The French call them ail sauvage, or wild garlic. Others erroneously refer to them as spring onions, the name actually meant for those big, bulbous seasonal scallions. Wild leek is probably the most accurate nickname.
Whatever else you choose to call them, the distinct look and unique flavor of ramps entice food fanatics and chefs during the few weeks they’re available each spring.
Ramps are native to North America and grow wild in the forests of the eastern seaboard states. They’re harvested up from south to north as the short season barrels along, from the Carolinas into Canada. From the stalk down, they look like scallions with a more portly root end, but the delicate, flat green leaves at the top are the signature characteristic of ramps. The flavor is a cross between garlic and leeks, not unlike a zestier version of chives.
You can work with ramps in the same way as scallions or leeks, although their intensity warrants some caution if using them raw. They’re best cooked, either sautéed and tossed with another cooked veggie, like summer squash or potatoes. They can be lightly oiled and salted then charred on the grill till crackling. One of our favorite (and simplest) dishes is champ, an Irish spin on mashed potatoes, where you simply wilt chopped ramps, stem and leaf, in some butter, then simmer that mixture in the milk you’re adding to your mash. Simply wild!