This Easter weekend we visited my father-in-law at his house at the South coast of Holland. I was talking to him about the inspiring side of Instagram, where people from all around the globe show you what they cook with freshly picked herbs which, as far as I know, don’t grow in The Netherlands (like sea kale), or aren’t allowed to be foraged here, like wild garlic. His surprising reply was, that if I was interested in that sort of thing, he had a whole field of wild garlic growing just in the back of his garden. The next day I was in the kitchen, ready to turn my pile of foraged goods into this lovely seasonal pesto.
Wild garlic is a member of the onion family. This can easily be told from the flavour of its long, pointed leaves, which resembles that of garlic and spring onions. In the European countries surrounding us, it has since long been a popular herb; in Hungary it is even made the star of an annual culinary festival. In The Netherlands it isn’t that well-known as an ingrediënt, because until the beginning of this year it used to be a protected wild plant species. Recently, though, it has been planted in parks around the country and it’s beginning to make an appearance at vegetable stores and farmer’s markets as well. The flavourful leaves are wonderful in salads, soups, bread and pesto’s, so it’s quite worth while to look for it in this spring period.
Wild garlic emerges in April and May, mainly in shaded woodlands. If you come across a crop of it in the wild, it’s easily identified by its distinctive, oniony smell and characteristic flower buds. Still, pay close attention to make sure you don’t confuse it with one of its poisonous lookalikes, like lily of the valley, meadow saffron or the young leaves of neighbouring wild arum. Once the garlic is in full bloom, the leaves turn tougher and slightly bitter, so now’s the time to make the most of the short season!
For this pesto I combined the strong flavour of the wild garlic with walnuts and sweet cashew nuts, but you can of course vary to your liking with almonds, hazelnuts and pine nuts. Mixed with the lemon zest it makes a fresh, springlike pasta sauce (which is wonderful with peas and green asparagus!), but it’s also lovely as a dip with crudités or crusty bread.
Wild garlic pesto with walnuts and lemon zest – fills 2 big, appr. 200 ml jars
- 200 g wild garlic, washed and patted dry
- 100 g cashew nuts
- 50 g walnuts
- 250 ml olive oil (you can add some more afterwards if you like your pesto thinner)
- zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
- 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast or parmesan cheese for a more traditional cheesy flavour (optional; I left them out)
- sea salt to taste (1-2 tsp.)
If you like, you can pare down or complenent the pungent garlic flavour by adding 50 g of parsley or basil leaves.
If you can’t get hold of wild garlic, spinach leaves make a good alternative. I’ve been told, the same goes for goutweed, but I’ve never tried this myself. In both cases, add two cloves of garlic to give your pesto the same punch.
Trim the dried edges off the garlic stems. On a chopping board, roughly chop the leaves and stems. This will make it easier to quickly pulse them through the remaining ingredients afterwards.
Mix the nuts and olive oil. Using a stick blender or food processor, pulse to a course paste. Add the chopped garlic leaves and briefly blend to a bright green mixture. Take care not to overprocess, or the pesto may turn out bitter.
Stir through the lemon zest and yeast, if using, then season to taste.
Use immediately as a fresh pasta sauce or a dip for crusty bread or crudités. Alternatively, transfer to a clean jar, cover with a thin layer of olive oil and store in a cool, dark place for up to three weeks.