Wild Garlic – it is more than likely available in a wood near you right now. It looks quite innocuous, and is easy to walk past. However, walk on it, and there will be no mistaking the smell of garlic.
I love the stuff, and have it in soups, salads, as pesto, I use it as a pot herb, and anything else that I can think of. You can eat the leaves, bulbs and the flowers (although it should be noted that in many places digging up the entire plant is illegal, so only use the flowers and leaves), and all of them have that distinctly garlic taste.
Of course, there are a few basic guidelines to stick to when foraging, and don’t take the whole patch. Apart from needing to leave some for next year’s crop, wild garlic does not keep all that well, lasting about a week in the fridge. And it bruises easily, which only speeds up the deterioration.
One word of caution is that it is possible to confuse the leaves with lily of the valley early in the season, but there really can be no confusion once you smell the plant. If it doesn’t smell of garlic, just don’t eat it!
I had invited a couple of friends over to dinner, and happened to have had a foraging session the day before. I also collected nettles and other wild greens, but these can sometimes be a little ‘niche’ for most people. I thought introducing them to the delights of wild garlic would be an easy and very tasty way in.
As this was to be a starter, I decided that little tartlets were the way to go. Plus, I had been given some beautiful little individual tart dishes that I wanted to try out.
With savoury tarts, I often prefer cheese pastry. Back in Britain, then only a good cheddar would do for this pastry, but now I live in the Netherlands, and I am not prepared to pay a small fortune for cheddar in a country that prides itself on making its own cheese. I have not necessarily bought into the fact that Dutch cheeses are the best in the World, but there are enough specialty shops that you can find a good, tasty cheese. For a good cheddar substitute I usually use a piquant belegen boerenkaas (literally ‘sharp mature farmer’s cheese’, which is often unpasteurised).
These are great served with a salad (you can even use foraged leaves if you like), and a fruity dressing. I used home-made blackberry vinaigrette, but balsamic or raspberry would do equally well.
The recipe below is enough for 6 tartlets. If you have fewer people, then both the pastry and the filling will keep in the fridge for up to a week (although the pastry must be tightly wrapped, or just freeze it and thaw before use).
Recip: Wild Garlic Tarts
For the pastry
75 g butter
175 g plain flour (or a mix of half white and half wholemeal plain flour)
50 g of a tasty cheese, such as mature cheddar or piquant belegen boerenkaas
1/2 tsp dry mustard powder
Good pinch of cayenne pepper
For the tart filling
50-100 g wild garlic leaves, cut to a chiffonade
100 g good camembert, finely chopped (any well-flavoured rinsed-rind soft cheese would be good in this dish)
100 ml cream or milk
Freshly grated nutmeg
Firstly, make the pastry. I have had very little success in getting good results from using a food processor to form the dough. If you find this easy, combine the ingredients in a food processor, then add cold water to form the dough.
I rub the butter, mustard powder and the flour together by hand. For this I use cold butter, and often have cold hands, so I’m not working the dough too much. You can achieve cold hands by dint of poor circulation, or running them under a cold tap for a few minutes before working the dough.
Once the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs, I add the cheese and the cayenne. I don’t add salt, because the cheese should contain enough. Then I combine the lot with just enough cold water to form a dough.
The pastry needs to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour, but I often go and do something else, then get back to it when I have finished.
Roll out the pastry thinly, and put into the greased tartlet tins. You can also make one large quiche with this recipe. If making individual tarts, I find it easier to cut out smaller discs from the pastry, using a side plate as a template, then gently transfer the thin pastry to the tart tins, and cut to size. Pastry will shrink when you cook it, so it is better to be generous. You can always trim it later, but you can’t unshrink it.
Blind bake in a hot oven at 180°C. To blind bake, I cover the pastry with rice in greaseproof paper, you can also use beans or ceramic beads. Once rice has been baked in this way, you can no longer cook it normally, so I keep mine in a jar to recycle for every blind bake.
Once the base of the pastry is dry (usually 10 mins) remove the blind bake and put back in the oven until the pastry has browned slightly, and is crisp.
Meanwhile, make the tart filling, by lightly beating the egg and cream, then adding the wild garlic leaves, cheese, paprika nutmeg and mixing well. Season to taste.
When the tart cases are out of the oven, allow to cool slightly, and fill with the filling. Return to the oven, and bake for 15 minutes, or until the topping has just set (could be up to half an hour if making a large quiche).
Serve warm or cold.