Let’s talk pesto.

Pesto is that herbaceous combination of nuts and herbs traditionally made from fresh basil, garlic, and pine nuts. The more traditional basil pesto originated in Liguria, a coastal region in Italy comprised of pastel villages. Last year, I was fortunate to spend a few days in the Ligurian seaside towns of Cinque Terre taking in the sun, the sea, the wine, and the food.

The pesto was incredible. A perfect combination of nothing more than basil, garlic, nuts, olive oil, salt, and cheese – all of the highest quality.

I’m less bound to the notion that all pesto must be basil, but my time in Italy taught me the importance of good-quality, seasonal ingredients, and careful preparation.

This ramp pesto may not be traditional, its preparation is.

Charred Ramp Pesto
Charred Ramp Pesto
Charred Ramp Pesto

Hand prepared pesto is pure magic, a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Staying true to the tradition of using a mortar and pestle makes all the difference. The scraping and grinding create an intensely flavorful sauce and luxurious texture that cannot be matched by the food processor. The experience is intense for sure but worth it.

While most know basil variety, pesto is ripe for experimentation. Here, it’s ramps for basil with the added edge of a little fire. The garlicky ramps substitute perfectly the more traditional basil and garlic. Charring brings out the intensity of the ramps and makes this take on the classic unique but familiar.

Charred Ramp Pesto
Charred Ramp Pesto
Charred Ramp Pesto
Charred Ramp Pesto

Recipe Breakdown

Charring the ramps brings out the intensity of their flavor. Next time I would consider using a hand-held torch to char the ramps.

A good pesto shouldn’t be too runny or too thick. Put a spoonful on a plate. If it just holds together, it’s good to go.

Charred Ramp Pesto

By Evan Kalman
Serves 4-5

Ingredients

  • 32 g (1/4 cup) walnuts
  • 6 oz (a bit under 1/2 lb) ramps
  • 60 g (1/2 cup) finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 120 ml (about 1/2 cup) extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt, freshly ground pepper

Steps

Toast the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until golden brown and fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes. Mash the walnuts and 1 1/2 teaspoons of flaky sea salt in motor and pestle until a rough paste forms.

Char the ramps over an open flame (or gas stove burner) until wilted and burned in some places. Coarsely chop and add to the walnuts. Grind into a paste using a circular motion until the mixture is finely chopped.

Gentle stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and then gradually drizzle in the olive oil continuing to stir until combined. Everything should be fully incorporated without being runny. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Store in an airtight container and cover the top with extra olive oil to prevent the pesto from oxidizing. Refrigerate up to 4 days or freeze for up to 1 month.

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