For me, the arrival of wild garlic or ransoms, as they are also known, heralds the beginning of spring. Growing in woodlands, often near bluebells, the leaves of this luscious plant have the distinctive aroma of garlic although they are slightly milder in flavour to domestic garlic.
I have my ‘special’ little spot for foraging, which is in the wider countryside. Being a responsible forager, I am always careful to take only the leaves of the plant, never uprooting the bulbs or trampling on neighbouring plants. Using scissors, I clip the larger leaves, leaving the flowers and small buds for others. It is also advisable to wear protective gloves as stinging nettles happily share the growing space, however the odd bit of nettle works beautifully in many recipes alongside wild garlic.
Wild garlic can be used raw in salads and sauces, and is interchangeable with other soft summer herbs such as basil, chives or parsley. I love to use it in soups, risotto and as a stuffing for sardines. It is particularly nice mixed into mayonnaise to be used in fresh crab salad.
The following recipe is perfect for wild garlic, using it in the gnocchi as well as in the pesto. Gnocchi is a perfect do-ahead dish for entertaining, as it is best made and cooked from frozen. The pesto sauce also keeps very well in the fridge and can be frozen in ice cube trays for perfect portioning!
Potato Gnocchi with Wild Garlic Pesto
800g (1 ¾ lb) warm and very dry mashed potato (use floury potatoes such as Maris Piper or King Edward)
1 egg, plus 1 yolk, beaten
200g (7 oz) pasta flour (tipo 00) or plain flour
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Grated fresh nutmeg
Finely chopped wild garlic or nettle leaves, if desired
Wild Garlic Pesto Sauce, recipe follows
60g (2 ¼ oz) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
a handful of fresh wild garlic or basil leaves
Mix the mashed potato with the egg, flour, finely chopped garlic or nettle leaves, if using, and some seasoning. Work together with your hands until the mixture is bound together but not too stiff. Flour the work surface (a wooden board or a clean smooth table surface). Working with a small amount of dough at a time, roll a piece into a longish sausage shape of about 2cm (3/4 inch) in diameter. Cut the dough lengths into pieces of about 2cm (3/4 inch). Using a fork, gently press down on each gnocchi the rounded side of the teeth so that you get a ridged shape on one side and a little hollow on the other. Cover gnocchi with a clean tea towel until ready to use, up to a couple of hours. (Gnocchi can be flash frozen and then kept in an airtight container for up to three months. Cook from frozen).
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Gently slide the gnocchi into the water and cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until they float to the surface.
Prepare a hot bowl with pesto. Scoop the gnocchi out of the water and put them in a bowl. The pesto should be just warm. Mix well and serve sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and fresh garlic or basil leaves. Serve immediately.
Wild Garlic Pesto Sauce
Makes 4 to 6 servings
60 g (2 oz) fresh wild garlic leaves
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
Maldon sea salt
60 g (2 oz) freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
2 tablespoon freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese
Put the wild garlic leaves, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and 1 teaspoon of salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until fine and almost creamy. (You can prepare the sauce ahead of time up to this point and refrigerate or even freeze it. Cover the surface with olive oil to prevent the basil from oxidizing and turning black).
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the two grated cheeses.
Toss with hot pasta, adding 2 tablespoons hot water and a knob of butter, if desired.