Perfect spring pesto featuring ramps, also known as wild leeks, and walnuts. Ramps 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.
What is a Wild Ramp?
Ramps are often called spring onions or wild leeks but they are neither. They have stronger garlic flavor with a bit of sweetness like an onion. Ramps are not easily cultivated, therefore they must be foraged. They grow wild in the eastern US and Canada. Found at specialty grocers, farmers markets or maybe your own back yard.
Please read the entire post for tips and tricks to ensure a perfect recipe every time. And don't forget to tag @peelwithzeal on Instagram so we can admire your creation!
We transplanted ramps a few years ago from a friend’s property to a very shady, wet area in our yard. Amazingly they grew, but we don’t have enough to pull for eating. Yet. Fingers crossed for next year. We picked these beauties up at a local farm stand.
Paired with this pasta I recently discovered at Whole Foods, it was absolutely divine. I need to give RP's Pasta Company a nod. This was the best gluten free pasta I didn't have to make from scratch. A total non-sponsored shout out to this goodness!
How to Store Ramps Prior to Using
If the ramps haven't been cleaned at all rinse the majority of dirt off and drain in the sink. Next, roll them in a damp paper towel, place 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.
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 keep it in ice cube trays for easy use.
How to Clean 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, over-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:
- Pesto- always a favorite, and great over pasta, fish, meat or veggies. You can even substitute it for the basil pesto on our roasted veggie sandwich. You can plan on freezing some but our guess is there won’t be any leftovers.
- 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
- 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.
How to Use Ramp Pesto
Rather than the traditional use of pine nuts and olive oil in pesto, I prefer walnuts and walnut oil to pair perfectly with the ramps. Where pine nuts have a soft nutty taste that compliments basil. Walnuts pack a punch that can stand up to the pungent ramp. If you don’t have walnut oil on hand substituting olive oil is perfectly acceptable.
Just like with all pesto, we toast the walnuts first to bring out their nuttiness. But this wild ramp pesto has a twist. Sautéing the white and greens part for just a couple minutes will bring out a sweetness that perfectly complements the garlicky bite. This is what makes ramp pesto so different than our Basil Pesto recipe.
Most chefs will tell you they blanch the green leaves to keep their vibrant color. I don’t find this really matters if you are eating it right away.
Other than that, pesto as usual. Blender, oil, salt and pepper to taste. And don’t forget that squeeze of lemon. It really makes a difference!
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This post was originally published in April 2018 and last updated March 2020.
- Thoroughly clean ramps. Separate green leaves from white/ pink roots.
- 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.
- Return pan to stove, reduce heat to medium. Add 1-2 tbsp of walnut oil to the pan. Add green and white ramp parts, saute 3 to 5 minutes until soften. Move to blender.
- Add green ramp leaves, lemon juice, nutritional yeast 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.
- 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 a vibrant green.
- Pesto will keep for 3 days in the refrigerator.