We’re Going on a Bear Garlic Hunt

Allium ursinum or wild garlic, ransoms or bear garlic carpeting the forest floor
We’ll Have to Go Through It!

Allium ursinum goes by many names; Ramsons in North America, wild garlic, in some places, bear garlic in many others – which is derived from its Latin name. In the Netherlands, we call it daslook. It’s native to temperate parts of Europe and Asia and naturalised in many other temperate regions of the world. It grows in deciduous woodland, where it prefers damp conditions, so you can often find it along banks of rivers and streams.

Right now, it’s high season, and wild garlic is abundant and verdant. It’s also in flower, so there is no longer any risk of mistaking it for anything else.

I spent a very pleasant afternoon yesterday with a good friend in the forest where we were looking for a bunch of wild garlic. We didn’t have to look that far, to be honest. When searching for wild garlic, I can often smell it before I see it, but this time, I didn’t need to engage my nose at all. The forest was carpeted in green, with a cloud of white flowers gently bobbing in the breeze above it.

Of course, if you’re going foraging yourself please operate on a safety-first basis. As well as being guided by your senses, it’s best to follow these simple rules.

Allium ursinum, bear garlic, wild garlic with it's typical globes of white stellate flowers. Covered in spring debris.. All parts of this spring plant are edible.
Starry Lights!

Wild garlic is such a lovely treat. It’s far less pungent than its more bulbous cousin and is better on the breath. I love the stuff and make a lot of recipes using it, including this delightful recipe for a wild garlic tart which is great for a picnic or late spring party. You can also make herb butter or cream cheese with the leaves. The flowers are great as a pretty garnish in salads or other light dishes, and the flower stalks can be used anywhere you might find chives.

And knowing a spot means that I don’t have to let them take over my own garden, because they are absolutely prolific. They’re also a great entry point for beginner foragers – just remember if you don’t smell garlic, then don’t eat them.

Wild garlic loves to grow under trees. As such, at this time of year, it’s often covered in pollen and the scales that previously covered the buds of the newly-emerged leaves. This kind of debris is evident on the leaves. Don’t let that put you off. It’s completely normal and rinses off easily. If you pick from the centre of the patch, you won’t need to worry about dog urine that much, but do avoid leaves with bird poo on them.

Today, I’m sharing a pesto recipe that I’ve veganised.

I really recommend giving wild garlic a go. Subtlely flavoured, easy to find and to pick, and if nothing else you get a couple of hours of forest bathing in. What’s not to love?

Wild Garlic or bear garlic pasto, ready to use.
I’ve Got A Jam Jar Full of Pretty Green

Recipe: Vegan Wild Garlic Pesto

Makes a jar of pesto
Prep Time: 20 minutes, plus the time well spent wandering about in the woods

Ingredients

The amounts given below are for one jar of pesto. If you’ve picked more or less garlic, you can adjust the ratio of the other ingredients accordingly for a balanced pesto.

200g wild garlic leaves
Salt and pepper
100 g whole almonds
Zest of one lemon, reserving the juice for when you serve, where appropriate.
120 ml of extra virgin olive oil, plus more to cover

Method

Rinse the wild garlic thoroughly in cold water. You can leave it to soak for a while in the sink if you like.

Meanwhile, bring a pan of salted water to a boil.

When the wild garlic is clean, chop the leaves into three or four pieces across the width of the leaf. This is just to make it easier to blend them later. You can skip this step if you’re in a pinch.

Put the wild garlic into the boiling water and bring it back to a boil, along with any other herbs you’re going to use. You want to blanch the leaves for a few seconds. The leaves will brighten, and the midrib will become floppy. You may need to blanch the leaves in batches, depending on how much pesto you’re making.

Blanching helps the pesto to keep its verdant green colour. Unblanched leaves will tend to brown a little over time. They’re fine to eat, but look much less appealing.

Once you see the subtle colour change, remove the leaves from the water with a slotted spoon, and put them in a sieve. Rinse briefly with cold water to stop the leaves from cooking further. Set aside to cool.

In the same pan that you blanched the wild garlic in, lightly cook the almonds. Add the almonds to the water and return to the boil for 4-5 minutes. Drain them and set aside to cool slightly.

If the almonds that you’re using had their skins on, they are easily removed at this stage. The nuts will pop out of their skins readily if you apply a little pressure to the base once they’re cool enough to handle. If you’re using pre-skinned almonds, then just leave them to cool for 10 minutes or so.

Once cooled, add the nuts to your blender. I find the mini processor attachment that came with my stick blender to be the best size for this amount of pesto, but any blender will do. Blitz the nuts a little. At this stage, they need to be in smallish bits.

Squeeze the wild garlic leaves to remove as much of the water as possible. Too much water will dilute the subtle flavour of the garlic too much and will affect how well it will store.

Add the wild garlic to the blender and pulse a couple of times to combine with the nuts. Add the lemon zest and about half the oil and blitz until the pesto is an even green colour. Stir through the rest of the olive oil and taste for seasoning. You will definitely need freshly ground black pepper, and you’ll probably need to add a bit of salt at this stage.

Slowly add the remaining oil, whilst blitzing a bit more, until the pesto is about as thick as yoghurt. You may not need to use all of the oil I’ve recommended here, it depends on how oily your nuts are too.

Put the pesto into a sterilised jam jar. Cover the top with a little bit more olive oil to form a seal to the air, to help the pesto keep longer.

Serving Suggestions and Substitutions

Of course, you can make wild garlic pesto with parmesan or another finely grated cheese if you like, but I’m trying to be a lot more plant-based these days.

You could also choose to use different nuts. Lightly-toasted pine nuts would be fine, for a more traditional Genoese-style sauce. Hazelnuts could be an interesting addition. Use the whole nut, gently roasted in the oven until the aroma fills the air. Then rub the brown skins off as best you can with an old, dry, clean tea towel. I say use an old towel because the skins can stain the cloth a bit. You’ll also probably not get all the skins off entirely, so don’t bother striving for perfection. There is no need to blanch either type of nut in this case.

If you like, you can also add other herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, or basil. They’ll need blanching in a similar way to the wild garlic, and squeezing out before adding it to the blender.

This pesto is perfect over pasta. You can add it to soups and salad dressings, or even to brighten up a sandwich. If you eat meat, you can use it to coat a little fish or chicken breast before you grill or bake it, or you could use it as a marinade before frying your fish. It’s especially excellent with salmon or other oily fish.

Stir a little lemon juice through the pesto before serving. The amount of lemon juice that you’ll need will vary with the application – you’ll need a little to season it if you’re smearing it in a sandwich, perhaps 1/2 tsp or so. Over pasta, you’ll need the juice of at least half a lemon. Adjust it to your own taste.

I have another couple of recipes that I’ll be using it in over the next few days, which I’ll be sharing with you soon. I’d love to hear where you would use this pesto in the comments.

How to Store

The pesto keeps well in the fridge. If you don’t use all of the pesto at once, then make sure to add a little more olive oil to create an air seal over the pesto. This will help you to keep it for up to two weeks.

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