Spring has sprung & the bluebells are out… that can only mean one thing, it’s time to dust off your foraging hat & get outdoors. Granted that’s a little easier said than done this year due to Covid but nonetheless, we can each get out & about for short little foraging walk each day & you’ll probably be amazed at just what you can find on your own doorstep if you look hard enough (& definitely worth if for free food!).
What are we looking for at this time of year? Wild garlic! Wander near or around any woodland or riverbank throughout March & April & you’ll likely be greeted by the distinct smell of garlic, particularly amongst damp, shaded ground. Look for long, bold, pointed green leaves with the odd cluster of little white star-shaped flowers (which are also edible by the way). If you’re unsure, pick a leaf, hold it to your nose & you’ll soon be met with a very garlicky scent if it is indeed wild garlic.
Wild garlic has always been a popular herb throughout history, by both humans & wildlife. Commonly referred to as bear’s garlic, it’s popular with boars who enjoy digging it up to eat the bulbs & (you guessed it) bears. Legend tells us that wild garlic is the first plant eaten by bears after they wake from their hibernating winter sleep (sounds like a good way to wake up the palette if you ask me).
Our ancestors were also partial to the herb, using it not only in cooking but also medicinally to treat various ailments. Wild garlic can actually provide relief from stomach ailments, migraines, high blood pressure, respiratory infections, even parasitic worms. It would seem that the only creature that doesn’t benefit from wild garlic though would be cats who apparently don’t like the smell (I always knew cats were weird).
Whatever your goal when foraging for anything that nature provides, one key rule must always be followed (it kinda works for life in general too), be kind. Always pick from an area that has a plentiful supply & you should never pick more than you need or completely strip an area of its supply as it may not grow back. You also need to leave enough for not only your fellow forager but also the wildlife that inhabits the area. They don’t come into your kitchen & eat all of your biscuits so why should you take away their valuable food source? So long as we’re kind then we can all enjoy free food & stinky breath for years to come.
Luckily, much like the abundance of wild garlic in this country, pasta is also no longer the stuff of myth, dreams & better times. Panic buying had a very short lifespan & we can once again be grateful to find an abundance of carbs on the shelves (bet you never realised how much you liked pasta before Covid?). Seeing as this commodity we used to take for granted has become much more of a coveted food now (I’m sure some folks are still trying to flog 500g bags on eBay for like 20 quid!), why waste it? Don’t be tempted to pour over a jar of ready made jarred sauce, give this amazingly simple staple an equally amazing but simple pesto.
Somewhere along the line, I think that pesto became a bit of a snob of the food world, through absolutely no fault of its own. What was once just an ancient, simple Italian sauce, became the play thing of foodies & hipsters, applying it to things far beyond its purpose or intention (think pesto flavoured crisps & that kind of crap). Perhaps the value of one its main ingredients has something to do with this (I mean, do you know how expensive pine nuts are in this country?!), but did you know that you can use pretty much any nut to make a good pesto?
Don’t tell the Italians in north-west Italy but I’ve been making my pesto with almonds, hazelnuts & walnuts for years. Not only is it cheaper but each one can add a different depth of flavour to your dish (particularly hazelnut). Not just good with pasta though, why not try using it as a salad dressing, as an accompaniment to fish or chicken, as a dip or, my personal favourite, in a sandwich (trust me here). Whatever you do with this vibrant pesto though, just remember, be kind.
WILD GARLIC PESTO
- 200g wild garlic
- 100g grana padano, chopped or grated
- 100g skinned almonds
- 150ml olive oil
- Juice of half a lemon
- Pinch of salt & pepper to taste
- Wash the wild garlic leaves thoroughly before use
- Place the garlic, almonds & Grana Padano into the bowl of a food processor
- Blitz together until everything is roughly chopped
- Pour in the olive oil & lemon juice before blitzing to a paste
- Taste the pesto & season as desired
- Transfer the pesto to clean, sterilised jars
Tip: with such a short season for wild garlic, I make a batch & freeze half of it in ice cubes for later in the year, or you can even freeze the wild garlic leaves themselves for later.