Free is as cheap as it gets. Lots of things come free if you know where to find them. Ramson, or wild garlic as it is better known is the one of the best freebies out there. Spring and early summer is an ideal time to go and forage for these delicious leaves. I was introduced to the wonder that is wild garlic a couple of years ago by my mother, who would tell tales of tottering through the half-flooded forest near our house to find a clearing where the pungent, garlicky smell was so overpowering to her she could only stay long enough to fill a small basket before she had to flee. I have no such strong sense of smell so I had to rely on visual memory when making my own harvest. I knew wild garlic can be found pretty much everywhere in Endcliffe Park in Sheffield, which is where I spotted it last year. Sadly I dithered too long before venturing out to forage and by the time I did all the juicy, dark green leaves have turned brown and dry. I was not going to let this happen this year.
Day of the Triffids? As you can see the riverbanks in Endcliffe Park were covered impenetrably in this thick, lusciously green carpet. I am told the smell is quite something. I set of armed with a pair of scissors and a canvas bag to store my loot. I honestly don’t think I spent much more than 15 minutes there (including plucking up the courage to be seen picking nature’s treasures in a park in broad daylight, a somewhat contentious issue in the UK nowadays) before my bag was full of delicious leaves, stalks and buds.
This is quite a lot of garlic leaves. No word of a lie, this lasted for two weeks in the fridge and featured heavily in everything I cooked, including a big Kilner jar of wild garlic pesto. Now in my parent’s house wild garlic goes into salads and that’s that. I am always prepared to experiment, and I felt inundated with wild garlic. The options are endless, but I tried wild garlic scrambled eggs, wild garlic omelette, it did make its way into a salad or two, I garnished soups and risottos with it (mmm, wild garlic risotto) and sauteed it with spinach. With a dash of lemon juice it compliments the old tuna mayo sandwich filler quite nicely. It is all down to personal preference.
I took my inspiration for wild garlic pesto from Alex Renton’s column in the Times. The idea of mock Chinese chives is also his. Both recipes follow.
Wild Garlic Pesto
150g of wild garlic leaves
25g of fresh basil
60g of grated Parmesan cheese,
60g of toasted walnuts
juice of one lemon
140ml of olive oil (I used about 1:1 regular and extra virgin)
None of this is set in stone. The ratio of wild garlic to basil is entirely up to you. You could easily double this amount of basil for a more traditional final product but bear in mind this is nothing like pesto genovese. I separated leaves from stalks ( I saved these for later) and chopped the leaves coarsely. I then combined everything in a mixing bowl and blitzed with a hand blender. You can make it as smooth or coarse as you like. It’s useful to cover your bowl with a tea towel to reduce collateral damage. Check seasoning and spoon into a sterilised jar if you feel so inclined. I did and a month later this pesto still tastes fantastic. Make sure there is always a layer of oil on top of the pesto to prevent it from spoiling. I have since had a dollop of this tossed with spaghetti, stuffed a chicken breast with it, topped some tilapia fillets with it to bake, added some to salad dressings and forked it into baked potato. It has not let me down.
Fry all your remaining garlic stalks and buds in a little oil with a grated thumb-sized piece of ginger and some chopped chillies to taste. They only take a couple of minutes as they really do need to be al dente, not unlike green spaghetti. Add a dash of soy sauce and fish sauce but do be careful, there is a very thin line between tasty and too salty. You could serve this with a bowl of jasmine rice. I had mine without.
And there it is. Foraging at its best, at least until autumn back in the Czech woods when porcini stand tall amidst fallen oak leaves. Hopefully more on that later.