My favourite season may be autumn but who wouldn’t love spring? When almost suddenly, after a long grey period, there are colours all around. Greening trees, yellow daffodils, blue hyacinths. The smells of spring are even more enticing. Freshly cut grass, blossoming gorse bushes and fresh crisp mornings with a promise of a sunny day.
Walks and runs are becoming more interesting, there are suddenly things going on…plants, animals, everything is waking up. One of the ultimate spring signs for me is a little green plant with a distinctive smell and taste. Wild garlic. Called ‘bear’s garlic’ in Slovakian, this plant with dark green leaves at first and beautiful white flowers later on, is bursting with flavour and is the first dose of natural vitamins available after the winter hibernation.
Wild garlic is very popular in Slovakia, growing happily in woods and creeks, free for all. Sure, the climate in Ireland is similar and it’s even more humid – it must be everywhere here as well, me thinks. So I went into to the woods, searching high and low but no luck, I am afraid. Well, that was last year…
This year, I had a better idea and asked people who actually might know. (All hail Facebook!) I was right and the power of community demonstrated itself once again. Lovely people identified a couple of spots in and around Dublin (Phoenix Park next the the American Embassy and the Knocksinna Wood in Enniskerry, to be precise) and they were really spot on. Being a very happy bunny, I picked enough leaves to eat raw and make some pesto from the rest.
The Allium Ursinum plant can be invasive so if there is a place it likes, it can overgrow there really fast. I still made sure though I only took as little as I needed and didn’t damage any other plants. You know, like a sensible human being.
The raw leaves can be added to a green salad or used as a garnish for savory meals. My favourite use is simple though – on top of an open sandwich of sourdough bread and butter. A version with spreadable cheese works very well too.
The collected leaves will last for a few days in the fridge, in an airtight container. You can also pick them leaving longer stems and store them in a bouquet in a glass of water in the fridge.
They can be also frozen I hear but I haven’t tried that yet so cannot vow they won’t turn into a gooey mess when defrosted. I will try it though because any way to reminisce about Spring when there is a winter storm behind the window is very appealing.
What I did try, and with a decent level of success may I say, was making a few jars of wild garlic pesto. There are a good few recipes online, I picked the Donal Skehan one and adapted it a little.
As with any pesto, it’s a combination of a green part, a cheesy part, a nutty part and an oily part. These are mixed together with some basic seasoning to a consistency you like.
200g wild garlic leaves (washed and stringy stems removed)
100g nuts (mixture of pine & pistachio)
300ml ‘pure’ olive oil (the normal one)
Juice of half a lemon
Put all the ingredients into a blender/mixer and mix together. Loosen with some more oil if you want. Pour into sterilised jars and cover with olive oil to create a seal.
The above made about 3 cups of finished product, so you can half it if you prefer. Also, this batch was too much for my blender to handle at once so I made it in two batches.
It lasts in the fridge between one week and one year, apparently. Well, go figure. I’d say if you pour a bit of olive oil on top to recreate the seal, it will last for a good while. There is no chance of that happening to my batch because I like it so much I put it in and on everything. And I mean *everything*…on a piece of bread with cheese or a hard boiled egg, stirred into a creamy veggie soup, on a savoy cabbage roll, on scrambled eggs and mixed with brie and gnocchi or pasta. Let’s just say I may be making another batch soon…as I cannot wait to try out more recipes to use the leaves I found online.
A word of caution to wrap it up though – it is quite a pungent condiment so I advise you to keep a toothbrush closeby…:)