Ramps, a seasonal treat in the Northeast US, are in danger of being over-harvested. Since they are very slow to cultivate and difficult to farm, foraging is still the main way to find them. A wild ramp patch can be quickly overrun and destroyed. The most sustainable way to harvest ramps, if you find them yourself, is to cut only one leaf of each plant, leaving the bulb and second leaf to continue growing. This is least impactful on the soil, the plant, and the colony as a whole. We’ve adapted the recipe below to use only the ramp leaves, and you’ll find ramps in this form from sustainable vendors.
“Ahem,” [Taps mic, looks around nervously]. “It all started around ’98. ’99. It was like they were giving it away, you know? We just thought, ‘hey, these are pretty good!’. We didn’t understand. We didn’t know what would happen.” [Squares shoulders, takes deep breath]. “My name is Emily, and I am addicted to ramps.”
This is me at the farmer’s market during ramp season:
I feel a tiny bit bad about evangelizing a vegetable that can be very hard to find but this was just too good not to share. Making ramp butter, along with pickling, is one of the best ways to preserve ramps so you can enjoy them all year round.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with ramps, I’m going to shamelessly cut and paste the description from our last ramp post, Brown Butter Ramps and Oyster Mushrooms on Ricotta Crostini;
Your basic ramp, Allium tricoccum, is a North American species of wild onion that grow across eastern Canada and the eastern United States. (The European/Asian variety is allium ursinum.) I know that doesn’t sound very exciting but they have a unique oniony-garlicky flavor that, if you like that kind of thing, is really fantastic. They are also notoriously difficult to cultivate and their growing season is very short, so they are a true delicacy. That means crazy people (me), will travel far and wide to find them, so if you’re lucky enough to have them in your region, don’t expect to saunter over to the farmer’s market at noon and expect to find any left (because I got there at 7 and bought them all).
This is nothing more than a compound butter (or Beurre composé in French), which itself is nothing more than softened butter that has been flavored with … stuff. You can use anchovies, capers, any herb or spice. Curry, chiles, garlic, lemon. If you’re looking for ideas, Bon Appétit has a fantastic variety of recipes.
This ramp butter is incredibly simple and really lets the flavor of the ramps shine through. I decided to blanch the ramps which mellows the intensity just a bit, and also sets the color so the leaves will stay bright green. You can absolutely use the ramps raw, but I think the flavor is a little nice this way.
If you don’t have a food processor (or don’t feel like getting it out. We’ve all been there), just mince the ramps fine with a knife and stir them into the softened butter).
I like to keep a little bit a texture, but you can process it until it’s perfectly smooth if you want.
So what do you actually do with ramp butter (other than deliver it to my house and give it to me)? So many things.
Here are just a few ideas;
- Let a slice melt over grilled steak or vegetables.
- Rub some under and over the skin of a chicken (or chicken pieces) before roasting.
- Add some to the top of poached or pan-seared fish.
- Add thin disks between slices of a parboiled potato, then roast it until golden.
- Toss some into hot pasta, and add grated parmesan.
- Scramble a few eggs and when they’re almost set, add a tablespoon or two and mix in.
- Slather on grilled bread.
- Rub on corn.
How to store ramps
- Ramps are expensive so don’t buy more than you think you’ll use. You can also pickle them or make them into compound butter which will allow you to keep them for months.
- Fresh ramps are very perishable so after you clean them, dry them well and wrap them loosely in several layers of dry paper towels. Place them in a sealable plastic bag but don’t seal it all the way. They should keep in the fridge for a few days.
The Most Delicious Ramp Butter
- 1 lb unsalted butter room temperature
- 6-8 ounces ramp leaves (and bulbs if you have them) (approx. 25 large ramp leaves)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest grated finely (from about 1 large lemon)
- Kosher salt to taste
- Fresh ground black pepper
- Trim the root end (if there is a bulb) and wash ramps very thoroughly (see Nerd Tips above). Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil, and set aside a bowl of very cold water with lots of ice. Blanch ramps in boiling water for just 30 seconds then remove them and plunge them in the ice water to stop the cooking (this is called ’shocking’). Drain and squeeze out as much water as possible. Spread ramps out on paper towel to allow to dry a bit more.
- If you are using a food processor, roughly chop the ramps and add them to the bowl along with the butter, lemon zest and juice. Process until they reach the texture you want.
- If you’re not using a processor, chop the ramps finely and place in a bowl with butter, lemon zest and juice. Mix until well combined (you could also use a stand mixer with the paddle attachment).
- Add salt and pepper, tasting as you go.
- You can pack compound butter into air-tight containers (I love these little Weck jars) or even ramekins and store them in the refrigerator for about a week. The traditional method is to roll the butter into logs, either in parchment or plastic wrap, so they can be chilled and sliced. You can freeze the rolls for months and just slice off what you need and re-wrap well.