Last Spring, which came a whole month before it did this year, I was walking through the woods on one of my regular hikes. The landscape was just beginning to awaken; green shoots sprouted from outstretched branches of trees, ferns unfurled from the ground, grass greened with chlorophyll after looking brown and dead for months. Strolling along, I was struck by a type of plant that dominated the landscape, carpeted the forest floor along a trickling stream. These double-leaved beauties looked like the greens of the tulip plants that were popping up all over New Haven. But when I reached down to inspect these voracious plants, I was struck not by the delicate curves of their leaves, but the pungent aroma of onion! When I snapped a leaf the scent perfumed the air to the extent that I had to recognize them as the much vaunted wild cousin of the leek: the ramp.
I returned to the patch as quickly as I could, shovel in hand. The ramp is a tenacious beauty, for all of its grace and tenderness; its roots wrap deeply into the earth, grasping pebbles and rocks and burrowing into crevices. Week after week I would return to the woods and forage for bags of ramps, subsequently scavenging for recipes to use my haul and share the glory of my booty with friends. A few weeks into the season, the weather turned warm; narcissus blossoms withered, petals fell from tulips and peach trees. Walking out into the forest, I was stopped in my tracks; the ramps were gone. Every last one of them was gone. I panicked. Where had the ramps gone? Had someone found my patch and taken every single one, ripped the carpet of ramps out from under me?
This wasn't just wasn't possible; I couldn't see any shovel marks, let alone the signs of a bulldozer that had drudged the forest floor. I looked and stared, closer and closer, and finally realized that the ramps had simply withered. What had been the most majestic forms of plant life on the early Spring forest floor were now nothing more than brown strings no thicker than a blade of grass. I went home empty-handed, but thankful that I had relished in the glory of what the Earth had offered me before it, quite literally, disappeared.
Braised Ramps with Ramp Pesto
1 large bunch of ramps
½ cup pine nuts
1/3 cup olive oil
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Separate ramps tops from white bulbs and red stems. Put tops to the side.
Heat a lidded saute pan and coat the bottom with olive oil. Saute ramp bulbs/stems until they begin to brown and blister in spots. Add ½ cup water or stock to the pan, a large pinch of kosher salt and cover. Turn heat to low and allow ramps to cook until tender and liquid has evaporated.
In the meantime, pulse ramp tops, pine nuts and salt in a food processor. Stream in the olive oil until the mixture comes together, but remains chunky. You want a paste, not a sauce. Add the cheese, mix, and taste for seasoning.
There are many ways to serve this, but my favorite is to take a piece of grilled bread, place a bed of braised ramps, top with a dollop and ramp pesto and sprinkled with a few wispy leaves of arugula tossed in balsamic vinaigrette.