I have returned to the city of “doubt and despair” but have brought some goodies from the Lakes back with me, including a bagful of wild garlic (ramsons) from the bottom of Loughrigg Fell, down the lane from where we were staying, which I have turned into pesto.
The plant is commonly found, especially in wooded areas, and is best harvested in spring. You can be sure of picking the right leaves (and not those of a similar-looking poisonous plant) from the garlicky smell.
We first came across the idea for turning the leaves into pesto in a newspaper a few years ago and it is a really tasty alternative to the usual basil version. I haven’t yet worked out if this can be allocated to a particular feast day, although making it today, on Palm Sunday – a (perhaps the only) feast where leaves play a central role – seems quite appropriate.
I work on a very simple and vague “recipe” which can be adjusted to your own taste and/or depending on what you have to hand (for instance, today I threw in the oil from the bottom of a pot of olives with bits of herbs in it).
For 1 handful of ramsons (which will make 1 jar)
In a food processor, grind up 50g nuts (pine nuts are traditional but expensive; any, or a mixture of, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashew nuts, Brazil nuts will do)
Add the leaves, torn up roughly.
Blend to a pesto consistency, adding olive oil and lemon juice.
Season to your own taste (I put salt, pepper, chilli, dried oregano in mine).
Spoon the pesto into a jar and keep it in the fridge. The flavour will improve if you wait for a couple of weeks before eating it. It should keep well (we had some of last year’s at Christmas time).
You can also add Parmesan or another hard cheese if you wish (add this after the nuts), but you can always add it when you actually come to use the pesto (which makes it easier to keep it vegetarian-friendly, unless you can find a suitable vegetarian cheese).