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Wild Garlic: Pesto and other ideas

April 29, 2011

Wild Garlic is pretty common in the southwest of England during the spring, it grows in large easy to identify patches in partially shaded woodland and smells lovely on a warm day! There’s a couple of big patches on the University of Exeter campus which I walk past/through at least a couple of times a week and often make a quick stop on my way home to fill the side pocket of my laptop bag with as many leaves as I can. They have quite a mild pleasant taste, less strong than bulb garlic but still pronouncedly garlicky while having a nice spring greens texture.

I use them in sauces, as a mild garlic substitute, chopped as part of a salad, as a good multi-purpose garnish for the tops of soups, sautéed mixed with onion, spinach or kale and also for Wild Garlic Pesto, today’s recipe!

To someone who hasn’t done much gathering before, it might be possible to mistake the leaves for lilly of the valley (Convallaria majalis), which is highly poisonous has fleshier leaves, different flower stalks and grows in smaller clumps. But a quick rub between the fingers will tell you which plant you have, if it smells like Garlic, you are safe, otherwise leave it alone!

Knife chopped pesto is slightly better than pestle and mortar ground and a million better than damp pulp you get when it’s blended!  It has a much richer texture and keeps its green colour better, it’s slightly harder work, but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of light exercise, especially if you are making something a bit special like homemade pesto!

– Recipe –

 A jam jar full

Roughly a pint glass full of washed Wild Garlic Leaves, loosely packed

2 small Shallots, chopped very fine

100g Walnuts or Pine Nuts, lightly crushed

100g Mature Hard Cheese (Parmesan, very mature strong Cheddar etc.), grated

Olive oil, about 200ml, I do it to eye

  1. Place the Wild Garlic leaves and Shallots on a large chopping board and begin to chop with a chefs knife. Add in the Walnuts/Pine Nuts, keep chopping till it all is as fine as you like it (I try to keep a varied texture, some almost a purée, some still in small bits).
  2. Mix in the Cheese, chop a little more, transfer to a bowl and stir in some Olive Oil and Salt to taste.
  3. Spoon into a sterilised jam jar and then top over with a little more Olive Oil till it is covered.
  4. Store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, if left in the open it will start to ferment and be ruined!


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