Bärlauch, “Bear’s Garlic”, is German for wild garlic or ramsons. Native to Europe and Asia, I begin to find Bärlauch at my local grocery stores in Austria and Czech Republic beginning from April. Ramps are the relatives of ramsons and are found in US grocery stores. During the spring, restaurants in Austria have special menus dedicated to Bärlauch, probably not only due to their seasonality but because of how their bright green leaves make dishes spring to life in both taste and color. The taste is milder than garlic – it doesn’t have the spicy bite of raw garlic cloves – and so Bärlauch makes a particularly tasty pesto. I will share here how I make mine.
This is the same process to make basil pesto. If you are NOT using wild garlic, garlic cloves are still optional, but more so recommended. You can substitute the wild garlic for basil, carrot tops, a large variety of herbs, cauliflower leaves, and so on.
- Bärlauch (2+ large bundles)
- Walnuts or Pine Nuts
- Olive Oil
- Parmigiano Reggiano
- Lemon Juice
- Salt, Pepper, Hot Chili Flakes
- Optional: Garlic Cloves
In my opinion, pesto has to be about preference, so I’m only going to give you a rough guide of what to look for. If you are eager to be more authentic in the process, this can be done in with a mortar and pestle. Otherwise, use a blender or food processor.
Add the Bärlauch to the processor with a few tablespoons or estimated rounds of olive oil, a palm-full (or more, depending on how much greens you are using) of nuts, a few squeezes of lemon juice, a few twists or pinches of salt and pepper, and less than a palm-full of Parmigiano. Begin to blend.
Use your eyes and ears – if the processor becomes ‘stuck’, you do not have enough liquid, so add more olive oil.
Every 10 or so seconds, stop the blender to taste:
- Add more nuts and cheese for a more robust flavor, or more lemon juice if you are seeking more acidity.
- After about two stops of the blender, check for salt content. At this point, it should now be dispersed, so check for that, as well as black pepper.
- See whether the Bärlauch is just garlicky enough or you prefer more. I opted to add three garlic cloves per 2 bundles of leaves.
- I prefer my pesto with a little spice, so I also added a few dashes of hot chili flakes.
I prefer that my pesto has texture, at the point just before it gets smooth, although it should have no “crunch” from the nuts. Additionally, the ratio of ingredients is entirely up to how much greenery you have as your base – this is a recipe that I believe has no space for measurements and is entirely based upon the continuous tasting and adjusting. When the pesto is finished, it should neither be too liquidy or too dense – a happy medium where the pesto can hold its own, but be a light accompaniment to pasta or spread on fresh toast.