It’s a sure sign of spring in Michigan. The weather plays tricks, t-shirt weather one day, snow the next, tiny budding tree leaves, crocuses pushing through the earth, a show of forsythia yellow, fresh emerald green fields re-awaken your soul from its winter hibernation, and suddenly ramps are everywhere. Coveted by chefs, local-food-lovers, and hipsters, you wonder what the big deal is about these weed-like onions that cover forest floors from the upper Midwest to the Northeast. Until you try them, of course.
Also called spring onions, wild leeks, and wild garlic, ramps are a relative of the commonly-cultivated allium plants. Their mild garlic flavor, with tiny onion-like roots and broad green leaves, makes them incredibly versatile. Seriously, just Google “ramp recipes” and you will see what I mean–they’re used in every way imaginable. While they have a slight bite when eaten raw, when cooked they are sweet with green onion notes.
Taste aside, ramps grow all over Michigan and are a great way to celebrate the diversity of the Midwest when harvested sustainably. Additionally, they are credited with similar health benefits as other members of the allium family. Many wild herbs and vegetables are said to have higher vitamin and mineral content since they remain in their original state, unchanged by selective hybridization, and often grow in soil that has not been stripped of nutrients.
This recipe is a Midwest spin on traditional pesto. It is purposefully simple to let the delicate flavor of sautéed ramps shine through.
You will need: (serves 4-6 people)
- 2 bunches of ramps, washed
- ~1/3 cup toasted nuts (I used hazelnuts)–replace with sunflower/pumpkin seeds for nut allergies
- 1/4-1/3 cup parmesan cheese, preferably raw
- the juice of 1/2 lemon, plus 1-2 tablespoons depending on size of lemon
- ~1/3 cup olive oil
- a splash of sherry cooking wine (optional)
- additional olive oil or butter for sautéing
- salt and pepper, to taste
Sauté ramps in olive oil or butter until the whites are softened (~3 min).
Using a blender or food processor (the small bowl insert works best for this amount), add ramps, nuts of choice, lemon juice, parmesan cheese, and optional splash of sherry wine. Let run for a minute to mix. Then drizzle in the olive oil. Taste and adjust salt/pepper/lemon juice if needed.
Enjoy on toasted bread, pasta, veggies, meat, or eggs!