Thanks to Kalyn for hosting Weekend Herb Blogging (and I’m sorry I’ve not taken part in a while; the winter has made herb blogging a real stretch of the imagination in the UK!)
Wild garlic isn’t the same plant as the garlic you buy in the supermarket. It belongs to the same family, but wild garlic (Allium Ursinum) has a tiny bulb with no separate cloves, soft leaves and a strong smell but a gentle flavour. Cultivated garlic (Allium Sativum) is a tougher-looking plant, with larger, much more pungent bulbs, and without the soft leaves, instead growing leaves a bit like a leek.
The leaves of wild garlic look a little like the leaves of lily of the valley; a little less glossy and rather softer, but similarly strap-like. In late spring and summer, their extremely pretty white, star-shaped flowers appear – they’re also edible, and are very good as a garnish or in salads. The abundant leaves are very strongly scented, so if you are walking in a wood where there is a patch, you’ll be able to find it with your nose before you spot it. Pick in winter and spring; the plant dies down after flowering. The bruising that happens when you pick the leaf makes the smell even stronger, so don’t leave the container you’ve put your leaves in in the back of the car- consign them to the boot. This smell (and the flavour) becomes softer and sweeter when the leaves are cooked. The leaves will keep raw for several days in the fridge.
I picked a bag of the leaves in Yorkshire, in my mother-in-law’s garden. Wild garlic spreads like crazy, especially in damp shade, and it’s considered a weed when found in gardens. I also dug two clumps and their accompanying soil up, and put them in pots in my own garden. I’m not going to plant them in the ground, because I have a feeling that if I follow my garlicky instincts, in a couple of years I may end up with an all-garlic garden, which isn’t a good look.
Try the leaves in a salad to taste them at their freshest. They’ll also cook beautifully in the same way as spinach (as in the side-dish I prepared to accompany this chicken – saute mushrooms in butter, and add the leaves towards the end, stirring until wilted, then add lemon juice, cayenne pepper and salt), but I think I’ve found the perfect application for them in this chicken and pancetta parcel. I’m very, very pleased with this recipe – if you can get your hands on any wild garlic, give it a try.
You’ll need (per person):
1 chicken breast fillet
5 slices pancetta
1 handful fresh wild garlic leaves
1 knob butter
Lay the slices of pancetta out in a rectangle on a piece of greaseproof paper. The slices should overlap so there are no gaps. Lay the wild garlic leaves all over the top, then place the chicken breast on top of that. Grind pepper all over the chicken (you don’t need any salt; the pancetta will be salty enough on its own) and use the greaseproof paper to wrap the pancetta and garlic leaves around the chicken, as if you were rolling a Swiss roll. Use toothpicks to secure the ends of the pancetta.
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed, non-stick pan, and when it starts to bubble, saute the wrapped fillets for eight minutes each side. (Start by cooking the presentation side – the one without toothpicks – first.) Garnish with some wilted leaves and pour over the pan juices.
I served the chicken with roast new potatoes, the mushrooms and garlic leaves described above, and a bottle of Pouilly Fuisse. Delicious.