Ramps (wild leeks) have a sweet, garlicky flavor that pairs beautifully with brown butter and caramelized oyster mushrooms. We pile this on top of toast that has been slathered with creamy ricotta cheese, making a delicious, simple appetizer.
[2018 update: we’re reposting this article originally published on the blog several years ago because firstly, we actually have ramps growing in our garden for the first time (!!!) and secondly, it’s a damn delicious recipe which for us, celebrates the foraging that starts in our area in Spring.]
If you have no idea what ramps are, you would be forgiven for thinking it’s some kind of disease that turns people into drooling, seasonal zombies. Because like Walkers, we (the afflicted) wander the countryside, arms outstretched, moaning “Raaaaamps. Raaaaaaaaaaamps.”
Come spring we wistfully scan shady hillsides for tell-tale green shoots. We travel great distances to far-flung farmers markets. We meet dodgy ramp dealers* in back alleys, taking our very lives in our hands, all in hope of scoring some of that delicious, garlicky goodness.
*Note: I have never actually met a dodgy ramp dealer but I bet they exist. I can just picture some bearded hippy dude standing on the corner whispering, “Pssst. Ramps. Meet me behind the compost bin in 5. Namaste.”
So what the hell are they and why the hell does everyone go so bonkers for them? Good questions, dear reader.
Your basic ramp, Allium ursinum, is a North American species of wild onion that grow across eastern Canada and the eastern United States. 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).
They pair beautifully with mushrooms, brown butter and ricotta. We topped toasted crostini but the same combination would be fantastic on pasta or even on potatoes.
How to clean ramps:
- Ramps are usually very muddy and need to be cleaned well before using. Here’s how: cut off the root and if the outer layer is dry or slimy, gently peel it back to a clean layer. Plunge trimmed ramps into a large bowl or salad spinner filled with cold water and swish them around gently, but make sure you get all the mud and dirt out of the crevices. If they’re really dirty, I’ll change the water several times.
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 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.
NOTE: If you don’t have ramps, you can make this recipe with scallions instead. Cook them the same way (white bulb and green tops separated) but add 1 clove of minced garlic to the pan along with the green scallion tops.
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 8 oz. oyster mushrooms, pulled apart or sliced ½ inch thick
- 10 - 12 ramps, cleaned, chopped in 2 inch pieces, white bulbs and green leaf separated
- ½ pound fresh ricotta cheese (1 cup)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- Four ½-inch-thick slices of rustic bread
- Maldon or other flaky sea salt (optional)
- Toast the bread in a toaster or oven until brown. Set aside.
- In a medium skillet, melt half the butter. Add the white ramp bulbs and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until both the butter and ramps are just starting to brown, 3-4 minutes. Add the green leaves and cook 30 seconds more, until just wilted. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Pour ramps and brown butter into a bowl and set aside.
- In the same pan, melt the rest of the butter on medium-high heat. Add the oyster mushrooms in a single layer and let them cook without moving them until one side is deeply caramelized and golden brown, 3-4 minutes. Flip and brown the other side, another 1-2 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper, remove from pan and set aside.
- Spread each toast slice with ¼ cup of the ricotta. Arrange the mushrooms and ramps on top, drizzling on a little of the reserved browned butter. Cut each crostini in half and serve.