Grilled Ramps

(Serves 3–4)

Ramps, like asparagus and other spring vegetables, are best simply prepared. Indeed, the bold flavor of the American wild leek needs few accompaniments.

This recipe incorporates both the bulb and the leaves, but really, these would be just as delectable using only the leaves. And if you make it a habit to forego the bulb in favor of leaves, you will be doing the Appalachian ecosystem a favor.

The most important harvesting tip conservationists pass onto ramp foragers is to cut the stem just above the ground, taking the leaves but leaving the bulb in place. Remove the bulb from the soil and you’ve just killed a plant. Remove just the leaves, however, and the bulb will generate new ones.

Still, others will admit—as will I—to enjoying the satisfying crunch of a ramp bulb on occasion. But I’m not fond of a ramp with an oversized bulb. A ramp with such a swollen bulb is an older ramp. As is the case with all spring greens, ramps are sweeter and more tender when young. When eating a young ramp, you might sacrifice the impressive presentation of a plump, well-developed bulb in favor of flavor and texture. But to me the sacrifice is well justified.

While some adventurous souls love ramps raw, sauté is the most preferred manner of preparing wild leeks. But I have found ramps are best when grilled, like asparagus. Searing ramps quickly over an open flame brings out a sweet earthiness to this spring vegetable that I don’t taste when it is steamed or sautéed.

While starting that charcoal fire, consider serving grilled ramps with your favorite barbecue. There is something about the sweet savors of fire-cooked meat that pairs exquisitely with the pungent onion and garlic flavors of ramps. Personally, I find grilled ramps with barbecued pork ribs—perhaps the sweetest meat suitable for the grill—to be a divine pairing.

1 pound ramps
1-2 tablespoons Olive oil
Coarse kosher or sea salt, to taste
Black pepper, freshly ground, to taste,
Your favorite grilled meat

Begin by preparing a medium-hot charcoal fire in your grill. Wash the ramps thoroughly, and if it hasn’t been done already, trim the fine roots from the bottom of each bulb. You may also wish to peel the thin, outermost, burgundy-tinged sheath from each bulb and shoot, as this tends to have a lot of cellulose and be a bit tough.

Place the cleaned and trimmed ramps in a large salad bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to coat well.

Set the ramps directly on the grill in a single layer. Using tongs, flip the ramps once, searing no longer than about 45-60 seconds on each side.

Serve alongside your choice of meat.