Thursday, 31 March 2011

A bit of foraging and some wild garlic soup

So it seems that one of the big things in food at the moment (and has been for a while) is this foraging business. You know, TV chefs getting their whites dirty by going out with some local countryside type to pick a wild plant that no-one's heard of and requires a lengthy and involved process to make it even slightly palatable.

Ok, so that's pretty unfair and I do enjoy the bits of River Cottage when John Wright disappears off into the Dorset countryside to return with ingredients for a three course meal. Therefore, seeing as though I've temporarily relocated to rural North Yorkshire from London (Clapham Common has never seemed a promising destination for the budding forager), I thought that with wild garlic season upon us I'd go out and get myself a slice of the action.

Finding the stuff near where I live is not really an issue as there's loads of it about at the moment and you can't escape the pretty pungent smell if you're close by. But I made an effort to get it from somewhere which wouldn't have been used by the local dogs, cats and horses as a convenient garlic scented WC. If you are unfamiliar with it, wild garlic is usually found growing in damp, shady ground i.e. in some sort of wood or in the hedgerow, and the picture should give you a good idea.

Wild garlic, a forager's wet dream

So once you've got hold of some of nature's bounty, the question is what to do with it. Loosely inspired by one of the recipes in a recent purchase, Mark Hix's excellent British Seasonal Food, I decided on Spinach and Wild Garlic Soup with Wild Garlic and Walnut Pesto...sounds a bit poncy, but it was actually pretty tasty and in these times of austerity, a cheap meal for four.

First of all I should say that I'm more of a chuck it in type of cook unless I'm baking, so the recipe is more of a guideline and can / should be altered to whatever you fancy. The soup is simplicity itself and I'm sure if you've ever cooked at all you won't need many pointers and the pesto ain't that difficult either.

The Soup:

Large handful of Wild Garlic, washed and chopped
Large bag of Spinach, washed if needs be
2 Onions, peeled and chopped
1 Leek (optional), sliced or chopped
2-3 Potatoes, peeled and chopped into small chunks
1 litre Chicken Stock
Salt and Pepper
Cream or Creme Fraiche to serve

  1. First thing is to sweat the onions and leeks in some oil (if you're keeping it local like I was use Yorkshire rape seed oil, otherwise olive oil or butter will do) until they're soft and translucent.
  2. Add the potatoes, fry for a couple of minutes and then add the stock. You will need to bring this to the boil and then turn down to a simmer for 15-20 mins until the potatoes are completely soft.
  3. When the potatoes are cooked through add the spinach and wild garlic and leave this for a few minutes to wilt down into the hot stock and vegetables.
  4. When its done this you can transfer the hot liquid and vegetables into a blender, or use one of the hand held varieties, to blitz it up until its nice and smooth and turned a deep vivid green. 
  5. Return to the pan (if using a blender) and now its time to season the soup. I found that it required quite a lot of salt and pepper, but add a little at a time and keep tasting as you go along until you get it right. I also added a couple of scrapes of nutmeg into the soup, but this is optional. 
  6. The soup's now ready to serve, ideally with a swirl of cream, some of the pesto and a couple of slices of brown bread and butter.
Wild Garlic and Walnut Pesto:

Large handful of Wild Garlic, washed and chopped
Handful of Walnuts, dry fried for a few minutes
Parmesan Cheese
Extra Virgin Olive or Rape Seed Oil
Salt and Pepper

  1. There's two options for the pesto: either stick all the ingredients into a food processor and blend until fairly smooth; or for the more energetic, use a pestle and mortar, which will give a slightly less uniform texture to the pesto, but still just as good.
  2. As far as the order of play, I found that grinding up the wild garlic and walnuts with a little oil to start with and then adding more oil (if it needs loosening up), the parmesan (as much as you like) and salt and pepper seemed the best way to go. 
  3. Regarding the different oils, they will obviously give a different character to the pesto. Olive oil has a stronger taste than the rape seed, so if you like that go for it. Otherwise I like using the rape seed which is from this neck of the woods. 
  4. There should be enough pesto to keep in a jar covered in oil for a week or two in the fridge. My brother claims its good in sandwiches too!
The finished dish looked something like this:

I was going for the arty swirl of cream and pesto on top, but it all seemed to sink in!
Your handy jar of Wild Garlic Pesto

So that's it for this time. Any comments are appreciated. But don't bother telling me my photos are crap, I'm not really much of a photographer at the best of times!

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