Wild garlic pesto

You’ll know wild garlic, even if you don’t think you know it. Walk down a country lane, a woodland pathway or past a shady riverbank in spring and you’ll know it’s there – it’s that subtle scent of garlic playing on the air. If you want to know what it looks like and how to pick it, read this.

I love wild garlic. It used to grow in my back garden, a lovely surprise found four months after I moved in. Now, with a small yard in the suburbs I don’t have such luxury – so I stalk my local river banks keeping a beady out for the first spear shaped leaves.

wild garlic leaves growing on river bank

Usually found in mid-March to April/May, the warm weather we’ve had lately has encouraged the deep green tips out as early as mid Feb. It’s pretty prolific, so if you find a patch, you’ll find enough for a good feed, and more! So a pesto like this is a good way to get the most of the leaves you pick.

This pesto can be made at any point of the season, but will be more garlicky as the leaves mature.

Wild Garlic Pesto

Makes three small pesto jars, or one large jam jar – takes about 20 mins

  • 250g wild garlic leaves
  • 100g Manchego cheese, chopped into rough dice – you can use Parmesan, but I like the buttery flavour of Manchego, it doesn’t fight with the softness of the wild garlic here
  • 100g walnut pieces
  • 50ml light olive oil, and more to preserve
  • Sea salt
wild garlic pesto in small jar
  1. Sterilise your jars. I like to run them through a normal dishwasher wash and then dry them out in the oven at 100c. Here’s how the BBC does it. Note: unlike jam, you need to bottle this in cold jars, otherwise you ruin the cheese/oil/wild garlic leaves.
  2. Wash your wild garlic leaves and pick through for any grass, bits of leaf, small beetles and anything else you don’t want in there. Pack them into a food processor and blitz until chopped fine. If you have a small/mini processor (like I do), you may need to do this in two lots.
  3. Taste your walnuts, make sure they’ve not gone rancid (bitter) before you add them, otherwise they will ruin the pesto. Feel free to use pine nuts or roasted hazelnuts here instead.
  4. Add your nuts and cheese to the processor and blitz, until the pesto starts to come together. If you’re using a big processor, drizzle in the 50ml oil. If you’re using a small one, transfer everything to a bowl, add the oil and mix.
  5. Season to taste. Depending on when in the season you’ve picked your wild garlic, will depend on how garlicky and spicy this will taste. Early in the season you’ll get a soft, vegetal taste, which will move more to the traditional garlic taste as the season progresses.
  6. Pack your pesto into the jars and leave 2cm between the top of the pesto and top of the jar. Add a layer of oil on top of the pesto to preserve. Add extra oil to the top of the jar each time you use some to keep the air out.
  7. Keep in the fridge and eat the pesto within three weeks. (This is important).*
  8. Stir through pasta, use to stuff chicken, pimp up mushrooms on toast – how will you eat yours? I haven’t used lemon in the recipe, but adding some to your finished dish will really make the pesto sing.

A note on botulism

*There are two camps on how quick you have to eat things made from wild garlic. One camp is very laissez faire, one screams BOTULISM in your face. Basically, unless it’s cooked, there’s a very marginal chance botulism could develop (there have only been a handful of cases in the UK since the 70s). However, botulism is pretty fatal and I don’t want any of you to get ill, so I eat this within three weeks. More info here so you can make your own mind up.

wild garlic leaves picked in wicker basket