It felt as if it might rain at any moment last Saturday but I was determined to collect my ramsons, as the wild garlic leaves are often known. In fact wild garlic has many common names such as wood garlic, buck rams, bear leek and even stinking Jenny (which sadly reminds me of my childhood nickname, Smelly Jenny, that was always banded about at Christmas when I just couldn’t leave the Stilton cheese alone) I’d been planning a trip to the woods ever since Jules asked me for some wild garlic recipes during a most fabulous dinner at Bell’s Diner a couple of weeks ago (there’s another blog post – I promise). So this post is for you Jules.
The damp air magnified all those incredible deeply earthy, vegetal smells of woodland and everything was so lush. The new beech leaves were that almost fluorescent green that lasts just a few weeks. Then, once we reached the sweeping carpet of wild garlic, the ground seemed an unnaturally vibrant shade of Pantone green, the sort of colour that Imi might paint a picture of a jungle. Old stone walls were blanketed in feathery moss, it was simply stunning and the waft of garlic almost overwhelming. The wild garlic is apparently an indicator of ancient woodland just like the bluebells that so often grow alongside – how amazing to think that this scene has probably changed so little over the centuries. It will be a picture here in a couple of weeks time too, with the white garlic flowers and the huge swathes of lilacy bluebells, but you’re best to pick the garlic now as the leaves do become more bitter as the season goes on.
I’m always dreaming of getting a dog, firstly because I adore them but also because they make you take the time out for a walk, and I just don’t do it often enough. The garlic hunt brought my friend Kate, me and our girls out into the woods on a day when you’d probably never have planned a stroll- it seemed so gloomy and threatening and yet it was breathtaking. So get out there, come rain or shine, but do be a bit careful that you are picking garlic and not the rather similar Lily of the Valley. The smell will shout garlic at you and each leaf grows from a separate stalk where as the toxic Lily of the Valley leaves grow 2 or 3 leaves to a stem.
And what to do with your booty? I was planning on making and photographing a number of different dishes but I’m afraid we kept eating them before I got a chance to whip out the camera. The wild garlic leaves give a more chivey taste than the more familiar bulbs of garlic we buy all year round and I particularly love this flavour in anything to do with eggs.
So here are a few ideas to set you on your way.
- French Omelette- ( for 2) fry 1/2 a diced onion in a blend of olive oil and butter. Beat 4 eggs up with a splash of milk, pinch of salt and a handful of sliced wild garlic. Add the softened onions to the mix and then fry 1/2 of the mixture at a time in a small omelette pan. Grate over a little cheese such as mature cheddar as you are frying. (Don’t forget that omelettes are fab’ cold in sandwiches – the Spanish do it all the time) Throw some into a Spanish tortilla with the potato or an Italian frittata with some courgettes and parmesan.
- Scrambled Eggs – obvious but delicious all the same. Chop up a good handful of garlic leaves into ribbons and stir into the scrambled eggs for the last minute of cooking (just enough for the garlic to wilt.
- Risotto- I’m being lazy but assuming that most of you probably have a basic risotto up your sleeve ( I should probably have done the same for the omelette!) Just stir a good handful of sliced ramsons (per 2 portions) into the rice a couple of minutes before you finish the cooking. I fried up my left over risotto the next day too…. Add a couple of eggs to the cold risotto to bind the mixture and throw in a bit of extra parmesan. Fry in a flat cake in your omelette pan, flip over using a plate and brown the other side too and serve with a tomato salad.
- Pesto – Try substituting garlic leaves for the basil in a traditional pesto recipe. I like to make the pesto using Pecorino rather than Parmesan in this case. Don’t just use this for pasta, try it blobbed into soups or stews too.
I’m planning on coming up with a few more adventurous recipes over the next few weeks (Kate had a wonderful wild garlic bread and butter pudding in the Tyntesfield Café) but I’m desperate to get this post off tonight and entice you into a bit of foraging whilst the garlic’s at its best.
And a little reminder to all you West Country-ites – there’s a BIG food festival happening in Bristol next month. I have a couple of classes here, on May 6th Eat your Way to a Healthier Lifestyle and May 7th Spring into Summer. Take a peek at the full line up of events on the Bristol Food Connections website