Ramps begin to grow in early spring, just after the ground begins to warm. They appear first in their southern range, in the hill country of Appalachia, where they’re regarded as a welcome spring tonic and are celebrated as the occasion for community-wide festivals.
The earliest ramps of the year are small and tender with tightly furled leaves and a slender bulb, barely the size of a scallion. As the season progresses, ramps grow progressively larger and the harvest moves north, where Allium tricoccum is better known as the “wild leek.” By mid-June, the ramp’s broad green leaves have yellowed and fallen away, but below ground, the bulb swell and grow plump and mellow. While thumb-sized wild leek bulbs make a wonderful replacement for shallots or garlic, they are more than deserving of recognition as a unique member of the onion family with a distinctive taste all their own.
In mid-March, fresh ramps are still weeks away, and late-season wild leek bulbs are just a glimmer on the horizon, so we decided to satisfy our ramp cravings with frozen leek bulbs. With several pounds of frozen bulbs on hand from last year’s harvest, we decided to experiment with some new ramp recipes and happily found that the unmistakable flavor of the wild leeks came through the freezing process brilliantly. It’s this remarkable flavor, tasting so poignantly of the wild woodlands, that is perfectly highlighted in this sweet/savory preparation that can be dangerously habit forming.
Caramelized Wild Leeks (Ramps)
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 3 Tbsp Turbinado sugar (brown sugar may be substituted)
- 2 lb wild leek bulbs, fresh or frozen
- 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Melt the butter in an ovenproof saute pan over medium heat. The saute pan should be large enough to hold all the leek bulbs in a single layer. Add the leek bulbs and cook until they begin to brown slightly, about 10 minutes.
Add the sugar and toss, continuing to cook until the sugar melts and begins to bubble, about 2 minutes.
Add the salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar and cook for 5 minutes longer.
Place the pan in the oven, uncovered, and roast for 15 minutes. Remove to a serving dish and sprinkle with the chopped parsley. Serve while still warm or at room temperature. Wonderful with roasted meats and poultry or as part of an appetizer course.
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