Wild leeks, also known as ramps or spring onions, come out in early spring. They grow in the wild, usually by streams in sandy soil. Highly sought after by by foragers and chefs, these leafy, wild edibles are stronger than regular leeks and have a sort of sharp scallion/garlic flavor.
If you want to try heading into nature to forage for wild leeks, the video above will show you how to find, harvest, clean and store them. (If you're not planning on pickling them, you can skip step three of the video.) Take special note of the instructions in the video and the linked story to harvest sparingly. If you take them all, you'll keep them from coming back next year.
You can sometimes find wild leeks at specialty food stores and farmers markets when they're in season — which is usually short in duration, about four weeks. Be ready to pony up for them, though, because a small bunch can cost $5 or more. Whether you've hunted for wild leeks in the woods or bought them from someone else who did the hunting, they'll work wonderfully in these recipes. Remember, ramps and wild leeks are the same thing, so any time you see a recipe that calls for ramps, it's also good for wild leeks.
1. Totally Wild Leek Pesto: Wild leeks replace traditional basil in this pesto recipe. For sweeter pesto, use only the leaves of the wild leeks. For pesto with a bit of a bite, add some of the bulbs. The pesto can be used on pasta, mixed into rice, spread on toast, drizzled on salad, or used as a dipping sauce for vegetables.
2. Caramelized Wild Leek Bulbs: If you're using only the leaves of the wild leeks for a recipe (such as the pesto above), don't toss the bulbs. Caramelize them. These bulbs start out on the stove top but finish in the oven, so you'll need to start in an ovenproof saute pan. The finished bulbs can be served with roasted meats or poultry, or as an appetizer on their own.
3. Braised Ramps and Asparagus: Two of spring's favorite and earliest vegetables come together in this simple dish that has a buttery sauce. Good crusty bread is recommended to sop up the sauce after you've eaten the vegetables.
4. Ramp Havarti Focaccia: This from-scratch bread is simple enough to make, especially if you have a stand mixer. You just need to give the dough enough time to raise twice. The ramps and the cheese go right into the dough as you're making it. Right before you pop the whole thing in the oven, it gets a generous sprinkling of sea salt.
5. Ramp Compound Butter: Compound butters are easy to make when you start with store-bought butter. This recipe adds blanched ramps to unsalted butter with some lemon zest and juice to create a savory butter for toast or for melting on top of vegetables.
6. Baked Ramp Custard with Ramp Relish: The wild leek whites are sliced up and used in a savory custard and the greens are used in a bacon vinegar relish for this Emeril Lagasse appetizer recipe. The custard is divided into six individual ramekins, making an unusual appetizer for a dinner party that can be eaten with a spoon or scooped up with crusty bread.
7. Wild & Wonderful Ramp Chowder: This recipe uses both the bulbs and the greens of wild leeks, and that means there's no need for onions or garlic in the chowder. The recipe has options to customize it to be dairy-free or vegan, although as-is, it's made with heavy cream, cheese, chicken stock and bacon.