What to do with nature's most delicious wild garlic
Date published: Monday, 14th March 2016
Wild garlic plant
If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure to catch a whiff of garlic. Wild garlic is bursting out on shady banks and under deciduous trees, easy to spot by the lush patches of broad satiny leaves, the colour of fresh spinach but more finely textured.
A little nervous of rummaging around in the undergrowth for your foodstuffs? I don’t blame you – mushrooming gives me the collywobbles, as every edible species seems to have a deadly doppelganger.
But forage is so mainstream now that chefs are using everything from seaweed to stinging nettles in dishes and Rene Redzepi of the much feted Noma in Copenhagen even has a dedicated forage section in his kitchen, alongside meat, fish, and vegetables.
More to the point, foraging is delicious and free – what’s not to love?
Our very best garlic recipes
Wild garlic is a great place to start on the forage footpath. It’s prolific - the old English name for it is ramsoms, from the same root as rampant, running without check. So while the usual wild food rules apply (never pick more than half what is there) there’s little risk of endangering the species.
Although the leaves can be confused with poisonous plants like young fox glove, lords and ladies, and lily of the valley, that garlic pong is a dead give away.
Crush any leaf you aren’t sure about and discard any that don’t smell powerfully garlicky, bearing in mind that a light scent might be just what is still clinging to your fingers from previous checks. Once your eye is in – and it won’t take long – you will be able to gather confidently.
No time for a country walk? Look out for bunches of wild garlic in markets and greengrocers, who are happy to save us the trouble of getting mud on our shoes.
Once you have your haul, there are plenty of ways to use it. Anywhere where you’d use leeks or garlic will be an excellent bet. The leaves are good raw, but very garlicky indeed, so be circumspect when adding them to salads, say. Whizzing them into an emerald garlic butter or a dark pesto is a safer bet.
Cooking tempers the flavour a great deal, meaning you can wilt the young leaves and stems down like spinach. Wash them well and pop them in a pan with the water that clings to the leaves and a spoonful of butter, cover the pan and cook briskly.
Season with salt and pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice if you like. Or add them to a soup – stirring them in towards the end to keep more of the pungent flavour.