Ramsons, wild garlic, buckrams, bear’s garlic, bear paw garlic… (Allium Ursinum) is a wild, wide-leaved plant with a very distinct garlic scent and apparently a favourite of bears, who would dig out its bulbs (hence the name). Its edible long leaves are very similar to those of the lily of the valley and mixing them up is very dangerous, since the latter are toxic. The strong smell created when the leaves are rubbed is the only way to distinguish them if one is not an experienced ramsons picker. Planting its bulbs in one’s garden (I have learnt it was possible on the Cottage Smallholder website) or buying from a trustworthy market stall is even safer!
Ramsons grow all around Europe (ail des ours, czosnek niedźwiedzi, megyhagyma, aglio orsino…), but while their use in the kitchen is popular in certain countries, it is almost non-existent in the others. In Switzerland they appear in April and disappear in May and are so popular, they can be found on many market stalls and even in supermarkets. Ramsons can be stir fried with vegetables or meat, put into soups or – my favourite way of enjoying them – act as a very bold basil substitute in pesto. Since, accidentally, I discovered how delicious the pesto with almonds can be, this year I decided to apply the same substitution in the ramsons pesto. The result was so satisfying I’m wondering if I’ll ever buy pine nuts again…
Beware! Wild garlic pesto is powerful, almost hot, advised rather for strong emotions’ amateurs and/or garlic fans! Have it preferably for dinner and take tic-tacs or chewing gums if you go out the following day. The garlic breath might linger for a couple of hours, but the wonderful taste is well worth this small inconvenience. Just like the basil pesto, this one can be kept for at least a week in the fridge, if covered with a thick layer of olive oil. Stir it into pasta, spread it on fresh bread, toast, grilled meat or fish, add it into salads, use it as a dip…
pestle and mortar or a food processor (a mini-mixer is the best if making a small batch of pesto)
Preparation: 10 minutes (or more if using a mortar)
3 handfuls of ramsons
3 heaped tablespoons ground almonds
1 flat teaspoon salt (coarse salt is better if using the mortar)
2 – 3 heaped tablespoons grated parmesan
10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (or more if you want to keep in for a couple of days in the fridge)
If using a mixer put everything in the mixer bowl and mix. Adjust the taste.
If using the mortar start with almonds and salt, then add the cheese, the ramsons and the salt. Finish with olive oil.
If you don’t use pesto the same day, put it into a jar, cover with olive oil and close tightly. It will keep for at least a week in the fridge.