Wild garlic aka ramsons (or 'Bärlauch' as we call it in German) is found in many areas of North-, East-, Western- and Middle Europe and some parts of Asia, including Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It is mostly found in damp woodlands, shady lanes and some hedgerows. And, lucky me, it is also growing abundantly in our garden.
It begins to show up at the farmers’ markets in early March, and by the middle of the month it’s wild garlic frenzy, with Bärlauch appearing in countless recipes.
The German name Bärlauch literally means 'bear leek', and my favorite name origin story involves sleepy bears coming out of hibernation and munching on the pungent leaves as they fully wake up.
The wild garlic season lasts only for a few weeks. The leaves can be picked in most years from March to June. They are at their best and most flavorsome when bright green before the flowers open. As they age and start to turn yellow, the flavor is less strong.
There are a few other plants that it is possible to confuse with wild garlic. The usual sources of confusion are lily of the valley (Maiglöckchen) and autumn crocus (Krokus). These are both poisonous, so do be careful. If in doubt, the best test is to crush a leaf and use your nose, if it smells of garlic it is garlic.
You should harvest leaves, stems, flowers and seed pods using scissors. Pick a little here and there rather than too much in one place and watch where you are putting your feet. As you pick, it is easy to bruise the leaves so put them gently into a basket or bag without packing them in. Like many wild leaves, they will wilt after picking so use quickly or refrigerate. Give any flowers a shake to remove any insects, wash in cold water. If required, pat dry with a kitchen towel or a tea towel to remove moisture.
You can use wild garlic anywhere where you would use regular garlic, the flavor is however milder. The leaves can be used raw but sparingly in salads and finely chopped as a garnish. A popular use is in pesto in the place of the usual basil. When cooked the leaves can be used in many different ways. The simplest use is as a vegetable as you would prepare and serve spinach. It can also be used blanched and puréed as a sauce, in soups, stews, pasta sauces, risottos, quiches and frittatas, focaccias, dumplings, mashed potatoes, omelettes, scrambled eggs and lots more. Simply let your taste buds be your guide. The stems and unopened flowers can be added to salads and other dishes such as Asian stir-fries. They can also be pickled or preserved by salting. The opened flowers can also be eaten. The flavor is stronger than that of the leaves. I find that they make a pretty and tasty addition to salads and can be used as a garnish.
Wild Garlic Focaccia with Parmesan
- 300g strong white baking (plain) flour (around here ‚Type 550‘)
- ½ tsp fine sea salt
- 16g fresh yeast OR use dry yeast (you can use 8g active dry yeast or 4g instant yeast instead)
- 2 tbsp mild olive oil (suitable for cooking)
- 200g lukewarm water
- 50g wild garlic leaves, washed, dried and finely sliced
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 30g freshly grated parmesan cheese (plus some)
- about 25g mild olive oil (suitable for cooking)
- Place the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl and and mix together with a wooden spoon. Either turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic, OR use a stand mixer and knead for 5 minutes on the lowest speed.
- Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place until double in size. This will probably take anywhere between 30 minutes or up to an hour.
- In the meantime, line a pie/pizza dish (about 22cm) OR one baking sheet with baking parchment.
- Lightly dust the work surface with flour (if you have corn flour/semolina on hand, it’s nice to use that here), turn out the dough and flatten with your hands, roll out to the size of the pan or push out with your hands. If the dough stiffens and will not flatten, then leave it to relax for 5 to 10 minutes and try again. Place in the pan and leave to rise again for about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (356°F).
- In a small bowl, mix together the wild garlic, salt, pepper, parmesan and olive oil. Set aside.
- When the dough has risen, use your fingers to dimple the surface. Dribble the top generously with the oil and drizzlele with the prepared wild garlic mix.
- Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes - at that point the focaccia should be a pale golden brown. Sprinkle with a bit more parmesan and bake for an additional 5 minutes.
- Lift out of the pan or from the tray using the paper and place on a cooling rack, sliding the paper from underneath so the steam can escape and preventing the bread from going soggy. Serve warm or at room temperature - if you have got any wild garlic leaves left over, make some wild garlic oil and serve alongside.
Enjoy wild garlic season while it lasts. It's always nice to use ingredients while they are in season, so, if you can, get some of these lovely wild garlic leaves during the next couple of weeks and enjoy being creative in your kitchen. Wild Garlic and Cheese Focaccia is just the beginning.