By the time spring arrived the air thickened with the pungent aroma hanging over the park and the woods. Following the path on my bicycle my nostrils were overwhelmed with the smell of garlic that seemed to follow me. I had not been living long in Germany and spring in this magnitude was often still overwhelming to my senses. For someone who had spent most of her life in the Persian Gulf in the bi-seasonal climates of hot and hotter, the feeling of four seasons was intoxicating.
Getting off the bike, my friends lead me into the shady woodland. Equipped with a bag and knife, there was a first-time adventure in store for me. The unmistakable fragrance of garlic filled the air but what lay in front of me were large patches of bright green leaves dotted with tiny white flowers. My friends skillfully reached into a bunch of the leaves, cut them just above the roots and stuffed them in to their bags. I watched! I learned! And I joined in.
Foraging is the practice of gathering wild food. I remember doing it as a child while visiting my grandparents in Delhi – although at that time I hardly realized what I was doing, I was more interested in stuffing as many of those sweet mulberries I could into my mouth, staining my fingers with the dark juices. I did not know back then but those were the first experiences that ignited the spark of my passion for food growing in the wild.
Moving to Germany highlighted this feeling even more. Europeans will put every other nation to shame when it comes to foraging. Every season offers jewels and treasures that can be found in the woods, forests or on the free fields and trees – “one just needs to keep the eyes open and look around us” was the advice I got from friends fairly early on. From wild strawberries, blackberries, wild grapes, chanterelle mushrooms in Summer and Fall and in Spring one can find wild asparagus, morels, dandelions, elderflower and of course wild garlic.
Like that kid all those years back I still get excited when I see a bush bursting with blackberries or a patch in the woods covered with those bright green wild garlic leaves. It really is a fun and interesting way to cook meals by learning how and where ingredients grow, and to participate in the process of gathering them from wilderness to the table. Last year I had the opportunity to widen my horizons and discovered a whole new world of wild herbs, leaves and flowers on my foraging tour at Paulinzella.
Wild garlic should be at the top of your foraging to-do list. It is easy to identify and absolutely delicious – not to mention the incredible smell. You will certainly catch its scent on the wind before you actually find it. The season for garlic is very short, lasting from April and ending by June. If in doubt – rub the leaves to release the familiar scent of garlic. Unlike domestic garlic the bulbs are not eaten but rather the fresh leaves are prized. The characteristic white flowers however, are perfectly edible although the plant is at its best before too many flowers appear, signalling tougher leaves and a bitterer flavor. It is slightly more subtle than standard garlic and adds a wonderfully tangy flavor to dishes. Be sure not to pull out the entire bulb but snip off the leaves. Leaving the bulb intact allows the plant to regenerate and flourish to offer new leaves the following year.
I love using the fresh leaves in salads, with pasta, fried and put on top of a tart, but my first and last batches of wild garlic are always dedicated to making a pesto. It’s a store cupboard essential that makes the wild garlic last just a little longer. In this version I have used a mix of almonds and pine nuts. Pecorino cheese give this a gorgeous sharper taste that holds its flavor against the wild garlic. Here I served it over fresh green asparagus and homemade German spätzle.
Recipe: German Spaetzle with Wild Garlic Pesto and Green AsparagusMeeta K. Wolff
- 400g flour
- 4 eggs
- 40g butter
- Salt and pepper
- 120g Pecorino cheese, grated
- 350ml extra virgin olive oil
- 50g almonds
- 50g pine nuts
- 200g wild garlic leaves, stems cut off, washed and dried
- 2 tablespoons almonds, toasted
- Sea salt and ground black pepper
- 150g green asparagus, washed and cut into pieces
- Drizzle of olive oil
- Extra pecorino and pine nuts for the topping
- To make the spätzle mix together flour, eggs and 100g water in a large mixing bowl. Add a pinch of salt and using your hands or a wooden spoon work the mixture until the dough resembles a pasty, sticky cake batter. Continue to work the dough and once air bubbles begin to form set aside to rest for about 10 minutes.
- Set a pot with cold water aside. Bring a large pot of salt water to a rolling boil. Press the dough through a spätzle press in portions into the water. Once the noodles begin to float to the top – approx. 2 minutes – remove with a slotted spoon and plunge into pot with cold water. Drain the noodles well. Follow this procedure until all the dough has been used up.
- For the pesto place all the ingredients into a food processor and blitz until smooth. Add a little more oil if you prefer a looser consistency.
- Season with sea salt and ground black pepper. Transfer to clean jars and top with an extra drizzle of oil to create a seal. The jars will keep in the fridge for at least one week.
- Sauté the asparagus in some olive oil until slightly tender.
- In a heavy skillet rubbed with a dab of oil, gently brown the spätzle. Remove from heat, add a few tablespoons of the pesto, the asparagus mix then grate some Pecorino and sprinkle some toasted pine nuts over the top.
This is an awesome light spring meal – full of mighty flavor of the fields and woods. The technique of making spätzle might take a few turns to get right but it really is well worth it. You can substitute the spätzle with any other egg pasta. Add a few chopped cherry tomatoes or some pan friend chicken breast – it is a recipe that can be made and enjoyed in many different variations. The wild garlic pesto works every time.
More spring recipe ideas from What’s for lunch, Honey?:
|Dandelion Avocado Gazpacho with Deep-water Prawns||White Asparagus and Strawberry Salad with Vanilla Kissed Salmon Steaks||Zucchini Noodles with Garlic Shrimps, and Olive Caper Slow Roasted Tomato Sauce and Feta Cheese|
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