Wild garlic, sorrel, nettles and dandelion leaves are popping up in our gardens, in damp areas of secluded woodlands and alongside streams. This aromatic, seasonal harvest of leaves brings out the home-cooks, chefs and foragers primed with trugs, scissors and canvas bags.
These leaves, along with the coastal samphire, are coming into their fleeting seasons, pushing through fallen leaves and twigs and into the light. A woodland walk close by water, a slow, meandering river or stream might well be idyllic but it can also smack us around the head with the heady aroma of wild crops such as the pungent garlic, also known as ramsons. If you see the plant (see image above) cropping remember for next year, and also to return to see bluebells that often follow in their path.
These leaves, pictured below, were picked fresh this morning are young and loose. A few weeks or even days later they’ll flower, toughening up the leaves. The pretty, delicate white flowers and tiny bulbs are also edible, for example dipped whole into tempura batter. However in the UK gathering bulbs is illegal without the landowner’s permission, so watch-out.
Unsure if you’re standing by a carpet of ramson and the pungent air is not enough of a clue, crush a leaf between your fingers and the unmistakable aroma will rise into you consciousness.
Wild garlic is an extremely versatile ingredient. Washed and dried leaves can be kept chilled in the fridge for several days, or dried and frozen.
Wilted in butter with a little water and seasoning, the leaves can be served as an unusual side dish. Flavouring butter is also a great use of your crop. Melt around 150 gm of softened butter for every 35 gm of wild garlic leaves, zest from a single, washed or organic lemon and season. Cool. Great spread and toasted on bread, or melted onto sizzling steak.
Prefer chicken, just spread generously under the skin before roasting; pop a bit on roasted veg or melt over grilled or baked fish.
Home made butter will keep in the fridge for three weeks or longer in the freezer.
As for my morning haul I’ll be making wild garlic butter, combining some with sweet onion, goat’s cheese and cream to fill a tart, and pesto using the recipe below. I’ll be making two batches one with Parmesan cheese for pasta, gnocchi, lamb and dressings and one without cheese for a baked or grilled fish such as sea bass, lemon sole or perhaps trout.
WILD GARLIC PESTO
70 gm wild garlic leaves
50 gm pine nuts or shelled walnuts
50 gm Parmesan (or other strong, hard cheese) finely grated
½ lemon. Juiced and zested
100 gm olive oil, plus extra to cover pesto in jar.
Sterilise one largish jar or two small ones with lids by loading them into preheated oven on 100˚C for ten minutes, or put through a hot dishwasher cycle.
Blitz ingredients, except the olive oil, for a few seconds. Drizzle oil while repeating the blitz until it reaches the consistency you’re looking for.
Season to taste.
Place in jar(s) and cover with olive oil. Will keep in fridge for up to two weeks. Freeze in ice cube trays for easy access.
Serve mixed into hot pasta such as penne or linguine, or as dressing from tuna, chicken or perhaps cold pasta. Be adventurous and stir some into risottos, mashed potatoes or as a melt of hot veg.