Wild garlic Allium ursinum, aka bear’s garlic, bear leek, wood garlic or broad-leaved garlic, is a plant widely found in Europe and Asia mainly in moist woodland regions. It is a wild relative of the onion but is similar in taste and aroma to garlic. It can grow to heights of between 45 and 50 cm, the leaves start appearing in March and are best picked when young. Both the leaves and flowers are edible. Young leaves are delicious added to soups, sauces and pesto. The flowers emerge from April to June and can add a potent garlic punch to salads and sandwiches.
Picking wild garlic
Once you find wild garlic in a certain place there will probably be an abundance of it. Nevertheless, seek permission or check before you start picking it as in some regions it is under protection. That being said be sure you know how to identify Wild garlic vs. Lily of the Valley. These two plants sometimes grow in similar places and while the first one is perfectly safe and edible the other one is simply poisonous. Please double check.
If you have found a place where you can safely pick the garlic leaves please do so responsibly and take only as much as you will need. Never strip the area completely as this could damage the species and unneccesarily cause harm to wildlife.
By default when one comes across the term pesto it usually refers to pesto genovese which is a sauce/paste, which originated in Genoa, is made from fresh basil, pine nuts, olive oil, salt, garlic and a hard cheese: Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan cheese) or Pecorino (sheep’s cheese).
The term pesto originates from the Genoese verb pestâ (Italian: pestare), which means to grind, to crush. So, essentially, pesto refers to any type of paste in which the ingredients have been assembled together by grinding them together.
That’s why in Italy there are many types of pestos, the most popular being pesto alla siciliana, sometimes called pesto rosso (red pesto), a sauce from Sicily, similar to pesto alla genovese, but with the addition of tomato and almonds instead of pine nuts, and much less basil. There is also pesto alla calabrese – a sauce from Calabria consisting of (grilled) bell peppers, black pepper and more; these ingredients give it a distinctively spicy taste.
Wild garlic pesto
Pesto from wild garlic is made in much the same way as all the famous pestos I have already mentioned. There are substitutes possible which will alter the taste and one can experiment with them as one wants.
- 50 g/ 1.8 oz pumpkin seeds/sunflower seeds/pine nuts/walnuts
- 80 g/ 2.8 oz Parmigiano/Grana Padano/pecorino or other hard cheese of your choice but I advise against sharp-tasting cheeses like cheddar…
- 70 g/ 2.5 oz fresh, rinsed wild garlic leaves
- 150 g/ 5.3 oz olive oil
- 1 tspn salt
Get it done:
- Grind the seeds or nuts with the cheese into a smooth paste. I do this in Thermomix – 10sec/Sp8
- Add the garlic leaves, olive oil and salt. Blend all this into a paste. Thermomix – 20sec/Sp7
- The pesto is ready to use.
- If you want this pesto for later put it into a jar and top it with olive oil.
Changing the ingredients will alter the taste depending on what you prefer. Wild garlic can be bitter depending on when and where it is picked. That is why I like to add ingredients which will smooth out and cream the taste of pesto. I prefer using sunflower seeds to pumpkin seeds and walnuts, but pine nuts are obviously second to none. If you do like it hot and sharp you may use any cheese you prefer; pecorino is definitely saltier than Parmigiano or Grana Padano, the last two add a creamy finish to the paste.
Spaghetti with wild garlic pesto
This is a 15-minute meal.
You may start preparing the pesto the same time you start cooking the spaghetti or any other pasta. When you have prepared the pesto get a deep pan and start heating the pesto in it. Once the pasta is al dente or a tad firm in the middle you want to fish it out and add it to the pesto. The pasta gets fully cooked in the pan. Don’t forget to save a bit of water from the pasta!
The last ingredient is cream. Whatever kind of cream you prefer will do the trick. A cup will suffice and allow the pasta to become covered in the sauce. If it is all still a bit too thick add a bit of the water from cooking the pasta.
Serve straight away, top with a bit of grated cheese.