Ramp (Wild Leek) Pesto

by Jen on May 8, 2012

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?

5.0 from 7 reviews
Ramp (Wild Leek) Pesto
Recipe Type: Main
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
This is really a recipe that doesn't follow any strict measurement - it all rests on your taste. But here is roughly what I used
  • 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
  1. Blanched the ramps in boiling water for 5 - 10 seconds, then run under cold water to stop cooking (optional).
  2. 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.
  3. Pulse until well-combined and desired consistency is achieved.
  4. Transfer in a jar and keep in refrigerator until ready to use.
  5. Use as pasta sauce or topping.

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Andi May 8, 2012 at 7:27 am

Yuuuuummy! You make food SO beautiful :)


Rachel May 8, 2012 at 8:34 am

Ramps are widely celebrated here in the Appalachians. Lovely post! And I love food memories that remind us of our grandmothers.


Jean | Lemons and Anchovies May 8, 2012 at 9:19 am

So nice to learn more about your grandmother; I would guess you inherited a lot of her nurturing nature just from what I’ve gotten to know of you here. :)

Your photos are always like a ray of sunshine on my screen–love the way you style your shots. I have not strayed too far from the traditional preparation of pesto but I always do use pistachios–I won’t make pesto without them. As for ramps? Love them! I had them with dinner at a restaurant in SF a couple of weeks ago. They were breaded and fried and served atop a delicate fish. Very good! I bet your pesto would highlight their freshness even better!


Sandra's Easy Cooking May 8, 2012 at 9:20 am

Your granny was a tough women having 13 kids..wow just a thought having 13 kids is really wow!
I live in a condo too, but thankfully my parents-in- law have back yard so I turned little corner into garden.
Your pasta look AMAZING… so tempting, I could eat bowl right that moment and it’s still morning LOL! As far as non traditional pesto that I made I think that arugula pesto was one of my fave, excluding basil one:))
Yummy looking pics!


Katie {Epicurean Mom} May 8, 2012 at 9:25 am

I love the farmers market!! There’s something so relaxing strolling around looking at all the fresh lovely produce! And this pesto is magnificent!


Lisa (AuthenticSuburbanGourmet) May 8, 2012 at 9:26 am

Thank you for sharing the wonderful story about your special grandmother. I need to do something with ramps – you have inspired me. This pesto looks and sounds simply divine!! Your photos are just beautiful and inspirational – nice job!!!!


amy @ fearless homemaker May 8, 2012 at 9:45 am

wow, this sounds just so lovely + springy – what a perfect spring meal! i loved reading about all the wonderful things your grandmother grew in the Phillippines. my husband has quite a green thumb, so we’re lucky to have a pretty great garden – a bunch of different tomatoes, basil, sage, oregano rosemary, parsley, mint, hot peppers, strawberries + a peach tree, just to name some of my favorites!


Laura (Tutti Dolci) May 8, 2012 at 9:46 am

Your grandmother sounds like such a neat lady – and what a garden! I’ve never tried ramps but I love the idea of using them in pesto. What time should we come for lunch, Jen? ;)


Erin @ Dinners, Dishes, and Desserts May 8, 2012 at 10:05 am

I have never heard of ramps before. They sounds delicious though. I wonder if they can be found in this part of the country, I will have to keep an eye out.
Your pictures are always so stunning – you don’t need a house with better light!


Lauren May 8, 2012 at 10:17 am

I’ve been looking for a good recipe that includes ramps. I think this one is a winner! You’re photography is amazing, as well!


Priscilla @ShesCookin May 8, 2012 at 12:48 pm

I’m hoping to see some ramps this weekend at the farmers market. I’ve made cilantro and arugula pesto, but those are not as unique as ramp pesto :) Beautiful post, Jen – evocative writing and stunning images. love.love. I have fond memories of my grandmother’s assortment of tropical fruit trees in Hawaii and, when we move, will miss our garden most of all.


Rowena @ Apron and Sneakers May 8, 2012 at 6:12 pm

I never encountered ramps before but when I googled it and saw some pictures with flowers, I suddenly got excited because I have seen those allium flowers around our area before. Those beautiful purple clusters are always popping out. But then, there are so many kinds of allium and I cannot get an Italian translation. Your pesto seems so good and fresh. Seems like it’s very good with pasta. And hey, I wish I was like your grandmother. I wish I had 13 children too. It should have been beautiful for her to see all 13 of them together, growing up. I miss our garden in the Philippines too. :-( I have one here but it’s not the same. I have a thriving malunggay tree though that I planted from scratch. :-)


Patty May 8, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Beautiful post, love your pictures and the ramp pesto! I saw ramps for sale at the SF Ferry Plaza a few weeks ago, should have grabbed some, their season is so short and they aren’t that easy to find. I grew sorrel last year which makes a tasty pesto served on pasta. Also tender radish greens are good;-)


Jennifer (Delicieux) May 8, 2012 at 8:34 pm

I’ve never come across ramps before, but they are definitely something to look for at the markets as I adore leeks. I loved reading your post, reading about your special bond with your Grandmother (aren’t they the best) and your inspiration for this recipe. I especially love your gorgeous styling too, you really get a beautiful spring vibe from your photos.


Roxana GreenGirl { A little bit of everything} May 8, 2012 at 10:24 pm

WOW! I admire your granny for having 13 kids! I have one and there are days are think 1 is more than plenty.
I have never heard of these leeks, i’ll have to see if they sell it at our local farm. I love leeks better than onion in cooking and I know I’ll love this type as well.
Your photos are just stunning as usual.


Marina {YummyMummyKitchen.com} May 9, 2012 at 12:15 am

Oh I just love these beautiful pictures!


Tina Ong (@PhenomenalMama) May 9, 2012 at 1:16 am

I’ve always stuck to basil, although I tried arugula before.

This is my first time to hear of ramps. So thank you for the short introduction.:) Wonderful photography, as expected.:) Do keep us updated about your littlest one…


Raymund May 9, 2012 at 2:00 am

All I can say is wow! I really adore your Photography. You make simple meals like this rock!


Beth May 9, 2012 at 5:11 am

Your photos are absolutely lovely. They remind me of spring!


Renee May 9, 2012 at 7:30 pm

I’ve just discovered your blog and I really love it – such gorgeous photos! Your pesto looks amazing. I’ve never cooked with ramps before – maybe they don’t grow well in Saskatchewan – but I’ll definitely keep an eye out!


Aimee @ Simple Bites May 9, 2012 at 7:54 pm

I’m thrilled to have come across this recipe via Foodgawker, Jen! I’m fortunate enough to have several patches of ramps in my back woods, but I haven’t taken advantage of them much this year. Time to get my butt out the door and pick some.

Gorgeous photos!


Suzanne May 9, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Always beautiful Jen, and how wonderful to grow up with such a garden to draw from and loving family around. I just barely hear of ramps, now twice in a week so I am intrigued. Perfect Spring pesto, love it.


Nami | Just One Cookbook May 9, 2012 at 11:46 pm

After I started to follow I had never thought that you were living in a condo and no garden. You always bring in fresh ingredients and bright light – assuming that you have yard and garden. :-) I admire your grandma having 13 kids, yet she seems like she give a lot of attentions to grandchildren (you have very close memory of her, which I assume you had very nice time together). Your story is very warm and pictures tell the story nicely. I’ve never had ramp, but when I see it I know a good story attach to it. :-)


Choc Chip Uru May 11, 2012 at 3:58 am

I am a huge fan of pesto in and on italian dishes and your recipe looks refreshing and delicioius – thank you :D

Choc Chip Uru


Ayngelina May 13, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Every year I see ramps recipe posts I say I’m going to make pesto and I never do!


Liren May 14, 2012 at 12:12 am

Your garden memories in the Philippines sound like my mom’s wistful recollections of the fruit trees in her grandmother’s garden in Laguna. I wish I had a garden large enough for abundant fruits too! But my goodness, this pesto is stunning and such a beautiful use of the ramps! Gorgeous images as always!


Magic of Spice May 19, 2012 at 5:04 pm

I would miss my garden terribly if I moved somewhere that I did not have space. I am sure you will have one again though :) This pesto is amazing…love it!


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