Wild About Garlic
The highlight of the spring time for me is being able to pickWild Garlic (Allium Ursinum). This lush green plant carpets many of the woodlands in Leeds and takes centre stage in the meals provided at each of my walks through its season. It’s little star shaped white flowers form garlic-scented constellations on the woodland floor and, on a sunny day, their smell fills the air. It’s one of the best plants for beginners as confusing it with other inedible plants is virtually impossible, especially once the flowers are out. The main confusion that arises in its identification are between it and its edible cousins from the Allium family such as Sand Leeks (also known as Rocambole) andThree Cornered Garlic . All of which are also edible and delicious. As a general rule of thumb, if it looks sort of like the photo on the left and when you crush it, it smells of garlic, it’s probably edible*.
So…what can you do with it? It’s great in stir fries withJelly Ear mushrooms, baby sweetcorn, and sugarsnap peas (or anything else you have lurking in the fridge!), it makes wonderful soup, scrumptious garlic bread and great risotto with either mushrooms or left over roast chicken and some good quality stock. However, the best recipe of all has got to be Wild Garlic Pesto. My Wild Garlic Pesto recipe was included in the article “Go Wild in the Country” that was published in the Big Issue in the North earlier this month and you can read it here: Page 1 and Page 2. Once you’ve made your Wild Garlic Pesto, there is no limit to what you can make with it. I have stirred it into omlettes with some thinly sliced, sauteed mushrooms to make a rather green meal and I’ve had it in sandwiches with roast turkey breast and stirred through pasta (of course). The best use however has got to be as a topping on pizza. So at the bottom of this post you will find my pizza dough recipe which you can use to make your amazing Bocconcini, Mushroom and Tomato pizza with Wild Garlic Pesto. And the best part? It doesn’t leave your breath reaking of garlic for hours after!
At the last wild food walk we feasted on Wild Garlic pesto pasta salad, a nettle and ground elder pie (because there must always be pie) and my latest invention; a Japanese Knotweed cake with a sticky Japanese Knotweed icing. Peter and I have taken to calling it Fubarb due to its uncanny resemblance in taste to that wonderful plant**.
With the lovely weather we’ve been having, my morel patch has continued to fruit;sending up yet more little brown elfen caps. For some reason, they remind me of the hat that Noddy wore in the children’s books by Enid Blyton. Especially this one specimen where the cap was growing out at a funny angle. I was a great fan of hers growing up and many an evening was spent with my nose buried in “The Faraway Tree”. I used to get so engrossed in my books that I didn’t even want to stop reading them to be able to walk around school. As a result, I perfected the art of reading a book while walking around The Mombasa Academy without bumping into trees, poles, other students or worst yet, our headmaster, Mr Upal.
I dried this second batch of morels rather low-techily (yes…that is a word) by putting them on top of a wire cake cooling rack and leaving them on a sunny window sill. They’ve dried just fine (albeit rather slowly) and saved me getting the beast of a dehydrator down from the attic.
Bocconcini, Mushroom and Tomato Pizza with Wild Garlic Pesto
Bocconcini are teeny little balls of buffalo mozarella. They make an excellent pizza topping because they taste great and require no preparation. Just chuck them on the pizza and off you go! My tomato topping is a super simple concoction of tomatoes, onions and garlic cooked in extra virgin olive oil and flavoured with fresh basil and black pepper. I tend to make it in huge batches then bottle it to use later in the year. Bottling it means I don’t need to use precious freezer space and it’ll last for months!
650g Strong White Flour
25ml Olive oil
50ml Warm Milk
1/2 tsp sugar
325ml Warm Water
Preheat oven to 180C
Make a mound with the flour and salt and hollow out the middle (it should look a bit like a volcano). Mix the yeast with the warm milkand sugar and leave in a warm place to go frothy and rise. Stir the oil and water into the yeast mixture then pour into the middle of the volcano. Gradually mix all ingredients together and knead into a soft dough. If it’s a bit dry, add a little more water but if it comes out sticky, do not add more flour, continue to knead it until it stops sticking to you. A wetter dough makes for a much lighter crust. Cover the dough with oiled cling film and leave in a warm place to prove until doubled in size. Knock the dough back then divide into 6 balls (each will make an 8″ base) and roll out on a surface dusted with fine semolina. Bake on a preheated baking sheet (or better yet, a hot pizza stone) for 2 minutes to allow it to firm up slightly. This will stop you from getting a soggy bottom on your pizza. Then slather on your tomato sauce, dot with sliced mushrooms, bocconcini, chopped tomatoes and dot with the Wild Garlic Pesto. Bake for another 10-15 minutes or until the cheese has melted and gone golden. Slice and enjoy!
*Usual foraging rules of ‘if in doubt, keep it out’ still applies so confirm your ID in your guidebook before eating anything!
** Please be very careful when picking this plant that you do not drop even a single leaf of it down anywhere as it will grow and given the horribly invasive, virtually impossible to eradicate nature of this plant, doing anything to help it spread is actually illegal.