pesto

Inheritance recipe: wild garlic pesto

An occasional series in which I pass on recipes that have been important for our family. They’re mainly for my children, Miriam, Finn and Benjamin, but I like to think other people might stumble across them and enjoy them too.

garlicky stream

Wherever you go and whatever becomes of you three, I hope that you will always be within foraging distance of a patch of wild garlic. Then I will know that you must be near to trees, possibly in ancient woodland, and with luck some running water too.

bend

with anenomes

The wild garlic in ‘our’ woods has been up for about ten days now. It’s one of the heralds of spring round here, part of an overture to the growing season that begins with lesser celandine in March, continues with the garlic and wood anemones. and segues into inky splashes of bluebells all across the banks of the stream.

greens

You can track the progress of spring just by the garlicky smell. This morning I caught a faint tang just before I turned onto the path; soon the entire valley will reek of it. The trees are mostly bare still, but the valley floor is thick with the garlic, along with celandine and wood anemone. While I was picking the leaves I could hear wrens, robins and a nuthatch. A great spotted woodpecker was drumming in the distance.

bud1

I’ve always called the plant wild garlic, but ‘ramsons’ is at least as common a name. It’s also known as stinking nanny and Londoner’s lilies. According to Richard Mabey’s extraordinary book Flora Britannica (you need a copy of this), the Old English root of ‘ramsons’ is hrmsa, a word that crops up in a slew of place names: Ramsey Island, Ramsbottom, Ramsholt, Ramshorn and more.

In a few weeks the woods will be brimming with its starry white flowers. By then, though, it will be too late to forage as once the flowers are out, the leaves become tough and bitter. See if you can get out and find some now, and then try this wild garlic pesto recipe which your dad and I are having on wild (but not foraged) salmon tonight.

Walnut and wild garlic pesto
Traditionally, you make pesto with pine nuts but they are expensive so I decided to use walnuts instead. What follows is adapted from a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe here. I’ve probably already told you: if I could only have one cookbook it would be Hugh’s River Cottage Veg Every Day.

ingredients

You will need:

  • About three large handfuls of wild garlic – around 75g
  • 50g walnuts (without shells, obviously)
  • 35g hard, mature cheese. Parmesan is the obvious choice; I used a hard goat cheese; a salty, grainy Pecorino would also be good, or you could use a vegan substitute
  • Zest and juice of half a lemon
  • About 120ml extra virgin olive oil

Put the walnuts in a baking tin and roast at 180 degrees for about eight minutes. Use a timer: they will go from toasty brown to blackened cinder in seconds. Leave to cool.

Wash and dry the wild garlic thoroughly (chances are you’ve picked it somewhere muddy), chop it roughly and throw it in a food processor. A liquidiser would probably work too.  Add the cooled nuts, the finely grated cheese and the lemon zest. Blitz to a paste.

processor

Leave the processor running, add the lemon juice and then the oil in a steady stream. The pesto will be quite sloppy but it firms up a bit in the fridge.

finished pesto

The end result is DayGlo bright with a big, gutsy flavour that explodes in your mouth. It can be a bit throat-catching when you first taste it, but it calms down once it’s incorporated with other ingredients in a meal. You could always add a handful of (preferably flat-leaf) parsley to take the edge off.

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savoy pesto

A spat blew up last week which encompassed the best and the worst of this country’s attitude to food. It particularly caught my eye because it involved kale, a vegetable that is on my mind at the moment.

Jack Monroe, the feisty and fabulous food writer and anti-poverty campaigner, snagged herself some bargain kale from the supermarket and had the frankly brilliant idea of whizzing it up into some pesto.

Jack, who knows a thing or two about living below the breadline, always costs her recipes meticulously. This one worked out at a princely 15p per portion.

She then published a slightly revised version of the recipe in her Guardian column: with spaghetti and a few embellishments, the whole meal still worked out at only 42p a head.

For reasons I still cannot fathom, this sparked a frothing fit of abuse from Daily Mail journalist Richard Littlejohn. You can read it in a screenshot on Jack’s blog here, and also her wonderful response.

I really do not understand why some people get so very, very angry at the suggestion that people on a low income might care about the food they eat. (I realise this is not all that contributed to Littlejohn’s apoplexy but it is a good part of it.)

As I witnessed in Bulgaria, this attitude seems to be a peculiarly British thing and is not, on the whole, the case in mainland Europe and beyond. Joanna Blythman describes it well in her excellent book Bad Food Britain:

In nearly every country in the world where the population is not on the brink of starvation, the selection and preparation of food is seen as a fundamental life-enhancing activity, a zone of existence where it is within every individual’s grasp to make each day that bit more pleasurable. Good food is seen as a democratic entitlement, so a labourer expects to sit down to much the same food as the business executive. The ingredients may vary in quality, but the menu structure and choice of dishes is essentially the same.

I’d been planning to go and buy some kale so that I could try Jack’s recipe, but then I saw in another interview that she had described it as ‘basically cabbage’ and I realised I could substitute some of the enormous Savoy cabbage that has been kicking around our fridge for a few days.

This is my version of Jack’s recipe. I added some flat leaf parsley because it was growing in the garden. It enhanced the taste and really rescued the appearance –  the Savoy looked rather anaemic once pestoed and definitely loses out to kale in the beauty stakes.

I used olive oil instead of sunflower because I prefer the taste but I realise that does make it quite a bit more expensive.

The chilli was a frozen one that I didn’t even bother to defrost – I only found out recently that they freeze well, which is useful as supermarkets often have quite large packs marked down on the nearly-past-the-sell-by-date shelves.

We had it on spaghetti and it was delicious. I would probably halve the amount of chilli if I was feeding this to children.

pesto

Savoy pesto

200g Savoy cabbage, sliced and washed
1 fat bunch of flat leaf parsley
1 chilli, sliced
100g strong Cheddar (any kind of flavoursome hard cheese would do), grated
150ml olive oil
juice of one lemon
100ml water

Pile everything into a food processor and whizz until almost smooth. Makes loads. Stir a generous tablespoon per person into hot pasta and eat, reflecting on the democratic right to pleasurable, life-enhancing food. Then go and try some more of Jack’s excellent recipes.

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