If you go down to the woods today… All around Alexandra Park in Hastings in the spring you find growing around the sleepy trees, swathes of wild garlic or Ramsons. This chive related member of the onion family grows all over Europe and Asia and has many different names like buckrams, broad-leaved garlic or wood garlic. My favourite name for it is bear leek but its latin name Allium ursinum – look up the consternation the great bear and you’ll see the link.
Mabel, my Labrador loves to munch her way through some foraged, snuffled leaves. The scent from them is like garlic sautéed in butter. Just bruise a leaf and the perfume released is so incredibly heady. But as the dogs wander through trampling and sniffing the aroma is so strong.
Unlike the bulbous cloves of garlic, it is the leaves of bear garlic that are the culinary joy. I adore picking them. Selecting the younger fresher leaves to carry off and make bear pesto. I found this wonderful Palestinian olive oil in Sainsbury’s and thought it would make a nice change from Italian, Greek and Spanish varieties. It’s a Canaan blend which sounds of Biblical tastes.
60g bear garlic
60g roasted hazelnuts
150ml olive oil
Zest and juice of a small lime
Half a teaspoon of salt
Half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
Being foraged it is essential that you wash and dry the leaves thoroughly incase any dogs of foxes have pissed on them. Just saying be thorough. If you want to be very lazy then place all the ingredients in a liquidiser and whizz them up and it’s done.
But if you wish to enjoy the spring sunshine then grab a bowl and a mortar & pestle and head outside for the full bear bashing scented fun. After all pesto gets its name from the Italian verb; to bash. Hence the pestle. The bashing and bruising of the ingredients adds an extra pungency that the liquidiser loses. If you are using home roasted hazelnuts then I would suggest grinding these first on their own. It’s a right workout but so good for the arms.
Place the now ground nuts in the bowl and add the salt, lime zest and pepper to the mortar and begin pulverising the bear garlic. This is such fun as the smell is so intense. If your mortar is small then grind small amounts and transfers them to the bowl with the nuts in. Once this is done and the lime juice and oil and combine to a tasty paste. This is wonderfully strong in flavour. In fact the taste is totally wild. So next time someone ask if you know what bears do in the woods tell them they go there to make Bear Pesto.