After spending my previous 30 years on this earth oblivious to the proliferation of wild garlic in our woodlands this spring I have been deluged by the delightful stuff.
My trusty 'Hedgerow Handbook' assured me that ransoms were growing wild all over the place so I decided to go and do bit of foraging for myself. The first lot I spotted, quite by accident, on a slope leading to the South Bay in Scarborough. Apparently you can quite often smell them before you see them, but I had to rub a leaf or two to confirm that these were actually the real deal. As we were there on holiday, and had no way to store them, I sadly had to leave them growing as they were.
Luckily we found our second patch a few days later while on a walk with my Uncle just outside Leeds. This time we merrily picked away and managed to fill a carrier bag in no time. As we weren't going home for a few days they were stored in my Aunt's fridge, but were quickly relegated to the shed when the pungent smell became a bit too overwhelming!
After braving the long trip back down the M1, the ransoms slowly stinking out the boot in the spring sunshine, I was very happy to get my bounty home and get cooking. As the leaves were beginning to show signs of 'fatigue' ( a bit like I was feeling after being stuck at Newport Pagnell Services for a large part of the afternoon) I decided to make some wild garlic butter and some fresh pesto, both of which would preserve the fresh 'zip' of the garlic and could be easily stored for future use.
The pesto was a bit of an experiment. In the end I just chucked in most of the things found in a classic basil pesto, (minus the garlic) and with hazelnuts, left over from baking some banana bread, instead of pine nuts. It tasted pretty great, the garlic flavour wasn't too overpowering, and it paired very well with fresh lemon and salty cheese. This pesto is very versatile and so far we have enjoyed it with pasta, white bean soup and cheese on toast. It could also be stirred into risottos or stews and used in omelettes or mash.
I had managed to grab a few things on the way home, including some spankingly fresh pieces of sustainable Atlantic cod, and so I decided to rustle up a quick crust that when baked would provide a full flavoured, crunchy counterpoint to the mild-mannered flaky fish underneath. This topping would also work well with other things; as well as any other white fish try salmon, sardines, chicken or pork.
Wild Garlic and Hazelnut Pesto
(Makes a large jar)
Two or three big handfuls of wild garlic leaves, washed and picked through
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or other hard, strong cheese
1/2 cup hazelnuts
100/200 ml olive oil (you could use rapeseed or sunflower)
1tsp sugar (optional, add if the pesto seems a little bitter)
Salt to taste
-Whizz the garlic leaves in the processor with the nuts, zest and juice of the lemon.
-Add oil slowly until you get the right consistency and everything is nicely blended.
-Stir in cheese and sugar, season to taste.
-Store in clean, sterilised jars, with a layer of oil poured on top of the mixture to seal the surface.
To make the crust I added a large spoonful of pesto per person to a handful of panko breadcrumbs. Spread the mixture over the fish and drizzle with a little extra oil. Bake at 190c for 10/12 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked through.