Featured Ingredient: Ramps
A harbinger of warmer days, ramps are one of those ultra-seasonal foods not to be missed. Ramps (a.k.a. wild garlic) are an early spring onion/scallion/leek-like vegetable that grows abundantly in the fecund soils of eastern North America.
Their flavor is reminiscent of chives, scallion and garlic. When raw, they are intensely garlicky, but cooking them mellows them out. Both the white bulb and verdant tops can be eaten.
Because they have a very short shelf life after picking, you won’t find ramps in grocery stores making the farmers’ market your best bet. Or you can forage for them. I was lucky enough to find a big plantation on our local mountain bike trails, so I stuffed my hydration pack with a solid bounty of them. After reading this article in the New York Times about how their increasing popularity might be leading to unsustainable harvesting, I made sure to only collect a few from each patch so they will be around next spring.
As a member of the Allium family along with garlic and onions, ramps contain an abundance of sulfur compounds shown to confer some protection against certain cancers. Some studies show these compounds can help control cholesterol numbers helping reduce the chances of culinary woes.
Any recipe calling for garlic can be adjusted to accommodate to ramps. I love making pesto with them because you can incorporate both the bottoms and tops. These savory muffins have just the right amount of pesto flavor – not too overpowering but enough to enliven your taste buds. My first batch came out drier than the Sahara, but these are marvelously moist. If you don’t have ramps, feel free to use any pesto you like in this recipe.
Obviously, you’ll have a lot more pesto on your hands than what is used in this recipe. Consider that a blessing as it can be used in pasta salads or a fanciful spread for burgers or sandwiches. In an air-tight container, it will also freeze very well for future uses.
Cornmeal Pesto Muffins
1 bunch wild leeks (ramps), white bulb and green leafy parts, chopped
1 cup cilantro
1/3 cup mint
1/3 cup walnuts
½ cup grated high-quality Parmesean cheese (not the Kraft stuff)
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt, to taste
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup oil
3 tablespoons ramp pesto
Place wild leeks, cilantro, mint and walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times until coarsely minced. Add cheese, salt and lemon juice and process until combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Through the feed tube, add olive oil while machine is running and process until slightly grainy.
Preheat oven to 350F. In a bowl, mix together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, milk, yogurt, oil and pesto until everything is combined and smooth. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Divide mixture among 12 muffin cups. Bake for 15 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool 5 minutes before unmolding.