Sunday, May 11, 2003

Serve it this week: Ramps

By Chuck Martin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

History: The name "ramp" originated in the Appalachians and is probably derived from the name of a related species, "ramson." Ramps are bold and garlicky wild leeks, with deep-green, lily-like leaves and slender white bulbs. Although ramps have been eaten for years, if not centuries, by American Indians and settlers, they have only become widely available fairly recently.

Buy: Ramps are available from about March until early July. Choose those that are firm, springy and bright green, with roots intact. Some ramps may appear dirty, others clean. Either condition is not necessarily an indication of freshness.

Store: Wrap damp toweling around the roots and refrigerate in several layers of tightly wrapped plastic zipped into a bag. Fresh and dry ramp leaves will keep about a week.

Prepare: Rinse well and trim off roots just before using. For soiled ramps, slip off the first layer of bulb's skin and trim the roots. Cut off any yellowed or wilted leaves and wash in several changes of cold water. Cut ramps according to recipe, but for most, cut the leafy green tops from the rosy stems where they branch from the central stalk. Cooking turns ramps sweet and mild. Substitute ramps for spring onions or leeks in recipes. Blanch and serve like asparagus with butter-based sauces, or braise ramps in stock or cream.

Good for you: As a member of the onion family, ramps supply a moderate amount of vitamin C and are low in sodium, calories and fat, and cholesterol-free. Like their onion cousins, ramps may also contain compounds believed to reduce certain cancer risks.

Ramps Simmered in Cream

1 pound ramps, cleaned

1 cup vegetable or chicken broth

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme or tarragon

1/4 teaspoon dried dill

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup heavy cream

Trim roots from cleaned ramps and remove yellowed or wilted leaves. Cut leaves apart from stems where they branch from the stalk, leaving stalk and bulb attached. Stack leaves and cut into thin diagonal strips. If bulbs are large, cut a slit in base of each.

Combine bulbs, broth, herbs, salt and cream in large skillet; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer gently 3 to 5 minutes, shaking often. Remove bulbs to a plate.

Add leaves to pan and stir to wilt. Simmer gently, uncovered, stirring often, until leaves are soft and cream thickens, about 15 minutes. To serve, heat bulbs briefly in microwave or skillet. Spoon leaf-cream mixture into warm serving dish. Arrange bulbs on top. Serve with baked or poached fish. Makes 4 to 6 garnish servings.

Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini (Morrow; $60)


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