I get excited about strawberries in June, quinces in October, and clementines at Christmas. So naturally, some years ago when I discovered ramps, the very first greens to appear at farmer’s markets here in spring, I talked about them a lot. Few of my family and friends in Europe knew ramps, and I somewhat precipitously made the connection with ‘ail des ours‘ in French and ‘bärlauch‘ in German. For years I’ve been talking about ramps, you know, ail des ours, bärlauch.
Well, Wikipedia has just informed me that I was wrong. Ramps are Allium tricoccum, and they are native to America, while the French and German (and English) ‘bear garlic’ is Allium ursinum. They are closely related but not the same thing. So the ramps we foraged in Haute Savoie last spring were not actually ramps, which explains why they felt different. If my memory serves me well the leaves were a little harsher, the taste a little coarser. In any case, that answers the question of their origin: ramps are Northern American. They are foraged and it is commonly assumed that, like wild mushrooms, they cannot be cultivated, but this appears to be a myth.
Ramps are sometimes called ransom (the common name of the European allium), but also wild leek, wood leek, or wild garlic, which gives a good idea of their taste, unmistakably in the onion/garlic family.
I’ve baked ramps with potatoes into very good and very pretty gratins; for Easter I tossed a potato salad with ramp pesto; just yesterday I made a ramp risotto with rosé wine that wasn’t half bad; ramps can also be woven into egg nests for breakfast; they can even be pickled. The pleasures are many, but the season is short — take advantage!
I started out with saenyc’s Wild Ramp Pesto on Food52. I found that raw ramps made the pesto too garlicky, while blanching them all made it too mellow, so I added a few raw ramps to give the pesto just the right kick. I also reduced the amount of walnuts and parmigiano and added parsley for a more vibrant taste.
1 bunch (about 28 to 30) ramps
2-3 sprigs parsley
5 whole walnuts
1/3 cup (20 g) freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
1/3 cup (100 ml) good extra virgin olive oil
2 tsps lemon juice
Good pinch sea salt
3-4 grinds black pepper
Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Prepare another bowl with ice water.
Trim off the roots of the ramps, rub off any loose skins around the bulbs, and wash the ramps in cold water. Wash the parsley and cut off most of the stems.
Set aside 2 to 3 of the smaller, more tender ramps, and chop them coarsely. Blanch all the others in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and immediately transfer the blanched ramps to the ice water. Take them out and squeeze them to remove excess water.
In a blender or food processor, purée the ramps (blanched and raw), the parsley, walnuts, and parmiggiano, pouring in a steady drizzle of olive oil. Blend thoroughly to form a paste. Add the lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Blend again, taste, and adjust seasoning.
Use as you would any other pesto: with pasta, potato salad, smeared on bruschetta and topped with fresh goat cheese, etc…
Note: As is, this pesto will keep just one or two days. To increase its longevity, add some olive oil and/or freeze.