Monday, 26 April 2010

Held to Ramsons

Ramsons, probably better known as wild garlic (or Allium Ursinum), is an edible plant species native to the UK. What's more it is bang in season right now. It grows abundantly in moist, wooded, shaded areas and is easily identifiable by its unmistakable pungent garlicky smell and long vibrant green leaves. It carpets British woodlands throughout spring and towards the end of the season it bursts into bloom with beautiful delicate white flowers.

Foraging for wild garlic is straight forward, in fact it is so abundant that the term "foraging" really constitutes an embellishment. There isn't a need to "forage" at all; if you're out and about in the English countryside at this time of year it's almost impossible to miss. Avoid lily-of-the-valley; whilst it looks similar it is toxic, but easily distinguished from ramsons by the lack of garlic smell. Also be wary of ramsons leaves that are growing within leg-cocking range of passing dogs! You should avoid climbing fences, trampling wild flowers and definitely don't dig up the bulbs, but with the application of a little common sense and restraint there really shouldn't be a problem - wild garlic thrives and spreads rapidly so there is no issue to helping yourself.

Unlike its domestic equivalent, wild garlic is prized for its leaves rather than its bulb. The bulbs are edible, as are the flowers which make a pretty garnish, but are much smaller with no separate cloves. The leaves are very similar in taste to domestic garlic, although milder & reather more understated - despite the suggestion of pungency hinted at by the strong smell.

Ramsons have many culinary uses: the leaves are delicious raw or cooked and work well in salads, soups and stews. The leaves are wonderful cooked in an omlette or risotto. I can't wait to try this rabbit and wild garlic risotto from Gordon Ramsay at some point.

However, I was a bit short on time here so opted to make some wild garlic pesto. It will also keep in the fridge for a good few weeks.

Start with 100g freshly picked wild garlic leaves. Discard any coarse stalks, damaged leaves or any stray pieces of grass, but you don’t really need to wash it (unless you’ve picked it from road side verges or are unfortunate enough to have been afflicted with the modern day obsession with "germs"). Throw the leaves into a blender with 50g pine nuts & 150 ml rapeseed oil and blitz for about a minute until everything is finely chopped. Of course you can do this in a pestle and mortar if you prefer. Finally stir in 50-60g finely grated mature hard cheese (I used parmesan, as it was what I had to hand, but something like Quick’s goats cheese would make a great alternative and be more in keeping with the English theme) & ½ - 1 teaspoon sea salt

Fill into clean sterilised jars leaving a space at the top. Press it all down firmly with the back of a spoon to remove any pockets of air (trapped air can cause the pesto to go off). Swirl another 50ml of oil over the top of the pesto to seal the surface. When you come to use the pesto, stir it well before spooning out. Make sure the surface of any pesto remaining in the jar is completely covered with oil before you return to the fridge (this is critical if it is to keep well).

The end result is lurid green and the amazingly fresh, garlicky taste will perk up any number of dishes. I've served it dolloped onto pork chops and with bacon lardons for a pesto pasta, but it could equally be swirled into mashed potato or smeared onto pizza or a baguette for a quick garlic bread.


  1. As usual looks and sounds delicious. Handy tip about the air pockets, will keep that in mind when making my basil pesto over the summer.

  2. This is a great recipe. Will have to look out for it when Im in the countryside this weekend.