Getting out for a long walk in the woods last Sunday was a real treat. I called various pals who were mostly busy cleaning or sleeping off late nights but I did find one who’s always up for a bit of a countryside ramble and did a crazy thing and called to her house, (unannounced!) to see if she was up for a ramble in the forest. Coincidentally she was in the middle of trying to get her own brood to go for a stroll and was happy I’d turned up. These days you need to e-mail someone to make an appointment to phone them so I like to ‘rebel’ a bit by taking a shot and just knocking on a friends door, sometimes it pays off.
Our nearby forest park at Curragh Chase is a great place to get lost amongst its cycle trails, paths and to just wander along by the streams hearing their lovely sounds. In the gritty cycle of city life it’s easy to forget about nature and what a simple prescription it is for feeling good; the old adage of fresh air and exercise really is true. As a pair of foodies and growers, we were thrilled to see the wild garlic already sticking its little pointy heads up through the leafy forest floor. There are a number of varieties of wild garlic growing in Ireland and this can confuse people, ramsons have a pretty white spray of flowers which are great sprinkled on a soup or salad, these grow close to the forest floor. The variety we found is the broad leaf kind that is a leaf of about 4-6 inches, it makes sense to pick the larger ones to give the others a chance to mature and ideally take no more than a hat-full which is the only thing I had to gather mine in. On the Aran islands you will see a variety of garlic that’s very tall and gangly but with a huge head of gnarly little green bulbs in a cluster with tiny purple flowers and little stalks rising from it. This kind is best used by just tearing off a few flowers from the bulb to scatter on a salad, and leaving the whole thing in the ground as the plant is so strong and the root too intense to do anything with it.
Wild garlic has a relatively short season and a wonderful delicate yet pungent and peppery flavour. I like to turn it into a simple pesto of sorts and it stores in the fridge for months like this. You can use this on pasta, fish or, one of my favourite uses is in a focaccia which I have in my first book Bread on the Table. Drizzling the garlic oil over a giant pillow of puffy dough before it goes in the oven and liberally dredging it with sea salt has to be one of the finest bread toppings of all time.
Wild garlic, indeed all garlic, is a member of the allium family and therefore is great to ward off and cure colds and flus which is something we really need right now in the blustery early Spring weather.
Wild Garlic Oil
To make this simple oil just put approx 200g washed and dried (use a salad spinner for this) garlic leaves, or as much as you have, into a blender and drizzle in light olive oil until you have a thick but runny consistency. Season with a sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper. Keep this in a sealed jar in the fridge and use as a dip or salad dressing or to liven up a fish or meat dish. Or you can use it like I did in the photo above, mixed with butter and spread on some almost stale bread, wrapped in foil and baked for about 20 minutes.
Wild Garlic Pesto
The best thing about this is how much cheaper it is than basil pesto to make, brazil nuts are also a lot more economical to use than pine nuts and taste a bit better too.
25g Parmesan cheese, grated
350ml extra virgin olive oil
100g pine/brazil nuts
200g wild garlic leaves, washed and spun in salad spinner
Sea salt and black pepper to season
1. Whizz the nuts in the blender until they are nice and crumbly.
2.Pop the wild garlic leaves in and add the olive oil, give it a few blitzes until you have a nice consistency.
3. Stir in the cheese and season with a little sea salt and black pepper. If you’re using this pesto with pasta, a handy trick is to add a small ladle-full of the cooking water to the pesto and pasta to turn it into a lovely silky sauce that will cling lovingly to the spaghetti.