Ramp season is always a thrill. The number of weeks in which these beauties appear at the farmer’s market can be measured on one hand. And ramp devotees know to get there early because vendors often sell out. (Wild ramps should be sustainably harvested so as not to destroy future crops, so it’s a good sign if your vendor has only a small quantity.) Once you have successfully found your ramps, you’ll need to decide what to do with them. Ramps are delicious charred on a grill, roasted, or pickled. And this ramp recipe is my favorite, since you can use it in so many different ways, and freeze it as well.
So What are Ramps Anyway?
Ramps are wild plants that are related to leeks and shallots, but have a much sharper, garlicky flavor. They are coveted by chefs and foodies partly for their flavor, and partly for their scarcity. If you love ramps, you can only get them for a few weeks out of the year in late spring.
Uses for Ramp Pesto
Ramp pesto has so many different applications. Word of warning though, that garlicky ramp flavor is strong! There’s a small bit of basil in my recipe to cut some of the sharpness, but if you are not a big fan of garlic, steer towards using your ramp pesto paired with some milder ingredients. That way, the flavors meld together deliciously. Here are some of my favorite uses for ramp pesto:
- Top crostini with ramp pesto, sliced tomatoes, and crumbled feta or fresh mozzarella cheese
- Toss with pasta or gnocchi
- Use as a dip for shrimp
- Serve on fish, chicken, or steak
- Toss with roasted potatoes or in potato salad
- Dollop on scrambled eggs
Can You Freeze Ramp Pesto?
Yes, definitely! Use within 3 months for best flavor.
How to Make Ramp Pesto in Advance
Most herb pestos have the bad habit of browning after some time in the refrigerator. If you make your pesto several hours in advance, press a layer of saran wrap on the top of the pesto and keep in the refrigerator. Another great option is to blanch your ramps before putting them into your food processor. To blanch them, bring a pot of water to boil, and throw in the ramps for 30-45 seconds. Then drain and plunge into a large bowl of ice water. The ice water will stop them from continuing to cook, but that short time in the boiling water will help them keep their bright green color after you have made them into pesto. After draining out of the ice water, pat them as dry as possible with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel before chopping and adding to your food processor.
- One of the great things about pesto is that you can really make it exactly as you like it. The quantities for almost all of the ingredients below can be altered to your taste. Not a big lemon fan? Reduce the amount of lemon juice and/or omit the lemon zest. Prefer more pine nuts or cheese in your pesto? Add away. There are no wrong answers in pesto, so have courage.
- How to toast pine nuts: Pine nuts are easy to toast, but you must watch them carefully. My favorite method is to use a small skillet. Heat the skillet on medium-low, then add your pine nuts. WATCH THEM CAREFULLY. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to throw out burned pine nuts because I walked away from the stove at the crucial time. Resist the urge to turn the heat up to high—yes, that will toast your pine nuts faster, but they are likely to burn or at least will be very unevenly toasted. So, low and slow it is. Stir them around every 30 seconds or so on medium-low heat. They will start to turn golden brown and smell toasty within a few minutes. When they do, take them off the heat immediately.
- Nuts: Pine nuts are a classic in pesto, because they provide a nice creamy texture when ground up. But pesto is quite a flexible recipe, so feel free to replace them with walnuts or almonds. I’d recommend toasting whatever nut you do choose.
- Parmesan cheese: for this recipe, I (gasp) use the packaged pre-grated parmesan cheese in the deli section of my supermarket. Grated, not shredded, is best, and do get the parm in the refrigerated section and not on the shelf of the spaghetti sauce section. I’m not sure what that is, but it’s not cheese. Now, should you want the loveliest, most decadent pesto of all time, please do buy a good hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano and grate it yourself on a microplane. (You’ll use one for the zesting anyway.) Real parmesan that you grate yourself is always better—however, in this case I do think the ramps and the pine nuts make it hard to discern the really good stuff, and using a microplane to grate a hunk of parm until you have 1/4 cup, packed, takes dedication of the sort I don’t usually have.
- Lemon zest: As mentioned above, you’ll want a microplane to zest your lemons. This tool, born as a wood lathe, is one of my favorite kitchen implements. When you use it to zest a lemon, lime, or orange, the zest comes off smoothly without tearing any of the bitter pith underneath. Genius.
My very favorite use for ramp pesto is as a crostini appetizer since it’s perfect for entertaining. If you’re looking for other great appetizers, check out my Cilantro-Lime Crab Salad and Charred Tomatillo Guacamole recipes.
Lemony Ramp Pesto with Basil
Lemony ramp pesto is an easy and delicious way to showcase ramps. Delicious with fish, chicken, or steak, as well as tossed with pasta.
- 1 bunch of ramps, ends trimmed
- 1/4 c. fresh basil leaves
- 1/4 c. pine nuts, toasted
- 1/4 c. parmesan cheese
- 1/3 c. olive oil
- 1/2 t. lemon zest
- 1-2 T. lemon juice
- 1/2 t. kosher salt
- 1/4 t. pepper
Rinse ramps and basil and pat dry, then chop roughly in 1-2 inch pieces. You can use both the ramp leaves and stalks—you should have about 2 cups total.
Put in food processor along with pine nuts, parmesan cheese, olive oil, lemon zest, 1 T. lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Blend until combined into a creamy pesto.
Taste and add additional tablespoon of lemon juice if desired. Add more salt and pepper to taste.
Pesto can be frozen for up to 3 months.