Ramp-age! Our introduction to wild leeks
You can tell someone takes eating seriously when they measure the seasons in food. You know the type (because you probably are the type). To the food obsessed, spring isn't about snow melting or the Earth reaching a particular point in its orbit, nor should it be. Nope, to the perpetually food aware the advent of spring is really about the arrival of baskets of wonderful produce in local markets.
Take me, for instance. Come late April and early May, my eyes are peeled for asparagus. Once I see local asparagus at the St. Lawrence Market, I know without doubt that it's spring. Ladies and gentlemen, spring has arrived.
This post isn't about asparagus, however, it's about a spring vegetable with which I was completely unfamiliar until last week: ramps, also known as wild leeks. Finding them was dumb luck. As the butcher prepared my order, I idly gazed around the surrounding stalls in the market. My eyes quickly fell upon a small wicker tray with the oddest looking green onions I'd ever seen: a dirt-encrusted and slightly bulbous base and elegant maroon stem, topped by vibrant, green leaves.
When confronted by new food, I become an automaton. All thought ceases. Overcome by forces beyond my control, I take out my wallet and buy, buy, buy. This was no different. Did I have any idea how I was going to prepare them? No. Had we already purchased our food for the next couple of days? Yes. These are all minor details, really, because those ramps were coming home with me.
I'd originally envisioned serving the ramps in a risotto with that other harbinger of spring, morels. I'm glad I didn't. After doing some research, I learned that under their colourful exterior ramps have a strong garlic and onion flavour. This is not date food, people; it is, however, the perfect food for a quick and simple late night dinner for an urban married couple. Ah, the honeymoon is over.
The final dish? Spaghetti with ramps -- ramp pesto, to be precise. It's wonderful, though we quickly learned just how strong wild leeks can be. Despite blanching them first and using generous amounts of lemon zest, parmesan, and olive oil, the garlic and onion notes of the ramps are powerful, though not overwhelming. If you love onions and garlic, you must try ramps. If you'd like to try this recipe specifically, get it from epicurious.com here.
If you have more basic needs, like just getting your hands on some ramps, visit Linda's Garden in the north St. Lawrence Market (which is only open Saturdays). When I spoke to Linda about her ramps, she said she hoped to have some for a few weeks yet, though the season for this delicacy is especially brief. Here one moment, gone the next, it seems. For food lovers, the seasons pass all too quickly.