Saturday, 21 April 2012

SmartCooks Digs Ramps (Wild Leeks) Pesto, Lemon Zest

April 21, 2012

SmartCooks here.  

Wild leeks (ramps) are in the house and pesto is first up after an afternoon of digging and odd reconnections.  Here's the story.

Unexpected Reconnections 

In March I was surfing around websites for farms in Eastern Ontario that might have the early spring produce like wild leeks, asparagus, and morel mushrooms. I found Oasis Organics Farm and e-mailed my query.  The farm replied late this week to say the wild leeks were up.  

So today (Saturday), Husband set the GPS and off we went along the back roads of North Gower.  My first shock of the day occurred as we drove; we totally expected to drive by an ATM along the way so I could get some cash.  Wrong.  It's way more rural outside the concrete Ottawa jungle than I remember.  Instead, we had to overshoot the Farm and continue another 20 km into Smith's Falls to a CIBC machine and then backtrack.  Silly city slickers R Us.  

The second shock of the day occurred when it turned out the woman at the Farm recognized my name from working together as 'secretaries' in the Psychology Department at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, in 1977.  I was working there because I had taken a year off between my second and third years of university to recover from surgery and to make some money.  I do remember another 'secretary' doing the same thing. I left London before she did and moved back to Ottawa.  When she arrived in Ottawa, she contacted me and crashed with a roommate and I for a few days and then moved on.  I have a vague recollection of this.  

I never saw her again until, 35 years later, trekking through her 200-acre property in the rain to dig up wild leeks.  Odder yet, she works for the federal government, in communications, which is also my field, and at a Department I know well.  Ain't life a brook...

First there were wild leek patches, then islands and mini-carpets. They may be tiny in size but they have a powerful flavour -- somewhere between an onion and garlic or leek, but milder.  We picked carefully for conservation purposes.  I left soggy, satisfied and still bemused by chance encounters.  
Wild Leek Pesto 

There's are many ways to make wild leek pesto (check out Closet Cooking, My New Roots, and Food 52).  I saw recipes using raw or toasted almonds, pine nuts, walnuts or hazelnuts.  Some recipes used just the green leaves; others added root bulbs.  Still others mixed  basil with the ramp leaves. Oils used ranged from olive, canola to sunflower.  Still others recommend blanching the ramp leaves in boiling water for 30 seconds to make the leaves more bright and vibrant.  So, basically, no rules...

I chose a recipe that showcased the taste of the wild leek leaves and is super easy (below).  I then mixed the pesto with Thai rice noodles, added some sautéed vegeys (peppers, turnips, watermelon radish ...alas no fresh local asparagus yet), and topped it with a sprinkle of  freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  I could have used quinoa or any other grain in place of the noodles of course.  

Wild Leek Pesto is completely versatile.  It can be kept in the fridge for a few weeks, frozen for a few months and used on any number of dishes, including topping for fresh pizza.  All to say, experiment and use what moves you in the moment.... 

I totally dug it... maybe because I helped dig it fresh! 

Wild Leek Pesto, with Lemon Zest
(aka The Saturday night meal to watch the Senators win AGAIN!!!!!)  


1 cup of wild leek (ramp) leaves (can throw in a few root bulbs, if desired) 
3 T olive oil (canola or safflower are options) 
1 T lemon zest 
1/4 cup raw almonds, toasted (or pine nuts, walnuts or hazelnuts) 
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (plus some for sprinkling) 
Fresh salt and pepper 


Toast almonds, (or pine nuts, walnuts or hazelnuts) in frying pan for a couple of minutes.  Watch carefully that they brown, not burn.

Put other ingredients in a food processor and blend.  You can also add a bit of pasta water, if desired.  

Toss with hot pasta or quinoa or whatever grain you are using.  Add in anything else (e.g., vegeys) and sprinkle some Parmigiano-Reggiano on top.  


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