Pesto can be made from really anything: I've seen pestos with basil of course, but also mint, parsley, cilantro, and other herbs. In this case I use oregano. You can use young green garlic instead of ramps, although it is stiffer. Ramps are available in farmers' markets in the east from March through May, and green garlic is available nationwide.
You must first blanch your ramps before making this pesto. This is how:
1. You will need two or three big handfuls of fresh ramp leaves for this recipe. Get a huge pot of water boiling and add a handful of salt. 2. Toss the ramp leaves and the oregano into the boiling water. Stir around and boil for 30 seconds to one minute.
3. Fish them out with a skimmer or the tongs and immediately dump them into a big bowl with ice water in it. Once they are cool, put them in a colander to strain.
4. Get a cloth towel, like a tea towel, and put the herbs and ramps in it. Wrap one end of the towel one way, then the other end of the towel the other and squeeze out as much moisture as you can.
This recipe makes a little more than two-thirds of a cup of very green, very pretty pesto. Store any unused pesto in the fridge, topped with some olive oil to keep the air out.
• leaves from about 2 dozen ramps • ½ cup toasted almonds
• ¼ cup grated cheese (any hard cheese will do) • 2 dozen sprigs of fresh oregano
• olive oil (use the good stuff)
Chop ramp leaves and oregano.
Pesto is best made with a mortar and pestle, thus the name, which means "pound." You can make this in a food processor, but it will not be the same. First add the almonds and crush lightl—as they are roundish, they will jump out of your mortar if you get too vigorous.
Add the salt, cheese, ramps, and oregano, and commence pounding. Mash everything together, stirring with the pestle and mashing well so it is all fairly uniform.
Start adding olive oil. How much? Depends on how you are using your pesto. If you are making a spread, maybe two tablespoons. If a pasta sauce, double that or more. Either way, you add one tablespoon at a time, pounding and stirring to incorporate it.
Serve as a spread on bread, as an additive to a minestrone (like this one), as a pasta sauce or as a dollop on fish or poultry.
To read about Hank's love affair with his "childhood friend" the ramp, click here.