‘You may occasionally find wild garlic for sale in local farmer’s markets, but they grow abundantly, so why not go out in search of your own?’
The days are getting longer and spring is quickly passing. But we still have a little longer to wait until the warm days of summer bring bountiful fresh vegetables to the markets and our kitchens. In the meantime, there are more delicious wild greens to be enjoyed.
Ramsons, also known as wild garlic, are a relative of the chive. Their bright green leaves have a wonderful zingy and slightly picante flavour that wake up the taste buds after a long winter. When cooked their flavour becomes more subtle and sweet. While in season, I like to experiment replacing domestic bulb garlic with the sweeter, more delicate flavour of these wild leaves. They’re delicious eaten fresh in a salad with other spring greens and lightly dressed with a bit of lemon juice and olive oil.
If you haven’t enjoyed any wild garlic yet this year, now is the time to go foraging. The ramson season typically runs from April to the end of May so there are only a couple of weeks left. They grow in woodlands and like damp, acidic soil. You often find them growing alongside bluebells in the forest. But be careful not to confuse the leaves. If you’re lucky, you may even find them in damp areas of your garden under trees. Last weekend I even spotted some urban foragers gathering some along a footpath in Bristol.
The long, pointed leaves droop as they grow older and by this time in the season many ramsons will have put up their delicate white flowers. The flowers are edible and make a pretty and tasty edition to salads or soups. Wild garlic can look similar to poisonous plants like Lily of the Valley, so its important to know what you’re looking for. The pungent aroma is one good identifier, but also be sure to check that the leaf shape and colour is correct. The leaf edges should be smooth with one long vein up the centre and the stalk should be pale green. Remember to forage responsibly, in order to guarantee a strong crop in following years. Never harvest more than ⅓ of the leaves off an individual plant and don’t dig up the bulbs.
In addition to spicing up fresh salads, ramsons can also be lightly wilted and served with other seasonal vegetables or alongside meat and fish dishes. To wilt the leaves, put a small slab of butter in a pan with a few tablespoons of water. Add the leaves when the water starts to boil and cook until the water has evaporated. Serve with roast asparagus drizzled with lemon juice or make a bed of the wilted leaves for your favorite pan fried fish.
Another great way to enjoy ramsons is to make a pesto that can be used as an alternative pasta sauce. I also like to use the delicately garlic flavoured pesto as a seasoning in other dishes. Its great whipped into mash, spooned over fish or even just spread on a piece of crusty bread. You can use this recipe for watercress pesto, just substitute wild garlic leaves for the watercress and omit the garlic cloves. If you’d prefer a richer flavour, you can also try substituting walnuts instead of pine nuts.
As with other fresh greens, ramsons will cook down so its hard to pick too many. If you do find a bumper crop and harvest more than you can eat fresh, you can enjoy the ramson flavours a bit longer by freezing some as pesto. Simply fill ice cube trays with the finished pesto and freeze until solid. The frozen pesto cubes can be taken out of the trays and put in a freezer bag for later use.