This week I am supposed to be head down with my laptop, working on a special project. It is at my own behest, but I was determined to be disciplined about it: “out-of-office” for my emails, alarm set for 6.30, green smoothie to fortify & fill, and then boom, the words would just flow.
My week has been planned to coincide with Andrew and Rachel’s ski trip to France. A vacation week to myself without fear of injury and frostbite. Or getting sucked into the inevitable raclette-fest. It was to be just me, the cat and a head full of ideas. But, as soon as I delivered my family to the airport, I headed into town. Pottering, purchasing (a new-rustic butler table that you see here), nibbling and procrastinating. Then it seemed too late to get started, and I wanted a walk, so I headed down to the local river in search of allium ursinum.
At this time of year, with the temperatures just edging into double digits and the sun gently warming the soil, the scent of wild garlic leaves you in no doubt to their presence. Scattered up the steep, muddy banks the lily-like swards are just pushing through. While others get all excited about daffodils and other spring flowers, cutting them or buying them to fill their homes, I like to make my way down to the river with a pair of scissors and a tatty carrier bag. No doubt I was an object of curiosity, this middle-aged women with her bum in the air, snipping at smelly leaves. But I couldn’t see them, and I didn’t really care anyway. It’s worth the curious looks to come away with a gloriously green and pleasant bag of free food.
Wild garlic – ransoms – are not something everyone can get hold of. But it you are able to gather them yourself (with your no doubt much perter posterior) or grab a bunch at the farmer’s market, do just that. Wild garlic, although wildly whiffy when growing (and sat in your car…) eats much milder than you would imagine. Think garlic on its best behaviour for the Queen: no smelly breath to offend. But, in common with nearly all edible wild food, it is packed – and I mean packed – with a fantastic array of antioxidants that are anti-bacterial, anti-viral, antiseptic. It also lowers blood pressure better than bulb garlic.
Why not forgo imported herbs and bulbs of garlic (which is not at its best just now) to make pots-full of fresh punchy wild garlic pesto? I do mine this way – link complete with terrible photos, a risotto recipe, and more nutrition info. I use a pot of this exuberant sauce in pasta dishes, in dips, to spread on fish before baking, on and in focaccias, etc. But I also I store it in little measured bags for the freezer, using it throughout the year, mourning when I run out.
Within one hour of picking this lot I had put together a quick pasta dish of wilted wild garlic, broccoli, black English walnuts, pecorino Romano and lemon zest (see above). And best olive oil, of course. And some smoked wild Scottish trout might have accidentally fallen in at some point. 🙂
I swear I could feel the goodness of freshly picked greens coursing through my veins. A satisfying and terribly easy meal. I only dared get a small bag on this foray, as the season is only just beginning and I didn’t want to be greedy. Plenty of time for that. And plenty of time to get down to some proper work….
Future posts this week are being scheduled, so don’t think I am being side-tracked again. Although you would probably be right. 🙂
Wild Garlic, Lemon and Ricotta Toast
Leave out the sun-dried tomatoes if you like, but I appreciate the salty-sweet taste of them in this simple recipe. And vegans, I’ve not forgotten you: use cashew cheese, or even white beans, to get a somewhat similar effect to the silky ricotta.
30g washed wild garlic/ransoms, roughly chopped
3 tbsp toasted pine nuts
2 chopped sun-dried tomatoes
100g ricotta cheese or cashew cheese (or white beans)
Squeeze of lemon and a little lemon zest
2-3 pieces of good bread, for toasting (I used Peters Yard levain sourdough – much better than I can make)
Good extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling – optional
Pop the wild garlic in a mini food processor (or chop very finely by hand/use a mezzaluna) and blend until you get it quite fine. Add the pine nuts and sun-dried tomato and pulse until you get a consistency that you like – I like it still with plenty of texture. Stir in the ricotta (or put everything in a small bowl) and the lemon juice and zest. Let the flavours come together while you prepare your toast. Now slather on as you like, drizzling over some grassy, peppery olive oil if you like. And I do like.
Note: This would also make an awesome pasta stir-in sauce with a little olive oil added and loosened with some pasta cooking water.
Where To Find Wild Garlic: moist woodland, by rivers, in green urban spaces (often huddled up with emerging nettles). Lily of the valley looks rather similar and is often intermingled, but is not edible. The leaves of wild garlic are much broader and smell garlicky (obvs) rather than grassy. Lily of the valley will also have little bulblets, which the wild garlic does not. If in doubt, take a wild food guidebook or check out this app. You can also find it cheaply at farmer’s markets from now until later in April – about £1-2 for a 100g bag. And btw, the pretty white flowers are edible too and make a gorgeous natural garnish for this toast thingy as well as salads and soups.