catch the Copa del Rey final between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, I headed down to Union Square that morning to get what I figured would be the last of the ramps of the season and to finally try the pizza at Eataly. I think I ended up taking a good $12 worth home and we made salsa and pesto and all kinds of good things. (That was also the day that Michael told me that the job he wanted and eventually got was available once more, but it’s best not to get into that particular memory.) With us no longer being a mere two subway rides away from my favorite greenmarket, I had resigned myself to having a ramp-less spring this year, as Google searches came up with a lot of ways to build a ramp, but not to buy wild leeks locally. This, to be honest, didn’t surprise me all that much.
Then, in what was potentially the oddest exchange ever in the bar at the Stamford Morton’s Steakhouse, I suddenly had in my possession a bag filled with roughly two pounds of gorgeous, fresh ramps, and all it cost us was two beers.*
In the past I’ve only used ramps in their fresh, ephemeral state to make pesto and salsas meant to be consumed right away, but this unexpected bounty was practically begging to be pickled. Seeing a shot of a Gibson with a pickled ramp instead of a cocktail onion sealed the deal, and our copy of Think Like a Chef had an easy enough technique to bring everything together. They’re now hanging out in our fridge getting good and pickled, and by next week’s episode of Mad Men we’ll be enjoying one of Roger Sterling’s preferred cocktails, albeit with a more colorful garnish. And if you find yourself in possession of an unexpected bundle of ramps this season, this is likely the best way of prolonging the magic of a very, very short season. Just don’t throw out the leaves when you separate them for the pickle–those will go into a fantastic pesto tomorrow.
*The guy was going to give them to us for free, but Michael (rightly) felt weird about taking them for nothing so we got the guy two pints of Sam Summer.
Adapted from Think Like a Chef
- 2 pounds ramps
- 1 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tsp each peppercorns, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, coriander seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- Kosher salt
Prep the ramps: trim off the root ends of each ramp, remove the outer layer of the bulb (this will easily come off, by the way) and trim off the leaf, leaving about a quarter inch of green or so. EXTREMELY IMPORTANT NOTE: You can use the leaves to make pesto or salsa. If you’re planning on doing so but not until the next day (which is as late as you should wait), do not wash the leaves. Wrap them up in paper towels and put them away in the crisper. Then wash the ramp bulbs. And then bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
As you’re doing the last step, also use a small saucepan and combine the vinegar, water, and sugar and bring to a boil. Add in the spices and bay leaf, then bring down the heat to low and keep the pot warm.
When the large pot is boiling, add the ramps and cook for 3 minutes. Drain and run under cool water. Add them to a jar that can hold at least a quart (preferably glass) and then pour the hot brine over the ramps. Let cool, then refrigerate for 3 days prior to use.