Spring has sprung with a flurry, complete with ethereal sunshine, azure skies, and the swirling, breezy winds that soothe us after a lengthy winter season. Spring is also a hopeful time, for the earth begins to warm, nature sprouts, and the impending groundwork is laid in preparation for summer and fall bounty.
As my cooking has become more inherently concurrent with each passing season, I have grown to appreciate the spring greens that grow in the months of April, May, and early June. Asparagus, green peas, baby kale, mâche, arugula, watercress and ramps are cultivated during this time and I find any way in which to incorporate them into my culinary rotation. The colors, the freshness, and the health benefits of these spring greens yield plenty of nourishment and fulfillment, whether you order them at the finest of culinary establishments or procure and highlight them in a recipe of your own choosing. Out of all of the spring greens, arugula is my “go-to”(preferably with this simple shallot dressing), but this year I’m exploring the richness and deeply-rooted qualities found within ramps.
Ramp season itself is rather short, stemming from mid-to-late April and tapering off in early June. Ramps are traditionally foraged and are revered by the finest chefs, due in part to their unfortunate but characteristically short season. Ramps are unlike shallots, scallions, or onions as it pertains to taste, for they are in a league of their own. Ramps possess a pungent quality, but also a sweetness that is not akin to any quality found within other members of the onion family. All the more reason to experience them in multiple forms.
I pickled one bunch and made ramp pesto with the other, thus coining them as new spring staples and adding them to my ever-growing collection. Pickled ramps can be tossed into salads, thrown onto egg sandwiches, and incorporated with pretty much anything else you can imagine. As for the ramp pesto, put it on everything. This variation differs slightly from traditional pesto recipes in that walnuts are used instead of pine nuts, but my girlfriend and I prefer this version by a large margin (I repeat: put it on everything, for there’s a reason we made 2 batches in 4 days). After you finish making your ramp pesto with the leaves, locate the nearest mason jar and pickle the stems and bulbs. It’s a great way to extend the stunted ramp season and additionally, gives one the opportunity to enjoy one of springs many offerings.
Next year, my girlfriend and I plan on attending Ramp Fest 2016 in Hudson, NY, to further our exploration and interest in this charming spring green. For now, we’ll be pickling and pesto-ing our way all the way through spring and well into summer. Ramp season doesn’t last much longer!
Recipes adapted from the April 2015 issue of Bon Appétit
4 oz ramps, greens separated
¼ cup walnuts, toasted
⅓ cup olive oil
2 tbsp. grated Pecorino, plus more for serving
Lemon wedges, for serving
Blanch ramp greens in a large pot of boiling salted water until wilted, about 10 seconds. Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer greens to a bowl of ice water; drain and squeeze out liquid.
Bring same water in pot to a boil again and cook spaghetti, stirring occasionally, until al dente; drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
Meanwhile, coarsely chop ramp bulbs and stalks (save or pickle the rest) and walnuts in a food processor.
Add ramp greens, olive oil, and 2 Tbsp. Pecorino; process to a coarse paste. Season with salt.
Toss spaghetti and ½ cup cooking liquid with pesto, adding more cooking liquid as needed until pesto coats pasta. Serve topped with more Pecorino and with lemon wedges.
Yields 1 pt.
8 oz. ramps
2 dried red chiles
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. fennel seeds
1 tsp. black peppercorns
1 c. white wine vinegar
½ cup sugar
1 tbsp. kosher salt
Pack bulbs into a heatproof 1-pint jar along with dried red chiles, bay leaves, fennel seeds, and black peppercorns.
Bring white wine vinegar, sugar, salt, and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve. Pour over ramps to cover. Seal jar. Let cool, then chill.