I grew up in the Philippines in a house with a beautiful garden. My grandmother, who lived with us at that time, had a working vegetable patch that was always verdant. We had a couple of papaya trees, a banana tree, a jackfruit tree, a calamansi tree, some tomato bushes, plus a flourishing herb garden of garlic, chive, mint, and spring onion. My grandmother also grew beautiful flowers: orchid, poinsettia, hibiscus (gumamela in Tagalog), bougainvillea, and gardenia (rosal).
Today, I live in a condo flat in Toronto, with nary a garden in sight to call my own (unfortunately, I don’t even have a balcony or terrace). I miss my grandmother (bless her soul) and her garden, and the way she calls me to come help her tend to the plants. She was a natural nurturer – of which, I suspect, the same loving technique was applied to her 13 children. Hence, she was rewarded with abundance all her life. By the way, you read correctly – she had 13 children (read a little about her history here).
I wish to move back into a house with some land, preferably facing the north-east, so that I get that gorgeous light that’s great for photography and gardening! But while I don’t have that dream garden yet, I am content to support small-scale, local farmers by buying their seasonal produce. As often as I can, I shop at farmers’ market and buy whatever is in season.
A few days ago, I spotted these beautiful ramps (wild leeks) in the market, their long, slender leaves swaying with the wind. It made me think of a breakfast I once had at a Toronto restaurant where the chef paired them with fried duck’s egg. It was a simple, no-frills meal that really let the delicate and mellow garlicky-green onion-y flavour of the ramps shine through. Note that this herb is one of the earliest to appear in spring, thus earning its reputation as “spring’s first greens.” Interestingly enough, they only grow in the wild and can be most commonly found in the Appalachian forests. However, there’s a growing interest in learning how to cultivate these delicious herbs, as demand grows.
One thing that’s nice to know, though, ramps don’t need a lot of cooking to highlight their soft, subtle, umami-like flavour. It’s perfectly fine to eat them as is, tossed in a salad or tucked in a sandwich…or in a pesto like this one!
I made this ramp pesto by blanching the ramps first (no more than 5 seconds) in order to draw out more of its flavour, then I added some upland cress for a peppery punch; one clove of garlic for bite; some raw pistachios for richness; and Pecorino Romano cheese for more depth. To me, this is the green goddess – ramp pesto.
Here’s a secret: this pesto delivers the goodies – it’s rich in vitamins A, B12, C, K, selenium, chromium, manganese, and calcium!
So, for lunch one day, I got a little carried away with my ramp pesto. I cooked two different kinds of pasta because I just can’t get enough of this amazingly herby sauce. And since ramps are in season right now, I just had to make sure I get my fill of them before they are goné!
Tell me, dear friends, what sort of non-traditional herbs or greens do you like to use for pesto?
- 8 stalks ramps or wild leeks, roughly chopped
- 1 cup loosely packed upland cress
- 1 garlic, smashed
- ½ cup raw pistachios, shelled
- ½ cup Pecorino Romano cheese, diced
- good quality extra virgin olive oil
- Blanched the ramps in boiling water for 5 - 10 seconds, then run under cold water to stop cooking (optional).
- After chopping all the dry ingredients (from ramps to Pecorino cheese), put them all in the bowl of a food processor and whirl while slowly streaming the olive oil.
- Pulse until well-combined and desired consistency is achieved.
- Transfer in a jar and keep in refrigerator until ready to use.
- Use as pasta sauce or topping.