This is a sit-down, knife-and-fork kind of sandwich. You could try to eat it with your hands but I think it's too messy. I've always loved open-faced sandwiches and tartines. There's something about the generous ratio of filling to bread in an open-faced sandwich that I prefer. And you get to see everything, which, if you're at all visual like me, is important in a dish.
It's a perfect light and filling dinner but not a breakfast item. Ramps are far too pungent for the early morning hours. For days, the garlicky scent of charred ramps lingered in the air in my apartment.
Ramps (allium tricoccum), also sometimes called wild leeks, grow wild on the East Coast, in certain parts of the Midwest, and in Quebec. They're available for a brief period in the spring. As soon as winter recedes, Twitter and Instagram feeds on the East Coast explode with photos of ramps as chefs, magazine editors, and food bloggers race to the markets to grab bunches of the wild alliums. At the farmers market a few weeks ago, the chef in front of me was informed that he could buy no more than 25 bunches for his restaurant.
I can't account for the fascination with these wild delicacies or their extravagant popularity but I can confirm that they're delicious. They have a pungent garlicky odor and an assertive flavor -- use sparingly. The one thing that everyone helpfully neglects to mention while Tweeting photos of these wild plants is that ramps can be extremely difficult to clean. Ever clean a bunch of leeks? Consider that a mere prelude to what you might encounter when cleaning ramps.
They're slim, delicate, and slippery, which makes them hard to handle. When you buy them at the market, their roots are covered with mud, and bits of soil are lodged in the inner crevices beneath the slippery red skin of the stem below the bulb. I typically chop off the root, and rinse the rest, sometimes slipping off the filmy red skin of the bulb to clean the interior folds. Another safeguard is to rinse again after slicing (this is also a great way to clean dirty leeks, coincidentally). Set aside about thirty minutes and take your time to clean them throughly.
And so, ramps have the distinction of being both difficult to source and impossible to clean. Are ramps worth the effort? Fortunately--or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it--yes. Absolutely.
Once prepped, try to use them sooner rather than later. Ramps work well in any dish that would benefit from an infusion of alliums -- all egg dishes and soups, for example. You can even use them raw. But this poached egg toast is how I will be eating them now and for the rest of ramp season -- crispy bread, a runny egg yolk, creamy sweet ajvar, garlicky charred ramps, and a flake or two of Maldon.
Finally, a brief note on ajvar, which is a Serbian (or Croatian/Bosnian/Macedonia/Bulgarian/etc.) roasted red pepper and eggplant spread. It has a softer texture than harissa or salsa, a sweetness from the peppers and eggplant, and an unparalleled smoky quality. I'm obsessed with ajvar and put it on everything. I won't even give away my favorite brand because I'm worried they'll sell out. I use a store-bought version here but I've been dying to work out my own recipe, which will end up being my summer project. (Having consumed it for about 28 years, I am very particular about my ajvar so it will be a challenge). But even without the ajvar, the combination of garlicky ramps, thick, runny yolk, and good bread is spectacular. Give it a shot while ramps are still available.
Ramps on Toast with Poached Egg and Ajvar (gf)
Adapted from Bon Appétit
2 tbsp avocado oil
2 bunches of ramps
4 pieces gluten-free bread (I like Canyon Bakehouse)
1/2 cup ajvar (or other condiment, see Note)
1 tbsp white vinegar
extra virgin olive oil, flaky sea salt, black pepper
Clean the ramps well: remove the roots and rinse the leaves and the stem beneath the slippery red skin. Cut the dark green leaves from the red stems/bulbs and slice crosswise into 1-inch slices. Cut the white bulbs and stems into 1/4-inch slices.
Heat the avocado oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced bulbs and stems, season with salt and pepper, and cook on medium to medium-low for a few minutes until the bulbs soften. Add the sliced green leaves and cook for a few more minutes until the leaves wilt.
In the meantime, bring water to boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add in 1 tbsp white vinegar. Stir the water to create a light whirlpool. Crack an egg into a small bowl and then gently slide it into the simmering water. Poach until whites are set (the yolks will be runny) for about 3 minutes. Repeat with remaining eggs. (To poach multiple eggs at the same time, follow BA's guidance and wait until the egg white turns opaque in the water before adding the next egg. Basically, space them about 30 seconds apart.).
Grill or toast the bread. Spread each slice with a tablespoon or so of ajvar (or other condiment). Top each slice with ramps and a poached egg. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse sea salt (like Maldon) and black pepper. Serve immediately.
Note: If you can't find ajvar, substitute harissa, salsa, tapenade, or any other vegetable condiment of choice. Or, prepare it the Bon Appétit way with creamy goat cheese.