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
- 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
- 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.