Generally, you can smell wild garlic before you see it, especially if the sun is out. Before you pick any make sure you are not on private or protected land!! And make sure that if you pick it, only pick the leaves – don’t pull it up roots and all.
The first time I came across wild garlic was when my parents in law lived in Tregoose in the depths of a valley in the depths of Cornwall. Walking through the path in the woods on the other side of the small river that ran through their garden was always magical – the delicate tracery of new leaves silhouetted against a bright blue sky. And wafting from the ground was the pungent smell of crushed garlic. Heavenly.
Here’s a couple of recipes for wild garlic. It will be in the woods somewhere near you right now!
Wild garlic pesto
Wash the leaves thoroughly in lots of running water. Dry them on a clean tea towel.
In a blender, Nutribullet or in a deep pestle, put three large cloves of garlic and a teaspoon of salt. Crush with a mortar if using the pestle, otherwise flick the switch and chop. Then add two large handfull of leaves, 150g pine nuts and about 75g parmegano regiano. Blend again. Add olive oil in a drizzle – probably about 200ml but it depends on the bulk of the dry materials you’ve blended. The idea is that the mixture should drop off a spoon. Taste it and see. It might need a bit more parmesan or salt but these things are down to personal taste.
As a variation – and I have three different types of pesto on the go at the moment – you could substitute walnuts and parlsey for the wild garlic and pine nuts; or basil and cashews or pumpkin seeds – ditto.
Wild garlic pesto lasagne
First off take 150g red lentils, put them in a saucepan with a dried red chilli and a bay leaf. Add water to 1.5cm above the lentils. Bring to the boil and simmer until nearly all the water is absorbed, but not quite.
Pasta is easy and the easiest way is to make it in a food processor. Or you can do it by hand by blending 600g flour (00) – although I have made it with good quality plain flour. Add a teaspoon of salt. Make a well in the centre then add 6 beaten eggs, gradually drawing the flour into the centre. when all the egg is absorbed, knead the dough until it is soft and springy. If you are vegan use the recipe here using tofu instead of eggs. Or if you are lazy like me, put it all in the food processor until it forms a dough. Put in a bowl, cover with a damp cloth and rest the dough for 30 minutes.
For the filling, fry a finely chopped onion and some celery with some garlic until soft. Throw in a glass of red wine and reduce. Then add two tins of chopped tomatoes, a small sprinkle of chilli flakes, half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, chopped thyme and rosemary to your taste and just a little sugar. Simmer until it is thick and almost sticking to the pan. Now remove the bay and chilli from the lentils and add the lentils to the tomato sauce. Mix and taste and adjust seasoning.
You do not need a pasta machine. Just a floured surface, a good rolling pin and some elbow grease. Roll the dough, keep turning it one quarter turn at a time, roll, turn, roll, turn. A bit like doing front crawl! It needs to be really thin (see picture). Cut lasagne sheets to size.
Now choose your dish – just choose one deep enough to leave a gap at the top when it’s full. Neat trick – put a thin layer of sauce in first, then layer up with pasta, sauce, pasta, sauce, pasta, a few dollops of pesto (see above) then sauce, finish with pasta.
You might want to make a bechamel for the top. Personally, mostly I can’t be bothered and find that 200g quark, or full fat yogurt works just as well, with 3 eggs beaten into it and a handful of parmesan and some black pepper and a little scrape of nutmeg.
Put into the oven at 200C for 30 minutes then check it. It will probably need another 10 to 15 minutes after that. Take it out of the oven and let it rest. Don’t serve straight away. Leave it for 15 minutes – it really will not get cold – before you slice and serve. Belissima!
One of my fondest food memories was eating in an Agritourismo in La Marche in Italy. Layers and layers of paper think pasta with a smear of passata between them, a light grating of parmesan and a basil leaf or two.