goat cheese and ramp tart
My husband Jim and I had no understanding of our good fortune when we bought our 100-something-year-old house in the heart of the Catskills. We lusted after a rustic, rural getaway—and stumbled by chance upon an area 120 miles northwest of New York City—rich with many assets: Fresh streams, remote hiking trails, artistic communities…and ramps (like many good things in the region, we didn’t know about ramps until a year or so after living there!).
One spring, a neighbor animatedly talked up the appeal of fresh, scallion-like wild onions that could be picked in abundance nearby. He explained where they grew and how to find them. A Midwestern gal whose grandmother thinks garlic is spicy, I had no previous experience with ramps. My interest was piqued.
Ramps, cousins of leeks, have broad leaves that are tender and edible in spring, while the slender bulb can be eaten year round. This perennial plant grows from Canada to the Carolinas—and its season spans the weeks anywhere from March to June, depending on the region. Ramps may be eaten raw or cooked
I never made it that spring eleven years ago to harvest ramps though, nor any spring after that.
With the rising trend of locavores and favorable terms like locally foraged, the popularity of ramps has grown significantly. For the first time this year, I noticed the shapely wild onions at both our local produce stand and food market, where they’re selling for $6.50 a bunch, or $13 a pound.
This spring, I was lucky enough to receive a large bunch from friends who had been out hiking (another benefit to our area—generous friends who deliver!) and could finally try ramps.
I was filled with curious anticipation. Jim, on the other hand, had eaten them many times and knew the goodness that was to come. NY Post columnist Steve Cuozzo would tend to disagree. He doesn’t buy into the “ramp religion” and wrote, “When I tweeted last spring that I’d rather eat wild grasses on the High Line, like-minded ramp-haters outnumbered ramp-likers 6-to-1 in Twitter responses. But right now there’s no avoiding the damn things.”
I’m curious as to your thoughts on ramps because I contracted the fever.
After some research, it seemed ramp pesto was the best route. I adapted my traditional pesto recipe slightly, processing the ingredients less to create a crunchier texture. I used pine nuts, but I imagine using walnuts would be equally tasty. (Have you seen the price of pine nuts lately? Outrageous!).
I only pulsed the pesto, never allowing the food processor to run at full throttle. I also added extra olive oil to help balance the strong garlicky flavor.
Once the pesto was made, I had to stop myself from eating the whole bowl by the spoonful. I pointedly put it away in the fridge to save it for the weekend when I had time to make a tart.
A riff on Ina Garten’s goat cheese tart that I’d made before from the Barefoot in Paris cookbook, I replaced her basil with ramp pesto. I also like to make the tart in a long, rectangular tart pan for a dramatic presentation. A slice of the tart topped with a dab of pesto makes a sublime spring hors d’oeuvre—perfect for a Memorial Day grill party.
I may have arrived little late to the ramp scene, but I’m sure glad I made it. Next year there will be no stopping me as I run, not walk, up the trail for those ramps! I hope you, too, add them to your list of seasonal must-haves this spring. (And if you’re not up for tart-making, just toss the pesto with your favorite pasta.) Hurry before the season’s over.
Wild Ramp Pesto
A disclaimer about this pesto: Because ramps have such strong flavor, the oil and Parmesan in this recipe should be increased and decreased according to preference.
1/2 pound wild ramps, washed, ends trimmed, and leaves and bulbs coarsely chopped
2/3 cup lightly toasted pine nuts
2/3 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1. Put the ramps, pine nuts, and Parmesan in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse 6 to 8 times or until coarsely ground.
2. Move the ramp mixture to a bowl and stir in the olive oil, lemon juice and zest. Add the salt and pepper to taste.
3. Store refrigerated in a glass jar for up to 5 days.
Goat Cheese and Ramp Pesto Tart
1 partially-baked tart crust, see below
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/3 cup slice shallots
4 ounces goat cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons ramp pesto, see above
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt the butter in a small saute pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute until softened, stirring continuously, about 5 to 8 minutes.
2. Spread the shallots over the bottom of the partially-baked tart crust, set aside.
3. Put the goat cheese in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse 3 to 4 times. Add the cream, egg, salt and pepper and run until smooth.
4. Remove the blade from the bowl and stir in the pesto with a wooden spoon.
5. Pour the mixture over the shallots in the prepared tart shell.
6. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until the filling is firm.
7. Allow to cool slightly and top with dollops of pesto.
Buttery Tart Crust
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
4 tablespoons ice water
1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour and salt and pulse several times.
2. Sprinkle the butter over the flour mixture and pulse 8 to 10 times until butter clumps are the size of peas.
3. With the processor running, pour the water into the feed tube. Stop the processor immediately and see if the dough sticks together when pressed between your thumb and forefinger. If it does, using your hands, shape the dough into a long rectangle shape and wrap in wax paper. If it doesn’t, pulse a few more times or add another teaspoon or two of water. Do not allow the dough to come together in the food processor bowl. Place the wrapped dough in the refrigerator to chill 30 minutes before using.
4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle 1-inch larger than the pan. The dough should be about 1/8″ thick. Move the dough to the tart pan and fit it into the sides using your fingers. Cut off the excess dough.
5. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with dried beans or pie weights. (If you don’t have one of those very cool pie chains, check them out on Amazon. They also make great gifts for pie makers. Prevents those weights from spilling all over the place!).
6. Bake the crust for 20 minutes. Remove it from the oven and take out the parchment and weights. Using a fork, prick the bottom of the crust in a uniform pattern and return the crust to the oven for another 10 minutes or until it just begins to turn golden.
7. Fill the crust as desired.
*I love the fluted tart pan with removable bottom from Williams-Sonoma for $18.