Ramps are a member of the allium family (Allium tricoccum if you care to get all categorical about it) and are akin to a wild onion. The flavor is pungent and slightly nutty, somewhere between garlic and leeks, and both the leafy tops and tender bulbs are edible.
Food fanatics get rabid about them not just because they're incredibly delicious, but also because they're somewhat of a rarity. Ramps are difficult, if not impossible to cultivate, so they must be foraged from cool woodlands (for free) or as is often the case, bought at a premium from someone else who's gone out to do the dirty work (for anywhere from $8 to $20 a pound).
They're also only in season for a very brief window in the spring, so chefs and home cooks get fanatical about jamming as many of them onto their menus and into their ramp holes as humanly possible during these few weeks. This has led to a certain amount of food world backlash in the past few years. ("OMG, ramps are so, like Spring 2011. I'm so over ramps. Ramps are so, like whatever.")
These people are wrong. Ramps remain thoroughly scrumptious, year after year - a springy little "Howdy do!" from the earth. But I thoroughly support the grousing because I live in fear that these people will discover and plunder my secret foraging spot over by the...wait, I'm not telling you.
Along with the tremendous collective appetite comes a real danger of over-harvesting. Foragers must take care to pick only a portion of the patch, avoid taking any young or flowering plants, and replant the rhizome (the underground stem from which bunches of ramps grow) to ensure robust rampage for years to come.
-- How to eat them
Not raw, unless you're prone to walking around chawing on garlic bulbs, or have vampires over whom you'd like dominion. Better to purée, sauté to serve atop pasta or pizza, fry, pickle, or in general treat as you would scallions or garlic scapes.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy them (and I realize this flies in the face of the not-raw rule, so I never serve this to company) is to pound the greens and bulbs into pesto and spread on crackers, stir into pasta or drizzle atop roasted chicken. It works well anywhere you'd use a traditional basil pesto and can be frozen in ice cube trays (though you'll want to hold off adding the cheese until you're ready to thaw and serve it) to let a taste of spring pop up after all the ramp chatter has wilted away.
-- Kat's Ramp Pesto(originally published at Slashfood)
Ingredients (quantities to taste)
Handful of ramps -- bulbs and greens
Roughly chop greens and bulbs into 1/2 inch pieces on a cutting board, and place in mortar or rough-textured bowl with a pinch of kosher salt. With a pestle or wooden spoon, grind the ramp against the surface of the bowl, using the salt's grit to help break down the fibers until they form a somewhat uniform paste.
Sprinkle in pine nuts and crush them into the paste with the mortar. Once they're integrated, drizzle in olive oil, stirring constantly until the desired consistency is achieved. Sprinkle in grated Parmesan cheese to taste.