On the Rampage: Cooking with Wild Leeks


Holly A. Heyser

Click here for Hank's homemade ramp pasta recipe, here for his ramp pesto recipe, and here for a method for ramps agrodolce, shown above.

I have a love-hate relationship with wild leeks, which most of you know as ramps. It is the same feeling I get when I actually like a popular song; I felt this way when Madonna's "Vogue" came out in 1990 (and no, I am not gay). It's just that I am genetically predisposed to disliking trendy things ... but I really do like eating ramps.

I have especially enjoyed eating them since moving to California, where wild onions seem to be scarce. I've heard there are more than 20 varieties of wild onion or garlic living here, but I have yet to find any of them—to my eternal shame. Wild onion was one of the first things I foraged for when I was a boy, and finding them has been a harbinger of spring for me ever since.

Ramps did not grow in my neighborhood in New Jersey, but they were always in the Watchung hills nearby, and sometimes my friends and I would find the whole understory of the forest covered by them. My little mental name for ramps was "forest-onion-lily," which is pretty much what they are.

I never heard the term "ramps" until I moved to Virginia as an adult, although my ex-wife knew about them from growing up in Wisconsin. Now ramps are all the rage, and have been for a couple of years now.

Far away from the Kingdom of the Ramp, which ends at the Great Plains in Minnesota, I decided I needed to play with ramps again. This time, I'd cook them. As a boy I just picked and ate them raw; my breath must have been pretty special then ...

Since flying back east was out of the question (I'll be doing enough travel in the coming weeks, but more on that later), I needed to buy ramps. Pretty much the only online purveyor of fresh ramps I know of is Earthy Delights, who were, er, delighted to send me some ramps to mess around with. They sent me something like four pounds of fresh skinny young ramps.

What the hell am I going to do with that many ramps?

I still don't know. I'd like to pickle them, but it's better to have large ramps for that and those come later. So for now, here's what I've done:

    • Sautéed them with olive oil and served them with a squeeze of lemon and fleur de sel and pepper. Simple and delicious.
    • Chopped them up and tossed them into an omelet.
    • Sautéed them in a sweet-and-sour sauce, for ramps agrodolce.
    • Made a ramp pesto.
    • And, most esoterically, pulverized the pretty green ramp leaves and added them to a dough to make a ramp pasta.

Presented by

Hank Shaw runs the website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in 2009 and 2010. He is the author of the recently released Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. More

A former line cook, veteran political reporter, and fisherman, Hank Shaw is a freelance food writer who runs the website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, which chronicles Shaw's search for what he calls the Forgotten Feast: The seasonal foods--mostly wild--we once delighted in, but are now curiosities at best. Game, wild mushrooms, seafood, and wild plants all have a place in modern cooking, and Shaw spends his days exploring their possibilities on the plate.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook was nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in both 2009 and 2010 and by the International Association of Culinary Professionals in 2010. He is the author of the recently released Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. His work has appeared in magazines such as The Art of Eating, Field & Stream, and Gastronomica. He hunts, fishes, forages, and gardens in Northern California with his girlfriend--and photographer--Holly A. Heyser.

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