Wild garlic

Foraging season has started promptly this year: it’s just March and the wild garlic is already big enough to pick. I’ve just collected a bagful to bring home and wash ready for some culinary delights.

Later in the year, the local woods will be carpeted in a pungent carpet of white starry flowers like tiny fireworks and glossy green spear-shaped leaves, but now, there are just handfuls of tender new leaves pushing through the leafmould – making the most of the light before the trees come into leaf.

Wild garlic (Allium ursinum – no bears round here!) is also known as ramsons, and from now until May, will be put to good use in my kitchen.

Wild garlic pesto

First I make pesto – enough to freeze and last till next year. We often have it on baked salmon for our Friday night supper, served with new potatoes on a bed of steamed cabbage. The recipe isn’t fixed, and I process coarsely chopped leaves into a rough paste with olive oil, then mix with ground nuts and finely grated hard cheese in variable proportion – but the end result should be nice and green. Purists will insist on pine nuts and parmesan of course, but the garlic is so strong that you can pretty much use what you want – ground almonds work well, and even the supermarkets’ ersatz “Italian Style Hard Cheese” will do, though I usually choose grana padano or pecorino. I portion it up and wrap in greaseproof paper (the sort with foil backing is best as it makes a neat parcel), then freeze it. Despite the oil content, it keeps well for months.

Another favourite dish is garlic Cornish greens: I chop and steam these till almost tender, then stir-fry about 1/4 of their volume of wild garlic leaves until wilted, then stir in the greens ad cook for another minute or two. Delicious as a side dish, or stir into pasta for a simple supper.

Later in the year, I make a similar pasta dish with purple-sprouting broccoli, but first  adding a tin of chopped anchovies (use the oil!), some fresh red chilli, chopped shallots and the rind of a lemon to cook gently before adding the garlic and broccoli.

Anywhere you think the taste of chives and garlic would work, ramsons is your go-to ingredient – risottos, soups, omelettes and tortillas … and the flowers make a pretty garnish for a green salad.

prepared wild garlic leaves

Safety first!

  • If you are going foraging yourself, make sure you don’t accidentally include any cuckoo pint leaves (Arum maculatum) – they often grow in the same place and are not good to eat; they may even produce an allergic reaction if you handle them. They have a distinctive arrow-shaped leaf often blotched with chocolate brown spots. Rarely, you may find garden escapes of lily of the valley and autumn crocus, both of which are very poisonous – so make sure with your nose!
  • Although you are allowed to pick leaves for your own use, it’s best to get the landowner’s permission if you aren’t sure.
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