Friday 15 November 2019

Rachel Allen... Born to be Wild

As spring gets into its swing at last, Rachel Allen is heading down to the woods today to forage for some fragrant wild-garlic leaves. Photography by Tony Gavin

Rachel Allen extols the virtue of wild produce. Photo: Tony Gavin
Rachel Allen extols the virtue of wild produce. Photo: Tony Gavin
Fresh pasta ribbons, wild garlic, olive oil and butter. Photo: Tony Gavin

A favourite place of mine to go for a walk is in one of the many woods that we have close to us here in east Cork. At this time of the year, the smell of wild garlic is just rampant, as some of the leaves get trampled on at the side of the paths. It's always a reminder for me to make the most of these wonderfully fragrant, flavourful leaves (and flowers) in my cooking - free and foraged food at its best.

The flavour of wild garlic is less pungent and intense than that of garlic cloves. This means that the leaves are absolutely delicious raw, as part of a selection of leaves in a green salad. I like to add chopped-up wild-garlic leaves to soups or stews just before serving, or even stirred through mashed potato. The leaves are also fabulous used as a herb - such as mixed with some breadcrumbs and sweated onions to stuff a roast chicken.

There are two varieties of wild garlic, both of which are abundant this time of year. The broad-leaved variety is true wild garlic, sometimes known as ramsons. It is found in woodlands, with large patches that return year after year. The thin-leaved variety is found more often in ditches and on the side of the road. It is known as three-cornered wild garlic, but it's also referred to as three-cornered leek, due to its subtle leek or allium flavour, which has less of a garlic taste than ramsons.

The pasta dish, opposite, is a wonderful showcase of just a few great ingredients. Great fresh pasta needs little embellishment, and this simple recipe really elevates the flavours of the pasta and the wild garlic.

The pasta recipe comes from Gillian Hegarty, who trained for years in Italian cooking and now works as co-head chef at Ballymaloe House. I highly recommend making your own pasta, as it is quite easy, though you could, of course, use dried pasta if you'd prefer.

Fresh pasta ribbons, wild garlic, olive oil and butter

Serves 3-4

You will need:

350g (¾lb) Gillian Hegarty's home-made pasta (see the next recipe), or 350g (¾lb) dried pasta

Salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, and extra for drizzling

25g (1oz) butter

4 cloves of garlic, finely sliced

300g (11oz) wild-garlic leaves, cut lengthways in half or in thirds

Pinch of grated nutmeg

50g (2 oz) finely grated hard cheese, such as mature Coolea or Parmesan

If you're using fresh pasta, make the pasta as in Gillian's recipe, right. Roll it out and cut it into ribbons 1½-2cm wide.

Put a large saucepan of water with salt on a high heat to boil.

Meanwhile, place a wide pan on a high heat, add in the three tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and the butter. When the butter is melted and hot, add in the finely sliced garlic cloves and stir for a few seconds until the garlic turns a very light golden. Immediately add the cut wild-garlic leaves, the grated nutmeg, and some salt and freshly ground black pepper to season. Stir over the high heat for a few seconds until the wild-garlic leaves wilt, then take the pan off the heat and set aside.

Put the fresh or dried pasta, whichever you're using, in the boiling salted water and stir - remove the lid once the water comes to the boil. Fresh pasta will take a couple of minutes to cook; if you're using dried pasta, it will take longer.

Once the pasta is al dente, drain it, but make sure to reserve about 200ml (7fl oz) of the cooking water (you may not need all of it). Pour 25ml (1fl oz) of the cooking water in to the al dente pasta, stir and set aside.

Now put the wild-garlic mixture back on a high heat, allow it to get hot, then add the pasta to the wide pan - if the pan with the wild garlic is not large enough to take all the pasta, you'll need to do it the other way round. Now add about 50-75ml (2-3 fl oz) of the reserved cooking water to the pot, just enough to get it a little bit juicy and steamy. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt, freshly ground black pepper or nutmeg if necessary. To serve, tip into a wide, warm serving bowl, and scatter the grated hard cheese on top.

Gillian Hegarty's Home-made Pasta

Makes approx. ¾lb (350g) fresh pasta, feeds approximately 3-4.

You will need:

300g (10oz) '00' flour

25g (1oz) semolina flour and extra for dusting

A good pinch of salt

1 whole egg and 3 large egg yolks

1 dessertspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon cold water

Sift the '00' flour, 25g (1oz) of the semolina flour and the pinch of salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre of the flour, break in one whole egg and two egg yolks into the centre, together with the extra-virgin olive oil and the cold water and mix everything together.

When the dough is at a crumbly stage (before you form it into a ball) check to see if there is enough moisture in it. If there is not, add the remaining egg yolk and maybe even an extra egg white. It is difficult to be exact with the quantity of liquid, as it depends on the size of the eggs and the brand of flour.

Knead the dough for 8-10 minutes or until it is really smooth and silky, see my Tip, above left. Wrap it well in cling film and let it rest for 30 minutes before rolling. Divide the dough into three pieces - keep two covered in cling film while you roll the other piece into a length that is 1-2mm (about 1/8in) thick. As a guide, you shouldn't be able to read the lettering on a matchbox through the pasta. If the pasta is rolled too thinly it will be too sloppy and won't be strong enough to hold the sauce.

Using a knife or pizza wheel, cut into ¼in (5mm) strips for noodles or tagliatelle. Pappardelle are the widest of the noodles, they should be cut to a width of 15mm (about »in) with a crimped-edge cutter. Toss the cut pasta in the extra semolina flour and then place them on a tray that is also sprinkled generously with semolina flour. Repeat with the remaining pasta dough.

The pasta is best if the strips are allowed to dry out for at least an hour in the fridge or cool place.

It can be kept for up to three days in the fridge.

Wild Garlic Soup

Serves 6.

You will need:

25g (1oz) butter

2 medium potatoes, roughly 275g (10oz) peeled and diced

1 medium onion, about 150g (5½oz) chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1L (1¾pts) chicken or vegetable stock

2 big handfuls of wild-garlic leaves, about 100g (3½oz), roughly chopped

100ml (3½fl oz) cream

Add the butter to a large saucepan and place it over a medium heat. When the butter is foaming, toss the diced potatoes and the chopped onions in the butter until they are well coated and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Reduce the heat, cover and cook for about 10 minutes until the diced potatoes and sliced onions are soft.

Next, add the chicken or vegetable stock, whichever you're using, and bring it to the boil. Add the roughly chopped wild-garlic leaves and cook them for about two minutes until they have wilted. Immediately liquidise the soup, then return it to the pan, stir in the cream and taste for seasoning, adding more salt and freshly ground black pepper if necessary.

Serve hot.

Wild Garlic and walnut pesto

Makes about 150ml (5fl oz).

You will need:

2 handfuls of wild-garlic leaves

25g (1oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

25g (1oz) walnuts

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

75ml (3fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to cover the finished pesto


Put the wild-garlic leaves, the freshly grated Parmesan, the walnuts and the crushed garlic in a food processor and whizz up until a coarse paste is formed. Add the 75ml (3fl oz) of extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt and taste.

Pour the pesto into a sterilised jar, cover it with 1cm (½in) of extra-virgin olive oil and store in the fridge.

Rachel's tip

Fresh, hand-made pasta requires some effective and strenuous kneading if it’s to be the right texture when it’s cooked al dente. You need to really work the dough until it transforms from coarse and grainy to silky smooth.

Rachel recommends

I just adore blue cheese. On its own, drizzled with honey, stirred through a risotto or melting over focaccia. I’ve always loved a really mature Cashel Blue and Crozier Blue (a sheep’s milk blue), see More recently, I’ve discovered Wicklow Blue, a teeny-tiny, creamy blue cheese, which is just the perfect size for a picnic, see My latest blue-cheese crush is Kerry Blue, an almost amber-coloured cheese, that’s crumbly, creamy and sweet while delightfully tangy, tel: (064) 668-4236.

All four cheeses are available from  farmers’ markets and cheese shops  across the country.

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