The month of March brings us more sunshine, bluer skies, brighter clouds and wild garlic. Wild garlic, Ramps or Ramsons ‘Allium ursinum’ grows in abundance throughout the British Isles. It favours growing in moist conditions, shady woods, on the damp banks of streams and shaded verges under the hedgerows along country lanes.
Wild garlic flowers in April and that is when you can smell it before you see it! Its white star shaped flowers sit in umbels on stems that sit just proud of the leaves. When the flowers appear they are very beautiful (if not a bit smelly) turning woodland floors into a carpet of sparkling white. However when I see the white flowers it always rings alarm bells that its foraging season is coming to an end; soon after flowering the wild garlic will start to die back.
When people ask me what makes you happy? one of my answers is when I take a wander through the local woodlands/lanes, finding and picking the young leaves of wild garlic and blitzing them into an annual batch of pesto.
The bright green leaves of wild garlic are soft, spear like and curved like those of lily of the valley ( lily of the valley leaves are poisonous ). When crushed or bruised between your fingers the wild garlic leaf has the unmistakable smell of garlic.
When picking the leaves of wild garlic just give them a gentle pull to one side ( or use scissors) as this prevents the bulb from being tugged out of the ground. The stalks of the wild garlic are delicious too and can be chopped up and used as you would chives. The white star shaped flowers are edible and they look and taste wonderful scattered through a salad.
Finding clumps of wild garlic like this in a nearby country lane is a joy and it was great to see the nettles coming up underneath. I’ll be back to pick some of the young nettle tips in a week or so and use them like spinach in lots of different dishes; simply steamed, added to soups and my favourite adding it to a ricotta mix in the making of a tasty cannelloni.
The country side all around us here in East Sussex is very beautiful and I cannot explain how much pleasure I get from it every day and have done for as long as I can remember. On my walks I love to identify and see what wild flowers are emerging, especially in March with it being the first of the wild flowery months;the wild flowers are waking up!
This bowl of young wild garlic leaves will be put to good use , firstly for a pesto (that goes without saying), chopped into salads, soups ( potato and wild garlic soup is a must make), flavouring oil, flavouring butters, hummus, tzatziki, stews, tarts, use it to wrap fish, dip the leaves into a tempura batter and fry and lots lots more. The wild garlic season is quite short so when it rocks up I get cooking with it , it takes the place of the normal bulb garlic and chives in the kitchen for hopefully a good month.
Wild garlic pesto is just delicious and I urge you to make a batch. Like any pesto you can play around with the ingredients and flavours. I have added a handful of baby spinach leaves to this recipe, but you can add parsley or sorrel or simply just use the wild garlic leaves. You can also change the pine nuts for other toasted or dry fried pecan nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds or dry fried pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. The olive oils could be replaced with rape seed oil or sunflower oil.
Also try different cheeses, a hard goats cheese and a really good cheddar can work well too!
- 100g wild garlic leaves, washed and dried
- 60g baby spinach leaves
- 60g pine nuts, dry fried
- 80g parmesan cheese, grated
- 250ml extra virgin olive oil, or olive oil, or a mixture of the two
- finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
- flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Put the wild garlic, spinach leaves, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, lemon zest, 200ml of the extra virgin olive oil and half the lemon juice into a food processor.
- Blitz to a paste ( I like to keep a bit if texture i.e. you can still see little pieces of pine nut ). Taste and season with salt and pepper, add the rest of the lemon juice and oil if needed.( I like the extra lemon juice and oil).
- Use straight away or spoon into a sterilised jar/s top with a little extra olive oil and store in the fridge.
The pesto will keep in the fridge for up to five days, but its flavour is best when made and eaten with in a couple of days; fresh, pungent and delicious.
Pick through your wild garlic leaves well, wash and pat dry with a clean tea towel or give them a whirl in a salad spinner.
Don’t look to closely at the pine nuts, they got a little darker than they should have done when being dry fried, but it still tasted delicious! When dry frying just heat a frying pan over a medium heat, add the nuts and dry fry until they turn golden brown.
Please note : Wild garlic is in no danger of extinction but I always forage responsibly, not picking from nature reserves, taking care not to trample other species and never uproot it. Also when it comes to foraging never cook with an ingredient unless you are a 100% sure that you know what it is.
Thanks for popping in today and come back soon for the pan fried Rye Bay scallop on smoky freekeh, leeks and wild garlic recipe.