RAMP SEASON IS HERE! And everyone is freaking out. The more I talk about ramps (which is embarrassingly frequent), the more I find that people aren't all that familiar with them. They are wild leeks grown in the eastern US ('Merica!) and Canada for only 3-4 weeks in spring and early summer. Ramps are so badass, they are a protected species in Quebec. I love you, Canada.
But do you know what is even more badass? Legend says that Chicago got its name from the Native American word for these wild leeks. Though there are many folklores about how the city got its name, the origin from the word "shikaakwa" or "smelly onion" is allegedly the most accepted of them all. Back yonder, the tribe in this area (Miami-Illinois) were notorious for naming places and landmarks based on what plants grew there. And a certain area along the gorgeous Chicago River was filled with ramps. So they started calling it that. Then the French came along and french'ed everything up and out popped "Chicago."
Another version states that the word "sikaakwa" means "striped skunk." So it goes that these little gourmands were known to be in that area because of the rampant (PUN!) growth of the delicious onions. Who knew they appreciated such saveur? Either way... ramps. Amiright?
Ramps look sort of like green onions, but have a pretty purple middle and really nice, flat green leaves. They have a very strong, pungent garlic smell. As I was chopping them up in the kitchen, John could smell them in the hallway. (Idea: ramp candle by Yankee.)
Because the time of availability is so small, it's important to stretch these suckers out. My favorite way to do that is via ramp pesto. It couldn't be easier, and it punches up any dish you add it to. Use a little right away (within a week), and divvy the rest out in ice cube trays to freeze and preserve for individual portions. I think I might pickle some ramps before this season is over to make them last even longer.
Another thing I love about these wildlings is that you use the whole plant (aside from the root). Cut off the hairy bottom and discard. Then chop up the rest for the pesto. This bunch was pretty skinny, so I grabbed two. All said and done, I used around 20 skinny ramps for this pesto recipe.
Traditionally pesto is made with garlic, basil, pine nuts and parmesan. This time I used ramps (in place of garlic), toasted pine nuts and walnuts, lemon, a little basil, extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper. The leaves of the ramps allow you to use a much smaller amount of basil, if any at all. I am always in favor of adding cheese to things, but I think this recipe stood just fine on its own without it. Your call! (Full disclosure: I forgot to add in the parmesan.)
Throw all of the ingredients into a food processor, and blend until smooth. That. Is. It.
I like to taste test mine with a little piece of baguette as a neutral vessel and tweak as I feel necessary. Of course, I went the extra mile and made a crostini of pesto, fresh crumbled feta, cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil. Just to make sure everything was up to snuff. It was. And it was delicious.
Applications (anywhere you would put pesto, plus):
- Ramp pesto + mozzarella grilled cheese
- Turkey sandwich with havarti + ramp pesto aioli
- Crostini spread with ramp pesto + cherry tomatoes + cheese (i.e., ricotta, feta, mozzarella or burrata)
- Mayo-less ramp pesto chicken salad
- Pita pizza with feta + chicken
- Ramp pesto vinaigrette for spinach salad
- Grilled shrimp tossed in ramp pesto
- Steaks topped with ramp pesto
- Ramp pesto sour cream or greek yogurt (throw that shit on anything - i.e., a baked potato)
- Quesadilla with ramp pesto + mushroom + feta + spinach
- Ramp pesto linguini with mushrooms + peas
Please tell me you have had ramps, and that you love them as much as I do. Either way, run out to the store or farmers market and get a bundle of ramps. What are your ideas for using this pesto? Are you mad at me for forgetting the cheese? (I am.)
I hope you love it!
Insider detail: Green City Market opened last Saturday (May 2) in Lincoln Park and has an incredible array of purveyors (including food stands). Arrive early. You can park for $10 in the Chicago Historical Museum parking lot off of Stockton if you get your ticket validated at the market info booth. They are also adding a second location this year in the Fulton Market District starting June 6.