Thursday, 12 April 2012

Wild garlic

I have a bit of a confession to make to you, dear reader.  During my week off, not only did I make cheese, but I also kind of went foraging.  I know, I know, we hate people who go foraging, right?  They're so wholesome and self-righteous and they somehow look particularly attractive when they've just been rained on, unlike the rest of the general populus.  When you're sat on a sofa in North London watching Valentine Warner meandering around the bucolic West Country, digging for truffles with an excitable scamp of a spaniel, you can't help but waggle your fist at the TV.  It hardly gives you inspiration for the impending Morrisons shop.

But these days I live back in Norfolk, and whilst I have less friends than I do saucepans, I have woodland a-cocking-plenty.  It only makes sense to do a bit of scampering and frolicking from time-to-time in these circumstances. Now, I'm not talking mushrooms, I'm not crazy.  I get paranoid enough cooking prawns; I couldn't take the ensuing 24 hours of ambiguity after scoffing down that particular bounty; jumping at the merest stomach gurgle or change in body temperature.  I was useless at spot the difference as a child and I don't fancy playing that game with a copy of Wild Food and an indistinct patch of fungus. 

Wild garlic, however, is pretty hard to get wrong, thanks to its overpowering aroma of - yes you guessed it - sausages! garlic!  We're really talking 'The Dummies Guide to...' level of foraging.  I picked it myself for the first time last year when we went for a walk in a bluebell woods in Essex (bluebells and wild garlic tend to go hand-in-hand so if you know somewhere with the former then you'll be on the right track). I was poncing around, no doubt cursing my unsuitable woodland footwear or something, when Ben and his Mum pointed it out.  I was all like, 'hang on a minute, we're a long way from River Cottage here, are you 100% sure this isn't going to kill me?'. After all, stumbling across a trendy ingredient dotted around your feet seems suspiciously too good to be true. But after picking a few leaves it was impossible to deny this was a member of the garlic family and - having not come prepared with suitable receptacles - I had a difficult time smuggling it out past the warden inconspicuously in my handbag.

We were admittedly a little early in the season this year when we went out cruising (that makes it sound like cottaging doesn't it? We weren't cottaging, honest) the woods at Ashwellthorpe.  When we got there we could see the tips of bluebell plants but no actual flowers, so I was fairly ready to throw a gastronomic strop, assuming there would be no garlic.  Exploring a bit further in, however, we did find a substantial patch.  You're looking for the above, rather unremarkable looking leaves - usually accompanied by a spindly white flower once they've grown a bit bigger than this - and yeah, the smell.
So if you want to get one over on the Valentine Warners and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstalls (praise be to him) of this world, then nabbing yourself a bit of wild garlic is a good place to start. Below are two ways I used it, but you can basically use it in any recipe where you would use regular garlic and herbs.  I'm afraid I've gone and done another annoying thing and used a goose egg in one of the recipes, but there were some for sale on the side of the road when we went to the woods (we don't have regular public transport round here, but we do have a delectable selection of products which you can buy from people's driveways).  If you're sitting there going, 'where the friggin Jesus does she expect us to find a goose egg' - they probably do them in Waitrose, but I also have it on good authority that you can boil chicken's eggs and dip stuff in them too.  Whoduthunkit.  

Wild garlic pesto

Before moving on to the recipe I should probably apologise for the ghastly arrangement above.  The 'jar of green stuff' look wasn't working for me so I decided to try and jazz it up a bit.  What I was left with was the featured 'Cath Kidston burka', which was arguably worse, but I can only take so many photos before I get monstrously bored. 

Pesto isn't an exact science, it tends to be a bit of a taste and adjust type of thing, so the below is merely a guide.

2 handfuls of wild garlic leaves
1 handful basil
1 handful grated parmesan
1 handful of toasted pine nuts
Juice of half a lemon
Big slug of olive/rapeseed oil

Shove it all in a blender and ta-da! 

Goose egg with wild garlic and anchovy soldiers

1 goose egg per person (or two hen's eggs)
Enough softened butter for the amount of toast you want (plus a bit more, cos this is a treat)
One wild garlic leaf per piece of toast
Half an anchovy per piece of toast

To soft boil our goose eggs I did them for about 8 minutes. Whilst boiling, slice your garlic and anchovy very finely - so it's pretty much a paste - and mash into your butter. In the last few of minutes of boiling do your toast (I'm not going to tell you how to make toast, if you can't do that then you're beyond my help).  Remove eggs from pan, spread toast etc. Be warned, a goose egg won't fit in your regular egg cup, so unless you're Verruca Salt you'll probably need to fashion something with a ramekin and a piece of kitchen roll like we did. 

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