Ramps: A Little History and a Pesto Recipe with Goat Cheese

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.

8-10 servings

*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.


31 thoughts on “Ramps: A Little History and a Pesto Recipe with Goat Cheese”

  1. We don’t cook with ramps, but I’m wondering if they’d grow here in Texas. It’s too late for this year, but I’m going to do some research for next. My husband wants us to grow nettles, too, after seeing them in so many interesting recipes. Cultivating weeds in the gourmet garden…

  2. My thoughts are with the people in WV who experienced this tragedy. Thank you for finding a way to honor that state by featuring an ingredient from that region. I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard of ramps, but looking forward to trying it. I love the inclusion of pine nuts as well. Other than the goat cheese (we’re vegan), this looks like a great recipe. Can’t wait to try it!

  3. I’ve never used ramps… hopefully being in Northern Virginia means I won’t have trouble finding them. 🙂
    Beautiful picture. I bet the pesto tastes marvelous!

  4. This looks great! I need to buy a large size good quality processor just to make pesto. I’m in Virginia, I’ve never seen ramps before (maybe they’re there but never knew what they are). Will check them when I go shopping. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I saw ramps in a recipe awhile back and was wondering what the heck they were. I forgot all about them until your post–thanks for showcasing them. I guess their short season makes them lesser known, at least to me.

  6. You could sub leeks which are about the same thing — they’re delicious with just olive oil, sale and pepper. Put them in the microwave – fast and YUMMY!

  7. Hey everyone~
    I’ve had quite a few emails from people wondering where I found the ramps while on vacation…
    Far West Fungi in the Ferry Building in San Francisco.
    Great stand to visit. I also bought fiddlehead ferns, mushrooms, and truffle salt…put a serious dent in my vacation spending $!
    If you have a Whole Foods in your town, they will order them for you. I know, because I have some coming in to my store here in RVA this weekend:)
    Hope you find some ramps!

  8. This looks excellent. I can’t find ramps locally but I grow some wild onions of some kind in my raised bed. I think I’ll try making this with them and see what happens. I also started growing some garlic last year and it has come up and looks excellent. I’ve had pesto made with the scapes. That is what I intend to do with the scapes from the homegrown garlic. Thanks alot for inspiration.


  9. Hooray for ramps! I didn’t realize they were such a huge foodie craze. I didn’t even realize they were called “ramps,” to be honest. I would take my garlic that was starting to sprout or the wee bitty ones in the center of the clove, and instead of throwing them out, I’d shove them into the ground and let their greens grow out and then pull them to use in stir-fry dishes. It’s been a great way to not let anything go to waste.
    .-= wasabi prime´s last blog ..FoodTrek: CupcakeCamp is Better Than Summer Camp =-.

  10. I still have not seen an honest-to-goodness, real ramp yet. Someone must be hoarding them here in MN . . .

    Actually, I’m hoping they’ll be available at the farmers’ market this weekend – it’s a the top of my must-try-once list of foods. If I’m lucky, then I’ll have this delicious recipe on hand!
    .-= Tangled Noodle´s last blog ..Tweet Inspiration: Irish Pan Pizza =-.

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