Surely one of the most coveted of all wild foods, and certainly a keen contender for my top three, the onset of spring heralds the arrival of wild garlic – although you’ll almost certainly always smell it before you see it – and with it a whole host of culinary opportunities.
Wild garlic is always found in damp, shady locations – its 8in or so long bright green leaves are flat and broad, tapering to a point, and it bears an umbrella of white star-like flowers on a long stem arising from the middle of the plant.
If you’re visiting Fountains Abbey in the next few weeks then you literally can’t miss it, as it’s scattered throughout Fountains and Studley Royal. Your best chance of finding it is on the walk up the hill to Anne Boleyn’s seat, where both sides of a small valley on your right are carpeted, literally carpeted, in wild garlic.
It can be used pretty much interchangeably with normal garlic, but to get you started here are just a few suggestions:
- Finely chop a large handful of wild garlic leaves, then mix well with butter, salt and pepper and spread over toasted bruschetta for a delicious garlic bread.
- Finely chop a large handful of leaves, then put in a blender with a handful of toasted pine nuts (or other nuts), 60 grams of parmsesan, juice from half a lemon and some salt and pepper, then blend for a minute or so, then keep blending whilst slowing drizzling in 150ml of olive oil.
- Slow roast a leg of lamb on a trivet of halved onions and a couple of handfuls of washed wild garlic leaves – pour over a glass of white (or red) wine halfway through if you think the meat is in danger of drying out, and then be sure to deglaze the pan well to make the gravy and not lose any of that delicious flavour.
As with all alliums, the flowers of wild garlic can also be eaten, and make attractive additions to salads – by the time they’ve appeared, however, the plant’s leaves may have become slightly old and tough, so if you are going to forage try and do so before the flowers appear.
Bear in mind that whilst it’s not illegal to forage wild garlic by picking its leaves, it is illegal to dig up the plant by its roots and take it home – although, in all honesty, you probably wouldn’t want to do that anyway, as it’s a somewhat invasive plant that will soon take over an otherwise tranquil garden bed. Better to note where it is and come back again year after year.
Bear in mind also that wild garlic looks rather like the very-much-poisonous lily-of-the-valley, so be sure to pick a leaf and crush it first – if it hasn’t got that tell-tale garlic smell, then you really don’t want to go eating it.