This past weekend Union Square Farmers Market was overflowing with ramps. Also known as wild onions or wild leeks, ramps have delicate white bulbs, slim pinkish red stalks, and full, deep green leaves that look more like they below to a flower than to a vegetable. As I was carefully choosing my bunches from the stacked wall of ramps at Farmers Market another patron asked the Farmer “What is a Ramp?” (I also hear this question around 4000 time a Spring). Instead of calling them wild onions, she smiled broadly and she said: ”Ramps are the way you know that Spring is officially here. They’re the very first thing to come up in the Spring in the Northeast, and when they’re here you know you’ve shaken winter for good!” And it’s true–elected by Nature to make the pioneer journey up to sunlight, ramps at Farmers Market always mean that the summer bounty isn’t far off. But, I have a dilemma. Because they are so tasty and only available for 3-4 weeks in the early spring, I find myself longing for them in July and August, but can’t ever satisfy that craving because they are nowhere to be found in the late summer months. So, this (half) roasted ramp pesto quenches my craving because it freezes (in ice-cube trays) really well and will keep for around 3 months.
Truth be told, though I have tried raw and roasted ramp pesto recipes over the years, I’ve never had one that reached what I believe is the full ramp flavor potential. Raw or blanched ramp pesto often has a bit more of a spicy bite and a grassy flavor than your typical dinner guest may enjoy, and even though the roasted ramp pesto is more sweet and mellow, it falls a bit flat on flavor. So, one day when I was experimenting I decided to combine the raw and roasted ramps together and Viola! Full ramp flavor spectrum with only one additional step!
2 ½ bunches fresh ramps (about 32–35 ramps total)
2 tbs grapeseed oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
2/3 cup toasted walnuts (I used walnuts and Iranian pistachios because I had them on hand)
2/3 to 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
Wash and clean ramps thoroughly. Separate 7-8 ramps from the bunch, set aside.
On a foil lined sheet pan coat remaining ramps with grapeseed oil. Season with a little salt and pepper. Spread evenly on the sheet pan. Roast at 400 for 20 minutes turning once for even caramelization. Once ramps cool give them a rough chop (for easier blending). Give reserved raw ramps a rough chop. Blend until smooth while streaming in ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil. Set aside.
Combine remaining ingredients except olive oil in food processor and pulse to achieve a rough chop. Once the ingredients are partially combines stream in olive oil while pulsing until pesto achieves desired consistency. Add fresh ramp puree and blend until smooth. Add salt & pepper to taste (but be careful! Taste it BEFORE you add additional salt).