I was at the farmers’ market on an Saturday in mid-April cruising through the rows of vegetables, when I saw something exciting enough to stop me in my tracks. It couldn’t be. It was too early. Could it be? It was. Ramps! And where there are ramps, there’s a Wild Ramps Pesto recipe to be made!
What are Ramps?
Ramps, you might ask? As in the inclined walkway? No, no. Ramps are a plant in the onion family that are also called wild leeks, wood leeks, ramsons, and wild garlic. Scientifically, they’re known as Allium tricoccum. With a small, white bulb and hairy root, they resemble scallions and are foraged from shady, woody areas just a few weeks from late April to early June.
They are one of the earliest wild edibles to emerge and were traditionally a spring tonic. Early settlers relied on their restorative qualities after long, hungry winters.
Ramps appear for a fleeting moment at farmers’ markets come spring—and one of the first edible green things available. You can also find ramps in shady, woody, moist areas. They’re native to mountainous forests in the eastern North America—as far north as Canada and as far south as North Carolina and as far west as Missouri.
If you are harvesting your own ramps, do so sustainably: Leave the roots in the ground. This is how the Native Americans harvested (and still do).
- To harvest ramps, just loosen the soil with a trowel and pull back the dirt from the bulb.
- Cut off the bottom of the bulb with a sharp pocket knife while it’s still in the ground.
- If you only want the leaves, then cut only one leaf from each ramp and leave the bulb with a second leaf to keep growing.
- Then re-cover the roots with dirt and leave them to grow next year.
Please do NOT just tear the roots out of the ground. In many areas, ramps are being over-foraged for restaurants and not being harvested sustainably.
What Do Ramps Taste Like?
The flavor of ramps is unique and hard to describe; the closest we can come is a pungent mix of onion and garlic.
Use ramps in recipes as you would scallions or spring onions: pasta, eggs, potatoes, vegetable stir-fries, etc. Just keep in mind that ramps are more potent!
Ramps are amazing in pasta! To make an easy spaghetti dish, just cook up the ramp bulbs (thinly sliced) in a skillet with a few teaspoons of butter and olive oil. Tear up a couple cups of ramp greens and add to the skillet. Then gently mix ramps into cooked pasta! Mix in grated Parmesan and serve.
Wild Ramp Pesto Recipe
Back when I worked at a farm on the East Coast, we would have samples of ramp pesto for customers to try. It’s incredible. As the person in charge of making said samples, I decided that I was therefore allowed to eat copious amounts of it when customers were not around! It’s divine on a sandwich, on crostini, on a potato salad, or simply on a spoon.
Pesto is also the best way to preserve the ramp leaves. The pesto can be stored in the refrigerator in the short term or frozen for use later.
1 bunch (about 6 ounces) ramps
½ cup walnuts (toasted in a skillet for 5 minutes until golden)
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
½ teaspoon kosher salt to taste
⅓ cup extra version olive oil (or ½ cup—you kind of have to eyeball it)
Squirt of lemon juice
½ cup flat-leaf parsley (optional)
1. Wash ramps throughly and cut off the leaves of the ramps.
2. Chop the ramp leaves and walnuts just a bit and put them in your food processor. (Optional: add parsley.)
3. Add most of the cheese (save a sprinkle for serving) plus salt.
4. Pouring the olive oil in slowly, process contents until they combine and look, well … pesto-y.
5. Taste for seasoning and add a good squirt of lemon juice.
Wild ramp pesto!
Served as a side with warm pita and bulgur with butternut squash and chard
Convinced yet? Give this ramp pesto a try. You’ll never think of inclined walkways the same way again.