Thanks to this freak warm winter we've been having, there's been a long season of three-cornered, or hedgerow, garlic – and ramsons appearing as early as January. I love preserving wild garlic; you may have seen my column a couple of years ago with the various preserved wild garlic recipes – and below is a fermented version, which goes fantastically well with all sorts of things.
Wild garlic leaves are such a versatile ingredient and very abundant once you have found a spot. The skinny three-cornered garlic grows from about November until February, and then the broader-leaved ramsons kick in. Don't buy into any of the recent press about banning foraging. We have been doing it for centuries, and it's a great way to experience tasty, free wild food. There are more pressing global issues that we should be focusing on.
Bacon chop with wild garlic pickle
Our forager, Miles Irving, has been making fermented wild garlic for a few years now, and has set up an online store (shop.forager.org.uk) which sells delicious wild garlic pickle, if you don't fancy waiting six months to make it yourself.
Most good butchers should be able to cut you a bacon chop or you can try brining a piece of pork belly or a rack yourself. I always make a big batch of the pickle so that I have some in my larder when wild garlic goes out of season.
500g hedgerow or wild garlic leaves, washed, dried in a salad spinner and coarsely shredded
10g sea salt flakes
4 x 180-200g bacon chops
Put the wild garlic in a non-reactive bowl, such as a Pyrex, and mix with the salt. Cover with cling film, then put a tight-fitting plate on top – or you can use cans or jars, up to you. Place in a cool, dry place for two weeks, giving it a stir a couple times. Transfer to sterilised preserving jars and store for at least 4-6 months or up to a year in the refrigerator before using it.
To serve, preheat a ribbed griddle or heavy frying pan, season the chop with pepper only, and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the chop.
Dublin bay prawns with Arak, tomatoes and wild garlic
Good-quality peeled, frozen scampi or Dublin Bay prawn tails from a good fishmonger (you may need to give them advance warning) will be much cheaper than buying live ones and peeling them – although you can get another meal from the shells in the form of a soup or bisque. Arak is a Pernod-like pastis drink.
You can serve this with plain boiled rice or a rice pilaf made with fennel.
24 large raw scampi tails, peeled
Olive oil for frying
A good knob of butter for the sauce
4 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp tomato purée
60-70ml arak or pastis
10 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped, or a 400g can of chopped tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A handful of wild garlic leaves
First make the sauce: gently cook the shallots and garlic in the olive oil for a couple of minutes without colouring. Stir in the tomato purée and arak, then simmer for a minute. Add the tomatoes, season and simmer for 5-6 minutes until the tomatoes just begin to break up.
Meanwhile, season the scampi, heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a frying pan and cook the scampi on a high heat for 3-4 minutes until lightly coloured. Add the tomato sauce, butter and wild garlic leaves and mix well. Re-season if necessary.
Lamb and wild garlic Freekeh
Freekeh, sometimes spelt frikeh, is toasted green wheat and is a big feature of Arabic cooking. It can be used in the same way that we use rice or spelt and can be served hot or cold. Treat it with care and you will find yourself with a very tasty dish indeed.
500-600g neck of lamb, in 2-3cm chunks
2ltrs lamb or beef stock (2-3 good quality cubes dissolved in that amount of boiling water will do)
2tbsp tomato purée
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
1 200g can of chopped tomatoes
250-300g freekeh, soaked in cold water for 1 hour and rinsed
2tbsp rapeseed or corn oil
2 red onions, peeled, halved and finely chopped
A handful or so of wild garlic leaves
Heat a little rapeseed oil in a heavy frying pan, then season and fry the pieces of lamb on a high heat for a couple of minutes until nicely coloured.
Put the lamb in a saucepan with the stock, tomato purée, garlic and chopped tomatoes. Simmer for about an hour, or until the meat is tender, then remove the pieces of meat with a slotted spoon and put to one side.
Heat some rapeseed oil in a heavy saucepan and gently cook the onions for 3-4 minutes on a low heat, stirring every so often until they soften.
Add the freekeh and gradually stir in the lamb cooking liquid with a wooden spoon, allowing each addition of stock to be absorbed before adding the next. After about 15 minutes, add the lamb and continue cooking until the freekeh is tender.
The consistency should be quite moist – add more stock if not. Finish by stirring in the wild garlic leaves.
Advance cooking tip. You can make this dish a day or so before, removing from the heat and cooling down on a tray five minutes or so before the end of cooking. You can then return to the heat in a pan when you're ready to serve, and keep adding the stock.