Wild garlic pesto
Wild garlic is abundant and easily identifiable in the spring, so enjoy it while you can, says Paul Quagliana.
Two recipes for wild garlic pesto – a simple version and an advanced method
Wild garlic is one of the most prolific and easily identifiable free foods. It can carpet woodlands and stream banks for yards, and its scent rising as you walk through it is one of the most delightful smells of spring — assuming you are a garlic lover, that is. You need to grab it while you can, though — it doesn’t last for long and can disappear almost as quickly as it grows.
Every year I mean to go out and gather up the leaves and stems, but I often forget. My experiments with it have only really stretched to wrapping it around chicken breasts. I then wrap Parma ham around the garlic leaves, and secure it all with toothpicks. With the breast encased, I gently fry it.
I met some old friends I had not seen for far too long and one of them went to pick some wild garlic to make a basic pesto — finely chopped stalks and leaves mixed with olive oil and some sea salt. Slathered on boiled potatoes, mashed in with the back of a fork and served with some freshly caught trout, it was a tasty and colourful addition to the meal.
This gave me the urge to make a “proper” wild garlic pesto, with some Parmesan cheese, pine nuts and olive oil. When blended, it seems to make the garlic leaves more hot and peppery than when they are simply chopped. The fine blending releases much more potent flavours and renders the pesto a vibrant, vivid green.
A friend and foraging expert, Jim Prendeville, told me to try blanching the leaves in boiling water briefly before freezing them. This ensured a supply for months after the garlic was long gone. He also said that you can flavour bottles of olive oil with it. Pesto is said
to freeze well, too, though I haven’t tried this.
A word of warning: there may be poisonous plants among the wild garlic. The last time I picked some there was cuckoo pint, or lords and ladies, among the garlic. This plant is poisonous — its red berries, which appear later in the year, are the most dangerous part.
It also pays to use a pair of scissors to snip the stems of the garlic leaves rather than ripping up handfuls. Not only does this allow for more careful inspection, it also avoids dead leaves, snails, other plants and twigs from being collected as well. Wash the garlic leaves when you get home and you are ready to go.
- A handful of wild garlic leaves and stems, finely chopped
- As much olive oil as you feel appropriate
- Sea salt to taste
- Mix together and use as you please
- A good bundle of wild garlic leaves and stems
- Parmesan cheese, grated
- Pinenuts or other nuts such as pistachios or walnuts
- Olive oil
- Juice of one lemon
- Salt to taste
- I haven’t listed amounts in grammes or ounces as tastes may vary — plus, the wild garlic is free so you can afford to experiment with it. If the cheese and nut mixture is too “weak” for your tastes simply add more; if it is too much, blend in more garlic.
- Blend the garlic, cheese and nuts in a blender. Then stir in the olive oil and lemon juice until you have the consistency you like. Season with salt to taste.