The perfect spring recipe is our wild ramp pesto. Ramps, also known as wild leeks, are the perfect mix of garlicky, oniony, and chive flavors. They are only around for a few short weeks each spring so run, don’t walk, to your farmers market this weekend to pick up your wild ramps. Make extra to freeze!
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Why This Recipe Works
The bright green leaves of ramps are reminiscent of basil. This is probably why someone first decided ramps need to be made into pesto.
And honestly, that person was right! You can chop ramps up in salads, you can pickle the ends, and you can saute the greens. But pesto is truly the one and only magical way to eat pasta.
This pesto recipe features walnuts rather than pricey pine nuts. I love the earthy flavor walnuts give. They stand up to the ramps and give a beautiful texture to the sauce.
All About Ramps
Ramps are often called spring onions or wild leeks but they are neither. They have a stronger garlic flavor with a bit of sweetness like an onion.
Ramps are not easily cultivated, therefore they must have to be foraged. They grow wild in the eastern US and Canada and are in season for 2 to 6 weeks during the early Spring.
I typically find them at specialty grocers and farmer's markets but you might find them in your own backyard.
How to Store Ramps
If the ramps haven't been cleaned at all rinse the majority of dirt off and drain in the sink. Don't worry if they come covered in mud- that is totally normal.
Next, roll them in a damp paper towel, place them in a plastic bag, unsealed. and keep them in the fridge. Make all the leaves are covered by the towel and don't bend or crush the plant.
Warning, your entire refrigerator now smells like garlic.
How to Clean Wild Ramps
First off, ramps require a significant amount of cleaning. These babies are special and therefore so worth the extra effort.
- Rinse ramps under cool running water.
- Discard any tough, overly large leaves unless your recipe involves pureeing. (They offer a lot of flavor, but can be difficult to chew).
- Trim off roots.
- Pull back and peel off any translucent skins (these are similar to the skins you find on scallions or green onions). Warning- they do feel a bit slimy.
- Give a final rinse until the water is clear and the ramps are free of dirt and sand.
How to Use Ramps in Recipes
Now that they are cleaned up, how do we use wild ramps in our cooking?
We use ramps in 4 ways:
Grilled- keep them whole and cook them hot, just like a charred scallion.
Sauté- caramelize the white and pink parts, throw in the green tops at the end. They pare especially well with mushrooms. But personally, we like them with roasted watermelon radishes.
Pickled- Pickling the bottoms and use in your favorite East Asia or Indian dishes. A great way to keep the wild ramp love going past Spring.
This recipe uses the standard pesto format. Replacing wild ramps for basil leaves and walnuts for pine nuts.
If you have walnut oil on hand I prefer that over olive oil in this pesto recipe. Walnut oil adds a lovely richness to the pesto. Whichever oil you choose, make sure it is high quality as the oil adds a lot to the flavor.
How to Make Ramp Pesto
Once you have your ramps cleaned and prepped, this pesto comes together quickly.
Step 1- Toasted Walnuts
Just like with all pesto, we toast the walnuts first to bring out their nuttiness. Add
the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat. This helps to bring out their flavor. Be sure to watch them carefully as they can burn quickly.
Once the walnuts are toasted, add them to a food processor or blender. Pulse a few times to break up the pieces.
Step 2- Saute
This ramp pesto has a twist. Sautéing the white and greens part for just a couple of minutes will bring out a sweetness that perfectly complements the garlicky bite. This is what makes ramp pesto so different than a traditional basil pesto recipe.
The ramps should be sauteed over low heat and maintain their beautiful color.
Step 3- Blend
Add the wild ramps, parmesan cheese, and lemon juice to the food processor. With the food processor running slowly drizzle in the oil until the pesto reaches your desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Some chefs may tell you they blanch the green leaves to keep their vibrant color. I don’t find this really matters if you are eating the pesto right away or freezing it.
To make this recipe vegan substitute 1 teaspoon of nutritional yeast for the parmesan cheese.
Note that parmesan cheese is not vegetarian as it contains rennent. Try using Romano or Asiago cheese as a substitute.
Wild ramps should not be frozen whole but the prepared pesto can be stored in the fridge for 2-3 days or frozen up to 3-4 months.
I prefer to freeze pesto in ice cube trays for easy use. Once frozen the blocks can be removed from the tray and moved to a ziptop freezer bag.
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- Thoroughly clean ramps. Separate green leaves from white/ pink roots. Roughly chop.1 bunch wild ramps
- Place a saute pan over medium high heat, toast the walnuts 3 to 5minutes. Keep a close eye, walnuts go from toasty to burnt quickly. Add toasted walnuts to blender or food processor. Give it a quick whirl to to break up the pieces.⅓ cup chopped walnuts
- Return pan to stove, reduce heat to medium. Add 1-2 tablespoon of walnut oil to the pan. Add green and white ramp parts, saute 3 to 5 minutes until soften. Move to blender.1 bunch wild ramps, ½ cup walnut oil, divided
- Add green ramp leaves, lemon juice, cheese, and pinch of salt to blender. Pulse to combine. Slowly add the walnut oil while blending on high speed. Start with a ⅓ cup of walnut oil and add more, if needed, to get to desired consistency.½ cup walnut oil, divided, 2 teaspoon lemon juice, ¼ cup parmesan cheese, kosher salt and pepper
- Adjust salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.
- It is optional to blanch the green ramp leaves. I only do this if I am making the pesto ahead of time and want to ensure it stays vibrant green.
- Sauteeing the wild ramps is an optional step but I find it brings out a bit of the natural sweetness.
- Pesto will keep for 3 days in the refrigerator.