Monday, 11 April 2011

Spring Leaves 4; Garlic Mustard Pesto

'I never knew how much there is to see
Until I started looking
I never knew how good my tastes could be
Until I started cooking...'

Foraging for one thing leads to another: once you start looking there's no telling what you might find. A few sunny days have brought everything on like gangbusters.

First I went foraging for gorse flowers to make wine. It's fermenting on the must at the moment, and there is plenty more if I decide to make another batch. At the same time (spiny things tending to congregate together) I got some nice new nettles for risotto. And while looking for the nettles I found some fennel plants, lots of dandelions (that's my next wine batch), the heavenly-scented balsam poplar (which I don't know what to do with, apart from dry for pot pourri: any ideas?), what I'm pretty sure is horseradish (best in October), a spot likely to produce St George's Mushrooms  (so named because they come in on 23rd April, St George's Day) fairly soon, and lots of Garlic Mustard. Phew.

Garlic Mustard looks a bit like nettle, and likes similar places to grow in, but the leaves are heart-shaped and deckle-edged, smooth rather than hairy, non-stinging, and aranged in regular quarters off the straight upright stems, which end in tiny white flowers on top. As the name suggests it is neither a garlic nor a mustard, but a member of the splendid family of the cabbage - the lower leaves taste somewhat cabbagy, in fact, although mainly they taste of... well... of garlic and mustard. They don't smell much, unlike say Ransoms or Wild Garlic, which you can find with your eyes closed: the scent and taste are released when the leaves are bitten, or crushed.

Hmm... crushed...

'Pesto' takes its name from the verb 'pestare' - to pound or strike (also, idomatically to fuck). Pesto sauce is 'that which is pounded' - in the Genovese version, it is pinenuts, garlic, basil and oil which get pounded: a good protein-rich dish.

Well, I didn't have any pinenuts in the cupboard, but I did have some walnuts, and, as it happened, some walnut oil (which is fabulous on toast, btw).

I took 2 handfuls of garlic mustard leaves (removed from the plants without breaking the stalk: it will put out more so I can come again), washed them, made them into a wad and cut them up with kitchen scissors.

I put them into a steep-sided dish with a handful of walnuts and a pinch of sea salt. Then I set about them with the handle of a wooden rolling pin (I don't have a pestle and mortar at the moment), crushing the leaves and the nuts and mixing it all well in.

Add a slug of walnut oil, black pepper and a little ground nutmeg to taste.

Garlic mustard walnut pesto! (I must try it with pine nuts sometime).

I left it overnight in the fridge for it to infuse further before using. If you want it to keep longer, spoon it into a pot and then put a thin layer of oil on top: this seals it. Keep in the fridge.

You know, of course, the trick with pesto? Which is to cook your pasta in fast-boiling salted water, from which, just before the pasta is ready to drain, you ladle a spoonful of the water into the pesto sauce, stir, and then add the drained pasta. But you knew that already.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds great. I meant to make something like this earlier in the year, but all the Garlic Mustard I found grew right next to roads...Made a nice Wild Garlic Pesto instead (although who doesn't make that)