Martha+Tom

Ramp Pesto

It’s springtime again, which means the Internet is running rampant with reports of ramps. Amidst all the gushing over this early allium, I read probably the best assessment of ramps ever written:

Most “spring” menus are cruel teases. The good stuff we really want, like local peas and asparagus, doesn’t turn up for at least another month. So impatient chefs smother us in ramps, the garlicky, leek-like wild onions that come out of the ground in March. They’re supposed to presage the glorious bounty to come. Instead, they remind us of winter’s bottomless pit of turnips and rutabaga. I’d rather eat wild grass on the High Line.

(The Gripes of Wrath by Steve Cuozzo. Thanks to Shefzilla for the link.)

In spite of a certain shared cynicism with Cuozzo, when I saw The Wedge had ramps from Harmony Valley Farm in Wisconsin, I more or less dropped what I was doing to head over and claim a bunch. After all, what kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t jump on the occasional bandwagon?

There are many possibilities for cooking up this wild stinkweed; risotto seems obvious for some reason, and they are a popular target for pickling. But I wanted to taste my ramps in all their oniony, burny goodness, so I wanted to kep them raw. How about pesto?

The beauty of ramp pesto is its simplicity; the ramps have the onion family more than covered, so no need to add garlic. I used:

  • 1 bunch of ramps
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted (or use whatever nuts are on hand)
  • Sea Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • ~1/3 cup olive oil
  • ~1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

The first step is to wash your  ramps, since ramps come from the dirt and dirt is gross. After that, the ramps should go into a mortar, at which point you use a pestle to grind a fear of God into them. Adding a little sea salt gives traction. Once the ramps are sufficiently broken down to allow space in your mortar for the nuts, add those and keep grinding. Eventually, your graceful, slender ramps will be reduced to a funky green paste.

With the ingredients ground to your satisfaction, you can stir in the lemon juice and enough olive oil to loosen the consistency up from paste to sauce level. Then add in the cheese and adjust the seasoning. Presto: pesto!

The flavor of ramps is hard to describe; they are close enough to garlic to satisfy my strong garlic appetite (and probably alienate any garlic haters), but they have a further green, grassy taste. In a good way, I think. Anyway, they’ll have to do until we get some real spring vegetables.

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6 comments on “Ramp Pesto”

  1. Faith 15 April, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    bravo to you for making pesto, #1- from ramps, #2- with a mortar and pestle. I’ve never done that, don’t own a mortar and pestle. But have heard that the Italian grandmas shudder at the food processor, won’t go near it, for pesto.

  2. Tom 16 April, 2010 at 8:51 am

    I normally use a food processor for pesto (though I have been known to bruise the basil leaves before introducing them to the blades) but something came over me and I pulled out the mortar and pestle. It requires a fair amount of arm work and persistence. Since I rarely make ramp pesto, I’m not sure if it was worth it or not. Makes for nice visuals, though.

  3. Wurstmacher 17 April, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    Ramps are in the allium family. Pound anything you want and call it pesto, but making it with such a high onion/allium proportion might push the boundaries of what is easily digestible – depending highly on how well your digestive tract handles the volatile compounds in uncooked onions. The lemon juice might knock it down/mellow it out as it brightens the flavor (think cooking with acid).

    Since I’m going wild with opinion here, I’d consider making the pesto with arugula or spinach using ramps as the onion element. You might also try blanching/shocking/patting dry the ramps to color fix them, make them more poundable, and deactivate those volatiles (you know the compounds that make your digestive tract blow up like a balloon).

    Blender, or food processor pesto, is not the real deal. Unless you think a hot air balloon ride and a helicopter ride are the same thing.

    Very much out there…. everyone probably knows that recipes are starting points. The juice of half a lemon, 1/2 cup of nuts, 1/2 cup of cheese is going to get you a lemony (depending on size), nutty, cheesy product. I know, I know, shut up already. I’m just thinking about the people who cook with measuring devices, and somehow wanting to reach out and let them know that change is playful and good. Put the nuts, cheese, lemon etc. in until you get an appealing flavor balance…. Blah blah blah.

    Blanched ramps are delicious in a souffle. They’re wicked good in an omelet or an egg dish. The leek like portion of the ramp is great pickled (hot pickled until tender, unless shoe laces are a mouthfeel your’re targeting).

  4. Linda 21 April, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Now you’ve motivated me to go out and look if the ramps I found in our front garden have come back again this year. Will report my findings to you.

  5. Tom 23 April, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Linda- any ramps you don’t immediately eat can be brought out to MN in early May. I promise to cook them for you!

    Wurstmacher- I think your analogy to hot air balloons and helicopters is apt: both can get you to the same place, but one is a hell of a lot faster! ;-) Thanks for the ramp and egg suggestion; I bought some more ramps the other day and may have to put them in a fritatta. For the record, the pesto as described above caused me no digestive problems; I find ramps — particularly the leaves — to be pretty mild.

  6. Brett Laidlaw 23 April, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Tom, as usual your writing is thoughtful and provocative, and therefore thought-provoking. A few:

    Chefs latch on to trends, and wind up ruining it for everybody. I was amazed when I first started seeing ramps showing up on “gourmet” menus, equally astonished at the price they bring in the shops, since they grow for free in the woods, and abundantly. Ramps should be looked at the way country folk, foragers and gatherers look at them–the first green edible thing to appear after the long winter, a pungent kickstart to spring, a harbinger of the growing season.

    Dirt is not gross; it’s not even dirt. Let’s call it soil, and celebrate its gifts. Not saying I want it in my pesto, however….

    The mortar and pestle method is great, and of course that’s the way to make pesto–pestle-pesto, nuff said. Your next challenge, when the first garlic hits the market, will be to make your aioli that way. It can be tricky, but it’s the traditional Provencal way to do it, so I hear, and it makes a truly wonderful aioli, absolutely thick and glistening. Or maybe try an “aioli” with ramps?

    Right now you can add nettles, fiddleheads, dandelions, and more to the list of wild spring vegetables courtesy of Ma Nature. If those ain’t real, I don’t know what is.

    Cheers~ Brett

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