Being able to go for a walk through the woods and come back with a basket full of fresh, nourishing food that inspires me to cook, makes foraging one of the most rewarding aspects of our new life in the countryside. While it is only just spring, natures buffet has well and truly kicked off with my favourite of edible wild spring greens: wild garlic.
Wild garlic (also known as 'Ramson') can be found at this time of year growing abundantly on shady banks, shielded by woodland canopies. You can often smell them before you see them, especially when their pretty white flowers have bloomed. Nico first introduced me to wild garlic by excitedly thrusting the leaves up to my nose… I thought he was slightly mad at the time but I completely understand now! Both the leaves and flowers are edible raw or cooked. The leaves are best harvested in early spring, just as they start protruding from the ground, however they are still good later on, just a little tougher.
Not only is wild garlic edible but it has the added bonus of being good for you! It’s anti-biotic, anti-bacterial, antiseptic and is particularly effective in reducing blood pressure. All the more reason to add it in to that pasta or stir-fry.
Wild garlic is from the chives family and their flowers can be used interchangeably in recipes. The leaves and flowers have a flavour that is subtler than regular garlic, making it a perfect addition to a wide variety of dishes.
Picking it is easy - once you have identified a patch (squeezing the leaves to unleash that unmistakable aroma is the best way!) pick the leaves and leave the stem. The general foraging rule is not to take more than half of what is there… however if you were to try do that in most places where wild garlic grows, you would be there for days, so just take what you need! Rinse the leaves in a colander and then you are free to use them in whatever you wish!
Jamie Oliver's 'wonderful wild garlic and sausage fusilli' is indeed a wonderful way of using wild garlic. It is so quick, easy and satisfying you’ll be out picking more wild garlic the next day!
2 heaped teaspoons fennel seeds
2 dried red chillies , crumbled
4 higher-welfare coarse Italian or Cumberland sausages
4 handfuls wild garlic leaves , washed
320 g fusilli
freshly ground black pepper
1 small handful Parmesan cheese , freshly grated, plus extra for serving
Bash up the fennel seeds and chillies in a pestle and mortar, then put to one side. Heat a splash of olive oil in a pan on a medium heat. Cut open the sausage skins and squeeze the meat into the pan. Stir it around with a wooden spoon, breaking it up into small pieces so it resembles coarse mince. Fry for a few minutes until the meat starts to colour and the fat has started to render out.
Add the bashed up fennel seeds and chillies to the meat, and cook on a medium heat for around 10 minutes until the meat is crisp, dark golden brown and caramelised. Turn the heat down to low.
Put a large saucepan of salted water on to boil. Blanch the wild garlic in the boiling water for 3 minutes, then scoop out and put in a food processor. Add the fusilli to the water, bring it back to the boil and cook according to the packet instructions.
Blitz the wild garlic leaves in the food processor, until you have a deep green sauce, then add a lug of olive oil, a grating of lemon zest and a pinch of salt and pepper.
When the pasta is al dente, drain it in a colander, reserving some of the cooking water. Put the pasta back in the saucepan and add a splash of the cooking water and a squeeze of lemon juice. Gently stir the lovely green sauce into the pasta to coat it then immediately divide the pasta between your bowls. Top with the delicious crisp sausage meat and a nice grating of Parmesan cheese, and serve.
If you end up having too much wild garlic or you just want to keep the bounty to enjoy through the seasons to come, we find freezing is the best and simplest way of preserving the nutrients and flavour.
To freeze wild garlic, simply rinse in a colander and shake out as much water as possible. Whizz in a mixer or blender and place in a freezer bag or ice cube container (this allows you to pack in portion sized blocks ready to pop out and throw into any dish you fancy!)
We have tried and failed to infuse wild garlic in olive oil (there was a minor fermentation/explosion en-route from Dorset to London, apologies to any South West Trains patrons who may not have enjoyed the carriage smelling of garlic for the entirety of their journey) but pickling is something we are excited about attempting!
If you have any wild garlic preserving tips or recipes you think we should try - let us know!
Chrystall is Co-founder of Great Things To Do and is a Dorset based food and lifestyle photographer and writer. You'll find her in the kitchen baking, foraging around her Dorset countryside home or cosy by the fire with a nice glass of wine.