The wild leek known as “ramps” is a wild onion native to North America. This member of the Lily family is one of the very first plants to push its head out of the ground after the snow melts. They usually appear in late April and can be harvested throughout the month of May.
The wild leek can be recognized by its broad, smooth, light green leaves that grow to about eight inches in height. The leaves are often tinted with burgundy or purple highlights. First time ramp hunters need not worry so much about their botanical identification skills for when one pulls up the strongly rooted Scallion like bulbs from the ground your nose will confirm your find; by tearing the plants stem and taking a sniff. If it the strongly distinctive scent of an onion sears your nostrils then you have hit pay dirt.
Later in the season ramps develop a yellow flower which only develops after the leaves have dried up and fallen away from the plant. Although they are still edible at this time the bulbs become rather swollen and tough with a woody texture.
Ramps are adaptable to almost any food style and can also be sautéed or used in soups and stir fries. Substitute them in any recipe that calls for onions or garlic. I enjoy eating freshly harvested ramps raw; however their scent seems to linger for a couple of days on your breath.
Ramps have made the USDA endangered species list as spieces of concern resulting from its commercial exploitation. Ontario does not have any laws in place to protect ramps but I do recommend that you only harvest ramps when they are abundant, and even then only collect scattered patches or individual plants.
The ramp season isn’t very long but you can preserve harvested ramps by freezing or pickling them.
Ramps grow in moist sandy soil often near streams. I usually stumble upon them when foraging for Morel Mushrooms. Try hunting for both this weekend and cook them in a quiche with this weeks recipe.
Wild Leek and Morel Quiche
9-inch pie pastry
Two tblsp canola oil
Five ounces ramps, washed and coarsely diced
Four ounces fresh morels, split and cleaned
Two ounces bacon, diced
One tsp tarragon
5 large eggs
One quarter cup 35-per-cent cream
One quarter cup milk
Two ounces Monteray Jack
Two ounce Romano cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Method: Preheat the oven to 325 F. In a medium sized sautee pan heat the oil over medium heat. add the bacon and morels, season with the salt and pepper. Cook mixture until it becomes fragrant and the mushrooms release some moisture. Add the ramps and tarragon. Continue cooking until leeks are limp and tender. Remove from heat and check seasoning. Spread evenly on pastry shell and sprinkle with grated cheeses. Beat eggs and mix in cream and milk. Pour mixture into pie shell and bake on the middle rack of oven until mixture sets. Around 20-25 minutes.
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