There are many ways to make wild garlic pesto. Some recipes will have you blanching the wild garlic leaves for a few seconds, others will have you just blitzing everything together. Some are more traditional, suggesting you use a pestle and mortar. Others tout the simplicity of the food processor. Some will specify how much wild garlic, by grams, you need. Others will encourage you to mix up the nuts, swapping out pine nuts for hazelnuts and walnuts. But you know what? They all taste good. The main thing you need to remember is taste as you go, and you’ll create something wonderful. After all, with an ingredient like wild garlic, it’s hard to go wrong.
Wild garlic grows, as you might imagine, wild from March to June, so you can forage it by the basketful, if you’re lucky. My school used to be blanketed with the stuff in the spring. But did I make use of it? Was I even aware of it, beyond the warm pungent smell of garlic everywhere we walked? No. More fool me. Now, it’s hard to find anywhere near me. Alas. Until, of course, I found one bag of it left at Stalks and Stems in Glasgow’s West End. It was like urban foraging (I paid for it, don’t worry – I didn’t take “foraging” that literally) and it was no less satisfying for it. In fact, I was so happy when I spotted it that I grabbed it and, out loud, said, “MINE” to no one in particular.
And then I got to thinking about what to do with it. So far we’ve had it sautéed in butter and served alongside a large cooked breakfast, on toast, and in pesto. Pesto does make incredible use of it – and pushes its longevity, which is no bad thing.
This is a rough recipe, based on one that appears in a few places, including Great British Chefs and this great article on what to do with wild garlic from The Independent. Most recipes cleave to the same essential principles, however, using a handful or two of wild garlic, equal amounts nuts and parmesan (about 50-60g), and adding olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon. Ultimately, it’s a matter of taste – both in terms of seasoning and punch, and consistency.
wild garlic pesto
makes a good-sized jarful
2 handfuls wild garlic
1 handful flat leaf parsley
60g lightly toasted pine nuts (just enough to tinge them golden and release their nuttiness)
Olive oil (a mixture of extra virgin, and mild olive oil)
Squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper, to taste
Blitz the wild garlic, parsley, parmesan and pine nuts together in a food processor until you get a thick paste. Stop and add a pinch of good salt and freshly ground pepper, and a squeeze of fresh lemon.
Whack the food processor back on and start drizzling in the olive oils. A blend of the two kinds of olive oil gives you just the right balance – the peppery grassiness of the extra virgin tempered by the milder stuff.
By the way, some recipes call for about 300ml of oil (150ml of each), but I say, just pour it in slowly until you get the consistency you like, pausing every now and again to dip your spoon in and see if you like what you taste. Does it need more of a top note to balance the pungency of the wild garlic? Add a bit more lemon juice. Does it need a bit more salt to help it sing? Or do you want to add more oil so that it’s a looser mixture? It’s up to you!
When you’re happy, decant it into a clean glass jar and use within a few days, or freeze it and it’ll last a couple of months.
Speaking of freezing: if you’ve found a bumper crop of wild garlic, do what we’re doing and make an extra batch to freeze. Just spoon it into an ice cube tray (one you use for savoury purposes, like flavoured butters, or one you don’t mind donating to this garlicky cause) and freeze. You can leave it in the tray once frozen, or tip them out into a freezer box/bag. That way, when you want a hit of wild garlic, you can just grab the amount you need (e.g. a few cubes at a time).
Another way to give your wild garlic a longer shelf-life would be to finely chop and beat it into some butter and freeze the same way. If you’re using unsalted butter, add a pinch or two of good sea salt, or just use salted. A few minutes work now while wild garlic’s in season means instant springtime flavour whenever you have a hankering.
Wild garlic pesto is delicious tossed through hot pasta (remember to reserve some of the pasta cooking water to help distribute the pesto and emulsify it, giving it a smooth, silky texture, rather than one that’s dry or starchy) or freshly-cooked gnocchi. You can spread it on crunchy sourdough toast and top it with anything from ricotta to hot smoked salmon. Or stir it through boiled new potatoes for a seasonal twist on a potato salad or mix it into a white bean gratin. Ah, the possibilities. Enjoy!