A simple vegetarian dish to celebrate spring, with warm, creamy new potatoes, wilted ramp leaves and a sunny-side up fried egg.
Have you ever tried ramp leaves? Ramps are wild allium plants that resemble teeny-tiny leeks, only with more delicate, feathery leaves and a distinctive musky aroma that’s often described as a cross between garlic, shallots and leeks.
Many people go nuts for ramps when they appear in markets in the spring (me). The whole plant, including the white bulbs, are easy to throw into just about anything you cook — they get pickled, roasted, sautéed and grilled (I especially love them in easy pasta recipes, like this carbonara-style dish with thick Tuscan noodles).
But for this recipe, it’s the green ramp leaves we’re interested in. They’re tender, mild and have the same delicious flavor as the bulbs, but with a more subtle taste. Along with creamy sweet new potatoes, leeks, goat cheese and eggs fried in olive oil, the wilted leaves make a simply delicious warm spring salad.
The ugly truth about ramps
While ramps have become something of a fetish for food-obsessed people, and a rather expensive delicacy at that, there’s something we should all know — ramps are becoming more and more scarce in the wild.
Also, there are a few reasons ramps have a higher price tag than say, a crate of scallions:
- Ramps take a long time to grow to maturity. From the time seeds are planted, it takes 5-7 years before they can be harvested.
- The plants will only grow in very specific areas — shady, damp woodlands.
- It takes time for people (a/k/a foragers) to find these perfect, shady woodland spots and track down ramps.
- Last but not least, once the whole ramp (including the root, bulbs and leaves) is pulled up, the plant is destroyed. Instead, if the rhizome and roots are left in the ground, the plant will self-propagate and spread naturally.
When I recently saw bunches of ramp leaves in the market, I wondered why they were missing their bulbs. I reached out to Tama Matsouka, who founded Meadows and More, and asked why they were sold that way. Here’s what she said:
We do this purposefully because of our mission of stewardship of plants. Ramps are a wild native plant that grows only in specialized locations. A ramp plant takes 1 1/2 years to germinate and 7 years to mature. Also, it’s growing above the ground for a short month or so, during which time it needs to get its light and nutrients to store in the bulb during its 11 months of underground dormancy.Pulling out the entire pant bulb and all (or worse digging out the bulb) destroys this native perennial, and it is not good for the local soil and forest ecology. So we purposefully pick only one leaf per plant, so the rest of the plant can thrive and return in the spring again next year.
I’m won over by that explanation, and now I’m convinced that although I love nothing more than feasting on ramps from tip to tail, it’s a good idea to spread the word about sustainably harvesting them so that they’ll be around every season.
Let me know in the comments if you can find ramp leaves where you live, and try the recipe!
new potatoes with leeks, ramp leaves and olive oil-fried egg
Yield 4 servings
- 1 pound golf-ball size creamer potatoes
- Kosher salt
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 leeks, white and light green parts
- 1 garlic clove, finely sliced
- 8 ounces ramp leaves, rinsed and patted dry
- 4 eggs
- 4 ounces soft goat cheese
- Freshly ground black peppercorns
- Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water by 3 inches. Add 2 tablespoons salt and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes until they're tender when pierced, 20 - 25 minutes. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot. Use the back of a ladle or large spoon to slightly crush the potatoes. Pour a tablespoon of olive oil over them, then cover to keep warm.
- Slice the leeks in half vertically, and then into 1-inch wide half-moons. Put the leeks in a strainer and run under water to clean any grit or sand.
- Put the leeks, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and a pinch of salt in a medium cast iron or heavy nonstick skillet. Turn the heat to medium and cover the pan. Cook 10 minutes (checking the heat to make sure the leeks aren't browning) to steam and soften them. Remove the lid and continue cooking 5 minutes, until the leeks are tender and light golden.
- Stir in the garlic and ramp leaves and cook until the leaves start to wilt - this should just take a few minutes. Add the leek mixture to the potatoes in the pot and stir together gently.
- Wipe out the skillet and return to medium heat with a tablespoon of olive oil. Crack the eggs into the hot pan and sprinkle with salt. Immediately turn the heat to low and cover the skillet. Cook the eggs until done to your liking, 1 - 3 minutes longer.
- To serve, put the potato-leek mixture on plates or bowls. Sprinkle with some crumbles of goat cheese, then top with a fried egg. Season with black pepper to taste.