Wild garlic pesto – a celebration of spring
Nothing quite brings together my two passions in life- photography and food, like a display of wild garlic, such as this incredible one in a (secret) wood in Dorset. One of the first plants to appear in March, it heralds the arrival of spring by proudly carpeting many a deciduous woodland, and excitingly, the foraging can begin in earnest. Later in the season, around April/May, the flowers begin to appear. As a photographer, I much prefer it to the cliche of a spread of bluebells, and it creates such a lush vibrant carpet, full of aroma, which makes me salivate like no other smell of wild food.
Wild garlic, or by it’s true name Ramsoms, is part of the allium family, and shares many benefits with its cultivated counterparts by being especially good for your health, more so that normal garlic, even more reason to get some in your diet!
Then there is the magic of foraging itself. Wild food is not a substandard alternative to what we find on the supermarket shelves, quite the opposite. The short seasonality is to be celebrated, a true seasonal treat, rather than something we demand all year round. There is the joy to be found in finding a patch, and taking some home to add some extra vibrance and flavour to dinner. It is easy to identify by it’s smell and star-like white flowers, and simply put, if it doesn’t smell of garlic, then it isn’t wild garlic!
At it’s simplest, wild garlic chopped and wilted in butter then tossed through new potatoes is magnificent, the perfect partner for spring lamb. I could leave it at that, however there is so much more that can be done with the humble Ramsom. Think of a mild and more subtle version of garlic, and the options are endless, whether chopped and buttered on sourdough for garlic toast, dried and added to sea salt as a flavouring for roasts, or the sublime and extremely versatile wild garlic pesto. Stir it through pasta or roasted vegetables, add to new potatoes, give depth to a salad dressing, add a dollop to a soup, or finish a pizza. The options are as abundant as the magical Ramsom leaves in a spring woodland.
Wild garlic also freezes really well, simply freeze the whole leaves in a bag, and use as you need them. Remove them from the freezer and crumble them immediately, it is much quicker than chopping! Perfect to add a little extra punch to soups, sauces, roast chicken, in fact anything!
Here is my take on the classic, and rather delicious wild garlic pesto. This makes enough to fill a 300ml jar.
Wild Garlic Pesto
- 100g fresh wild garlic leaves, stems removed
- 150ml English Rapeseed oil, or extra virgin olive oil
- 70g Toasted pine nuts (or walnuts if you prefer)
- 100g fresh parmesan, grated
- zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Finely chop the garlic leaves, then add to a blender with all the other ingredients, and blitz to a paste. Alternatively go for the old fashioned way with a pestle and mortar, for a little more texture, and a good workout!
You can also add parsley, in theory to reduce the ‘after effects’ of the garlic, or wilt the leaves first. I prefer not to do this as it reduces the vibrant colour, and it does rather feel like cheating! Adding to pasta or potatoes tends to wilt the leaves anyway, a little cooking does soften the flavour.
This will keep for a week or so in the fridge, longer if you top with more oil and keep in the fridge. It can also be frozen in ice cube trays for simple portion pieces to keep you going through the summer, perfect if you really can’t wait till next spring!
Robin Goodlad is a food writer and photographer based in Wimborne Dorset. He was one of the winners in the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year, and tends to smell a little of garlic at this time of year….