Small, Good Things: Pressing Engagement

Ramp Pesto

Ramp Pesto

The always entertaining and usually en pointe Paris-based chef and food writer David Lebovitz sent out his May newsletter last week.

The first couple of paragraphs self-deprecatingly apologized for almost sending one dated 2020, as he admitted to not quite being up to cognitive speed yet accepting that it is 2021, what with the Great Pause.

That said, it took him a corrective email to say that he realized after sending the May 2021 newsletter that he had dated it April.

I must admit to identifying with such uncharacteristic confusion.

In addition to expounding on his usual infatuations and curiosities, Lebovitz absolutely had to report on the most recent melodrama in the culinary blogosphere: Last week, the news site Eater broke the news that Epicurious, Condé Nast’s culinary online channel, would no longer publish recipes containing beef.

Epicurious was publicly acknowledging an effort, begun in 2019, to align itself with the growing awareness that beef (and bovine dairy) farming is one of the most egregious environmental producers of greenhouse gases (here, methane) and that our demand for and consumption of beef is one of the leading culprits in our atmospheric environmental emergency — and also one of the most easily corrected.

As radical a prospect as that seems, I could live without beef, as long as I still have ethically and sustainably sourced pork, poultry, eggs and lamb. But please! Don’t take away my butter.

I am ready to capitulate and do my part for our beleaguered planet, prompted by these arguments and the encouragement of our community eco-warriors, the Ecological Citizen’s Project and its Philipstown Fights Dirty campaign.

Back to Lebovitz for a moment: In the same May (formerly April) newsletter, he uses a word to describe people interested in sustainable and responsible agriculture: engagés. Loosely translated as “the engaged” or “the committed,” it is a lovely poetic and noble description for anyone who cares about the future of life on earth and gives me something to aspire to.

What does this have to do with ramp pesto? Not much, outside the fact that here I’ve avoided using the usual parmesan, substituting white miso paste for a similar umami. 

Ramps (allium tricoccum) are truly wild things and we are getting to the end of their season, so this is somewhat of a pressing engagement. They are also slow-growing, and over- or incorrectly harvesting wild ramps is another environmental issue. Never dig up the roots and bulbs — cut the broad leaves and tough stalks at least an inch above ground and never take all the leaves from one bulb clump. Leaving the bulbs intact with some foliage (for photosynthesis) encourages the plant to continue flowering, flourishing and reproducing, ensuring future responsible harvests.

Ramp Pesto

Makes about 1½ cups; use within three days or freeze

  • ½ pound ramps (trim lower tough stems from the broad leaves, chop roughly and reserve separately)
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup toasted walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons tarragon leaves
  • ½ cup flat leaf parsley
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 2 tablespoons sweet white miso
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

1. In a small skillet, heat and sauté the chopped ramp stems and garlic over medium-low heat for about five minutes. Don’t allow them to color. Reserve. Fill a pot (large enough to hold the ramp leaves) with water. Bring it to a medium boil and salt it. Blanch the ramp leaves for no more than a minute, drain and rinse under cold water. Squeeze out excess water.

2. Process all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor or high-speed blender adding just enough olive oil for a slightly loose consistence. Taste and adjust seasoning. 

Serving: Ramp pesto is shown here tossed with spelt fettuccine and quickly sautéed asparagus and locally foraged morels (should you be so lucky). Toss it with any pasta and vegetable combo or use it as a dressing for new potatoes or in a bean salad.

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