This past weekend took us to Vermont. We joined friends of mine from grad school to ride the Muddy Onion Spring Classic around Montpelier – 35 miles of gravel roads, scenic Vermont vistas, and a halfway fuel stop stocked with a cooler of PBR, chocolate covered bacon, and maple syrup shots. It was my second bike ride of the season, as things have only recently been thawing out and drying up where we live. I couldn’t stop proclaiming afterward that it was the most fun ride I’ve ever done, which is saying quite a lot given that I’m normally averse to hill climbing.
But it was just so beautiful out. The weather was perfect; it started off cool, but clouds gave way to sun partway through the day. I got to try out my bike with its new triple crankset setup, which likely explains why I enjoyed the climbs so much. Hill climbs are so much easier when you can stay seated, without effort, on even the steepest pitches. The early spring made for dry roads, which was a plus. 35 miles of sloggy muddy roads would have definitely been too much for me so early in the season, so I appreciated that. All in all, another ace weekend in Vermont.
Along the ride, I kept noticing wild leeks, or ramps, all over the place. In riparian zones near streams. In a bowl-shaped valley sheltered from prevailing winds. Underneath a maze of tap lines in a maple syrup sugarbush. And everywhere I looked, there were No Trespassing signs posted, until I finally found a small pocket growing within the right-of-way of the road. I snagged one and made quick work of it.
It’s been something like seven years since I last picked ramps. They don’t grow up where I live in Maine, and I don’t think they’ve had them at my grocery store during that time either.
But if you know me, you know that I love free food. Free food sitting in the woods, waiting to be happened upon by me, my grubby hands, and a plastic bag. It’s a siren song I can’t resist. And resistance is futile when your friends know of a place just up the road from their home that has all the ramps you can dream of.
Since it’s still early in the season, the bulbs haven’t yet developed fully, but that’s no reason not to do a little foraging. After all, it’s been seven years since my last opportunity. So we did a little pickin’ and grinnin’.
Joe and Jane kept a handful of our bounty, but graciously allowed us to bring the rest home. They can go back for more whenever they wish. A handful goes a long way with these little Alliums, they are awfully garlicky and oniony, and I love them. I cooked with ramps last night, and I can still smell them on my hands today.
And now that I think of it, I kind of prefer ramps in this early phase before they develop fully, because they’re a bit more mild. I remember popping a few late season some years back, and getting heartburn on the spot because they were so strong.
I chose to make Wild Leek Pancakes with mine, in homage to the scallion pancakes that we find on occasional dim sum menus, and can’t get enough of. This homemade version isn’t quite the restaurant quality I remember, but it was just as delicious, and just a little bit different. Perhaps if I had chopped the ramps finer, I could have rolled the pancakes out thinner, and achieved the ultra thin pancake I was aiming for. Oh well, laziness always wins.
Wild Leek Pancakes (because Ramps Cakes sounds weird)
Recipe for Scallion Pancakes from J. Kenji López-Alt, with ramps used in place of scallions
2 c. all purpose flour, plus more for kneading and dusting
1 c. boiling water
1/4 c. toasted sesame seed oil
2 c. wild leeks/ramps, sliced thin (I used the white parts, and an inch or so of the greens)
1/4 c. or more vegetable oil
Dipping Sauce Ingredients:
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp wild leeks/ramps, sliced thin
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger (or even a little more)
2 tsp sugar
Combine all sauce ingredients and set aside at room temp.
Put flour in the bowl of a food processor. With processor turned on, use feed tube to drizzle in 3/4 of the cup of boiling water. Process 15 seconds. If dough has not come together, drizzle additional water in, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough has just come together.
Transfer dough to floured countertop, and knead for 1-2 minutes until dough turns smooth. Transfer to a bowl, and cover with a damp towel. Set aside to rest for 30 minutes at room temp, or overnight in the fridge.
Divide dough into four equal pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll the first ball of dough out into an 8″ round. Brush a thin layer of sesame oil over the top of the disk with a pastry brush. Roll disk up jelly roll style, then “twist roll into a tight spiral, tucking the end underneath.” This is a bit difficult to do, but do what you can to tuck the ends in and bring the dough back to a round shape, and then press dough down to keep the ends from separating. Flatten dough by hand, then re-roll to an 8″ round. Brush a second layer of sesame oil onto the rolled out dough, then sprinkle with 1/2 cup of ramps. Press ramps lightly into the dough. Again roll disk up like a jelly roll, twisting and flattening gently. Being careful to avoid ramp rupture, re-re-roll dough into a 7″ round.
Set prepared pancake aside on a lightly floured surface. Repeat prep steps with remaining three balls of dough.
Heat oil in a small nonstick or cast iron pan over medium high heat. Kenji recommends an 8″ pan; I don’t have one that small, so I added extra oil to my pan. When oil is shimmering, slide one pancake into the pan. Cook until underside is an even golden brown, 2 minutes or so. Flip pancake, and continue cooking until second side is also an even golden brown, 2 minutes longer. Remove pancake from pan and place on paper towel-lined plate. Season with salt. Repeat with remaining pancakes.
Serve warm with dipping sauce.
Happy as a ramp in a quality northern hardwoods forest