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They’re the essential building blocks of any dish, and spring markets are awash with them.

The beauty of spring alliums — we’re talking green garlic, garlic chives, chives, baby leeks, spring onions, and (swoon!) ramps — is their versatility. Not as pungent as their full-grown family members (looking at you, yellow and red onions!), they can be used in abundance to add depth to any recipe. They’ve got a more vegetal, less lethal feel to them, and they’re just so gorgeous. Admittedly, I go a little overboard buying them every spring, but cooking with them is rewarding. 

An abundance of spring alliums. Credit: Julie Chernoff

The key about storing these beauties is keeping them cold and dry. Try wrapping a dry towel around them and putting them in a sealed plastic bag and storing in the refrigerator to keep the slime at bay, as the tender greens can tend that way after a few days. Another plus is that they’re almost all entirely edible. With the green garlic, you can use the whole bulb and the stalk. The chive flowers are not only pretty but are great scattered over a salad or other dish as a tasty garnish. Don’t be afraid to use the baby leek greens, as they’ve yet to turn woody as with larger, older leeks. Chop, sauté, pickle, what have you. The world is your onion!

Ramps

I recently interviewed six well-known Chicago chefs and almost all of them cited the humble ramp as their favorite spring ingredient. But hurry because these won’t be around the market much longer.

Make a pesto of ramp leaves. Separate the leaves from the ramp bulbs, and blanch the leaves in salted water, rinse with cold water and squeeze dry; blitz in food processor with some green garlic, toasted pine nuts, a few handfuls of baby spinach, pecorino cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and then add olive oil to thin the paste to desired consistency. Toss with pasta and a little bit of pasta cooking water. 

Quickle the bulbs. Trim the roots and rinse the bulbs (with stalk, leaves removed) well, taking care to remove any slimy layers. Place vertically in a clean Mason jar, bulb down. Heat 1 cup each white wine or apple cider vinegar, water, and sugar in a sauce pan along with 2 tablespoons kosher salt, a bay leaf or two, some black peppercorns, and a scant tablespoon of pickling spices until sugar and salt dissolve and mixture has boiled. Remove from heat and pour hot liquid over ramps to cover, leaving some space at the top. Screw on lid and set on counter to come to room temperature, then refrigerate. Give it a few days before using, then start chopping them up and adding them to salads, pastas, pizzas, and more. 

Green Garlic

Granted, I’m a garlic fanatic, but I just love this spring vegetable. Much milder and brighter in flavor than fully mature garlic bulbs, you can use much more than you would think and still appreciate the delicate flavor.

Make Alice Water’s favorite pasta dish.

Heat 1/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, then add 3 thinly sliced heads of green garlic (no need to peel!), a good pinch of red pepper flakes, a tablespoon of chopped parsley, and two ounces of water. Cover the saucepan to steam/sweat the mixture, stirring occasionally, until soft. Add a tablespoon of water at a time if the garlic starts to stick.

Meanwhile, bring a big pot of salted water to a boil and cook off a pound of spaghetti until al dente; reserve one cup of pasta water before draining. Add cooked pasta to the garlic mixture and toss to combine; add half of pasta water, which will add creaminess. Add more if needed. Garnish with minced green garlic tops or garlic chives and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Garlic Chives

You’ll find these in many stir-fried dishes, where they are used like greens. They give a lovely fragrance to the simplest dishes.

Stir-fry them with eggs.

Crack six eggs in a bowl and mix with ¼ teaspoon sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, a few grinds of pepper, ½ teaspoon of sesame oil, and a tablespoon and a half of water. Whisk for at least half a minute to thoroughly combine. Add in 2 cups of cleaned, chopped garlic chives. Heat a wok or deep sauté pan until very hot, then turn the heat down and add in a ¼ cup of canola or sunflower oil. Swirl it around, then add egg mixture, moving continually with a spatula so that eggs and chives cook but don’t brown. You want the eggs to stay soft and moist. Serve immediately.

Try one of these tried-and-true recipes.

The internet is an infinite recipe resource, but how do you know which to trust? Not all recipes are created equal. Here are some that showcase spring alliums beautifully.

Omnivore’s Cookbook’s Pork and Garlic Chive Stir-Fry

Martha Stewart’s Creamy Ramp and Barley Soup

Smitten Kitchen’s Spring Salad with New Potatoes  

Food & Wine’s Grilled Baby Leeks with Romesco Sauce

Half-Baked Harvest’s Cheesy Potato Chive Galette

Julie Chernoff

Julie Chernoff is a freelance food and culture writer and the longtime Dining Editor of Make It Better Media. She loves all things Evanston and has lived here since 1989.

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