For several years now, shorty after spring arrives, I’ve been hearing about ramps. I’ve heard that ramps are delicious. I’ve heard that they’re one of the gems of the spring season. And most of all I’ve heard that they let off a very pungent and strong aroma. But I’d never seen ramps or tasted them. Naturally, I assumed that this mysterious member of the onion family was something that grew elsewhere and that I’d be doomed to reading about it in magazines and cookbooks, without ever having the chance to actually taste a ramp.
This rather cynical outlook changed dramatically three weeks ago when I stopped by the St. Lawrence Market on my way to baking class. I noticed one stall in particular that had throngs of people in front of it. Initially I thought that these were excited Torontonians trying to get at all that fresh Ontario asparagus. But as I got closer, I realized they were interested in something else. It appeared that all these people were trying to snag what appeared to be, from a distance, green onions. Except they weren’t green. They were leafy with a bulbous end that was white and pink in colour.
Could it be?!
I moved in for a closer look and read a sign that said, "Wild Ontario leeks for sale". Wild Ontario leeks? But they looked an awful lot like ramps.
I looked at my watch and saw that I was running late for class. I should have taken more time to investigate but that was time I didn’t have. Instead I put all those skills learned at the mercato in Italy to good use. I made a mad dash through a line of people, slipped in through a tiny opening in the crowd (I’m surprisingly nimble for a Cream Puff!), grabbed two bunches of wild Ontario leeks, paid for them and dashed off to class. My family in Italy would have been so proud!
Excited, I immediately began to figure out a way to prepare my new discovery. Should I grill the ramps? Should I chop them up and use them in a quiche? Should I steam them and enjoy them with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt?
Hmmm … too many choices.
In a quandary, I left the ramps alone and decided to sleep on it. The following day, as so often happens, I was looking for one thing and ended up with another. While searching the LCBO’s site for a cocktail to serve on Mother’s Day, I instead found a recipe for Linguine with Wild Leek Pesto and Roasted Tomatoes.
Perfect on all counts. I had a purpose for my ramps and I got to include roasted tomatoes. I know, I know … it’s not tomato season in Ontario yet. Never fear. I have not forgotten my commitment to eating locally grown foods. As luck would have it these tomatoes were the last ones that remained in our freezer from last summer’s harvest. We always plant a few extra tomato plants so that we can harvest those tomatoes and then freeze them. Then, throughout the winter and early spring, we enjoy them roasted or added to our stocks for colour.
To be quite honest, I didn’t find the ramps let off that pungent of an aroma. You can definitely smell them, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. The pasta was quick to make with the most difficult part being the roasting of the tomatoes … if you can call that difficult.
The pasta sauce was spicy and strong-tasting but the roasted tomatoes added a lovely touch of caramelized sweetness. Quite simply, it was delicious! Add some sunshine and you have the perfect pasta dish for a lovely spring day.
Pasta with Wild Leek Pesto and Roasted Tomatoes
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- salt and pepper
- pasta for 4 people
- 1 cup chopped wild leeks
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup parmigiano, freshly grated
- 2 tablespoons pasta cooking water
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Wash and dry the cherry tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes in half and spread on a baking sheet, cut side up, and combine with 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes until the tomaotes have softened and browned. Once done, place the tomatoes and any juice in a bowl; set aside.
- Cook the pasta according to package directions. Reserve two tablepoons of the water the pasta water.
- While the pasta is cooking, place leeks and olive oil in a food processor and process until chunky. Mix in 1/4 cup of the parmigiano.
- Once pasta is cooked, toss the leek pesto with the pasta. Add the cherry tomatoes and the reserved pasta water. Mix well, adding more parmigiano as necessary.
- Serve with an extra sprinkling of parmigiano.
For more information on ramps, read this article, "A Unique and Delicious Spring Jewel" by Diana Rattray.