Ramp(age)

by Francoise Villeneuve
Antoinette Bruno
March 2011

Table of Contents

» Ramp Tips

» Ramp Sources

Biography

Chef Nicholas Stefanelli
Bibiana - Washington, DC

Ramp Recipes

Rabbit, Anson Mills Polenta, and Ramps
Chef Nicholas Stefanelli of Bibiana – Washington, DC

Neopolitan-style Pizza, Ramps, Tomato, and Buffalo Ricotta
Chef Nicholas Stefanelli of Bibiana – Washington, DC

Rustichella d'Abbruzzo Bucatini, Ramp Pesto, and Crudo of Razor Clams
Chef Nicholas Stefanelli of Bibiana – Washington, DC

Ramp Photos

Chef Nicholas Stefanelli and Pastry Chef Doug Hernandez of Bibiana Osteria Enoteca - Washington, DC

Ramps Across the Nation

Just as buds begin to appear on trees, ramps start to pepper restaurant menus, and most every farmers’ market in the country is filled with the slightly funky, garlicky, grassy aroma of these wild leeks—the bright green of their leaves a welcome indicator that seasons are shifting, and spring menu development is on its way. They balance the slightly peppery strength of garlic on the palate with a refreshing dose of young greens.

Seasonal ingredients native to the United States are key to 2010 Washington DC Area Rising Star Chef Nicholas Stefanelli, who uses them at Bibiana to balance regional Italian food with American nuances. So when the spring rampage begins, so to speak, and ramps start arriving at the restaurant in crates of lush dark green bouquets, Stefanelli takes advantage of their short season by adapting them to as many applications as possible.

Ramping Up Seasonality

Rabbit, Anson Mills Polenta, and Ramps

The season varies across the country but in general ramp season is fleeting, a matter of weeks, not months. In the Southeast ramps begin to grow as soon as March; in the rest of the country, a little later. They’re available for four to six weeks out of the year, from April to May, depending on the climate. In whatever region they grow, moist soil is a must for happy ramps. Ramps like nothing better than a forest or wooded area, with beech, birch, sugar maple, and poplar trees acting as the ultimate luxury pad.

Born Free

The image of tocqued, basket-toting chefs prancing through the woods in rain boots and ruminating on the briefness of life as they pull short-seasoned ramps from the earth (to be used in their restaurants that night, of course) is appealing, even lovely. The reality, though, is chefs who use ramps in any significant quantities tend to go the commercial route, usually because they don’t have the valuable free time to go foraging for ramps, or they need bigger quantities than a lone forager can usually provide. But commercial ramps aren’t exactly the factory farm nightmare we all imagine when we hear the word “commercial” in a post-Food, Inc. world. Commercially produced ramps are actually ramps that are uprooted from the wild and transplanted to a shaded area of someone’s private property, allowing them to seed and produce more ramps.

Even farmed ramps cling to their innate wildness (read: sustainability)—ramps left in the ground disperse their seeds to produce a bigger crop the subsequent year. The Pennsylvania-based Tuscorora Organic Growers cooperative farms ramps using this method and collects them from certified organic land. You’re in luck if you live in the DC or Baltimore area, where Tuscorora distributes. Chef Stefanelli gets his ramps from a variety of sources, including Tuscorora. Other producers prefer to cultivate ramps by sewing collected seeds instead of transplanting the young plants and allowing them to do the seeding themselves. Growing from seed works too, but it can take five to seven years to go from sewing seeds to root harvest.

Neopolitan-style Pizza,  Ramps, Tomato, and Buffalo  RicottaGiven their short season and popularity, commercial ramps can run over $12 a pound, a good deal more than their garlic and onion relatives. It’s no wonder, then, that some chefs choose to forage their own. Chef Kevin Adey of Bushwick’s Northeast Kingdom accompanies the restaurant’s Hudson, New York-based owner Paris Smeraldo on foraging trips that yield upwards of 100 pounds of ramps, says Adey. Sure, it’s a “chic harbinger of spring” as Adey puts it, but in the end, ramps are economically viable for some small restaurants like Adey’s exactly because the staff takes on the labor themselves.

Ramps in the Kitchen

One of the most common cooking applications is to wilt whole, cleaned ramps in a sauté pan or on a hot grill. The young garlic flavors and green-ness really sing when ramps are very slightly charred. One of the more creative applications we’ve seen is a ramp pesto, in which Stefanelli replaces the basil and garlic in a basic pesto recipe with raw ramp greens, and uses the usual cheese, olive oil, and pine nuts to round out the greener, fresher flavors of ramp. This modified pesto Genovese would make a great simple variation on classic secondi when tossed with al dente pasta, but Stefanelli adds a little more textural interest and a taste of the sea with some raw sliced razor clams.

In terms of food cost management, it’s important to find a use for all parts of the ramp. Problem is, while those gorgeous emerald leaves are much in demand, the firmer, paler bulbs aren’t always used up as quickly. Pickling is a good fix for the bulbs, and it mitigates some of the more aggressive garlic flavors, especially later in the season. While at DC’s Restaurant Nora, Chef Benjamin Lambert took utilizing the whole product seriously, using not just the pickled bulb, but the pickling liquid for a foam in his Corn and Crab Agnolotti, Crab Broth, Pickled Ramp Foam, Fava Beans, Blanched and Grilled Garlic Scapes, Pickled Ramps, and Tarragon. The tartness of the pickled ramps is a natural fit for a vinaigrette, too.

Rustichella d'Abbruzzo  Bucatini, Ramp Pesto, and Crudo of Razor ClamsKnowing the qualities of ramps helps Stefanelli use them efficiently and effectively. Ramps have the versatility of the allium (e.g., garlic and onion) family with an added dose of grassy freshness, meaning Stefanelli can spring-ify a ramp-topped pizza that uses both green and bulbs. Ramps’ shape also means they can be incorporated into applications like a roulade, a dish that slippery onions aren’t well-suited to. The ramps in Stefanelli’s roulade echo the halved, slightly singed ramps that top the dish, layering the flavors throughout the dish. Stefanelli’s trio of rabbit combines rabbit loin, wrapped in ramp greens then wrapped in fattier rabbit belly to protect the delicate loin from overcooking and impart a subtle springy spiciness.

And if you find yourself rushing to use up extra ramps that you have in stock, they can easily be puréed with potatoes for an upscale, spring-fresh take on mash.


Ramp Tips

Top Ramps

1.   Look for a firm bulb and bright emerald leaves.

2.   If you want to see ramps next year, go for ramps that aren’t clipped too far down. That way they’ll grow in the same spot the following year. Ramps sprout white flowers if left unharvested, and then produce seeds that help spread the ramp patch further and further each year.

3.   Don’t be surprised if they come in dirty—this is normal ... even desirable.

Storage

Stefanelli peels the outer skin off the ramps, cleans and rinses them, then separates the bulbs from the leaves, or wraps them in damp paper towels and stores them on sheet trays (the paper towels shouldn’t be too wet or the ramps will break down and decompose).

Cooking

“Treat ramps like they’re an herb,” says Stefanelli. They’re delicate and cook fairly quickly. “If you’ve used a scallion, they’re similar in nature.”


Ramp Sources 

PRODUCER: Danko Foods Corporation
Used by: Chef Jason Knibb of Nine-Ten – La Jolla, CA
Distribution Area: National
Available: March through June, depending on the weather
Based in: Laguna Niguel, CA

Tel: (949) 249-8883
Email: info@dankofoods.com
Site: www.dankofoods.com


PRODUCER: Tuscorora Organic Growers
Used by: Chef Nicholas Stefanelli of Bibiana – Washington, DC
Distribution Area: Mid-Atlantic, mostly Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD
Available: April through May
Based in: Hustontown, PA
Tel: (814) 448-2173

Email: info@tog.coop
Site: www.tog.coop

Related Photo Galleries