Whilst I still haven’t given up my urban roots just yet, and still enjoy eating them whenever possible (I couldn’t resist a little Hugh Punly-Whittingstall action- I do apologise), I thought I would take the opportunity, with all this fine weather we are having, to go and see if the London larder had swung open its doors for business.
Often I have found Battersea park to be a mixed bag in terms of wild food: Good for squirrel fishing, bad for mushrooms, good for elderflower, bad for chestnuts etc, etc. But there is one time of year that the park does come into it’s own, and that’s right about now- spring. I always find Sussex has a slight delay on London, whilst the hawthorn leaves are beginning to show themselves up here, the radioactive-free countryside has still to get its first smattering of green.
I did have in mind to keep my eyes on the municipal mulch that is spread across the flower beds, just in case the elusive Morel had taken up residency in Battersea. Being the amongst the aristocracy of mushrooms (a kilo will probably cost a weeks wages!) and now quite common in urban areas I thought the closer to Chelsea the better- evidently not. The only mushroom I saw was a big wooden one in the petting zoo.
But fear not, the London larder was indeed open and actually suprisingly well stocked. The stingers were abundant on the east side of the park, known as the wilderness area and chickweed was flashing its dainty white flowers (I did leave them well alone- they aren’t out of reach of a dog’s cocked leg). There was also the usual hedge garlic pushing through and a couple of patches of Alexanders too.
One thing I wasn’t expecting was a small crop of wild garlic (Ramsons) in amongst the ivy by the lake. I am being a little vague, on one small 10’ by 10’ patch by the lake- so not a huge amount, but at least it was there and going in my pocket.
I am a huge believer in making wild food go further, I don’t always fancy eating a huge amount of wild garlic at once, so its good to do something with it to preserve it’s fine qualities. I didn’t fancy a dollop of steamed nettles on toast either. When I am working at home I like to have something simple and quick, Pasta and homemade pesto is always a firm favourite and always on the weekly menu. So I decided to put together a wild pesto using more than just stingers.
The usual suspects of springtime gathering are wild garlic, nettles, bittercress and of course parmesan- that classic English wild cheese (bear with me I am, trying to pretend this is TOTALLY wild). Having all these at my fingertips, I filled the pockets of my jacket with a bit of everything, the nettles were a little more testing- lacking the ability of forethought I hadn’t brought any gloves opting for a firm grip instead, I subsequently got very red, very sore fingers.
About a month ago, when the first shoots of wild garlic had emerged I collected a load for my fully foraged meal, the leftovers were destined for pickling. Pickling wild garlic bulbs is great way of preserving their spring appearance for late summer/winter when they are long gone, I now have a stash which should see me through the year!
Having seen a recipe for nettle pesto on the fantastic Seattle based “Fat of the land”, and being rather partial to a little Terry Thomas style one-upmanship, I devised a new recipe from Battersea parks finest.
Apart from the olive oil, parmesan, a squeeze of lemon and salt, this is completely wild pesto and showcases the punchy wild flavours perfectly. The only addition I have omitted is the addition of pinenuts, for some odd reason they have been added to the time-honoured tradition of pesto construction, the original Genoan recipe never called for pinenuts and being a stickler for tradition, I always leave them out.
Wild Stinger pesto.
- 40 Nettle tops (steamed)
- 8 bulbs of wild garlic (ideally pickled)
- 1 handful of wild garlic leaves
- 5-6 florets of Hairy bittercress
- A handful of grated parmesan
- a good, long glug of olive oil
- Pepper to serve
- Juice of half a lemon
Now I don’t know about you but I have never been a huge fan of pesto with the consistency of baby food- I like to have some sort of texture and go for a chunky hand chopped version. A lot of the kitchens I work in always blend it, which is in my eyes a cardinal sin…but they just don’t have the time to do it by hand.
The idea is to substitute the ingredients with natural wild flavours: had I come across some sorrel leaves I would have used them instead of the lemon, the bittercress adds a nice peppery tang and of course the wild garlic…is wild.
Once the nettles have been steamed for about 5 minutes (this preserves all their goodness- never boil it!), roughly chop them and all the other ingredients and mix together in a bowl, add us much or as little oil as you desire.
Serve a big dollop over Linguine, munch immediately and don’t wipe the smile off your face!
With my move to the woods looming, this is one recipe I will be utilising to the max, I don’t know how to make parmesan, perhaps I could milk a squirrel? Or a rabbit! Afterall, you can milk cats…