Wild garlic is abundant in the UK from February until June – learn more about it on my Wild Food Guide here. I’m sure many people already make pesto with it and the internet is awash with recipes, and really doesn’t need yet another. But I get asked a lot by people on my guided walks for my recipe that i’ve tweaked and refined down the years, i so thought it was time to share…
“Mate – this pesto is on another level and without doubt the best i’ve ever tasted!”
– Craig Worral, Foraging teacher and wild chef
I spent many years dipping bits of goat’s cheese into pesto i’d made with parmesan. I don’t know why it took me so long to make a simple substitution! Hazelnuts are a great sub for pine nuts too, being cheaper, and with more depth of flavour and texture. You might even be able to use wild-harvested, or at least UK sourced nuts.
- Large bunch of wild garlic – leaves, stems, buds, flowers, seed pods all work fine here, though the earlier in the season you can harvest, the more vibrant the flavour. The more you use, the punchier your pesto will be. Don’t be shy to mix in other wild alliums like few-flowered leek, or wild brassicas like hedge garlic, hairy bittercress or sea radish. Washed.
- 200g hazelnuts – I like them with the papery skin left on, which give a deeper flavour to the finished pesto
- 200g hard goat’s cheese. I use this excellent one made in Galloway, or you could use Bonnet, another of our very fine hard goat’s cheeses.
- Optional: sorrel and or crab apple verjus for acidity. I suppose you could use a lemon.
- Optional: Ground seaweed – sea lettuce and pepper dulse would be ideal for salinity & spice
- Pinch of salt to taste
- A good quality oil without too much flavour. I use Scottish rapeseed oil as its the most local oil I can get.
Blitz the hazelnuts in a food processor.
Grate the cheese and roughly chop the plants, then add with all the rest of the ingredients except the rapeseed oil.
Blitz, adding a trickle of rapeseed oil until you reach a consistency you like.
Serve as a dip, mix through pasta, add to pizza, sandwiches etc. Remember that the oils that make wild garlic so pungent are highly volatile and the more you heat your pesto, the less flavour it will have. So just stir it through your pasta at the last minute.
Any raw garlic (not just the wild stuff) preserved in oil (which is essentially what we are doing here) can be susceptible to botulism – a potentially fatal illness caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Any potential risks are easy to avoid:
- Use only well cleaned, fresh wild greens
- Ensure preparation and storage vessels are properly cleaned/sterilised
- Store finished product in a fridge with a sealed top.
- If making a big batch (which is how I usually roll with this sort of thing), freeze in small tubs.