I can’t believe it’s only a year since I first tried cooking with wild garlic: this proved to be a revelatory experience on two levels. First, I rediscovered it’s fun to forage for local, wild food (as Miss South can testify with her participation in regular Invisible Food Walks) and secondly, I found out wild garlic tastes really, really good.
There’s a spot nearby where ramsons run wild and profuse so at the weekend I picked a few handfuls… some to take to city-dwelling veggie mates who appreciate the delicate spring freshness… and the rest for me. I tend to pick the leaves and the occasional flower bud, rather than lifting whole plants. After all, this should be a sustainable food one can come back to year after year, so keep the roots and flowers going. So now I had the sustenance from this year’s spring, what was I to make of it?
Towards the end of last year’s season I had a recommendation to make pesto from the wild garlic leaves, as it freezes well and is a good way of preserving a little bit of spring sunshine into the winter months. I didn’t have time to try this out, although I did freeze a few leaves, which we ended up using in our blog’s first birthday dinner. So it seemed only right that I give Pennine pesto a go this year as the brief season is now fully underway.
I’ve previously made Pesto Genovese at home, taking my cue from years past when our mum used to convert the surfeit of fresh basil from the greenhouse into great pesto. From what I remember it was pretty classic pesto… only basil, parmesan, good olive oil, pine nuts and garlic. Last year MIss North and I were very pleased with a fantastic pesto we made from cobnuts and beetroot tops. However the whole subject of pesto making is a contentious subject, discussed in this piece by Felicity Cloake, so I did some more reading. The more I read, the more I wanted to keep it simple, doing a straight swap of basil for ramsons. I rather liked this blog post about wild garlic pesto, so after some brief prep I rolled up my sleeves and got started.
I (rolls eyes) toasted my nuts in a heavy pan, then tossed them in sea salt and let them cool down fully to bring out the best of their flavour. Meanwhile I washed each ramson leaf. Yes, one by one, like some slow-motion chlorophyllic shampoo advert. Although it’s a bit of a faff when you have a load of leaves it’s worth doing it properly to remove any icky things. I grated the cheese (half pecorino romano, half parmesan) and measured out the oil.
At first I tried to use my mortar and pestle to mash up the mix (doing things the traditional way), but I soon realised I’d need a Belfast sink-sized setup to grind all the long leaves easily. I was also getting hungry, so I used the hand blender instead, incorporating the wild garlic, nuts and oil in batches. Once they were done I stirred in the cheese, and a healthy grind of black pepper. I kept the final mix quite coarse; wanting a little bite from the pine nuts, and to let the grated cheese bind everything together. If anything I think it was a wee bit thin, so in future I’d probably reduce the quantity of olive oil, although it was only afterwards I realised I should’ve kept some back to top the jar off with.
The pesto was vividly viridecent; ramsons don’t have the same tendency to bruise or discolour as basil, so it looked fab. The flavour was clean and fresh, without tasting too ‘thin’ or indeed too ‘garlicky’. Tastes and looks great over some good spaghetti or linguine… and as I’ve made enough to keep me going for a while, any spare can go straight in the freezer to add some springtime greenery for a later date!