Demystifying Ramps

By Cook's Illustrated Published March 2011

Ramps are a staple at farmers’ markets. What are they, and how should they be used?

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The ramp (also known as wild leek, wild garlic, or ramson) is a member of the onion family that sprouts up in early spring in woodlands as far-flung as Canada, North Carolina, Missouri, and Minnesota. The bulb of the vegetable looks a little like scallion, but the leaves are flatter and broader, closely resembling those of the lily of the valley. Both bulb and leaves can be used raw or cooked in applications that call for onions, leeks, or scallions. To prepare ramps, trim off the roots and remove any loose or discolored skin that clings to the bulbs, then rinse well.

We sampled ramps sautéed in butter and tossed with pasta, as well as pickled in a simple vinegar mixture. Tasters described the flavor as slightly more pungent than the more familiar alliums, with hints of garlic and chive. We also tasted the raw leaves, finding them slightly grassy, reminiscent of a mild jalapeño.

LEEKS GONE WILDWild leeks, or ramps, have an onion-like pungency and a slightly peppery bite.