There is nothing like a Spring hike and chancing upon a patch of wild ramps; bright, wide, ribbed leaves that have burst through muddy soil and decomposed foliage, announcing the forest’s reawakening. The site of spring green, carpeting tiny hills and valleys, takes my breath away. Not to mention, noshing on a fresh blade will make your head spin with immune-boosting spice and pack your body with Vitamin C. Before I delve into the culinary delights of this wild edible, let me say a word about conscientious foraging.
In his article “Are ramps being overharvested?” Steve Gabriel explains that “ramps fulfill an important role as a ‘spring ephemeral’ in the forest.” They “leaf out before the forest, capturing nutrients and water and holding onto them for several weeks until the rest of the forest comes alive. These plants then die back and offer the trees and other forest plants a dose of food that would otherwise have literally washed away.” So, you can imagine the critical role ramps play in forest health. We can’t always think with our stomachs! As stewards of the forest, Steve offers suggestions for sustainable harvesting:
- Grow your own! Here is a great article on cultivating ramps.
- When foraging, try your best to harvest no more than 10% of a ramp patch; any more and you risk decimating the population. This can be tricky since others may come before or after you. If you see evidence of harvesting (snipped leaves or soil that has been dug up), move on to another patch.
- Don’t harvest the bulbs, just the leaves. Snip right at the tip of the red-tinted part of the stem. Choose the largest leaves, which may signal the bulbs are more fully developed (and stuffed with nutrients).
And so my pal Shoshi guided our way to a merry forage, under an unstable Spring sky of bluebird sun and hail with these tips tucked into our noggins and visions of earthy recipes.
Wild ramp pesto is bursting with flavor! It has a slightly earthier, less tangy taste than a traditional basil pesto. This is beautiful as a spread with cheese, tossed with pasta or coating a fine roast! Stay tuned for recipes to come…
- Olive oil - 1 tablespoon
- Ramps - 3 cups, coarsely chopped
- Sunflower seeds - 1/4 cup
- Parmesan cheese - 1/2 cup, grated
- Lemon juice - 1/2 teaspoon, freshly squeezed
- Sea salt - 1/8 teaspoon
- Pepper - 8 turns of the pepper mill
- Extra virgin olive oil - 1/4 cup
- In a small saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-low. Add the ramps and saute them for about 2 minutes. They will immediately wilt and reduce to about 1/3 of their original volume (or 1 cup). Transfer the ramps to a food processor or blender and set it aside while you toast the sunflower seeds.
- In the same pan, toast the sunflower seeds for about 2 minutes over medium heat, or until they begin to brown and the kitchen fills with a nutty aroma.
- Add the sunflower seeds, parmesan, lemon juice, salt and pepper to the food processor. Pulse a few time to mince and mix the ingredients. Slowly add the 1/4 cup of olive oil, pulsing continuously, until the pesto is well blended and has a thick and creamy consistency.
- How to Freeze Pesto:
- Freezing pesto is easy and means you always have a quick dinner or added seasoning on hand. There are two ways I like to freeze pesto.
- The first is to fill a plastic tupperware with pesto, leaving about half an inch of "headspace", the space between the top of the container and the surface of the contents - in this case pesto. Close it with a lid and pop it in the freezer. This way makes it difficult to take out portions, since you have to defrost the entire container to soften the pesto and remove what you need. You can then pop it back into the freezer.
- The second is to fill an ice tray with pesto so that you have pesto cubes. Store the ice tray in two Ziplock freezer bags to prevent the pesto from getting freezer burn. You can pop out portion-sized cubes of pesto when you need it!