By nature a contrarian, I find myself very skeptical of hype. This was the case with boy bands and this was the case with ramps (why boy bands comes to mind, I have no idea. And actually, I did have a small crush on Brian of the Backstreet Boys that I’m now just a teeny bit embarrassed to own up to). With all the hooplah surrounding what’s-just-another-member-of-the-allium-family, I admit, I was pretty disinterested in trying them, especially if it meant fighting over the last few stalks with someone more aggressive than me because they wanted them more than me. Because these guys go fast. Watching them sell at the farmer’s market is like watching a time lapse video.
But being a food blogger is akin to being an investigative journalist, at least in matters of food. You follow all leads, and you don’t hold yourself back from anything. (And yes, I did just make that comparison!) In this case, with a trustworthy source as my lead, I decided to pick up a couple bunches.
Now, a few facts about ramps that I find remarkable: (as usual, thanks Food52)
1. They’re only found in specific parts of the U.S., namely the Northeast.
2. They’re only in season for something like three weeks each spring.
3. They are almost completely foraged, which means they’re wild, which leads me to the next fact…
4. Ramps take FIVE TO SEVEN YEARS to grow before they’re ready to be harvested. And it can take 18 MONTHS just for them to germinate.
Wow. In that context, it’s easy to understand why people go crazy over them. Although, scarcity doesn’t necessarily imply that they’re any good. But in this case, Carey, you were right! Ramps don’t quite taste like anything else, and they’re wonderful. They’re also extremely pungent. Even before you taste them, you smell them, sharply, overwhelmingly, scented garlic but not raw. They smell like garlic bread, in fact, sort of roasted and intense. They taste so much stronger than their domesticated cousins too. Piquant, kind of like what arugula is to regular greens. They remind me of Chinese leeks, a great favorite of mine growing up that my mom used to scramble with eggs and serve alongside rice porridge (which somewhat made up for the fact that we were forced to eat watery tasteless GRUEL when Mom didn’t feel like cooking. But this is old baggage; I won’t go into it.) Anyway, I highly recommend breath mints.
Which is why pesto seemed the perfect food to take advantage of ramp’s rather distinctive qualities. Doesn’t it just sound good? There can’t be a better fate, in my humble opinion. I didn’t have pine nuts lying around, so I used walnuts instead, but besides that, I followed the traditional pesto recipe pretty closely. (Well, I guess the traditional way of making pesto involves a mortar and a pestle, but there were no Italian nonni around to judge.)
I’m only now questioning the color of this pesto. It’s awfully bright and swampy isn’t it? And yet, that was its exact hue when it was first blended. Weird. But it does mature into a darker green after awhile.
Adapted from Food52
Makes around 1/2 cup (I’m completely estimating—I would say it’s enough for topping one medium pizza, serving 2 to 3 with pasta, and feeding quite a few with bread)
1 bunch of ramps (about 10 stalks)
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil (I used about 1/2 cup)
Salt & pepper
Squirt of lemon
Wash the ramps and cut the hairy ends off the bulbs. Roughly chop the leaves and remainder of the bulbs. Also roughly chop the walnuts, then place both the ramps and walnuts in a food processor. Pour in the cheese and start processing, slowly pouring in olive oil until you’ve reached a consistency you like. Taste for salt and pepper, and squirt in some lemon juice to taste.
I would let the pesto sit for a little while, maybe an hour, before eating. The flavors need some time to meld together.