I have to be honest here and say that until a few nights ago I had never cooked with wild leeks and until I started working at CulinariumTM, I didn’t even know they existed! But now I’m hooked on this glorious spring treat. I have braised them, made a pesto out of them, and last night made a pasta with wild leeks, cream and mushrooms. YUM! I can’t wait until Sunday morning since I plan to add them to my omelette! I’m now slightly obsessed with the humble ramp.
Yes, you read correctly, another name for them is “ramps”. No, that is not the same ramp which you launch your boat from. It comes from the Elizabethan word “ramons” (aka “wild garlic”).
Wild leeks resemble a scallion or green onion, with a reddish/purple stalk and large broad leafy edible top. Ramps have been a staple for country folk for centuries, but are now a hot menu item sought after by top chefs.
They are a perennial plant found by foragers in rocky soils of hardwood forests and ravines. They start to poke out their twin green blades (resembling rabbit ears) when the ground has thawed and the trees are not yet shading the forest floors (late April to mid-May). If you can’t forage for your meal but want to taste this spring treat, they can be found in specialty food stores (such as Culinarium!) or farmer’s markets.
Ramps are an extremely fragile plant that must be harvested sustainably if we want to enjoy them for years to come. To prevent damage to a ramp patch, less than 10% of a ramp patch should be harvested. Overharvesting will endanger the following year’s harvest. We are lucky in Ontario to still have access to this delightful springtime treat. Sadly this cannot be said for our Québécois neighbours, where sale has been banned since 1995 due to overharvesting.
So why are chefs wild for ramps? Wild leeks are a flavourful and versatile vegetable that can be used as a substitute (raw or cooked) for leeks, scallions or onions, although it has a more pronounced or “wilder” garlicky-onion flavour.
Wild leeks can be braised, sautéed, roasted, grilled, pickled or even eaten raw! Toss a few in your salad for an extra kick! They can be made into a pesto or added to soups, risottos casseroles as well as potato, rice, pasta or egg dishes. Their garlicky-onion flavour make a great combination for both mild meat dishes, such as fish and poultry and rich meats, such as lamb and steak.
You can cook leeks whole or separate the bulbs from the leaves. Although the bulbs can be eaten raw, they have a stronger taste so cooking them mellows their flavour. The leaves are milder but still have a kick – perfect for adding to salads or sandwiches.
Quick cooking tip – sauté the wild leek bulbs in butter for a few minutes, then add the leaves and cook briefly until they start to wilt. Sprinkle with kosher or Maldon salt. Serve this on toasted baguette sliced and brushed with olive or canola oil.
This spring tonic is not only a delicious green treat, it is very nutritious. It is high in iron, folate and antioxidants!
- If heavily soiled when purchased, rinse under cool water
- Dampen paper towel and cover the root
- Wrap in a plastic bag and refrigerate for up to a week
- Trim root ends
- Remove any papery skin around the stem
- Rinse leeks thoroughly and scrub off dirt from the bulbs
- Freeze both separately for later use
After making a few dishes featuring ramps, I’m now wild for them (and so were my dinner mates)! With only a few weeks left to enjoy this forest delicacy why not ramp up your meals with these wild leek recipes?
One of the recipes in The Globe and Mail featured wild leeks that looked fantastic! Check out their Pasta and Wild Leeks and Hazelnuts recipe.