March 31 2012

Wild about garlic

Leeks, oysters and rhubarb; purple sprouting broccoli, lamb and British asparagus: such are the flavours that herald the arrival of spring – if you can’t make a celebratory feast out of such a glorious shopping list, you have no rite to call yourself a foodie. But don’t allow the brightest seasonal superstars to distract you from one of Britain’s most overlooked treasures, growing freely (literally) in a hedgerow near you right now.

Wild garlic grows plentifully in and around areas of mature woodland, and is especially abundant around Bath. At first glance, it’s easy to mistake the clusters of tiny white, star-shaped flowers for some variation on snowdrops, but close up, you’ll notice slender, spear-shaped, vivid green leaves and a pungent, garlicky aroma that belies the milder flavour of the plant itself. Pick the leaves (and the flowers, to use as an interesting garnish) but leave the bulbs alone; they won’t mature for at least three years yet (if at all) – at this stage, their gift to you is a strictly topsoil treat.

Use rinsed raw wild garlic leaves to add a subtle garlicky backdrop to salads, or chop finely and sprinkle over warm pizzas, hot soup, pasta sauces or an omelette. It makes a lovely pesto (processed with olive oil, pine nuts and parmesan cheese), loves lamb and has a natural affinity with spring onion mash, while the pretty, mildly-flavoured white flowers can be scattered over almost anything (except, perhaps, that rhubarb).

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