Wild garlic season’s here again! With snow and ice melting away, you can see the first wild garlic leaves emerging in forests and hedgerows. After months of cooking with winter veg and frozen fruits, to me this marks the start of fresh spring cooking and I couldn’t be happier. The young leaves with their distinct onion and garlic flavour are at their prime now, so it’s well worth the effort to go out on a foraging trip or look for them at farmers’ markets and greengrocers.
The season runs to halfway/end of April, when the plants start blooming and the leaves turn bitter. In that short period there’s lots of goodness to enjoy. The leaves can be used raw in salads and they add tons of flavour to soups, risotto, burgers and bread. Last season I turned the batch of wild garlic I could lay my hands on into a delicious spring pesto with walnuts and lemon zest. And this spring I’m all set to get creative with more foraged goodies.
Last weekend my father-in-law handed me a generous amount of sprouted bulbs and freshly picked leaves from his garden. The next day my kitchen was filled with the most wonderful herby scents as I was kneading dough to make this wild garlic focaccia.The girls were standing around the table when I snapped the baked result and I can tell you, it took us all quite some self-control to keep our hands off the pieces of bread until they had been captured from every angle. Then, within half an hour, every last crumb was gone.
Rustic focaccia is a lovely bread to make: it’s simple, tastes delicious and looks great when served as part of brunch, antipasti or dinner. For this springtime version, I left the dough to rise on the baking sheet, brushed with a layer of fresh herb oil, for extra flavour and crispness.
To make the oil, I paired the pungent wild garlic flavour with the friendly notes of bay and rosemary. The resulting focaccia is wonderfully soft and airy on the inside, with a lovely crisp and savoury crust. If wild garlic isn’t available, you could replace it with some spring onions and regular garlic for a comparable result. And of course you can experiment with non-seasonal herbs for flavouring as well, so you can enjoy homemade herby focaccia all year round.
Wild garlic focaccia with bay and rosemary – makes 1 30×40 cm loaf
for the bread:
- 325 ml lukewarm water
- 7 g dried instant yeast
- pinch of sugar
- 500 g strong white flour, plus extra for dusting
- 2 tsp. salt
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
Plus: oil and semolina to line the baking sheet
for the topping:
- 100 ml olive oil
- 3 bay leaves
- 70 g wild garlic (if wild garlic isn’t available, you can replace it with 1-2 spring onions and 2 garlic cloves for a comparable result)
- 1 tbsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- bunch of rosemary, needles picked in clusters
- course sea salt, to sprinkle
To make the topping, put the olive oil and bay leaves in a small saucepan. Gently warm the oil over a very low heat for 10 minutes, while making sure it doesn’t boil. Turn off the heat and let the bay leaves infuse until using.
To make the dough, start by whisking the yeast and a pinch of sugar through the water. Take care the water isn’t too warm, or it will inactivate the yeast! Place the mixture in a warm spot for a few minutes, until it starts bubbling.
In a large bowl, mix the flour and the salt. Add the olive oil and the yeast mixture. Use your fingers to stir the liquid into the flour until it comes together. Transfer the mixture to a floured work surface and knead for 5-10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Brush a bowl with a little oil, tip in the dough and cover, then leave in a warm place for about an hour, until doubled in volume.
Now finish the herb oil. Discard the bay leaves, then pour the oil into the mixing bowl of a small food processor. Add the wild garlic leaves and the spoonful of chopped rosemary. Whizz and set aside.
Line a baking sheet with parchment. Brush the parchment with a little oil and sprinkle with a thin layer of semolina.
Knock back the dough and take it out of the bowl. Using your fingers, stretch the dough into a 30×40 cm rectangle. Place the dough on the prepared baking sheet. The more wobbly and irregular the surface, the crispier the baked result will be. Brush the dough with two thirds of the herb oil. Stick small sprigs of rosemary into the dough and sprinkle with sea salt. Loosely cover the dough and leave it to prove for another hour until approximately 2 cm high.
Heat the oven to 220°C/450°F/Gas 7.
Bake the bread, uncovered, for 20 minutes until golden and cooked through. Keep an eye out and reduce the heat to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6 if the bread browns too quickly. When done, take the bread out of the oven and transfer to a wire rack to crisp up the bottom. Brush with a little extra herb oil while still hot. Cut into pieces and enjoy.