Saturday, April 30, 2016

Ramps Recipe - Ramps Pasta

Ramps are wild leeks, ramps are springtime, ramps are controversial. For us, ramps are what started our whole foraging adventure more than a decade ago when Robert asked me about an elusive onion-scented plant he remembered as a child growing in the forests of Hungary; did we have something like that here in America? Luckily it was spring, luckily we live in eastern North America, and we really lucked out when the random location I chose to look for their oniony-garlicky, smooth green leaves actually did have a carpeted forest floor of ramp-y goodness. We were hooked.

Gillian, age 6 months, eating raw ramps on our first foraging adventure

We have two different species of perennial ramps growing here in southern New England, the common ramp, Allium tricoccum, and the much less common, narrow-leaf ramp, Allium burdickii. The species from Hungary is another, Allium ursinum, which is very similar to our native ramps. Ramps only occur in the eastern half of North America, from Manitoba, Canada down into the higher elevations of Alabama and Georgia. The Appalachian communities have a long history of eating ramps and dedicate several regional festivals to their consumption each spring. 

The leaves of ramps are simple and lanceolate, with a juicy midrib and no veins. They have an almost waxy texture, but are very tender, and can grow 8"-12" long. A cluster of 1-4 leaves grow from an underground bulb, and the stem can be either all white for the narrow-leaf ramp, or have a purple-tinged section of stem for the common ramp. 

At the base of the teardrop-shaped bulb are many thin rootlets. Later in the early summer months, a single flower stalk will emerge from mature plants, producing an umbel of 4-petaled white flowers, which mature into black, round, hard seeds in bunches of three. Once the flower stalk emerges, the leaves start deteriorating and die back, not to bee seen again until next spring. All parts of ramps emit their funky, oniony-garlicky aroma when cut or bruised.

Controversy surrounds the collection of wild ramps among foragers and consumers: it's foodies vs. conservationists, collectors for profit vs. recreational collectors, greediness vs. reality. Restaurants and farmer's markets have championed the whole farm-to-table thing, and "wild foraged" is a hot term, allowing sellers to raise prices to whatever starry-eyed consumers are willing to pay. Supply must meet demand, insatiable appetites must be fed,  so more and more ramps are dug each year, while the reality is that once you dig the bulb and leaf of a ramp to sell it, you have killed the plant. Dead. No more ramps next year! Ramps reproduce incredibly slowly in the wild through bulb splitting and rarely seeding, and while you might think you have stumbled upon the motherlode and ramps appear locally abundant, they are disappearing in the wild due to over-collection using these lethal methods. It is now illegal to collect them in some provinces of Canada, and the concern for their conservation is growing in New York. 

So what is a hungry forager craving some green, ramp-y goodness each spring to do? We mostly collect ramps by selectively cutting one leaf from a plant that has at least 2 leaves, and only dig a limited amount of bulbs from particularly dense clusters of plants. The leaves contain all of the funky flavor with the added nutrition of eating a green vegetable. While restaurants and markets seem to think you need the whole plant to look "pretty" on a plate or at the market stall, most of our recipes don't require more than the leaves. Only once a year do we dig just enough bulbs to make 2 jars of pickled ramps, and that lasts us through several potlucks, parties, and salads.

The leaves of ramps dehydrate well to use as a seasoning all year, and we freeze them, sliced thinly and tightly packed into plastic containers. Pre-made pesto freezes well, as does straight puree. This recipe uses the fresh green leaves of ramps, and will stink up your house in the best way when cooked. This recipe might need a touch more flour if the ramps leaves are particularly succulent and fresh, so plan accordingly and adjust as needed.

Ramps Pasta              makes about 6 servings, 1 1/2 pounds

US Measurements:
14 oz semolina flour
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 c. water
2 1/2 Tbsp oil
2.8 oz ramps leaves, washed and roughly chopped 

International Measurements
396 g semolina flour
3 g salt
150 ml water
22 g oil
80 g ramps leaves, washed and roughly chopped

1. In a bowl, combine the semolina flour with the salt.
2. Combine the water, oil, and chopped ramps in a high speed blender, blend 3 minutes until smooth. Pour into the semolina flour, and mix until a dough forms.
3. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, allow it to rest for 5 minutes, then knead it further for 5 minutes.
4. Wrap the dough in plastic or cover with a damp towel, and allow it to rest at least 30 minutes. It can be refrigerated for a day or so if tightly wrapped.
5. Cut the dough ball into quarters, and use a pasta roller to roll it out into flat sheets, starting at level 1 and rolling it down to level 5 thickness, re-folding and rolling it again if it is falling apart. The more you work it, the smoother it becomes. We like the fettuccine size cut for this firm dough.
6. Dry the pasta and store, or cook fresh in plenty of salted, boiling water, about 2-3 minutes, until al dente. Toss with butter or a sauce, and serve.


The Crone said...

Great information and recipe! I grew up with a bit of foraging. Dandelions are a comfort food in my house. I am looking forward to adding ramps to my back yard foraging.

Anonymous said...

You must have the most interesting food blog I have ever stumbled upon. Fascinating and SO educational, thank you for sharing the information.

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Unknown said...

Hello there! I love your blog. I'm new to New England and also new to foraging. Could you recommend a good place in Rhode Island or Mass to find ramps or just to start off with foraging? Thanks!

The 3 Foragers said...

Moranda, you are looking for a deciduous forest with rich soil, not too wet or it will be over run with skunk cabbage. As far as exact locations go, a forager will never share their "spots", and most of ours are on private land that we forage with permission.