wild garlic pesto - to the lighthouse...

we stayed in a former lighthouse keeper’s cottage this weekend. 

i really must get round to reading virginia woolf’s to the lighthouse. i have no idea what happens in it (probably not a lot, knowing woolf) but i never think of it as being about reaching the lighthouse from the sea. in my head it’s about getting to the edge of the land. there is something quite seductive about that – going as far as you can go in one direction before the sea stops you. it makes me feel dizzy thinking about it. but that’s just me.

the lighthouse itself and the cottage behind it are perched on the edge of a cliff, quite literally. you get a slight sense of unease when you see the structure from a distance – it looks like it’s about to topple into the sea, suspended between the scree and the rocks below. but when you get there - down hairpin bends and steep stairs - you realise how solid it is, with thick walls and window shutters designed to withstand gale force winds.

we went for a walk on a coastal path into lynmouth on the first day we were there. the last part takes you through a ‘wood’ (can’t bring myself to write it without parenthesis - woods to me mean places you get eaten by bears or least chased by some WWII nazi occupiers, rather than a muddy path into a pretty village). but it was beautiful. it had been raining intermittently so we walked through a mass of dark green foliage, smelling of spring and wet earth.

half-way through, we suddenly hit a patch of wild garlic – shiny dark green leaves and masses of tiny white flowers on both sides of the path. i roasted a chicken with some a while back (http://n1kitchen.blogspot.com/2009/04/roast-chicken-with-wild-garlic.html) except i then paid a pound for a few leaves, london farmers’ market style. really must stop doing that.

on the way back, after a pint and a crab salad, we picked a couple of handfuls of leaves each. rich carried them back to the cottage in his pockets. walking in front of me, even in the wind on the cliffs, he left behind him a faint scent of garlic.

i blanched the leaves straight away, then froze them. when we got back to london, they had de-frosted during the long drive. i used half of them in a stir-fry but had a fair bit left so thought i would make some pesto sauce. (anything to get the magimix out, basically.) i vaguely remembered seeing a recipe for it somewhere recently.

it was great. but i don't feel the need to sell this recipe - everyone seems to love pesto and i think they would also love this. you can't go wrong really. go for a walk this weekend and pick some. bet there's loads of it about still.

we ate most of it with some boiled asparagus we bought from a farm shop in somerset on our drive back. i also swirled some through a breakfast omelette and we had the rest on the pork medallions the next day.


the basic idea behind pesto – leaves combined with nuts and hard cheese – can extend way beyond the usual basil and parmesan. in fact, i would have used walnuts in mine but didn’t have any. i know some people use wild rocket or even parsley to make their own version of pesto but i am not sure about that one.

it’s hard to be precise about quantities here. start with a handful of leaves, a handful of pine nuts and a handful of good parmesan or pecorino cheese (it’s probably about 50g each of nuts and cheese but i am guessing), whizz in a blender and taste. (you can do this in a pestle and mortar but it will take a lot more elbow grease.)

you’ll be able to tell what it needs – too claggy, add more leaves and stay off the nuts; not salty enough, add a bit more cheese; too bland, add a few more leaves, etc. it also depends on your personal taste.

you can toast the pine nuts lightly before you start – they will taste more nutty. depending on what leaves you’re using, you can add a little bit of garlic, i’d say no more than half a clove. this being wild garlic, it obviously didn’t need any.

when you think you’ve got the flavour right, add some good olive oil to thin it. you might not need a lot and it depends on how thick or not you want your sauce to be. season with a bit of pepper and that’s it.


  1. Nice post ... the flowers make a great pesto too ... Mat


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