Seasonal sensations: wild garlic

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As soon as the bluebells blossom, Britain’s abundant wild garlic begins to poke its head through the soil. To honour its spring re-emergence our Head Chef Stewart Turner has whipped up a lovely seasonal velouté, while Richard Veal suggests some appropriate wine pairings

On the table: Nothing says spring has sprung quite like the first appearance of wild garlic in the kitchen. It is a truly unique culinary treat: a wild ingredient that, when in season, grows in sheer abundance. It is an easy starting point for the novice, as well as a forager’s delight. You’ll likely find wild garlic nestled among bluebells, where it is attracted by the moist soil and the shade. In recent years it has become the spring ingredient de rigueur – noisily taking its place among seasonal staples like rhubarb, asparagus and the mighty morel. Though its pungent smell makes it easy to identify, always be sure to double-check that you know exactly what’s going in your pot when foraging.

Just thinking about that smell takes me back to Easter holidays on the Isle of Wight. The house that we used to stay in had a sea of the stuff at the back of the garden, and I used to take the kids down to forage the tasty bounty. Although the scent of wild garlic is powerful, the flavour when cooked is more subtle, and it can be used to make fantastic spring pesto, or as an interesting alternative to spinach.

Though it can be eaten raw, I prefer cooking the stuff to help manage its powerful taste – simply wilt in a little olive oil and butter. I prefer this method to blanching as you keep more of the garlic’s raw flavour – although once heated it shrinks down a lot, so make sure you have plenty to work with. The dish below was the starter from a recent four-course celebration of wild garlic and morels: a truly sensational spring duo.

In the glass: For me, the principle consideration when drinking wines with soup is texture. Just as a sweet dish will make a dry wine taste drier or even sharp and acidic, soup tends to push light, delicate wine into the background. Wines with some weight are obvious candidates then, with the Rhône and Alsace ideal sources.

Despite the wild garlic being toned down, the dish will still burst with flavour, so some intensity in the glass will also be a consideration. Both Les Vins de Vienne’s Taburnum, made with Viognier, or André Ostertag’s Zellberg Pinot Gris would be good candidates.

Outside France there are plenty of textural, exotic wines with requisite intensity. The 2008 Selección de Añada from Pazo de Señoráns or Larry Cherubino’s Laissez Faire Blend would both be fascinating.

Wild garlic velouté with morelsServes 6
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 1 leek (white part only)
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1 medium potato (about 200g) – finely sliced
  • 5 litres of vegetable stock
  • 1kg wild garlic
  • 100g fresh morels
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Butter

Finely slice the onion, celery, leek and garlic. Pick the wild garlic and finely slice the stalks. Set the leaves and flowers aside separately.

Heat a good lug of olive oil in a wide, heavy-based pan over a medium-high heat. Add the sliced vegetables with a pinch of salt, turn the heat to medium and sweat for 10 minutes until soft. Add the potato and cook for a few minutes, then add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for around five minutes until the potato is cooked.

Meanwhile, wilt the wild garlic leaves in a bit of butter (you may need to do this in a few batches), drain and set aside.

Allow the soup to cool a little and then blend in batches with the wild garlic. Pass it through a fine sieve into another pan, adjust the seasoning and – if the soup is too thick – add stock. Cover and keep warm.

Fry the washed morels in a little butter with the wild garlic flowers. When cooked, serve the soup garnished with the morels, flowers and a drizzle of olive oil.