I have two favourite signs of spring. The first, of course, are daffodils, their cheery yellow heads radiating a sense of seasonal promise as they emerge boldly from the ground when winter is drawing to a close. The second, and rather more edible (as supermarkets have kindly been reminding us recently, daffodils are poisonous and should not be ingested), is wild garlic. Here in the Yorkshire countryside, these pungent, strappy green leaves are abundant for the months of March and April, arriving in perfect time for Easter, where they make a fabulous addition to roast lamb. Picking them guarantees literal green fingers and the lingering aroma of garlic about your person for hours, but the reward is a beautiful ingredient that can be used to brighten so many spring recipes. If you’re not sure where to find wild garlic, head to the countryside and follow your nose – the scent is hard to miss!
My favourite way to use wild garlic is to blitz it in a food processor with some lemon, olive oil and salt to make a vivid green paste that can be smothered onto a lamb shoulder before roasting, dolloped onto a fillet of white fish with some boiled new potatoes, or tossed through hot pasta. I recently decided to try making it into a proper pesto, mixing the aromatic leaves with basil, lemon salt (a favourite JustIngredients seasoning of mine), oil (I used local rapeseed oil to keep with the Yorkshire theme) and pine nuts (you could also use walnuts). The result is fabulous, rich and zingy and lemony and so versatile in the kitchen. It freezes well, too, so you may as well make a double batch (and believe me, you’ll want to).
I saw these sweet potato gnocchi on the excellent blog Top With Cinnamon recently, and knew I had to make them to go with my wild garlic pesto. The last time I made gnocchi was about five years ago, and they were a lumpy, soggy disaster that went straight in the bin. These, though, are beautiful. A vivid orange from the sweet potato flesh, they are light and fluffy but don’t lose their shape or turn into mush. I added a little smoked paprika to bring out the sweet potato flavour and contrast with the sweetness. They’re very easy to make: you just roast the sweet potatoes, scoop out the fudgy flesh, and blitz everything in a food processor to make the dough. They’re a little tricky to shape initially, but make sure you use lots of flour and you’ll get the hang of it. It doesn’t really matter if they’re not finely shaped; as long as they’re all roughly the same size, you can make them any shape you like.
I served these with some chestnuts sautéed in butter, adding the cooked gnocchi to the pan to crisp them up before tossing everything with the pesto. I love the combination of sweet chestnut with pumpkin ravioli and risotto, and figured it would go well with sweet potatoes too. It really does, adding little crispy nuggets of sweetness to complement the buttery pesto and fluffy dumplings. The end result is absolutely stunning: those hearty little gnocchi are rich and satisfying, gooey on the inside and caramelized on the outside, coated in salty, fragrant garlicky pesto with the sweet burst of chestnut and the salty, addictive taste of parmesan. It’s one of the best dishes I’ve made this year, and I’d urge you to try it.
Not your conventional Easter recipe, perhaps (although it does involve an egg!), but one that I think is perfect for this time of year, celebrating one of our most beautiful natural ingredients. Why not go for a little forage over the Easter weekend and get some wild garlic to try this at home?