Foraging for Wild Garlic

I was brought up by the sea. I’m a com­ical swim­mer and a bemused sailor, but give me a shoreline to walk along and I’m con­tent. It’s the best of both worlds — feet on solid ground and eyes on the waves.

For­aging for wild ingredi­ents turns a coastal walk into a glor­i­ous exped­i­tion. Depend­ing on the sea­son there’ll be hand­fuls of plumply purple black­ber­ries, some salty samphire and, if you’re lucky, wild gar­lic leaves and flowers. Take your chil­dren, ask a friend, and between you, you’ll bring home a feast.

This week­end a great friend and I took a walk along a wooded coastal path and gathered enough gar­lic leaves and wild sea spin­ach to make soup and frit­tata, with more left over for risotto, gar­lic flower tem­pura and gar­lic leaf pesto.

Wild gar­lic flour­ishes in the shady wood­land that hugs our wilder coast­line. Unlike wild mush­rooms which have a sin­is­ter way of pre­tend­ing to be friendly when they’re psychotic mur­der­ers, wild gar­lic leaves are cheer­ily, perkily, reli­ably deli­cious. The plant may resemble pois­on­ous lily of the val­ley, but you need only bury your nose in it to be envel­oped in clouds of reas­sur­ingly pun­gent gar­licky fragrance.

Sea beet is another reli­able friend that bursts in florid clumps from the most inhospitable-looking pebbly beaches. It resembles wild green facial hair erupt­ing from a stub­bly chin and tastes very like spin­ach, but it has more sweet­ness and less sulky muddiness.

Sea beet and gar­lic leaves com­bine to make the most deli­cious and nour­ish­ing frit­tata, while a com­bin­a­tion of wild gar­lic and water­cress makes the kind of soup that would for­tify the wear­i­est traveller.

WILD GARLIC AND WATERCRESS SOUP

Serves 4

  • 200g wild gar­lic leaves
  • 100g water­cress
  • 2 medium floury pota­toes, diced
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 table­spoons olive oil
  • 1 litre veget­able stock

Sweat the onion in the olive oil until it’s soft, but not brown. Add the potato, sea­son and stir briefly before adding the stock. Cook for around fif­teen minutes until the potato is soft. Add the gar­lic leaves and water­cress and sim­mer for no more than five minutes. You want to pre­serve the start­ling green col­our without tres­passing into the khaki zone.

Tip the soup into a food pro­cessor and whizz until smooth. Check the season­ing and serve with gar­lic flowers which are deli­cious in flavour.

WILD GARLIC AND SEA BEET FRITTATA WITH MUSHROOMS AND RICOTTA

Serves 6

  • 1 large hand­ful each of wild gar­lic leaves and sea beet
  • 200g chest­nut mushrooms
  • 2 medium onions
  • 4 table­spoons olive oil
  • 125g ricotta
  • 100g parmesan, grated
  • 8 eggs

Pre­heat the oven to 200 degrees C.

Blanch the gar­lic and sea beet leaves in boil­ing water for a gen­er­ous minute until wil­ted and bright green. Plunge the leaves into cold water to stop cook­ing. Once cold, wring them out as though you were dry­ing a towel and slice coarsely.

Using a large, non-stick fry­ing pan that you can put in the oven later, saute the onions in 2 table­spoons of the olive oil. Once they’re soft and start­ing to turn golden add the mush­rooms. Saute until the mush­rooms are brown and soft. Take the pan off the heat.

Beat the eggs with a fork, add 50g of the parmesan and all of the ricotta and mix well. Season.

Drape the blanched, chopped leaves over the mush­rooms and onions in the pan. Pour the egg and cheese mix­ture over the top, mak­ing sure that the leaves are sub­merged. Place the fry­ing pan in the oven for 15 minutes until the top of the frit­tata is nicely brown. Allow to cool a little and then tip the frit­tata out onto a plate. Grate the remain­ing 50g of parmesan over the top and the remain­ing 2 table­spoons of olive oil. Serve with a green salad and some new potatoes.

I love everything about the sea­side — from the wild shorelines of Orkney to the brash oddit­ies of Bournemouth. Just don’t ask me to swim in it, sail on it or surf through it. I will though, at a pinch, paddle in it.