If you’ve been following me on Instagram, then you know that I just spent the most glorious week in Italy and Switzerland. If not, then maybe you’ve heard me bubble over with joy on the phone, or via e-mail, or over text. It’s all true — I spent a week traveling as a guest of Eurail to experience their new Italy-Switzerland pass, and it was all the things. All of them. But more about that later. I’m still recovering and pinching myself to make sure it all wasn’t a dream.
In the meantime, today I’m sharing a recipe that I’ve fallen in love with here in London using two local British herbs. I made this wild garlic pesto orecchiette right before I left on my trip, and my whole family gobbled it up in minutes. It’s a combination of light and herbal, of fresh and spicy, and it’s just such a magical dish that I thought I’d share it with you today, along with tips on how you might duplicate this dish if you’re not in the UK.
But first, let me provide a little background on the two greens that I used in my wild garlic pesto orecchiette. Wild garlic is an herb that’s in the same family as chives, and it grows in England only during the spring months. It’s a slightly sweet tasting plant with just a little hint of garlicky goodness. I made some pan-seared pollock with poached eggs and wild garlic for my cookbook club. The garlic was such a delicately fresh touch to the dish that I immediately thought, “What else can I make with this stuff?” Since then, I’ve had it wrapped around goat cheese (heavenly) and also in this wild garlic pesto orecchiette.
Since traveling to Liguria, the northwest coastal region of Italy that’s known for pesto, I’ve learned a few truths when it comes to making pesto. First, although mixing pesto in a food processor is the quickest way to go, you don’t want to totally pulverize your pesto by turning the machine on and letting ‘er rip. It’s better to pulse your garlic and nuts (traditional pesto has pine nuts, but I’ve used walnuts and almonds with great success, too) first so that the two become a chunky paste. Then, you can add your fresh herbs and pulse again, with cheese and olive oil last. This helps maintain the consistency of your pesto in a nice, chunky sauce instead of a runny hot mess (which I am most days, whether I’m making pesto or not).
Wild sea purslane, on the other hand, is a really interesting herb that grows wild on the banks of the British coast. It’s velvety to the touch, like sage, but literally tastes like the sea when you chew on it raw. The stalks are sturdy and woodsy, so they’re not ideal for adding into dishes. However, the leaves can be plucked off easily for a salty, yet not overpowering, accent to any dish.
The best part about any pesto is that it can be made ahead and saved in the fridge for up to a week. I made this pesto in the morning, right after I put away the clean dishes and sent my kids off to school. The pesto sat in a pool of olive oil until dinner time, and I tossed some orecchiette (which means “little ear” in Italian) in salted water to boil. Orecchiette is one of my favorite pasta shapes because the well of the “little ears” can catch puddles of sauce, making for a flavorful bite with every mouthful.
If you’re not in the U.K., finding wild garlic and sea purslane can be difficult, if not impossible. In the U.S., you can find ramps (wild leeks) in the spring, which would also make for a nice pesto. By my research, it looks like some people say that ramps and wild garlic are the same thing, but I don’t think they are mainly because of the difference in flowers. I’ve also blanched broccoli rabe in hot water and made a pesto out of that, which also turned out to be quite tasty.
I served my wild garlic pesto orecchiette with just a simple green salad, but I think it would also a nice fresh pairing with a heavier grilled meat. Let me know what you think — in the meantime, I’ll be smothering my face in pesto and dreaming about Italy…
- 1 16-ounce package of dried orecchiette
- 2 bunches of wild garlic (or 1 bunch of wild garlic and 1 bunch of sea purslane)
- ¼ cup (50g) roasted almonds
- 2 tablespoons (25g) freshly grated Parmesan
- 1 clove garlic
- salt and pepper to taste
- at least 1 cup of good quality olive oil
- Set a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil. Boil pasta according to the package directions.
- In a mortar and pestle or food processor, pulse the garlic clove and the almonds until chunky but blended.
- Add the wild garlic and purslane leaves (omit the stems if using purslane). Pulse again until a rough paste formed. Sprinkle in the Parmesan and pulse again.
- Drizzle in ½ cup of olive oil and pulse a few times. Keep adding olive oil until you have a nice, smooth sauce with some chunks. Taste and add salt and pepper.
- Before draining the pasta, use a ladle to scoop out a cup or so of the water that the pasta has cooked in and save in a bowl. Drain the pasta (do not run under cold water; this removes some of the flavor and wonderful starch!).
- Toss the pasta with the pesto, adding a bit of the pasta cooking water if necessary to loosen up your sauce a bit. Garnish with more Parmesan and serve immediately.
My recipe was inspired by this recipe over at Taste Without Borders.
Lastly, as a bonus video, my little guy asked that I share this video of him stir-frying vegetables. He’s quite the up-and-coming chef! Check it out: