I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes shy away from produce I’m unfamiliar with, and at first ramps were no exception. I’m glad that several years ago I finally gave them a try. Ramps pack a serious flavor punch, and their season is quite brief (at least on the east coast). You’ve got to grab them while they’re available.
Ramps will pop up in spring time at farmers markets, but they might be more difficult to track down at grocery stores. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t find them. I recently scoured my local produce department, hoping to find some but realizing it was a long shot. Before giving up, I asked one of the employees, and it turns out there was a large box of ramps hiding in the back stock room. Not enough people were buying them. The cashier who rang me up had no idea what they were.
What are ramps? They’re wild leeks, but their flavor profile is much closer to garlic. This recipe essentially tastes like garlic pesto, so (full disclosure) be prepared for some potential dragon breath. I’ve done what I can to minimize this by adding fresh parsley. While the flavor of the ramps overpowers the parsley, the herb serves a purpose. Science time: Plant chemicals like polyphenols and chlorophyll bind to the sulfur compounds in garlic and help neutralize the odor that causes garlic breath. For reference, other herbs such as thyme, basil, cilantro, dill, and mint will have similar results. You can add additional parsley to the pesto to increase this effect. However, you might want to avoid serving this on a first date, just to be safe. At the very least, have some breath mints handy.
- ½ cup pine nuts (see notes)
- 6 ounces ramps
- ½ cup flat-leaf parsley
- ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano)
- ¼ teaspoon lemon zest
- ¼ - ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
- Toast the pine nuts in either a skillet or the oven. Option 1: Heat a medium-sized skillet over medium heat and add the nuts. Gently swirl the pan periodically until the pine nuts are golden and fragrant, approximately 5 minutes. Option 2: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the pine nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet, and toast until fragrant and golden, approximately 5 minutes. Gently shake the pan every 2 minutes while they’re toasting, keeping an eye on them. (Note: once pine nuts start toasting, they can go from toasted to burnt very quickly, so don’t walk away.) Set aside to cool.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Set a large bowl of ice water near the stove. While the water is heating up, wash the ramps thoroughly. Trim off and discard the root tips (just the tips, not the bulbs). Slice the leeks in half, separating the leafy green tops from the long, thin stems and bulbs. Chop the stem side into approximately 1-inch pieces.
- Once the water is boiling, add the green tops and blanch until bright green, approximately 15-30 seconds. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the greens from the boiling water to the ice water to halt the cooking process. Drain and then squeeze out the excess liquid (paper towels will help soak up some of the water, but they don’t have to be perfectly dry).
- Add the ramps (both the blanched greens and chopped stems/bulbs), pine nuts, parsley, parmesan cheese, and lemon zest to a food processor. Pulse several times to chop, scraping down the sides of the food processor as needed. With the machine running, add ¼ cup of the olive oil. If desired, add additional olive oil to thin out the mixture slightly. (You might want the pesto to be a thinner or thicker consistency, depending on how it will be used).
- Add kosher salt to taste. The pesto can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.