I love onions, garlic and shallots, but without a doubt my favourite allium is the ramp. I’ll eat them raw as a garnish, but my preferred way of enjoying them is quickly sauteed and tossed on just about anything. Raw they have an intense, pungent flavour, somewhere between an onion and garlic, with a hint of sweetness to them. However, when cooked that sweetness is brought to the forefront. The leaves wilt much like spinach, but the bulbs retain a bit of bite.
I must admit though, I feel like I’m a bit late to the whole ramp craze. I only learned about them two years ago, right at the end of their season. Kaleigh and I bought them on a whim, not really knowing what to expect, and so we only used them raw as a garnish in place of scallion. It was only last year that we began experimenting with cooking them. So this year as soon as the weather warmed up we started visiting the farmers market religiously, waiting for our garlicky friends to arrive. This time we had a game plan.
Ramps, also called wild leeks, are not domesticated and so must be harvested, combine this with a short growing season (about a month), and you can begin to understand why farmers markets get stormed for them. So we were pretty happy when we arrived early at the farmers market on Saturday and were able to leave with several bunches of them. With such a short season for them we decided we would try to turn them into something with a long shelf life that we could enjoy over the summer. To achieve this ramps are most commonly pickled, however we decided to go a different route and turn them into a pesto instead.
We followed the typical basil pesto making procedure. First we trimmed and cleaned our leeks, cutting off the roots. We set up a pot of boiling water and blanched them along with some garlic for 30 seconds, tossing them into an ice bath right after. The blanching serves two purposes, first it keeps the ramps nice and green, and much like cooking them it helps to bring out the sweetness and tame the pungency.
From the ice bath the wild leeks get put in a kitchen towel and wrung out. Getting as much of the water out as possible prevents a soggy pesto. Ramps can become a little tough after cooking, and they have a tendency of wrapping themselves around the blade of food processors, so we chopped them up coarsely.
After that it was just a matter of tossing them in a food processor along with the other ingredients and drizzling in olive oil until we got the consistency we were looking for. We saved a little bit of the pesto for now, and froze the bulk of it for future use. The parmesan and walnuts complimented the ramps very well, and as much as I enjoy basil pesto I think this may be my new favourite. You can make your own using the recipe here!
Since we had the pot of water going, I decided to blanch some more ramps and add them to some homemade mayo, with incredible results. Much like the pesto, I found that letting the ingredients sit in the fridge for a couple hours let everything meld together, and brought out the rampy flavour we were after.
While at the farmers market we got a recommendation to try cooking the ramps up with some cress flowers, intrigued we picked some of those up as well. I’m a huge fan of cress and I was curious to see how it would work with the ramps. The flowers had the expected sharp mustard flavour of cress, but were tougher, closer to kale in their texture.
To test out the combination we settled on a chicken burger. Since chicken has a mild flavour we figured it would let the ramps and cress flowers shine through. We kept things simple. The chicken was coated in a combination of smoked and regular paprika, along with dried urfa pepper flakes and then pan seared. We used the typical toppings of tomato and lettuce, sandwiching it between a toasted brioche bun coated with some of the ramp mayo. And of course we topped off the chicken with ramps and cress that we sautéed in butter.
The ramps and cress made a spectacular combination. The quick saute tamed the intensity of the mustard greens which offered a nice contrast to the sweetness of the wild leeks. Chicken is mild enough in flavour that it lends itself to many dishes, and it worked perfectly here. The coating of three types of peppers made sure that it wasn’t lost in the rest of the ingredients on the burger. The urfa peppers, which we picked up from The Spice Trader in Toronto, are a recent addition to our spice collection. They taste of dried fruit and bring a pleasant smoky flavour along with them. The only other dish I’ve tried them in so far was some sauteed green beans, and the peppers worked very well there too.
Lucky for us ramp season is not over just yet, so we get a couple more weeks to enjoy them. For this upcoming weekend we plan on trying to pickle them, along with whatever other veggies might catch our eye at the farmers market. Stay tuned for the results!