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29 June 2015

Foraged Wild Garlic Pesto Pasta



You're on a romantic walk in the woods, you lean in for a kiss and then you smell it. Garlic. But it's not on your lover's breath, it's everywhere!

Back in May I went on holiday with Dan and my parents to the Lake District, it was a great week to relax, get some much needed fresh air and switch off the work phone. I'm a great believer in the work-play divide, however, my boyfriend needs a little more persuasion so heading to the Lake District was the perfect place to force him to stop working by having zero phone signal. I haven't even got round to sorting through the photos from our holiday yet, something my mum is quick to remind me of every week.

 Despite it raining every single day (there's a reason why there are lakes), we did lots of cross country walks, visited National Trust sites and explored the lakes edge. And everywhere we went the smell of garlic followed us, at first I thought it was just us, we're quite big garlic fans, but no wild garlic was growing everywhere. It's the Northern grass replacement! My mum and I had recently bought some at a food festival back home so decided to have a go at foraging a couple of leaves to cook up in our self-catered cottage.

 

 
Wild garlic grows in copious amounts from March to May, but in fact I spotted some the other day down South (the location is strictly confidential) even though we're coming to the end of the season. Word of warning, do not pick and eat plants you are not 100% sure are edible. There is a very similar looking plant called Lilly of the Valley, which is very pretty but highly poisonous, if you're not sure it is wild garlic don't pick it. Wild garlic has clusters of white flowers at the top of the stem, as opposed to Lilly of the Valley's flowers which drop down from the stem at varying points, and always gives a strong smell of garlic in the vicinity. Alternatively buy it from your local food market when it's in season, I know there are growers down in Kent but there names escape me.
 
A simple delicious way to use wild garlic is in pesto form. It's a real easy way to cook it up, and it's garlic taste really compliments the pesto. You can also eat the leaves, stems and flowers in salads, or wilt the leaves like spinach. I used parmesan in this recipe but you could swap it for a hard, mild sheep's cheese that's vegetarian. Tesco stock a vegetarian Manchego cheese in their finest range, which would be a good option. As I've said we're big garlic fans in our house, so I added an extra garlic clove, if you're not a huge fan, leave it out and the leaves will do their garlicky magic. 
 
This pesto is great served simply with a bit of spaghetti, but you could also use it as an alternative to tomato puree on a tart/pizza or mix with a big of yogurt and use it to adorn wraps, dip wedges in or to make very special mashed potato! 
 

 
Wild Garlic Pesto Pasta
(serves 4)
 
6 large wild garlic leaves (equivalent of two large handfuls)
Wild garlic flowers
1 garlic clove
A small handful of basil or other soft herb
2 small handful of pine nuts
1 small handful of mixed pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
1 large handful of grated parmesan or other hard cheese, plus a little extra for topping
1 lemon
Olive oil
350g spaghetti
Salt and pepper
 
Step 1. Put a saucepan of water on to boil with a bit of salt and oil to stop the pasta sticking, cook the pasta so it's al dente, so for about 10 minutes, but just keep checking it after 5 minutes. In a food processor, blend together the wild garlic leaves, basil, the peeled garlic clove and 5 tbsps olive oil.
 
Step 2. Then add 1 small handful of the pine nuts and blend till creamy smooth. Tip the pesto into a bowl and add the parmesan and juice of 1 lemon, stir it all in, then season with salt and pepper to taste. You might want to add a little more oil, we're aiming for a consistency which holds together but only just!
 
Step 3. Drain your pasta. While that's going on, toast the remaining pine nuts, and the pumpkin and sunflower seeds together in a dry pan with a little salt (I like to use green salt, as described in 'my' recipe for rice salad, which is really Ottolenghi's recipe!). When the nuts and seeds are golden brown set them aside. Pour the pasta back into the pan and toss with the wild garlic pesto till it's all evenly coated. Transfer to bowls and serve with the toasted nuts and seeds, remaining cheese and wild garlic flowers sprinkled on top.
 
Step 4. Eat the equivalent of the amount of pasta for four people yourself, with an accompanying bottle of wine.  
 

If anyone else has any recommendations of what food can be foraged that's in season now, please drop me a comment below. I recently learnt, via instagram, that you can eat ferns. Has anyone tried eating ferns?! I'm guessing it's a specific type rather than the whole species!