Monday, May 23, 2016

Ramp Pesto with Spring Peas

I'm crashing at my younger sister's NYC apartment this week. Apparently, her roommates only agreed to host me because they knew I would cook for them. Reasonable, I guess. After throwing them a posh dinner party last night, I'm practically an honorary roommate. I'll save the details of my first course (salmon tartare) as well as my experience grocery shopping in NYC (expensive) for a later post. Today, is all about ramps. 

Allicum tricoccum aka ramps are the perfect spring-time ingredient to revamp classic recipes, such as pesto sauce, into the star of any dinner party. Ramps are available from late winter through spring and are all the rage in the culinary world. They can be found on any hip restaurant's menu, so naturally I'd feature them on my blog. Because, you know...I'm trendy. 

The garlicky, oniony, and pungent flavor of ramps lend itself well to creating a rich, savory pesto sauce. Though pesto gets a bad rap for being high in calories, its main ingredients are heart-healthy olive oil and nuts. So there's definitely a place for pesto if eaten in moderation (though this recipe makes that nearly impossible). May the odds be ever in your favor. 

To make ramp pesto, I substituted basil and garlic with the ramps from my favorite pesto recipe. Unlike classic pesto, the ramps are blanched to cut some of the sharpness, and lemon juice and zest are added for acidity. The sauce is finished with spring peas to add a sweet note.  I served the ramp pesto over fresh egg tagliolini from Little Italy, sliced garlic bread, and plenty of wine. It turned out ridiculously well. Get your hands on some ramps while you can...Seriously! 

Tips/tricks to make the perfect ramp pesto:
  • Fresh, good quality ingredients are essential for a successful pesto sauce. Olive oil and parmesan vary greatly in quality and taste. Don't skimp on these two items.
  • When zesting a lemon, only include the yellow skin (flavedo). Avoid the white pith, which is bitter. 
  • A neutral flavor pasta is best as the ramps should be the highlight. 
    • I used tagliolini, but linguine or fettuccine would be other great options. 
    • Cook the pasta according to package instructions until al-dente. The fresh pasta I used only took 2-3 minutes. 
    • Do not rinse pasta after draining. The starch helps the sauce stick.

Ramp Pesto with Spring Peas Ingredients:
  • 2 generous tablespoons pine nuts plus more for garnish
  • 2 generous tablespoons walnuts
  • 25 ramps, root ends trimmed
  • 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) plus more to serve
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons of frozen peas
Yields about 2 cups

Ramp Pesto with Spring Peas Recipe:
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (water should taste like the ocean) and blanch ramps in the boiling water for 20-30 seconds. Remove ramps with tongs and immediately immerse in an ice water bath. Save the boiling water for pasta. Dry ramps very well by squeezing in a kitchen towel.

  • Add the pine nuts, walnuts, lemon zest, ramps, salt, and a few grinds of pepper to a food processor. Chop for 15 seconds. Add the lemon juice. With the processor running, slowly add the olive oil through the feed tube. Add the parmesan and blend until combined. Transfer the sauce and frozen peas to a saute pan set over low heat. Gently heat until just warm and peas defrosted. Season to taste
    • Note: You may need slightly more or less oil to reach the desired pesto consistency
    • Optional Step: Toast a handful of pine nuts on a dry skillet for 3 minutes over medium-low heat to be used for garnish. Set aside.
  • In the meantime, cook the pasta in the salted water according to the package directions. Once the pasta is cooked to al dente, remove from the boiling water with tongs and place directly into the saute pan. Toss the pasta until well coated in sauce and then transfer to a serving (or individual) bowl(s). Add grated parmesan and toasted pine nuts for garnish. Serve immediately.

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