Get stuck in (Picture: Getty)
If you’ve been out and about on your walks recently, you may have smelt a very familiar kitchen aroma.
Spring is wild garlic season which means that many forests and green spaces have been giving off that unmistakable garlicky smell.
The ingredient is very popular in the UK and now is the perfect time of year to forage it and use it for pesto, pasta, salad and soup dishes.
But before you go into the woods hunting for it, there are a few important things to remember. After all, you need to be sure you’re picking the right thing (nothing poisonous) and you don’t want to cause and harm to the environment in the process.
Forager Alysia Vasey, who supplies many of the UK’s leading chefs with ingredients, knows a thing or two about wild garlic – and frequently makes oils, pesto and even chemical peels with the produce.
She’s offered some top tips on spotting and picking it, in a safe way.
Alysia tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Wild garlic has arrow shaped leaves that are quite wide and can grow up to 50cm tall. The stalks are white and it will either carpet an area or grow in significant clumps. The flowers are white and five pointed.’
‘It also loves the shade and damp places – so the best place to find wild garlic is in ancient woodland and along the banks of rivers.
‘It’s said the Romans allegedly planted it along the Great North Road (A1) to feed the army as it marched.’
The reason you’ve probably smelt it recently is because it pops up around March-time and is best picked as young as possible. Flowers emerge from April to June, as the season progresses.
Spring is the perfect time to find wild garlic (Picture: Getty)
In terms of the harvesting process, it’s vital to keep an eye out for dangerous plants.
Alysia says: ‘There are three poisonous plants that grow amongst it. The first, Dogs’s Mercury, is very different to wild garlic so you will notice immediately this intruder in your bunch.
‘The next is Lords and Ladies which has similar leaves when young, it has a flat green leaf often with dark spots on it.
‘Finally, Jack in the Pulpit – which is not very common but does have similar looking leaves, but glossy.
‘Just make sure that what you have in your hand is wild garlic leaf only and cut with a knife as the bulbs are so small they are not worth bothering with. They are also on the Defra list as protected, much like bluebell bulbs.
‘To pick it, use a knife to cut the stalks and wear gloves if you can. After a while the natural acids can sting a bit, if you don’t.’
For those not clued-up, Alysia also explains how wild garlic differs to the bulbs we usually buy and how it can be used in the kitchen.
She adds: ‘Wild garlic is a leaf as opposed to a bulb, the flavour is still strong in every part of the plant.
‘It goes through several stages that are of use in the kitchen.
‘First the leaf stage, then a layer of micro garlic grows underneath the main plant which is great for dressing salads.
‘Then we have the stalks, which can be used like spring onions and the flowers can be pickled or added to butters.
‘Then the seed pods, where there is a two week gap before the seed forms, and you have a pod that is minuscule but bursts with the intense flavour of a whole bulb of garlic.’
Guidelines for foraging:
- Only pick where it’s in abundance
- Try and get the landowner’s permission, if possible
- Leave enough for wildlife
What can you make with wild garlic?
‘Wild garlic is a very versatile ingredient. If you think of it like a herb you can substitute it into a lot of recipes,’ says Amy Elles, chef patron of The Harbour Café.
‘Some of my favourite things to put it with are: boned and stuffed leg of lamb with anchovies, wild garlic and black olives, lobster (wild garlic butter), whole brown trout stuffed with wild garlic and lemon, chicken (wild garlic mayonnaise), smoked mackerel and wild garlic pate.
‘If all else fails then slice it thinly and use as a garnish on top of everything.’
Below are two other recipes to try with wild garlic:
Wild garlic risotto, by Italian Embassy chef Danilo Cortellini:
So vibrant and delicious (Picture: Thomas Alexander)
- 300 g of Riso Gallo Carnaroli Sustainable
- 90 g of grated Grana Padano cheese
- 100 g of onion (finely chopped)
- 40 g of unsalted butter
- 1 litre of vegetable or chicken stock
- 100 ml of dry white wine
- 250 g of wild garlic
- 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
- 100 g of fresh ricotta cheese
- 1 lemon
1. Start with the wild garlic puree. Rinse and pat dry the wild garlic, discard only the very large and bulky stalks to use in the stock and the flowers as garnish if you wish. Everything else can be used. Once dry quickly blanch in salted boiling water the garlic until soft. This will take no longer than one minute. Now blitz the garlic in a food processor adding a bit of the cooking water if necessary.
2. For the risotto, gently fry the chopped onion in a small pan with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt for about 10-15 minutes on low heat, until well golden and caramelised. Keep to one side.
3. Toast the rice on a low heat with a pinch of salt, without adding oil or fat. Keep stirring the rice, so the rice does not catch on the bottom of the pan or burn. When the rice is very hot, pour the white wine in. Let the alcohol evaporate, set the cooking time to 15 minutes and add the simmering stock a ladle at a time, little by little. Stir the rice occasionally and keep cooking.
4. Halfway through the cooking, add the caramelised onion to the rice and wild garlic puree and keep stirring. At this stage you want to check if the ricotta is too watery as it could mess with the texture of the risotto. Get rid of the water by draining it with a colander.
5. Once the cooking time of the risotto is up, if you’re happy with the texture remove it from the heat.
6. Add the grated Grana Padano cheese and butter to the rice and stir with energy to incorporate extra air until the risotto is nice and creamy. Season to taste and add a splash of lemon juice.
Chicken and wild garlic, by Macknade:
- Oil for pan
- 50g well-seasoned flour
- 3 chicken legs
- 100ml cream
- 250g mushrooms, halved
- 2 cloves of smoked garlic – finely sliced
- Handful of wild garlic
- 400ml chicken stock
- Lemon zest
- Splash of white wine
- Handful of tarragon, chopped
- Add oil to pan over a medium to high heat.
- Coat chicken legs in well-seasoned flour.
- Brown chicken legs thoroughly in pan.
- Remove chicken and set aside, lower heat and add sliced garlic and mushrooms.
- Cook until softening before de-glazing the pan with a good splash of white wine.
- Return chicken legs to the pan and cover to three quarters with hot chicken stock.
- Bring to a simmer and cover, cooking for 25-30 mins – or until legs are cooked through.
- Remove chicken from pan and add cream and tarragon.
- Simmer until thickened before returning chicken to pan with a good handful of fresh wild garlic.
- Heat through for a couple more minutes before sprinkling with fresh lemon zest and pepper.
- Serve as a light lunch with crusty bread.
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