There are many ways to know that spring has arrived in New York city. Daffodils bloom and provide some of the first splashes of color in an otherwise still winter grey city. Bradford pear trees do their own blooming, brilliantly white, like a bright memory of the snow that was covering their branches just weeks ago. People seem to blossom too. New Yorkers are happier, nicer, they start to wear colors other than black and dark blue. The parks fill up during lunch time, despite the chill that is often still in the air.
But the most certain sign that spring is here is the arrival of ramps. Sometimes called wild leeks or wild garlic, they were pretty much unknown to most New Yorkers a few years ago. But they became the ‘it’ food one year and since then they have been arriving in larger and larger quantities every year. They deserve all the attention. They have a distinct garlic scent and flavor but they are so mild they can be eaten raw. The leaves can be added to salads, used to make pesto, or simply sautéed in olive oil for a great side dish. I like to chop them and add them to tomato sauce for pasta.
The stems and bulbs are wonderful chopped and sautéed themselves or sprinkled raw over salads. But my favorite way of eating them is pickled. Left in a sweet and salty brine for a day or two, they transform into irresistible batons of complex flavor. I chop the pickled stems and sprinkle them over pretty much everything: salads, chicken, fish, vegetables. Though I’ve been known to eat some of them straight out of the jar too. They are that good.
About 8oz ramps
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 cup rice vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Wash the ramps and trim off the roots. Some ramps will have a slimy layer on the stems. Remove it. Cut the ramps in two, where the leaves start and the top part of the stems ends. Reserve the leaves for something else. Place all the stems in a 1-pint jar (make sure they are not packed too tight; leave room for the brine). Add fennel seeds and peppercorns.
In a medium saucepan, add vinegar, water, sugar and salt and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Pour boiling brine in jar over ramps almost all the way to the top, leaving about 1/4 inch (you’ll have some brine left over). Seal jar with lid and let cool. Place in refrigerator.
Ramps are ready to eat after a couple of hours but they are much better after at least 24 hours. Kept in refrigerator they will last for up to two weeks.