It’s spring and that means that wild garlic is in season. It grows abundantly across the UK, creating dense green carpets in shaded woodland and fills the air with the smell of sweet garlicky onion. You can use the leaves raw in salads or add them to savoury dishes as an alternative to garlic. There is nothing more delicious than food that comes free, courtesy of nature’s larder. Whether it’s blackberries, mussels, seaweed or elderflowers I’m a sucker for a bit of foraged feasting.
What is wild garlic?
Wild garlic is a relative of chives – hence all the flavour is in the leaf. Also known as ramsons, buckrams, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic, bear leek, or bear’s garlic, it’s a member of the onion family, allium ursinum. It’s pretty sprays of white edible flowers grow on a single stem. Harvest with a pair of scissors because the leaf stems can be tough. Snip leaves close to the ground ad take leaves from dense patches growing well away from footpaths and dog walkers. Wash leaves thoroughly and store in a plastic bag in the fridge salad box for up to 4 days.
Beware – wild garlic leaves look similar to Lily of the Valley which are poisonous. The flowers are completely different and of course the latter doesn’t smell of garlic. Just make sure you know what you’re picking.
I was given a bag of wild garlic in return for some home grown spinach and chard. It had had survived the trip to London from the wilds of Yorkshire where it was picked over easter. Having never cooked it before I set my partner the task of making a pesto to add to the pasta we’d planned for dinner.
A quick search online revealed a list of recipes using hazelnuts but we only had walnuts. Just as I was going to go off-piste with an invention my other half found this Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall recipe in The Guardian. Hugh is the crowned king of foraging. The recipe below is for a third more than Hugh’s because we had more leaves. The result is a thick and rich pesto so this amount was easily enough for 4 meals for two.
Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall’s wild garlic pesto with walnuts
75g toasted walnuts
100g wild garlic leaves and stems, washed and roughly chopped
50g finely grated parmesan
Zest and juice of half a lemon
175ml extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Blitz the nuts, wild garlic, parmesan and lemon zest in a food processor. When you have a paste slowly add the oil. Transfer to a bowl, add the lemon juice and season to taste. How easy is that!
Four veggie recipes using wild garlic pesto
Supper was a shop-bought fresh pasta; ravioli stuffed with mushrooms and ricotta. We added more mushrooms – a whole punnet of organic chestnut ones sliced and caramelised in butter. The pasta was cooked al dente and added to the mushroom pan with a cup full of wild garlic pesto. It only needed a few minutes to infuse before being served in warmed bowls with a sprinkle of black pepper. No need for parmesan because that’s already plentiful in the pesto.
I’d been looking for an opportunity to test the grill pan with my new favourite oil – cold pressed rapeseed. Slice two small aubergines into 6mm rounds. Warm the grill pan and brush the surface with a thin layer of rapeseed oil using a silicone brush. Place slices of aubergine on the hot grill and use a slotted egg slice to press the slices into the ridged base. Once you can see the flesh become a little translucent lift the edge of a slice and check to see if the grill marks are visible. Use tongs to turn the slices and brush with more oil between batches. Drizzle with wild garlic pesto and serve warm with a fresh rocket salad and a spoonful of tzatziki.
Half a handful each of juicy baby plum tomatoes and black olives. Mash them together in a bowl with the back of a spoon. Season with black pepper and a squeeze of lemon, there’s no need for salt as the olives are naturally salty. Toast four chunky slices of sourdough. Smear each slice with the pesto and top with the tomato and olive mash.
COURGETTE, GOATS CHEESE AND PESTO FRITATTA
Thinly slice a courgette into ribbons, this is easiest done with a Y-peeler but you can also use a knife. Beat three eggs in a bowl with a little salt and black pepper. Add a little olive oil to a medium frying pan and cook the strips of courgette over a medium heat until they soften. Turn up the heat and pour in the eggs stirring to distribute the courgette. As the egg begins to firm drizzle two generous tablespoons of wild garlic pesto across the surface. When the base of the frittata is cooked scatter slices of goats cheese on top. Finally place the frying pan under a hot grill to finish cooking. Remove when the eggs are fluffy and the cheese is melted.
Hope you enjoy and don’t forget to share your own recipes for wild garlic pesto. If you like the idea of foraging you might like my post on making elderflower cordial. Happy foraging.