Wild leek pesto

Nothing confirms the victory of spring over winter quite like the appearance of ramps (or wild leeks) in the woodlands. When I spot that first patch of glowing, lime-green leaves amongst the brown decay of leaves on the forest floor, I feel I can say with some confidence that winter is officially behind me (knock on wood, of course.) I am always overcome with the sense of victory as I hold up my first freshly dug fistful of the season, inhaling that delicious leeky pungency (like a cross between an onion and garlic). It is a prize hard-won after enduring months of hardships (snow, ice, -15 degree days), and the leeks are like my own personal holy grail.

Wild leeks, or ramps (Allium tricoccum) as they are also known, spot the hillsides throughout Eastern hardwood forests, spanning from Minnesota over and up through Maine. While they are present (and harvestable) in the woodlands year round, they are particularly beloved in spring, when they are one of the first wild edibles to greet our green thirsty eyes.  They can be identified by their smooth and elongated oval leaves, which are light green in color, and give off a delicious oniony fragrance that is unmistakable. The plants grow in dense stands from the floor of moist, open woodlands. Once you’ve found the leaves, you only have to dig down a little to reveal a smooth white bulb, sometimes tinged with a hint of red, which, with a little prodding, easily pulls up out the soil. Peel away any slimy outer layers and rinse off in a stream, and you can go home with only the worry of how you will possibly choose what application to use them in.

Like other members of the onion family, ramps are rich in the same sulfur compounds and flavanoids that confer anti-cancer benefits, boost immune function, and protect the cardiovascular system from oxidative stress. Indeed, leeks may actually be stronger in some of these effects than their cultivated counterparts, as wild plants often contain higher levels of antioxidant compounds due to the increased stress of their living situation.  Wild leeks are also extremely high in vitamins A and C, and contain good stores of minerals such as iron, selenium (a potent antioxidant) and chromium (necessary for blood sugar balance). Their pungent, spicy flavor is just the thing we require energetically in the spring, helping to stimulate and revitalize our sluggish systems after the cold weather and heavy foods of winter, while also protecting against the congesting effects of cool, damp spring weather.

Leeks are delicious additions to many spring dishes, pairing particularly well with eggs (ramp frittata anyone?) and of course making a natural companion to potatoes in the delectable potato leek soup, which is always a favorite. They can also be added to stir fries, roasted, grilled, added raw to salads or cooked into soups. This year, however,  I have found a new favorite application, which is pesto. Their oniony, garlicy goodness creates a sublime pesto, which, not for the faint hearted, packs a good deal of punch. Spread on breads, added to pasta or stirred into soups – the pesto allows one to easily infuse their meal with leeky goodness whenever the whim takes you. You can also make up a big batch, and freeze the pesto, ensuring that you can have leeks in your life at any time of year (that is, if you refrain from eating it all in a week, which has thus far been a tremendous challenge not to do).

Wild Leek Pesto

Makes 2 cups.

Note: I combine dandelion greens, another abundant and nutrient rich spring green with cleansing and digestion stimulating properties, which helps to cut down somewhat on the pungency factor. You could add any number of other spring greens, however – nettles, chickweed, or even non-wild spring greens like spinach or arugula. If you prefer a less pungent pesto, use only the leek leaves and save the bulbs for another application.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups loosely packed dandelion greens or other spring green
  • 3 cups loosely packed leeks and their greens
  • 1.5 cups oil (sunflower, olive oil, walnut oil, hemp oil, etc)
  • 1 cup toasted nuts (walnuts, pine nuts, almonds, etc)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan (optional)
  • juice of 1 large or 2 small-sized lemons
  • 1 -2 tsp salt, or to taste

Directions:

Place all ingredients into a food processor and process until smooth. Taste for seasonings, and adjust as necessary.



Comments

  1. You are such a god send right now………love your blogs here on the TCC….hugz

    • Danielle Charles says:

      Thanks Christene, I’m so glad that there are other people in the world as excited about wild leek pesto as I am 🙂 Glad your enjoying the posts, and thanks for all your lovely comments!

      D

  2. This looks wonderful. I don’t think we have these wild leeks here in the UK, at least I’ve never seen them. We have lots of wild garlic though which is a related species and very tasty.

    Your pesto looks fabulous, it’s making my mouth water!

    xxx

    • Danielle Charles says:

      Yes, I think they are a North American species only, though I imagine it must be quite similar to wild garlic (which I would venture might make a delicious pesto as well!). We have a plant here also known as wild garlic (Allium canadense) , but a different species than the UK plant known by that name (which I think is A. ursinum? ). I have yet to come across it though. How do you use wild garlic?

      D

  3. You seem to get the same thrill from seeing your Wild Leeks as I do from seeing the first Garlic Mustard and Wild Garlic, once I spot them I know that Spring is here. We don’t get Wild Leeks in the UK but we can use the Wild Garlic in much the same way, I’m harvesting some bulbs this weekend for pickling, have you tried pickling the Wild Leeks? The pesto looks lush, sadly with my diet I can’t have much oil, too many syns, anyone know how to make oil-less pesto?

    Herby hugs – Debs xxx

    • Danielle Charles says:

      It is a wonderful site to find those first wild edibles of the spring, isn’t it! I have not tried pickling the wild leeks, but now I most certainly am going to try it out – sounds delicious. How tragic that you can’t have pesto! I’ve never heard of an oil-less pesto – though you could try blending all the ingredients without the oil and see how it comes out? My thought would be to select an oil like hemp, whose high omega-3 content (necessary for healthy inflammatory response, cardiovascular function, brain health, etc) provides enough health benefits to balance out the concern of extra calories (and the pungency of the leeks (or wild garlic) is great for kick-starting metabolism and counteracting the heavy effects of the fat). Hope I’m not seeming like the devil on your shoulder, but I say that pesto made with good ingredients is a fairly safe indulgence.

      XOXO D

  4. oh i am going to so try this pesto Danielle:) yum yum!!! very lovely post xxxx

  5. I tried my first taste of wild leek pesto this weekend past. (My first taste of wild leeks was atop a meal as a decoration in a fancy smanchy restaurant – as usual if its on the plate – I’ll eat it! and I loved it) I bought the pesto from a ‘hippee’ guy at my local farmers market. He adds flax seed, hemp seed, sunflower seed, grapeseed oil along with a ton of other yummy ingredients to his recipe. I added it to boiled new baby potatoes with an extra drizzle of walnut oil – then the following night on my steamed green beans. yummy! I want to get his full list of ingredients and start to make it at home. cheers.

    • Danielle Charles says:

      Hi Lori,

      All your leek experiences sound quite delicious! I especially love the idea of adding flax, hemp and sunflower seeds to the pesto – I’ll to definitely try that out next time. You must thank the “hippee” guy for me 🙂 Great idea to to smother potatoes or green beans with the pesto – just brilliant! Thanks for the comment,

      XOXO D

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  1. […] had been left rising on the counter.  The nettles and wild leeks were turned into a pesto (like this one), which we generously slathered over the dough and then topped with fresh mozzarella and the […]

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