April 23rd and spring is finally springing up all over, cherry blossoms raining down pink petals, bluebells stretching their stalks upwards, buds at the ready. Leaves on the trees are about to explode in all their delicious pale greens. It is a most wonderful time of year.
Where there are bluebells you almost always also find wild garlic, that most abundant and pungent of free foods. Leigh Woods is full of it, road sides groan with it and if you have your car window open the unmistakeable smell will hit you as you drive by. May I suggest that you don't drive by, but stop, breathe deep and pick some.
You can use this magnificent plant in all sorts of ways. When it's young put it in salads, just as it is. The flowers too are edible and make a gorgeous decorative addition. Use in stir fries, tarts (as we have in both our cafés), braised with spinach or other greens, add to soups and stews. My favourite way to use wild garlic however is to make a pesto with it.
There is nothing like a bowl of spaghetti with fresh wild garlic pesto - it is epic in it's simplicity and deliciousness. My brother Barny Haughton of Square Food Foundation has the best recipe I have ever tried. It can be used in loads of ways, as an addition to any dish that can use a little lift or greening, for example Barny's 'Rigatoni with with borlotti beans, potato and wild garlic pesto'. But I leave him to share that recipe with you another time. I will share the pesto recipe though - let us know your thoughts.
Wild Garlic Pesto by Barny Haughton
This is best made when the wild garlic leaves are still young and tender because the flavour is more delicate and you can chop them up more easily. And like any freshly-made basil pesto, wild garlic pesto is best eaten minutes after making it. So, have all your ingredients separately prepared and ready. It will take 1 minute to actually make it
1 large handful of wild garlic leaves, thoroughly washed
20g each hazelnuts & walnuts or 40g of either
30g Parmesan, grated
20ml extra virgin olive oil
Juice half a lemon
Toast the nuts in the oven or in a frying pan – just enough – golden brown not dark.
Wash the garlic leaves under cold water, dry them thoroughly and, on a large chopping board, chop them until fine but not to a paste.
Add the nuts and chop them into the garlic until they are like very small bread crumbs. Add the parmesan, olive oil, black pepper and mix well.
Add the lemon juice just before serving.
Serve any way you like but if with spaghetti chuck it in with the cooked, drained spaghetti, straight off the stove, with a tiny bit of the cooking water to loosen it all. Put in a bowl. Eat.
While obviously it is best served immediately this pesto can be kept in the fridge for up to a week in a sealed jar, and also frozen.
While we are on the subject of Barny (yes, there really is no 'e' in his name) and Square Food Foundation here's a quick reminder of the next pop-up they are bringing to Spike Island Cafe. A cookery demo and supper by acclaimed Sicilian cook and author Fabrizia Lanza from Case Vecchie in Sicily.