During this unhinged time, I’ve got to know some of my neighbours a bit better, and they are such a lovely bunch. In a few short weeks, there have been many kindnesses shown, in particular goods exchanged and loaned. One of my neighbours left two jolly parsnips on my doorstep, another brought round some home-grown asparagus! Books have been left on front walls for people to take away and read, and everyone seems willing to help each other out, it’s really cheering. My favourite food swap was for a jar of honey from a neighbour’s beehive: all she requested in return was a bag of dandelions for her pet tortoise, Douglas, age 42. She has had him for three years, and before she got him he was found exploring Tooting High Street on his own. I am told he is quite the rogue, and had to be separated from his ex lady partner as he was excessively randy. Douglas!
Anyway, now’s the time to get your hands on wild garlic. It’s at its peak seasonal moment, and is totally delicious. I do this on one of my daily ‘exit rations’, and head to to a secret spot in my local park where there’s a thick, lush carpet of it, growing like a weed. It’s amazing made into pesto, wilted with scrambled eggs, added to stir-fries and soups, even pickled. It doesn’t have an overwhelmingly garlicky flavour, more of a mellow suggestion, like a cross between garlic and leeks. It grows in shady spots in deciduous woodland, parks, car parks, gardens – some people hate it because it has a tendency to spread all over the place, but I would never complain as I would find ways to eat all of it! Allegedly, it has an abundance of antiviral, antibiotic and antibacterial properties, so I seek it out as much as I can. Just remember to forage responsibly – never dig up the root of the plant, and pick small amounts from each clump so that you’re not decimating the crop, leaving enough for others to enjoy.
Here’s a couple of ideas to make the best of your wild garlic haul – a soup and a Greek-style filo pie.
Wild garlic soup
Vivid green, mellow garlicky and lemony – even my kids will eat this!!!
Serves 6. You will need:
A big bunch of wild garlic – approx 300g, washed well
1 onion, diced
1 can cannellini beans (or butter beans, chickpeas – any pulses ok)
2 small potatoes, cubed
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Vegetable stock cube
Sea salt, black pepper
In a large casserole pan, fry the onion in 2 tbsp olive oil for a few minutes until soft, then add the potatoes and whack the lid on to steam them for 2 minutes, until translucent. Boil a kettle, add about 1/2 litre boiling water to the pan with the stock cube (or more if you require a thinner soup), then add the drained cannellini beans and simmer for about 10 minutes. Roughly chop the wild garlic (stems, leaves, flowers and all) and add to the pan, it will wilt immediately. Add the lemon zest and juice and take the pan off the heat. Using a stick blender, blitz until smooth, season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil on top, grated Parmesan and with chunky toast to dip.
Wild garlic filo pie
If you love Greek spinach and filo pie (spanakopita), chances are you’ll be into this. It’s basically a pie with a similar type of filling, but using wild garlic instead of spinach.
Serves 4 as a main dish. You will need:
1 packet filo pastry
200g wild garlic, washed well (you may want to wilt the chopped wild garlic first, depending on how big and firm the leaves are. If you do, also add 5 handfuls of frozen chopped spinach to the mix, defrosted)
A small bunch parsley (optional)
300g feta cheese
100g melted butter
Optional: zest of half a lemon, a few gratings of nutmeg
Crumble the feta cheese into a bowl, then roughly chop the wild garlic and parsley (if using) and mix together with the defrosted spinach, if using. Add the lemon zest, nutmeg and black pepper. When everything is mixed together, melt the butter.
Clean a wide bit of table surface and lay out 4 sheets of filo pastry, sealing them together at the edges with melted butter. Then brush the whole of the pastry with melted butter before adding subsequent layers of filo pastry on top, so that the pastry is several layers thick.
Then add the filling all along the bottom edge and roll up to make a big sausage – don’t worry if the pastry breaks a bit and the filling spills out, as filo pastry is really fragile. Seal the edges together with melted butter all along the length of the ‘sausage’.
Then (and again, don’t worry if the pastry breaks a bit) roll it up slowly to make a coil, then lift it into a cake tin. If you have any melted butter left, brush the top of the pie with it, then also brush it with the beaten egg. Bake for 35 mins until golden brown on top. Serve with a crunchy salad – eg grated carrot, cucumber, coriander, vinaigrette etc – and a nice cold glass of wine. If you shut your eyes you could pretend you are on holiday away from all the madness?!?! Worth a shot anyway.
See my recipe for wild garlic pesto.