NOW spring is in the air it’s time to think about some springtime cooking.
We’re almost into the very first sticks of local rhubarb, but not quite – I’ll come to that in a week or so. The first nubs of asparagus are starting to emerge, but again they’re a few weeks off being ready for the table. One thing that is just about ready to start picking is ramsons, otherwise known as wild garlic. It’s one of my very favourite ingredients.
I have a place where I go and pick my wild garlic, not so far from the restaurant, and I drive past it about once a week. Towards the middle of March I start craning my neck eagerly out of the window to spot the first few leaves pushing out of the leaf-litter. The first bloom of fresh, emerald leaves was up and immediately I started thinking about including this fleeting, delicious plant in dishes on the menu. It’s here for such a short time so one must use it as much as possible and then allow it to disappear for the next 10 months until its bright leaves signal the start of the bountiful spring season.
Wild garlic has a wonderful mild and fresh flavour which lends itself to gentle cooking as an accompaniment to other more dominant flavours. It’s brilliant with chicken in all its forms – a few leaves tucked inside a roasting bird lend a subtle aroma and chopped at the last minute into a reduced cream sauce to keep the colour and instant flavour. Just don’t overcook it as its delicate flavour can soon disappear. Don’t overlook the flowers, either. Collect a few stalks, and keep them in a glass of water in the kitchen. The flowers add a wonderful visual and flavoursome burst to salads and grilled meats or fish.