Wild garlic

By Sue Quinn

If you’re lucky enough to have access to a patch of wild garlic, more than likely you’ll smell the plants before you see them, such is their garlicky aroma.

Variously known as cowleek, ramsons, buckrams, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic, bear leek, bear's garlic, devil's garlic, gypsy's onions and stinking Jenny, Allium ursinum is a seasonal treat in Britain and Europe for those who can lay their hands on some.

Unlike Allium sativum, the kind cultivated for the bulbs and cloves, wild garlic’s long dark green leaves are used in the kitchen. Their flavour is similar to garlic chives, although the pungency varies according to when they’re picked. Young leaves have a milder, and more delicate flavour than those harvested later on in the season, notably when the plants produce clusters of white star-shaped flowers.

Wild garlic thrives in shaded woodlands, forests, fields and hedgerows in the Spring, and the leaves, flower buds and blooms are all edible. The leaves have a range of uses, from making punchy pesto to flavouring risottos and soups. The flowers make a pretty and tasty addition to salads, while the buds are delicious pickled.

Wild garlic pesto

Tender young leaves can be used raw in salads, or finely chopped and stirred through scrambled eggs, or soft-boiled eggs for sandwiches, just as you would chives. When the leaves are more mature and pungent, they’re best blanched in boiling water for 30 seconds or so before use to soften their potency just a little.

Once blanched, drain and squeeze the leaves of excess water. Roughly chop and transfer to a food processor or blender along with soft herbs like basil and/or mint, nuts (toasted skinless hazelnuts, walnuts or pine nuts are lovely), grated Parmesan (optional) and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Pulse, drizzling in enough good extra virgin olive oil as you go to produce a pesto to your preferred consistency. You can serve this with pasta, of course, or slather on toast (on its own or with soft cheese), stir through risotto or serve as a relish to accompany roast meats, fish or chicken. It really is the most versatile and delicious sauce.

Wild garlic soups and stews

The leaves aren’t always appetising cooked whole and eaten as a vegetable; they wilt down quickly and turn a little stringy (and sometimes slimy). However, they’re delicious chopped and added to stews and tagines. Or turn them into wild garlic soup.

Cook off some chopped onion in olive oil until soft, add cubes of potato, chopped wild garlic leaves and then cover with stock. Simmer and once the potato is tender, blitz until smooth.Add a squeeze of lemon juice to the verdant soup and check for seasoning, adding more salt or pepper if needed. If you like, swirl through some yoghurt, sour cream or cream to finish.

Wild garlic bread, cheese scones & mayonnaise

Wild garlic leaves are unbeatable added to your favourite cheese scone or bread recipe – just blitz them into whatever liquid you’re using with the flour to make the dough. Or make a wild garlic mayonnaise. Start by making a thin paste by blitzing the leaves with olive oil in a blender or food processor. Stir this through good quality shop-bought or homemade mayonnaise.

Wild garlic crisps

If you have a dehydrator, you can dry the wild garlic leaves and enjoy them as crisps, or whiz the crisp leaves into a powder in a food processor and combine with salt for a deeply flavourful garlicky seasoning.

Meat, fish & chicken wrapped in wild garlic

Meat, fish and chicken are also tasty wrapped in wild garlic before grilling on the barbecue (discard the leaves after cooking). Or stuff chicken or fish with chopped wild garlic leaves along with herbs and slices of lemon. The flesh will be subtly imbued with delicate garlic flavour.

Freshly picked garlic must be washed carefully and dried in a clean cloth or salad spinner before use. The leaves can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge, or pop the stems in a glass of water and refrigerate to make them last longer.

Don’t forget the essential rules for foraging: only pick wild garlic for your own personal use, ask permission if applicable, and only pick where the plants are abundant. Wild garlic can be mistaken for lily of the valley, which is poisonous. Wild garlic will smell strongly of garlic, but if in doubt, don’t eat it.

Wild garlic pairs perfectly with: soft herbs, toasted nuts, in bread and scones, with roasted meat, fish and chicken, lemon zest and juice.

Sue Quinn

Sue Quinn is an award-winning food writer, journalist and cookbook author. Her articles and recipes regularly appear in national newspapers and magazines, including the Telegraph, The Sunday Times, the Guardian, delicious, The Washington Post and BBC Good Food magazine. She has written fourteen cookbooks on a range of topics, from Japanese and Spanish cuisine to children’s cookery and vegan food. Her latest, Cocoa: an exploration of chocolate, with recipes, was published by Quadrille in 2019 to wide acclaim. In 2018 Sue won the Guild of Food Writer’s Award for articles showcasing British food producers, and in 2016 she received the Fortnum & Mason Online Food Writer Award for her work in the Guardian and the Telegraph. Sue has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme and Woman’s Hour, and Channel 4s’ Sunday Brunch. In 2019 she was awarded a bursary from the Guild of Food Writers to research the life of British Food Writer Florence White. Trained as a journalist in her native Australia, Sue now lives by the sea in Dorset with her husband, two teenage children and a loveable hound Cookie.

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