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May 20, 2006

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 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.


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How I love food blogs!
I'd never heard of ramps before today and now I've seen and read two blog entries introducing them!


Mmm, ramps. I usually just stuff 'em into whole fish but really they're good in so many ways.


In Italy this is called CIPOLLOTTO!!!
A very hot taste and savour!!!
Bravo Rob...I love it!


Wonderful post and now I have to head over to St Lawrence market and buy some before they're gone.

Thanks for sharing


I think all of us Canadian food bloggers are finding ramps this year, very exciting. I actually picked mine up at this tiny two table market a hop skip and a jump away from home. They were sitting there and I knew I had to have them after hearing so much about them from others.

Known more consistently as wild leeks in Ontario, these things are beautiful. I've recently had them sauteed with some wild shitakes as part of a brunch and mixed in with some arugala, hand made linguine, dungeness crab, halibut... all in a seafood broth. I'm already marking down this time of the month in my calendar for next year.


He he...I'm going to use that "beyond my control" bit next time I head to the market, come home with something I have never heard of (this happens, oh, every single time) even though I'd already bought everything for the week, and try to explain to my significant other why it happened AGAIN and how I will come up with some way to fix it...(which I always do, of course...).


Bron, this is a wonderful little universe sometimes, isn't it?

Danielle, thanks for the terrific recipe idea.

Sandra, grazie per l'informazione e i complimenti. Conosci delle ricette italiane per il cipollotto?

Vanessa, that linguine and seafood in broth sounds out of this world. Where did you try them? Do you have a recipe?

Michelle, the best part of any trip to the market is those unexpected finds. If you think about it, we have an obligation to buy those items.

Ruth, I think you might need to get to the market this weekend. The season for ramps is short, and I know there's never any guarantee they'll be available.


Hi Rob, just checked up on this post. I had the pasta at Hillebrand in Niagara-on-the-Lake, not too far from your nick of the woods. Unfortunately I hear that they're changing the menu for the season soon... so I'm not sure if it'll be there much longer. Although, they were great there and might give out the recipe if you ask nicely. In fact, I might drop them an email myself... I think we'll have a greater chance if we both ask ;)

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