I grew up near a little village called Powerstock in Dorset. I spent a lot of time outside. In the winter, I could be found wrapped up and rambling around the tracks and lanes that knit their way around fields, woodland, spinneys and high banked passes. In the summer, I’d probably be cycling and barging in and out of rivers and hedges making camps with deadwood.
Nothing signified the change in the season to my somewhat unreactive senses like the smell of wild garlic, as its emerald spears force up through the warming earth, sweeping over shaded patches of ground like a soft carpet of new green. The smell is still with me today as real and instant as it was then, triggering my sense memories in the same way each year.
As I boy, I’d boil wild garlic up in one of my many creations that sat simmering over the endless campfires I would make. Such concoctions were not strictly edible but always intriguing to make.
Today I use wild garlic – or ramsons as they are also known – in my cooking throughout the plant’s short season, which runs from roughly March through to late June. The best of the crop is to be picked when it is still young. As a smaller, delicate plant, the flavour is light and clean. It can even be eaten in salads at this point. Big, heavier leaves can be less interesting, although they can still be cooked or dried.
Harvesting is easy and relatively fun, particularly with children in tow. It’s such a common plant, and in some areas it is more than abundant. Look for nice, tender, bright leaves. I use my sharp penknife to cut small bunches at the base of its stalk. It is possible to harvest the bulbs as well. This tubular structure is a modified leaf stem and very similar to our everyday bulb garlic, although if there is very little wild garlic in your patch it may be worth leaving the bulb in situ.
Late on in the season, the flowers can be picked and eaten, too. They’re great in salads but you can also cook them. I’ve got a few interesting recipe ideas for these pretty white flowers in my new book, Gather, out later this year.
I’ve used wild garlic in all manner of recipes, from pesto to soup through to pastries, breads and curries. If you like garlic bread, then try chopping the leaf finely and folding through salted butter, before spreading on a thick slice of granary and toasting. I’ve included a few simple and totally delicious ways to use wild garlic in the following recipes.
Wild garlic, potato and chorizo tortilla
I really enjoy cooking through spring and early summer. It’s a pleasure, particularly if you’ve gone out and picked a little wild garlic beforehand, and this simple breakfast or lunch dish is no exception. Big flavours and easy to find ingredients make it a pretty, reliable, no-hassle fallback.
Heat a heavy-based non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add a dash of olive oil and the butter. When the butter is foaming, add the onions and chorizo. Cook while tossing regularly for six to eight minutes or until the onions are
soft and the chorizo has given up some of its well-flavoured fat. Add the potatoes and toss them about the pan. Cook for further four or five minutes. Now slice the garlic leaves thinly and scatter into the pan. Turn everything together.
Beat the eggs in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Pour the eggs over the chorizo and potatoes; give the pan a little shake. At this point you can either gently cook the frittata on the hob or place it in a medium-hot oven until the eggs are just set. It should take only a few minutes to cook through.
Scatter with parsley and fennel leaves and serve warm with a simply dressed green salad.
- 1 handful of wild garlic
- leaves, rinsed
- 100g of good quality
- chorizo sausage sliced
- into small chunks
- 200g cooked potatoes
- cut into cubes
- 4 large organic eggs
- 1 large onion, peeled
- and thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- A small handful of fennel leaf tops (optional)
- 50g butter
- A dash of olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Wild garlic and onion bhaji with wild garlic raita
These bhajis have become a River Cottage classic. They are cracking with a good curry or served with drinks as a little appetiser.
First, make the raita. Combine the yoghurt with the cucumber, mint and wild garlic and add the salt. Mix well and set aside.
To make the bhajis, combine the gram flour with the ground coriander, cumin, curry powder and salt in a bowl. Turn through the onion seeds, wild garlic and sliced onions. Stirring as you go, gradually pour in the beer or water until you have a nice and smooth, yet very thick, batter – you may not need all the liquid.
Pour the oil into a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan to a depth of about 8-10cm and warm over a medium heat – you want the oil to be hot, but not too hot, because the onions and flour need to cook through without the outside of the bhajis burning – 165°C is perfect. You’ll need to cook them in batches, so don’t overcrowd the pan – drop large spoonfuls ofthe batter into the oil and cook until golden, about four to five minutes, turning once or twice. Drain on kitchen paper briefly and serve hot, with the raita alongside.
(makes about 16 bhajis)
- 100g chickpea flour (also known as gram flour)
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 tbls of medium curry powder
- 1 good pinch black onion seeds
- 3-4 tbsp finely ribboned wild garlic leaves
- 1 large onion peeled and thinly sliced
- 100-120ml beer (or water)
- Groundnut oil for deep frying
For the raita
- 150ml whole yogurt
- ¼ of a small cucumber, peeled and cubed into
- 1cm pieces
- 1 tbls of chopped fresh
- mint leaves
- 1 tbls of chopped wild
- garlic leaves
- 1 pinch flaky of sea salt
Pan fried pollock with ham and wild garlic
This recipe should appeal to those of you with a passion for fish cookery and the occasional woodland forage. I love using air-dried ham, which we make regularly at River Cottage, or you could use free-range or organic bacon.
Heat a medium sized nonstick pan over a medium-high heat. Add the butter and oil. Season the fish with salt and pepper. When the butter is bubbling, add the fish, skin-side down. After a minute or so, tear the ham into pieces and fry for a minute or two, moving it around the fish as it sizzles. Now roughly chop the garlic leaves and add these, too.
They will wilt in the buttery juices quite quickly. Use a spatula to turn the fish and cook for one more minute on the other side, or until it is just cooked through. You can tell that it’s ready by pushing a knife into the thickest part of the fillet and making sure the fish flakes apart.
Bring the fish to the table with some early new potatoes, a good salad and some fresh bread.
- 2 pieces of pollock fillet, 150g each, with
- the skin on
- 4 thin slices of air-dried ham
- 1 small bunch of wild garlic leaves
- 15 g butter
- 1 tbls of olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Taste of Britain
For a celebration of food both foraged and farmed from these shores, tune in to the Food and Farming Awards on 1-2 May on BBC Radio 4