Friday, March 14, 2008


I cannot wait for spring to arrive. Each year in this area, spring is hailed with the arrival of wild leeks, also known as ramps. They grow in the woods, and I make the trek onto state forest grounds to search for the bright kelly green oval leaves peeking through the leaf litter. They're not like the thick, round leeks at the store; they are much more delicately structured than that. These require digging and careful separation of dirt from plant. The roots are usually in a tangle, and if you're not careful, you'll snap the tender bulb, leaving it in the dirt (which is okay, since another leek will just grow there next year.) The bulb is pungent, and the leaves have a delicate onion/chive flavor that are fantastic strewn upon potatoes O'Brien.

In these parts, one can usually find a ham & leek dinner, where the leeks are usually steamed whole and eaten as "greens", sometimes with butter and a splash of malt vinegar. I much prefer to clean them, separate the greens from the whites, and use the greens in cream sauces or as one would use chives. The sharp bulbs, in my opinion, are best when roasted, which allows their sweetness to shine through the strong flavor. The caramelization also gives them great depth of flavor, and are wonderful pureed and added to a simple carbonara sauce, or anywhere you'd use roasted garlic.

I suppose leeks wouldn't be as prized as they are if they were easy to gather. The next few weeks, we'll drive into the woods and look for signs of leek growth. We'll wait until the signs start going up at local churches, advertising leek dinners, and we'll hike onto our "secret" hillside, enjoy the sounds of the creek as the water meanders through the rocks, and we'll forage for our green gold.

That's our sign that winter is officially over.

Hot & Wild Leek Dip

1/2 cup wild leeks (ramps) cleaned and chopped roughly (if you cannot get wild leeks, use scallions/green onions, but use 3/4 cup)

16 oz cream cheese, at room temperature, cut into cubes

3 tsp cayenne pepper sauce, we like Frank's Red Hot

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

3 Tbsp crumbled bacon, cooked crisp

Preheat oven to 375*F. In a food processor, process the ramps until they are well-chopped. Add the cream cheese, cheddar, and cayenne until well-blended. Transfer mixture to an 8" baking pan sprayed with cooking spray and sprinkle with bacon pieces. Bake for 15-20 minutes until bubbling and heated through. Serve with crackers.


Maggie said...

I just collected ramps this weekend and this dip sounds great!

Daniela said...

I'm so jealous! We haven't been able to get into the woods locally due to some brush fires in the area. I think it is supposed to rain this weekend, and if so... I'm going digging!