Friday, 1 April 2011

recipe: wild garlic pesto

Things have been a little quiet around here as we have navigated our way through a sea of illness. A very nasty headcold has worked through the children and me, and has resulted in a chesty cough that has kept us from work and school for a few days. We've had an amazingly healthy winter season, so this first-week-of-Spring sickness caught us by surprise.
Last week, though, just before we started dropping like flies, we went on our first foraging adventure of the new season. Wild garlic grows abundantly across Devon - our wet, warm climate and forested areas create ideal conditions for this pungent relative of cultivated garlic to thrive. For the next month or so, wherever you go in our area you will be overwhelmed by the heady scent. Towards the end of the garlic season, forest floors will be carpeted in the spangled white flowers that dance above the long green leaves. Wild greens are packed full of vitamins and minerals - they are generally even more healthy for us than cultivated greens.
We took a bag to a local spot away from roads to collect the first fresh garlic leaves to make pesto.

If you don't have access to wild garlic, you could substitute rocket, chard, dandelion or any other green...just add more garlic cloves to the mix. I use a hand blender to make mine, but you could just as easily use a food processor or a standard blender, or, if you have the time and the muscle, you could make an even more flavoursome version using a pestle and mortar.
Wild Garlic Pesto

large bunch of wild garlic leaves
1 cup nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pinenuts or any combination of nuts you like)
3 cloves of cultivated garlic
3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt (taste as you season; you will need more or less depending on how salty your cheese is)
1 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese (pecorino works fine, and is a little less expensive)
Wash the garlic well and pat dry - I put all the leaves in a big bowl of water, agitate, drain and repeat. Don't collect garlic leaves near roads or other sources of pollution and look for patches that are away from the edges of paths (you don't want leaves that have been urinated on by passing dogs!). Put the nuts on a baking tray and place in a medium oven for 5-10 minutes, or until they just start to colour (watch them - the moment you look away they will burn!). Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. Meanwhile, put garlic leaves and garlic cloves in your blender jug with 1/4 tsp of salt and 1/4 cup olive oil. Blend for a few seconds to begin breaking leaves down. Add nuts and another 1/4 cup oil and blend to a smooth paste. Add more olive oil as you blend to keep a loose paste consistency. When evenly blended, stir in the grated cheese. Add more salt if necessary. Makes approximately two cups.
You can now either decant into a very clean jar, pressing pesto down to remove any air pockets, and top with one centimeter of olive oil (the oil will exclude oxygen from the pesto, preserving it longer), or spoon into an ice cube tray and freeze. The fresh pesto will keep for up to three weeks in the fridge (perhaps longer if you ensure it has a layer of olive oil) or 6 months in the freezer (heck, it'll probably keep forever in the freezer!). Freezing it in cubes means you can just take out what you need.
We like our pesto on hot pasta with chopped tomatoes and white beans or smeared over pizza bases and topped with goats cheese. The fresh, uncooked pesto is quite spicy, but once cooked through becomes mild. Leftover fresh leaves can go into your salad to be eaten raw (the flowers look and taste beautiful, too), can be wilted through hot pasta or chopped and sprinkled over scrambled eggs.

Just make sure you're not planning any passionate kisses after eating this!


  1. Oh, yum! How lucky you are to have wild garlic growing around you. What a beautiful blog. I found you through flickr, the 4 Seasons Exchange pics. I'm going to start following your blog. :) --Jennifer

  2. Thank you for your kind words and for reading. I should confess that I've been reading yours for some time, and find it very inspirational! :-)

  3. wonderful!
    passionate kisses...i wish!