There is no mistaking wild garlic, or ramsons as we like to call it in the country. You can smell them a mile off and the pretty little white blossoms stand out like fairy lights in a gloomy wood when the snowdrops and daffodils are gone and the bluebells yet to arrive.
I used ramsons almost 50 years ago in Sussex, when my first attempts at cooking took place on a wood-fired Rayburn cooker and free food was especially attractive. Being plentiful, they popped up in many of my efforts — mostly in soups and stews, since that was what the old range did best.
That initial enthusiasm waned rather quickly. After moving to London in the mid-1970s, I am not sure I saw a ramson, outside the occasional country walk, until 20 years later when foragers made them a useful addition to their repertoire. This deprived them of one of their principal assets — being free — but that didn’t stop chefs from getting excited. Some used them raw, in salads or just chucked on top of something, which always struck me as deeply unpleasant, the tough, sharp, uncooked leaves being almost acridly pungent while having no textural allure.
Now that I’m back in the country at last, they offer a bit of excitement, especially since I expect nothing green from my raised beds before June. I like to insinuate them gently. They are good thrown into a pan of glazed carrots shortly before they finish cooking. A lamb stew with cannellini beans also benefits from a hint of wild garlic. They are welcome in spaghetti olio e peperoncino, in soups moderated by spinach or Swiss chard and in risottos such as this one.
Pesto can be made with wild garlic leaves but they should be used in moderation. The same goes for making a salsa verde. In Gerard’s Herball (1597) it is claimed that one can make a sauce for fish with “Crow-Garlicke” and that it also “maye very well be eaten in April and Maie with butter, of such as are of a strong constitution, and labouring men”. Now that cucina povera is becoming the preserve of the bourgeoisie, I commend it to my readers.
I have finally plumped for carnaroli as my risotto rice of preference as the grains seem to hold better and longer than other types. Recipe for at least six.
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