We love exploring the woods near Appleton at this time of year. Just 10 minutes’ walk from us, every day during spring reveals something new flowering on the woodland floor. Before the leaves begin to appear on the trees, and the leaf canopy fills, it’s a wonderful time to see the different plants and flowers appear in succession.
Farndale is famous for it’s daffodil walk, but we’ve found that the woods near us are quieter, and just as crammed with wild daffodils. Alongside them, white anemones, primroses, and violets are all appearing. The one plant we look forward to as very amateur foragers, is wild garlic. Back in February, we said we would share our favourite wild garlic pesto recipe with you, and so now that the leaves have arrived, here it is.
Wild garlic leaves are best picked between March and April. Pick ones away from the path to avoid any which have had a close encounter with a dog. And the newer fresher leaves are best. Pick them from just above the ground so that you leave the roots intact, and the plant can keep growing.
To make the pesto, wash the leaves thoroughly and then for every 100g leaves, combine with 50g toasted pine nuts and 50g finely grated parmesan and a couple of spoons of virgin olive oil. You don’t have to toast the pine nuts, but we like the flavour it gives the pesto.
You can either whizz in a food processer – just pulse it to make sure you don’t make it too smooth. Or for more control, act like Jamie Oliver and use a pestle and mortar. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Add more olive oil to get it to the consistency that you like.
We then stir through another 20g toasted pine nuts which give it a little more texture which we like. We store in the fridge in sterilised jam jars, and a little olive oil poured onto the top of the pesto before screwing on the lid. Stored in this way, we’ve found it lasts for several months, although it is an effort to keep it that long.
If you want a more mellow taste, then use 50g fresh basil leaves and 50g wild garlic. Pine nuts are pretty expensive; you can substitute with walnuts, almond or hazelnuts but we think pine nuts taste the best. Some recipes online suggest swapping the cheese for pecorino or cheddar – we are not so sure about the latter as a recommendation, but it may work. If you try it, let us know?
It’s good to have an assistant when doing the final seasoning – after a few tastes, your taste buds will be pretty exploded so it’s helpful to have a second perspective. And at least you will both reek of garlic together.
We love using the pesto on a piece of salmon simply cooked in the oven, on pasta or on our home-made pizza.
There are other uses for wild garlic, including picking three headed seeds after the plant has flowered (the white flowers taste great in a salad) We’ve never tried these; but according to the local and legendary chef Tommy Banks, they turn into “salty, caper-like flavour bombs” which “taste amazing on rich meat and roasted fish”. So this year, we are going to have a go making them, and will report back on a future blog.