Let’s talk about ramps! Ramps are, ramsom, wild leeks or wild garlic, not to be mistaken with scallions, shallots, or onions. When spring arrived, their images flooded across social media--Instagram, Pinterest, and you name it. Why are ramps so popular? They grow wild in only certain regions along the Appalachian ridge from Georgia to Quebec, and are foraged like truffles. Chefs and home cooks alike go wild for their pungent garlicky-onion flavor. I personally have never seen them at our local farmers markets or even Specialty Produce.
When I saw a picture of a field of wild ramps on Lawrence’s IG feed, a friend I had met on Instagram, I left a teary emoji knowing the chance of me finding ramps is like winning the lotto (I’m exaggerating of course but it would require a trip to the east coast in the spring and a full force hunt for them). Imagine my surprise when Lawrence sent me a text that the ramps were on their way to my kitchen! Aaaaaaahhhhhh! I jumped for joy!
When I finally got that precious gift in the mail, I jumped for joy again and dropped everything I was doing to take a few photos for evidence that they were real and not a figment of my imagination. The possibilities swirled in my head--saute, pickle, grill. In mid April, I had gone to Chicago and got to taste both grilled ramps and pickled ramps and decided to do something different. In the end, I went with a ramp and hazelnut pesto since their long trip from the east coast to San Diego took some life out of the leaves even with Lawrence packing an ice pack to keep them fresh. I gave them a nice cool bath as Lawrence had suggested to plump them up then salvaged as much of the leaves as I could.
For the pesto, I purposely did not add any garlic to preserve the unique flavor of ramps. I kept my pesto simple with hazelnuts, a little Parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. This ramp pesto is quite versatile and can be used in pizza, paired with gnocchi or pasta, and even chicken or fish. It’s the perfect blank canvas for your culinary imagination. Good luck finding some and have fun cooking!
Wild ramps and hazelnut pesto
⅔ cup hazelnuts
1 ½ cups ramps (leaves), washed and roughly chopped
¾ cup olive oil
2 tbsps freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Dry-fry the hazelnuts in cast iron skillet over medium heat until golden brown, stirring frequently to avoid burning them. Once they’re done and cool enough, peel the skin off.
2. In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts to a fine texture and set aside.
3. Add the chopped ramps, olive oil, and lemon juice to the food processor and puree until smooth.
4. Stir in the grated Parmesan cheese and hazelnuts and pulse for about 1 minute until everything is well combined.
5. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
6.Transfer the pesto to a glass container and store in the coldest part of your fridge for up to a week. Or you can freeze the pesto and thaw it when needed.