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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Spring Has Sprung: Ramp Pesto

By Panda

Spring is here, and with Spring comes spring veggies!  Peas, asparagus, artichokes, and... uh... whatever these are...

No, not the bananas.  I'm talking about the things with the green tops and purple-white bulbs.  They're ramps, and they're usually available between April and late June, depending on where you are.  They can be difficult to find, again, depending on where you are, and can be pricey, but if you can manage to find some they are well worth it.

They're also known as wild leeks, wild ramps, ramson, wood leek, and a few other names.  Why so many names? This is because they taste like a mix of every member of the allium family put together.  It's like the result of a spring onion, a leek and a garlic clove getting freaky together, except no one's sure who the mom is, and every one of them tests positive on the paternity test.

These little guys are pretty popular in restaurants and with chefs in the know, partly due to their scarcity, but also due to their great flavor.  They are absolutely fantastic grilled, but I decided on another use for them this day.

So one thing you need to do is to make sure you wash these well.  If you do find ramps, chances are they've been foraged and that they're probably pretty dirty.  Just rinse them under some cold water to knock the dirt off, and peel away any loose/slimy skin on the outside if there is any.

For the pesto you'll want to use the green leafy parts (cut the roots off of the bulbs and save the bulbs for another use, which I will get into in another blog post).  In addition to that you'll want about 2/3 as much sweet basil and 1/3 as much parsley by volume.  There's no need to sweat exact measurements here - just eyeball it and go with handfuls.

Add to that a good handful of pistachios, some lemon juice, a good pinch of salt, about 10 grinds of pepper, and a nice sized chunk of parmesan cheese (half a handful?) cut into small chunks.  Pour in a bit of extra virgin olive oil and get your food processor going.  Pop the top on and drizzle in your olive oil until you hit the right consistency: it should be the thickness of a loose paste.  Check it for seasoning and add additional salt and pepper if it needs it.  Ta-da, you will be rewarded with this!

When you're done you'll have a beautiful bright green pesto that tastes of garlic and onions.  Ramps can be quite strong, but the basil and parsley do a wonderful job of toning it down just enough.

So what can you do with this stuff?  Well, there's the obvious:

Mango roasted up some chicken and made some fresh pasta for us, and when the pasta was done I tossed it with a good sized spoonful of the ramp pesto and a tiny bit of the pasta water.  No need to cook the pesto - the heat of the pasta was enough.  Some chopped pistachios mixed in would have been a great textural addition.  A little chile flake would be very nice also.

Here's another idea:

Goat cheese, ramp pesto and pistachios on toasted Italian bread, or what I like to call "garlic bread on steroids."  Be prepared to make grunty noises when eating these.

Other things you can do:
  • Toss the pesto with new potatoes and roast them
  • Mix the pesto with mayo and use it to make chicken, pasta or egg salad
  • Mix the pesto with red wine vinegar or lemon juice to make a dressing or dipping sauce
  • Spoon it into your mouth... don't worry, no one's judging you
If you have any left over you can put it into ice cube trays and freeze it.  Otherwise you'll want to use it within a week or so.

Mango: They cost how much?
Panda: Trust me, they're worth it!
Mango: But -
Panda: Trust me.

Later on...

Mango: *tasting the pesto* SO WORTH IT.

Ramp Pesto

1 large handful of ramp tops (green parts only)
2/3 as much sweet basil
1/3 as much parsley (Italian or curly)
Large chunk of parmesan cheese (half a handful or so) cut into small chunks
1 handful of pistachios
Juice of 1/2 lemon (throw in the zest if you want, too)
Large 3 finger pinch of salt
10 grinds of black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Add all of the ingredients to your food processor with just a splash of olive oil at first (this helps to get things going).  Put the top on your food processor and turn it on.  Drizzle additional olive oil into the feed tube as it runs until it reaches the desired consistency (a loose paste).  Check for seasoning, add additional salt and pepper if needed and blend briefly to incorporate.

What if I can't find ramps?  What if they're too expensive?

These would be an unfortunate but completely understandable situations to find yourself in.  If you still want to make a pesto that's similar, substitute a large handful of chives or a bunch of green onion tops along with a large clove of garlic for the ramp tops.  It won't be quite the same, but it'll be reasonably close.  Another option is to buy a few ramps and use those along with some other allium - in this case I'd go with leeks and garlic since the ramps themselves will still be quite strong.