It is that time of year.

The ramps have arrived.

Ramps are wild leeks, and belong to the same genus as onions, garlic and chives.  Their flavor is a wild and woodsy combination of the three.  You can eat the entire plant, the bulb, stalk, and leaves, and can use them in recipes where you'd use garlic, onions, leeks, or scallions.  They are native to North America, and thrive in damp woodlands.  They are one of the first splashes of green in the woods, and an unmistakable sign that spring has finally decided to come to the party.

(here is one growing in our yard--that I had planted from a few extra I had bought at the farmer's market two seasons ago).

To make them even more of a produce rock star, they are only around for about a month, after which the flavor grows too aggressive.  During that time, these slender green devils send the culinary world into a bit of a frenzy.  In Appalachia there are many community-wide festivals devoted solely to ramps.  In New York City, it's tough to walk into a restaurant in April and not find at least one ramp special on the menu.  At Rick Bishop's Mountain Sweet Berry Farm stand in Union Square's greenmarket, there is a sign propped up by his ramps with business cards from spectacular NYC chefs (who get their ramps from Rick), and handwritten notes of how they each prepare this seasonal delicacy:

The Modern: ramp ravioli

Gramercy Tavern: grilled, pickled, salsa verde with ramp greens, sauteed with scallions, salad of leeks with grilled ramps

Butter: chopped eggs on toast with grilled ramps and ricotta

Corton: ramp wrapped quail breast and lardo ballantine

SD26: ramp risotto

Mas Farmhouse: sauteed with bacon cream

Co.: grilled with lamb shoulder

Dell'anima: Tajarin "alla carbonara"--ramps, speck, egg, and pecorino

When I visited the stand yesterday, I told Rick I was in a bit of a "ramp rut" and needed some new ideas.  And did I get some!  (Tip:  always chat with the farmer at the stand to find out their favorite way of preparing their vegetables.  Amazing resource!)  Great new ramp recipes to follow...and in the meantime, get some while you can.

Rick Bishop
Farmers are my heros.  As a chef and food fanatic, they are the mamas and papas, surrogates and midwives of my most precious ingredients.  As an upstate resident, they are the fierce protectors of our land, farming heritage, and heirloom varieties of animals and vegetables.  And since moving upstate, I have had the great pleasure of getting to know many of these amazing neighbors--and then getting to visit them at the market in Union Square.

Rick Bishop of Mountain Sweet Berry Farm is one of the rockstars of the Greenmarket, and a friend of ours.  He is adored by the most brilliant of chefs and grows the most magnificent strawberries (Tristar) and heirloom fingerling potatoes, among many other treasures.  Keep an eye out for his table overflowing with ramps in the early spring.

Seriouseats.com did a great short film about Rick  a little while back.  Definitely worth a few minutes of your time, particularly in the doldrums of winter.

I love Alexandra Guarnaschelli's comment about Rick in the video:

"When I buy your potatoes, and I bring them back to the restaurant, and I put them in the oven, I can smell your soil, baking, in the oven...I love your dirt, and he said "It's not dirt, it's soil, and it's a living, breathing thing."


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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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