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Moving on from admin, we have wild garlic pesto! The origins have been traced back to ancient Romans, who cooked with a paste called moretum, consisting of cheese, garlic, and herbs… but traditional pesto as we know it is pesto alla genovese, named after the northern region of Italy where it originated. It’s a blend of crushed garlic, fresh basil, pine nuts, olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Fiore Sardo—but this will be a variation.
Wild garlic (also known as ramsons) has been popping up everywhere and works well in the place of garlic cloves, resulting in a milder and less herb-y pesto than those using fragrant basil. Allium ursinum, with its broad leaves and delicate white flowers, gets its Latin name from the bears that love to dig around for the bulbs. Unlike brown bears, humans usually prize wild garlic for its leaves, which are used either raw or cooked.
A few geeky notes on kitchen methodology that you may find useful for pesto and beyond:
The Genoese word ‘pestâ’ means to pound, referencing the fact that pesto was traditionally made with a mortar and pestle (there’s that word root again). You can use an electric food processor instead, which is ironically more accessible these days in Western households.
Blanching—that’s when vegetables are submerged in salted boiling water for a few short minutes before shocking in ice water to halt the cooking process—has many culinary uses, but in the case of this pesto it’ll be to preserve colour and eliminate bitterness. This brief boiling will break cell walls and release gases inside the plant that refract light, allowing chlorophyll’s natural greenness to become more perceptible. Salted water is denser, which helps to prevent nutrients from seeping out of the vegetables as they boil; this keeps the magnesium in chlorophyll, which also helps maintain the green colour. Furthermore, enzymes that cause browning are denatured (turned off) during this heating process, so your pesto will maintain its bright green colour even after sitting in the refrigerator for a few days. The naturally occurring acids causing bitterness in some vegetables can similarly be boiled off with a quick blanch. Just don’t boil for too long, lest all these benefits be rapidly lost.
Phew. Enjoy the pesto, and smugly appreciate the secret of its bright green colour with every bite.
Wild Garlic Pesto
- 1 bunch wild garlic
- 40g parmigiano-reggiano, freshly grated
- small handful of pine nuts
- extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt
Wash the garlic and remove any thick stems. Blanch the leaves in salted boiling water for about 10 seconds, then shock in ice water to stop the cooking and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
Pound (or process, in the absence of mortar & pestle) the nuts until you have a thick paste, then add the leaves and sea salt to continue pounding. Finally, add cheese while streaming in the olive oil until the desired consistency is reached. Don’t worry too much about the exact amount of ingredients; adjust them to your taste and it’s hard to go wrong with these good simple ingredients.
Store in an air-tight jar and top with olive oil to keep fresh in the refrigerator for about a week to use with various pastas and dishes.