This week, as Spring continues to dazzle with its bursts of colour, we’re entering the world of scents and taking a walk into the woods again.
Before it’s past its best, I really wanted to make further use of the surfeit of wild garlic that’s growing in woodland all around us right now.
Every year, as the season approaches, I alter my commute homewards in order to check the growth of my beloved emerald leaves.
And right now, they’re forming an iridescent carpet through the trees, covering almost every inch of ground.
I know it’s not to everyone’s taste, but I love the smell of wild garlic out in the open air, its seductive chive-like scent floating to one’s nostrils on the breeze as it’s trampled underfoot and bruised by a clumsy hiker or speeding dog.
Wild garlic has a delightful mild flavour, and as such it’s great for cooking with.
Excessive heat can temper the flavour a little, so we must be careful not to be too forceful, lest we lose that heavenly scent.
If you’re making a soup (white bean, or potato for instance) then wash and chop the wild garlic leaves and add them raw to the hot soup just before blending, to capture not only the flavour but that beautiful deep green colour.
It occurred to me that onion-y things like each others’ company a lot, which is why you’ll see chives paired with leeks, and, as in my recipe this week, wild garlic twinned with the mild onion.
I’d been toying with a stuffed onion idea for a few weeks, and things came together when I realised it was almost wild garlic time.
The stuffing is a lovely soft, silky mashed potato, crammed with all sorts of goodies like crisp-edged golden pancetta cubes, fresh herbs and sliced baby mushrooms.
Add to this the wonderful earthy scent of shredded wild garlic, and you have the onion enthusiast’s dream dish.
We’re topping the finished onion with some buttery crunchy crumbs, which really add a welcome textural contrast and look great. It’s easier to make than you’d think, and can be served as an accompaniment to a Sunday roast or as a dish in its own right.
Vegetarians please note, just leave out the pancetta and add more mushrooms for a more suitable version. You could add grated or cubed cheese to add taste and texture, too.
All that remains is for you to get your boots on and go hunting that wild garlic before it’s gone for another year.
For the onions:
4 medium Spanish-type onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
Maldon salt & freshly ground pepper
100g cubed pancetta
2 medium potatoes
280g baby button mushrooms
A small handful fresh flat-leaf parsley
A small handful fresh wild garlic leaves
The grated zest of ½ a lemon
A splash of dry white wine
A little vegetable or chicken stock
A little olive oil
For the breadcrumbs:
4 tbsps fresh white breadcrumbs
A little olive oil
Heat oven to 230ºC / Gas 8 and set a large pan of salted water to boil. Peel the potatoes, dice them and boil until tender, allow to steam dry a little, then pass through a mouli or mash by hand.
Set aside until later. Cut off the top couple of centimetres of each onion, trim the roots (but don’t remove) and wrap each one, unpeeled, in lightly-oiled foil. Bake until soft, usually around one-and-a-half hours.
Remove the onions from oven, unwrap, and cool for 15 minutes or so. Use a tablespoon to gently remove the inner flesh (it should pop out in one piece quite easily), leaving two entire outer layers to form a neat shell.
Remove the papery outer skins carefully and set the onion shells to one side.
Chop the soft flesh into fine dice and set aside. In a frying pan, heat a small amount of oil and sizzle the pancetta until golden. Add the garlic and the chopped onion flesh and cook over medium heat until softened.
Thinly slice the button mushrooms and add to the pan, cooking until soft. Stir this mixture into the mashed potato and allow to cool. When the potato is cold, finely chop the parsley and wild garlic and fold into the stuffing mixture along with the lemon zest.
Check the seasoning and adjust as necessary. Stuff the onion shells completely with the potato and mushroom filling and place in a suitable baking dish. Add a splash of wine and enough vegetable or chicken stock to come up about a third of the way up the onions.
Bake the stuffed onions until they are soft and golden, about 30-40 minutes.
As the onions bake, make the crispy breadcrumbs. Heat the butter and a good splash of oil in a wide pan, and when a pinch of breadcrumbs sizzles upon contact, tip the rest in and fry, stirring, until the crumbs are a lovely deep golden colour.
Drain in a sieve and spread out on a clean tea towel or sheets of kitchen roll. Using a palette knife, move the crumbs about, gently pressing, removing as much fat as possible. Spoon the dried, crunchy crumbs into a bowl. When the onions or cooked and golden, remove from the oven and let them cool slightly before serving, then sprinkle with the crispy crumbs and accompany them with plenty of crunchy watercress or salad leaves, and a good juicy red wine.