A Forager’s Favorite: Ramp Pesto
In the Berkshires and Hudson Valley, foraging for ramps has become a fetish of sort. I bumped into two fellow foragers gathering ramps two miles from my house. Even from my car, I could see the woods were lousy with ramps as well as the red flowers topping endangered trillium. I scissored a large bowlful of ramp leaves, leaving their roots to regenerate next year’s crop, but also because I prefer the greens solo in ramp pesto. Ramps, which are wild leeks, are easy to identify. Look for them in mixed hardwood forests. The root is scallion-like bulb, topped with two broad green leaves that may be slightly purplish at their base. Before harvesting, crush them to make sure they omit an oniony smell. They often, but not always, grow near Trout Lilies, Blue Cohosh, Dutchman’s Breeches or Squirrel Corn.
A tad spicy and bright green with a slightly wild edge, ramp pesto has become a forager’s classic. It’s extremely versatile, and freezes well in ice cube trays for later use, which is a good thing, because I’m just out of last season’s tomatillo salsa. How do I use ramp pesto? I add a dollop to a vegetable or potato based soup; spread on a sandwich or wrap; toss to taste on warm pasta, adding a little water, oil or melted butter, as needed to thin it. I also drizzle the thinned pesto on grilled meat, fish, chicken or vegetables, stir it into a local fresh goat cheese, or spread on toasted French bread rounds and top with sautéed shiitakes. And if you don’t have time to make pesto, the leaves are lovely slivered into omelets or risotto. —Amy Cotler, author of The Locavore Way: Discover and Enjoy the Pleasures of Locally Grown Food
Makes about 2-1/4 cups
2 handfuls local nuts, walnuts or pecans halves or blanched almonds
2-1/2 ounces Parmesan or similar cheese, local if you can get it
2 very generous handfuls of ramp leaves (and some bulbs if you wish)
About 1/3 cup of olive oil
About 1/4 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, or to taste
1. Toast the nuts in a dry skillet, over medium heat, shaking the pan frequently, until lightly aromatic. (Bend over them and take a whiff. They should smell toasted.) Don’t go too far, as nuts burn easily. Pulse in a food processor (or use a mortar and pestle) until well chopped but not blended. Set aside.
2. Throw the cheese into the food processor. Pulse until it is finely chopped. (If the cheese is already grated, skip this step.) Add to the nuts.
3. Puree the leaves together with the oil, stopping and scraping down the bowl as necessary to combine. (Work in two batches if you have a small food processor.) Add to the bowl and stir to combine with the salt.
Note: If you forage for ramps in an area where there are ticks, take a shower and throw your clothes in the wash after your harvest. Lyme disease isn’t fun, but ramps are worth a walk in the woods. No ramps near you? Many early farmers markets and highbrow produce stores sell them.