Growers refer to this time of the year as the “Hungry Gap”. Produce is sparse but, if you know where to look, there are a few gems to be found.
Wild garlic, also known as “bear’s garlic”, “devil’s garlic” and “stinking Jenny” is rampant at the moment. It grows near water in wooded areas and is free for the picking. Unlike the bulb variety, you use the broad, verdant leaves. They’re easily identified by their pungent scent and delicate white flowers. Be careful though, the leaves are similar to toxic bluebell leaves so give them a good rub and sniff well to make sure you’ve got the right one. Pick from a slope too as there’s less chance that a dog has been to visit.
When you’ve picked a sufficient amount, wash it well and you’re ready to go. You can eat it raw but there’s a fiery heat to it and it’s outrageously garlicky. Blanch the leaves in boiling salted water for 30 seconds and refresh in ice cold water.
Wild garlic pesto is a good recipe to start with. Use a handful of blanched garlic and blend it with a handful of parsley, 50g toasted walnuts, 50g grated Parmesan and 125ml Broighter Gold rapeseed oil. Check seasoning and use to spread on toasted artisan bread, with roast chicken, tossed into pasta or with grilled lamb and beef. The possibilities are endless. Wild garlic only has a limited season so enjoy it now while you can. I’ve tried many ways to preserve it but it loses its punch in the process.
When the flowers turn to buds, give them a wash, pat them dry with kitchen paper and place in a jar. Cover with vinegar – use a few of the buds in dishes to give you that wild garlic scent all year round.
My favourite thing to do with wild garlic is to combine it with potatoes and cabbage in a cake and serve it with really good bacon. Peter Hannan of the Meat Merchant in Moira has developed a bacon, smoked over apple and cherry wood that’s pretty much as good as pork will ever get. Top it with a Cavanagh egg from Fermanagh for a really lovely dish.
I’ve been in London for a week and came home to an unexpected treasure. My herb boxes are completely bursting with fennel, oregano, angelica and mints that I presumed wouldn’t be up for another month. A bonus was that I hadn’t, as per the norm, killed the whole lot of them with neglect and the least green fingers known to human kind. Herbs like this can’t be bought in supermarkets and they have flavours you can’t buy. Snip them frequently and they’ll grow back even more vibrant.
My other recipe is for a herb tear and share bread. I’ve used hard herbs in the dough and then soft herbs blended into an oil, some brushed over the top and the rest for dipping.
Now is the time to either gather up that free wild garlic or splash out on a few herbs from your garden centre. They’re the gift that keeps giving.