Ramps, also known as wild leeks, are an East Coast delicacy that usually make an appearance in early spring. They are sold whole and have slender white bulbs that turn shades of purple before ending in bright green leaves. The leaves have a sharp, oniony flavor that’s best mellowed out a bit before using, and the stems can be pickled or chopped up and used much like the white parts of scallions.
Here, the ramps are blanched before being blended into a familiar favorite: basil pesto. This is a great way to try ramps for the first time, as its piquant flavor is balanced by the sweetness of basil. Toasted pine nuts are added in at the last moment and barely blended to give the pesto a rustic feel and rich flavor.
The directions say to blanch the ramps for 30 seconds followed by a dip in an ice bath, but feel free to take them out sooner to retain more of the spicy flavor.
- 1 bunch ramps, green parts only
- ½ t sea salt, plus more to taste
- ½ lb whole-wheat spaghetti
- ¼ c pine nuts
- 1 c basil leaves
- 1 clove garlic
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- ½ c extra-virgin olive oil
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat, and fill a large bowl with ice water.
- Blanch the ramps until wilted, for 30 seconds. Transfer with tongs to the ice water, then to a salad spinner. Spin dry.
- Return the water to a boil. Add salt until it tastes like the sea, and add the pasta. Cook until al dente, and drain in a colander.
- Meanwhile, in a small skillet, toast the pine nuts over very low heat, shaking occasionally, until golden, about 15-16 minutes. (They cook quickly toward the end, so watch them when almost done.)
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine ½ t sea salt, basil, and garlic. Season with freshly ground black pepper, to taste. With the machine running, slowly stream in the olive oil until a smooth paste is formed. Add the pine nuts, and pulse just until coarsely ground.
- In a large bowl, toss the pasta with the pesto.
All text and photos © 2014 Will Budiaman. All rights reserved.