Cornwall has been blessed with plenty of sunshine-filled days as of late, which encourages wild walks and local exploration. Getting out early in the year gives me time to see the wild ingredients I’m foraging for at their early stages before they’re ready to harvest. I get a real sense of anticipation and promise of good things to come.
It all starts in late February when I start to see wild garlic (also known as ramsom) shooting up its spear-shaped leaves. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, they’re lily-like and their identity can be confirmed with a quick sniff – the garlic smell is unmistakeable!
There are many things you can use the ramson leaves for – from putting a few leaves into your salads, soups and stews to chopping it up and mixing it into your mash potato. Try adding some to an omelette – delicious. You can also mash it into butter that goes well with most things, but is especially good with shellfish.
You may have made a pesto with garlic before, but here’s a recipe I love as it uses all English ingredients and has a unique nuttiness that is versatile. Here it is for you all to enjoy.
100g wild garlic leaves (ramsons are best, but you can use three-cornered leek) washed well
60g hazelnuts roasted until golden then skins rubbed off
60g Lyburns Old Winchester cheese finely grated
160ml Cornish rapeseed oil (olive oil can also be used)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
I like my pesto to have a bit of texture to it, so for this I first pulse the hazelnuts in a food processor until finely chopped, then set to one side.
Place your wild garlic leaves into a blender and blitz them with a little of the oil, which helps them turn over. Once you have a good puree, turn it out into a bowl and add the nuts, cheese, seasoning, lemon zest and more oil until you have the pesto consistency you like.
- You can add some spinach leaves to the pesto at the stage where you are blitzing the wild garlic, to balance out the flavour if you don’t want a full-on garlic hit.
- Keep the pesto in a container in the fridge with a thin layer of oil on the top. This helps stop the garlic oxidising and will help keep it for quite a few weeks.
- Don’t forget that by adding some lemon or lime juice and some more oil, your pesto becomes a fantastic marinade!
It’s great with pasta, of course, but also makes a fantastic salad dressing, a great accompaniment to all sorts of vegetarian and meat dishes, and a great marinade for fish and shellfish when you add some lemon or lime juice. I find chilli is a good added ingredient too, just to spice things up. If you don’t feel like chopping up the chillis yourself, then try a good slug of chilli sauce. I recommend linghams.