Effervescent storyteller.

Welcome to My Modern Diary, an electronic journal filled with tales of nostalgic cuisine, wistful wanderings & personal recollections by Sarah Orman.

Ramp Pesto

Ramp Pesto

I once had no clue what ramps were. I'm not ashamed to admit it, many people have no idea what this elusive Spring vegetable is. We've all seen it on restaurant menus from late March through the end of April, yet how many of us have taken the time to find out exactly what it is that we're eating?

A cross between spring onions and wild garlic, ramps are a highly sought-after ingredient in the culinary world for two to four weeks at the beginning of Spring. Foraged from woodland rather than grown intentionally, they carry a hefty price tag at the farmers market, yet any food enthusiast will tell you they are totally worth it.


Despite the chill in the air last Sunday, hubby and I spent the morning at Dupont Circle, browsing the early seasonal offerings at the Freshfarm Market. After an hour or so of braving the cold {made more bearable by a couple of great purchases}, we were on our way to La Colombe for caffeine, our bounty safely stowed away in the trunk.

Back at home just after midday with an armful of blossoming quince branches, a bouquet of locally grown poppies and hellebores, and two bunches of fresh ramps, I began investigating what to do with my prized culinary purchase.

As you may have guessed from some of my previous blog posts, Italian cuisine is my absolute favorite and after reading several suggestions on what to do with my "wild leeks" I opted for a pesto; after all pesto is the perfect accompaniment to a handful of Italian staples : )

As I began to write this blog post it occurred to me that pesto is one of those recipes that isn't actually a recipe at all for me. I've never followed instructions for weights or quantities and as a result my emulsion is slightly different every time. Occasionally I add lemon zest, sometimes I throw in a little extra black pepper, and I've even strayed from the classic pine nut. That being said, I've never used anything other than basil to create this bright green, no-cook sauce and so I was a little wary of the ramps playing substitute for one of my favorite herbs.

I decided to try a couple of different versions, pairing both pine nuts and pistachios with my coveted spring vegetable. You can most certainly use other types of nuts {such as almonds or walnuts} but these two varieties are my favorite, both resulting in a creamy consistency with the finished paste that isn't overpowering when it comes to flavor; after all, I wanted the ramps to shine!


Delicious in their own way, raw ramps are a just a touch too aggressive for me, therefore I opted to gently pan fry them in a knob of butter before pureeing them to form the pesto base. A few minutes in the pan not only softens the intensity of the pungent flavor, it also releases a little sweetness and the divine smell that will fill your kitchen at this point is enough to eat them straight from the stove top. Alas, we're making pesto so don't touch them! I promise the outcome is just as delectable.

When it comes to writing a recipe, things get a little more blurry from here on in. Sure, I can tell you I used one small bunch of ramps {approximately 20 in total} and about a tablespoon of butter, however the rest is guess work. With that being said, I'm going to share some pointers so that you too can play the pesto guessing game next time you want to whizz-up a batch : )

Firstly, I think it's crucial to know what forms a traditional basic pesto. Essentially just five main ingredients, traditional Italian pesto comprises fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan or Pecorino cheese and olive oil. It is argued that good pesto can only be made using a pestle and mortar vs. any kind of electronic equipment, I'm not sure that I agree though. The ease of throwing the ingredients in my food processor is often too tempting and more often than not I'm making pesto for a tasty, fresh, and fast dinner. Be warned, however, over mixing the emulsion can lead to an ugly brown slurry or a nut butter, depending on your ratios. Basil is a notoriously delicate herb that is prone to wilting or turning black if handled too roughly. Short sharp bursts should do the trick.

As I mentioned, pine nuts and pistachios are my favorite options for a pesto. I find walnuts a little too bitter and the whole almonds in my pantry cupboard are always with skins. Remember, I'm usually making pesto because it's quick, easy, and delicious, therefore having the ingredients on-hand is imperative. Don't forget that includes whatever you're pairing it with too! I keep a jar of dried linguine on the countertop for fast mid-week feasts : )


Like anything with so few ingredients, it's preferable to try and source the best produce. When it comes to traditional pesto I'm very picky about fresh basil {it has to be an Italian variety, otherwise known as sweet basil} and don't get me started on pine nuts. I used to eat pesto at least twice a week when I lived on my own in London. For a couple of months I suffered from "pine mouth," which causes all food and beverage to have a metallic taste for several days after consuming pine nuts. True story, Google it! I was certain the culprit was the cheap Chinese variety from the grocery store and as a result I will never buy pine nuts from Asia again. Turkish pine nuts are expensive, but after pine mouth totally ruined my Christmas lunch, I'm not willing to take the risk!

This recipe for ramp pesto yielded roughly one cup, which we enjoyed with pasta, homemade gnocchi, and pizza cooked on the grill. The ramps added a fresh peppery flavor and they were definitely more robust than the tender basil leaves, lasting in the fridge for several days. I think my favorite pairing was the gnocchi, the sweet garlicky onion flavor really brought the potato dumplings to life.

Ramps are likely to be available at the farmers market for one or two more weeks before they are gone until next Spring. It's going to be a glorious weekend filled with sunshine here on the East Coast, so what are you waiting for?

Ramp Pesto

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 3 mins
Serves: 2

Remember this recipe is not an exact science, feel free to adapt to your taste! This recipe yields approximately 1/2 cup pesto.


  • 1 bunch of fresh ramps {approximately 20 stems}
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts or pistachios {if using pistachios, be sure to use a skinned, unroasted variety}
  • Zest and juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
  • Approximately 2/3 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to season


  1. Carefully and thoroughly wash the ramps. Dry before roughly cutting into 2" pieces.
  2. Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the roughly chopped ramps and allow to wilt, tossing occasionally for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Remove the sautéed ramps from the pan and allow to cool.
  4. Once cool, place in a food processor with the lemon zest, juice, and cheese.
  5. Pulse in short, sharp bursts until everything is evenly blended.
  6. With the motor running, swiftly and evenly pour the olive oil into the food processor. Pause to check the consistency of your pesto every so often as you may choose not to add all of the oil.
  7. Finally, season to taste once the desired consistency has been achieved.
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