As the first swallows have started to inscribe the sky (we saw two yesterday) it is even more wonderful since we have had hail and snow not so long ago.
Thankfully the wild garlic hasn’t been deterred by the inclement weather either. Now is the time to enjoy their lovely green ribbon leaves which are easily spotted on the forest floor and identified by their distinct garlicky smell. The stalks, leaves and flowers are all edible, the latter making a dainty addition to a fresh green salad. The three cornered leek is very similar, though less pungent, and is identified by its three cornered leaf cross section. It can be used in the same way as wild garlic.
My favourite use of wild garlic is to make a pesto which will keep for several days in the fridge, though it rarely lasts that long. A few spoonfuls added to cooked pasta and a few florets of purple sprouting broccoli will make a simple but nourishing meal. Don’t lose all the pasta water when you drain it. Retain enough to extend the pesto into a creamy coating to add to the pasta before serving.
Wild Garlic Pesto Recipe
The proportions for this pesto can be varied but is basically the same as Basil pesto.
- Large bunch of wild garlic
- 60g Pine Nuts
- 60g Parmesan cheese
- 150ml Olive oil
- Sea salt to taste
Rinse and dry the garlic leaves in a salad spinner. Chop them roughly before blending them with the salt and oil in a pestle and mortar. You can use a processor if you find the pestle and mortar too laborious. Lightly toast the pine nuts on a dry pan, being very careful not to burn them. Add the nuts and finely grated cheese to the garlic mix before storing in a sterilized jar. Pour a little oil over the top to seal.
If you wish to preserve wild garlic by freezing it is advisable to just combine with the oil as above and add the nuts and cheese after defrosting.
Pesto can be made with parsley and walnut, nettle and sunflower seeds … Experiment with it but be sure to use the best quality oil you can afford. This will make a huge difference to the flavour.
Small amounts of this pesto will go a long way to liven up any plain pasta, rice or bread. It can be smeared on warm toast instead of butter and topped with scrambled eggs, a sprinkle of chives or spring onion and a squeeze of lemon juice for a delicious breakfast treat.
Each time you dip into your jar of pesto, clean down the sides of the jar with a spatula and top up with a layer of olive oil to seal it (use a good quality organic oil to ensure the best result).
Coinciding with the flush of wild garlic there are abundant young nettle tops which are now just right for making a soup that will give a timely boost to your system. Pick the topmost two or three sprigs (using gloves) and remove the stalks before dunking the leaves into a bowl of boiling hot water to scald and remove the sting. Strain and use the leaves for the soup recipe.
There are various ways to make nettle soup and quite a lot of them include a potato to add body. I have also made it without, adding lots of onion greens and fresh parsley which makes a light uplifting soup. Many recipes include milk or cream which will obviously enrich the flavour. I prefer a dairy free broth using a vegetable stock, some dried nori or dulse (seaweeds) and quite often a spoonful of miso paste which is added at the very end of cooking. The simplest recipe is advised if you are making nettle soup for the first time. That will give you a better sense of the subtle taste which you can add to as you wish.
Basic Nettle Soup Recipe
- Quantity of nettle tops (about a pan full)
- 1 litre of stock
- 1 onion or several Scallions
- 1 potato (optional)
- Salt and Pepper to taste
Prepare the nettles by scalding them with boiling water. Reserve this liquid which will already have a green tint. Sieve this into stock. Sauté the onions gently, add the cubed potato if using, and finally the chopped nettle. Pour in the stock and simmer until the potato has dissolved.
Take every opportunity to incorporate spring greens and herbs, cultivated or wild, now as their vigour is unfurling. There cannot be a more pleasurable way to restore a depleted energy.
And then there were three swallows, heralding a promise of summer.