Archive for April, 2012

At the market | Ramps (Ramp pesto)

26 April 2012


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!


Ramp pesto

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.


Related posts

Spaghetti with ramp pesto, walnuts, and parmigiano

At the market | Rhubarb (Rhubarb compote)

Eating out | Shojin zen at Kajitsu

19 April 2012

When a couple of months ago I read that executive chef Masato Nishihara was leaving the vegetarian Shojin restaurant Kajitsu at the end of March I immediately booked a table.

I had wanted to go for a few years, ever since I’d read a dithyrambic comment by David Chang. Kajitsu had languished all this time on a putative restaurant wish list but the occasion never arose, or was never provoked. Suddenly there was some urgency.

Then, as these things sometimes will, it happened that on that long awaited Wednesday I was in the hospital with my son, who had just been operated for a nasty case of ruptured appendicitis (doctor’s words). Of course, I could have left Leo in his morphine-induced half-consciousness in the expert hands of the hospital staff, but my mind wasn’t exactly with it. So with great dismay I cancelled the reservation. I must have apologized half a dozen times, over-emphasizing how sorry I was to have to reschedule. Of course, I was sorry less about their booking concerns than my lapsed opportunity.

And when, having emerged from hospital limbo nearly a week later, I made a new reservation, I didn’t pay attention to the date. Unsuspecting last week Thomas and I went to Kajitsu.

Kajitsu lives in a half-basement space that first intrigues by its clever impression of spaciousness despite the low ceilings, and its entirely bare dull ochre walls dusted with the odd speck of hemp. The space is divided into separate areas each with just one or two tables. We sat at the bar. And so the journey began into heretofore untraveled Shojin cuisine territory. (I didn’t take a picture but I kept the menu, if you can make much sense of it. I couldn’t.)

Every dish was surprising. Each element felt very pure, in a restrained way, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether my palate, used to bolder seasonings of garlic, herbs, vinegar, especially with vegetables, might be numb to the subtleties of this deliberate cuisine. Because although the meal was entirely enjoyable — and not least for the many great sakes paired with the food which ranged from mellow and practically sweet to almost peaty — it wasn’t wholly delicious to me.

Later as I began writing I realized that we were already in April; we had been feasted by the new chef Ryota Ueshima; Masato Nishihara had moved on. So now I can’t help but wonder whether Nishihara’s cuisine would have struck that spark of deliciousness. I hope I will not miss the next opportunity to find out.

Although I’ve not been craving the food and I am not exactly restless to go back, Kajitsu was a revelation. Would I go now had I never been? Definitely.


414 East 9th St (betw. 1st Ave. & Ave. A)
New York, NY 10009


Open Tues-Sun 5.30pm-10.00pm, closed Monday


Related posts

Eating out | Fall soba noodles at Sobakoh

Eating out | Thrice-cooked fries (but not only) at the Breslin

Eating out | Brunch at Blaue Gans

Sunday reading | 15.04.2012

15 April 2012

A few years ago ramps became fashionable; quite soon after, the trend was to dis the fad. I’ve held my first impression and agree with Bill Telepan’s post on Grub Street: ramps are awesome. The whole point of seasonality is change. Eating becomes monotonous when we steam asparagus in winter and peel oranges year-round, but the anticipation of tender greens after months of cabbage and increasingly gnarly carrots makes cooking feel like an adventure. So to me there is no way but to be excited about ramps. Ramps!

And so I must mention photographer Andrea Gentl’s stunning blog Hungy Ghost Food + Travel, which recently featured beautiful posts about the first wild greens of spring: dandelionnettles, of course ramps, and, currently, knotweed — which I didn’t know. It may feel a bit frustrating to read these without personally having easy access to forests and meadows, and it did lead me to buy (buy!) nettles at the farmer’s market, but it’s definitely worth the slight bittersweet vexation.

And last but not least, given an entire afternoon or two I’d amble through the list of finalists of Saveur’s Best Food Blog award. I already regularly read some of the nominated blogs but there are many I don’t know, so, with no single full afternoon in sight, I’ve decided, in very organized manner, to read a couple every day.

Temperatures are soaring toward summer here today. Happy Sunday!

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