Red pepper pasta with ramp pesto

Oh the bounty of spring. How I have long awaited thee. Each week brings a new surprise and fixation. Last week (and maybe this week and the week after) I was focused on ramps, maybe one of my favorite spring ingredients.

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Ramps tend to grow in the northeastern US and part of Canada, and so I was completely unfamiliar with them until about two years ago. But I quickly became aware, as New York foodie yuppies are the most fervent believers in the Church of Ramp, and every restaurant in the city pays homage to the leafy bulbito in the months of April and May. The farmers markets are the proselytizers, and boy am I believer.

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Ramps are a member of the onion family but are distinct from “normal” onions in that they have a more delicate taste, more so than even leeks, and the real prize is the leafy greens atop the diminutive bulb. The greens are quite herbacious, with a hint of an onion and garlic scent.

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Many recipes cook the ramps in one way or another. But for an ingredient this vibrant and delicate, it seems best to me to take advantage of it’s raw state. The leafy part is an excellent ingredient for pesto. The white part of the ramp can be a bit too strong to leave raw, but too precious to be wasted. So finely sliced and quickly sauteed, in adds a great flavor to any sauce or soup.


Red pepper pasta with ramp pesto

serves                  2
difficulty             easy
cook time           20 min

I purchased the red pepper pasta from LaRina in Brooklyn, which also has a small shop. I really loved the spice with this dish. But if you can’t get your hands on red pepper pasta add about ½ teaspoon of crushed red pepper when you start sauteing the ramp bulbs.

You’ll notice that this pesto recipe is a bit simpler than other pestos; no nuts and no cheese. That’s because I really wanted the flavor of the ramps to shine. My only other recommendation is to buy more ramps than you think you’ll need. Always more ramps.

Ingredients

2 servings red pepper pasta, about 150-200 grams fresh pasta
1 small bunch ramps
1 small handful basil leaves
1½ tbsp lemon juice, from about 1 small lemon
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup + ½ tbsp + 1 tbsp olive oil
8 ounces / 225 grams cherry tomatoes
¼ lb / 120 grams squid, rinsed, patted dry, and cut into ¼ inch thick rings
Parmesan as desired


  1. Preheat the broiler.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil while broiler is heating up.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the ramps. Slice off the roots, but keep the white base. Thinly slice the white part of ramp until you reach the base of the leaves. Reserve the slice white bulbs. Roughly chop the ramp leaves and then put into a food processor.
  4. Lightly coat the cherry tomatoes with about ½ tbsp of olive oil and place in an oven proof dish or pan. Place under broiler and broil until the skins start to blacken and blister, about 10 minutes. Turn tomatoes once or twice to ensure even cooking. When done, remove until ready to add to the sauce.
  5. Add the basil leaves to the food processor. Pulse processor until the leaves start to break down, about 10 times. Add the lemon juice, salt, and ¼ cup of olive oil. Run the food processor until the ramps and basil are finely chopped and you have an even paste. Set aside until ready to serve.
  6. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until tender. Before draining reserve about 1 cup of pasta water.
  7. Heat the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced ramp bulbs and cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the sliced squid and cook until opaque, about 1-2 minutes. Add about ¼ pasta water, plus a pinch of salt. Stir in the drained pasta. Heat until sauce has thickened and is evenly distributed, about 2 minutes, then add in the tomatoes and all juices. Pop a few tomatoes with the pack of your spoon to release more juice.
  8. Place pasta in serving bowls and then drizzle the pesto over the top. Add grated Parmesan cheese to taste.

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