I was talking to a friend the other night in the city about how exciting it is to watch the greens positively burst forth from the confines of the ground after a particularly long winter, and how the thrill is tempered by the frustration of waiting for them to grow. I’m desperately eager to stop buying vegetables as soon as I possibly can, and yet good-sized greens are still a few weeks away. As with so many culinary problems, the answer to this one is right outside the door.
Dandelions are still a ways off, but the ramps and nettles are coming up (I got a decent haul of ramps on Saturday with Eve, and only fell in the frigid river once) and chives, sage, mint, and oregano are all at snippable height, so at least fresh herbs are in abundance. Best of all, though, is the wild garlic. I mentioned this before, and it bears repeating as ramp madness spreads across the land. For my money, these little guys are very bit as useful as ramps and a million times more abundant. Yesterday I went out with a shovel and spent about an hour digging promising-looking clumps of them in various spots; I ended up with about five pounds. Thicker stalks mean fatter bulbs, so it’s worth being discriminating. I gave them a dirt-purging rinse in the outdoor sink and brought them inside for a thorough floating and sorting.
Edit: here’s a picture I meant to include that might help with identification:
I cut them all off right where the white turns pink and then green–much like ramps–and trimmed off the roots. All the bulbs got crammed into jars, bulbs down and then bulbs up in between the first layer, and then had a hot pickling brine poured all over them: white and homemade cider vinegars cut in half with filtered water in which I simmered mustard, coriander, peppercorns, and salt for a few minutes. Right away they were good, and after a day or so they became pungent, tangy, and irresistible. The acidity should be sufficient to keep them perfectly preserved in fridge or cupboard long after we’ve eaten them all.
Do you see those tiny, adorable little cloves in the foreground? They’re smaller than your pinky fingernail and yet perfectly formed; this is how the plant spreads and it’s why they grow in clumps. They’re way more squee-worthy than whatever the internet is all worked up over on any given day. Does Le Creuset have a Hello Kitty line yet? If so, these are cuter.
The big pile of garlic greens would not be ignored, so I picked through them to remove any brown or otherwise unappetizing parts and then cut them into roughly 2″ lengths and puréed them in the food processor for a minute or two with olive oil, cider vinegar, and some basil pesto from last summer’s haul that I had pulled out of the freezer (I freeze lots of pesto, but make it without cheese so it doesn’t get weird and chewy). This fluorescent green condiment is sharply garlicky and extremely flattering to all things meaty, including some leftover lamb neck stew stirred into Lebanese couscous they day after a nice dinner that included both items. Seriously: depending on where you live, a meaningful portion of your property might right now be covered with free, delicious wild garlic; before you go get hypothermia and poke your eye out searching for ramps on the side of a godforsaken mountain, why not take advantage of this neglected yet ubiquitous culinary underdog that grows in your yard whether you want it to or not? Free food is good food.