West Virginia has been in the news a lot lately.
Jamie Oliver brought his Food Revolution campaign to Huntington and shows documenting his journey to fight obesity in America, began airing on ABC at the end of March.
Last week we heard about the horrible coal mine tragedy that claimed 29 lives.
But there’s something else going on in in West Virginia right now that also warrants some attention…
It’s the beginning of ramps season in the Appalachia mountains of my neighboring state.
Ramps are a type of wild leak related to the onion family, native to the eastern North American mountains. They can be found growing in patches in rich, moist, deciduous forests and bottoms from as far north as Canada, west to Missouri and Minnesota, and south to North Carolina and Tennessee. In early spring, ramps send up smooth, broad, lily-of-the-valley-like leaves, with white bulbs at their base. They kind of look like plump scallions to me. Their flavor is very similar to a mild onion, and their aroma is that of really potent garlic (x 10).
A few years ago, ramps were not very well known until they started showing up on menus in upscale restaurants where chef’s offered these prized foraged greens sauteed with fresh morel mushrooms (also a spring treat) or pickled and served as part of a salad. Huge buzz was created in the foodie world, and with it came the search for the coveted ramps, so hard to come by and so incredibly unique.
For the mountain folks living in the Appalachia region, ramps have been and still are a celebration of community and the welcoming of spring. During the harvest season (which begins now, and lasts just a few weeks), festivals and celebrations sprout up around the mountain region. For a more humble look at how ramps are celebrated in Richwood, West Virginia, watch the clip from last year’s festival.
Today ramps are becoming a bit easier to find, as their popularity grows. I found them while on vacation at a farmer’s market far away from any of the areas they are grown, which means they were shipped in, and yes, I paid dearly for them. But the friends we were staying with had never had them, and I wanted to share the garlic breath joy with them.
Check your farmer’s market, or ask the produce manager of your favorite store if they will get some for you; but act soon before they disappear!
One of the things I like to do with ramps is whirl them into a fresh pesto and pour it over some soft goat cheese. The pesto is also delicious atop grilled fish, or tossed into pasta with shrimp. It’s simple, and lets you really appreciate the flavor of the ramps.
Ramp Pesto with Goat Cheese
1 bunch ramps (about 12 in bunch), trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 ounces soft goat cheese
1 baguette, sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Place ramps and next 5 ingredients in a blender or food processor, processing until smooth. With motor running, slowly add olive oil to mixture.
Allow goat cheese to sit out of the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to soften. Form the goat cheese into a circular shape, then press the center in a bit to create a well. Place goat cheese round on serving platter. Pool the pesto into the center of the goat cheese, allowing it to spill onto the platter. Serve with *toasted baguette slices.
*To toast baguette slices, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place baguette slices in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake 5 minutes to toast slightly. Remove baking sheet from oven and brush both sides lightly with olive oil. Return to oven and bake 7-9 additional minutes (or until golden brown), flipping slices halfway through bake time. Remove from oven and sprinkle with salt and pepper.