Garlic mustard, also called jack-by-the-hedge, hedge garlic, and a number of other names (Knoblauchsrauke in German) is about as common as stinging nettle but rather easier to harvest. It has a lightly garlicky flavour with a hint of mustard and the entire plant is edible, from the roots to the flowers.
See page 76-7 of The Forager Handbook by Miles Irving for some excellent notes on identifying and using this plant. He says, “The first year plants produce tender leaves, which can be harvested like cress when very small; second-year growth starts with large-leaved rosettes; collect both these and the bushy tops just prior to flowering.” The flowers are a nice addition to salads or to top dips.
There is some bitterness here, and it takes a bit more getting used to than wild garlic, but that is largely mitigated by the addition of fatty seeds or nuts, olive oil, and salt. There is a pleasantly subtle garlic aftertaste but do note that the first note is slightly bitter.
Use this pesto the same way you would a basil pesto or any other type, on pasta, pesto pizza, or to top a roasted tomato soup. I like it with egg pasta as that extra fat in the pasta helps to temper the bitterness even further.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
- Garlic mustard: harvest the leaves or tops, but don’t use the stems for this recipe. You can replace up to half of it with spinach if you don’t have enough garlic mustard.
- Sunflower seeds: use any mild seed or nut in place of sunflower seeds, like walnuts, pine nuts, or even hemp hearts.
- Add-ins: for a stronger lemon flavour, include the zest of the lemon. Parmesan or another hard cheese can be blended in once the pesto is finished mixing if you’d like to include cheese.
Step by Step
Step 1: add all the pesto ingredients but the olive oil to a small food processor or mixing container or an immersion blender.
Step 2: mix on low speed if possible to start breaking down the seeds.
Step 3: increase the speed and mix until the seeds and leaves have broken down.
Step 4: slowly add the olive oil while blending until the pesto is very smooth.
This is a fairly thick pesto and for pasta, it should be thinned out with a splash of the cooking water from the pasta. At this consistency it works well for pizza or as a spread for sandwiches and so on.
I always use an immersion blender for pesto and it works perfectly (and takes up less space than other kitchen electronics). Some readers have said that they have difficulty pouring the oil while blending, and while I’ve never had this problem, you can try placing a damp tea towel under the jar to help keep it in place.
How to Store
Storage: keep the pesto in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to five days.
Freezing: transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to three months. Thaw in the refrigerator before use. The pesto might separate slightly after thawing but will come together again with a quick blitz.
- Seek out clean plants: try to find plants growing in areas without high human, dog, and car traffic. We’ve been extremely lucky this year as loads of garlic mustard is growing in the garden of our rental, so we know what it’s been exposed to, but try to find some off the beaten path.
- Season to taste: as with almost any savoury dish, adjust the amount of salt and pepper to suit your personal preference. Reduce the salt if adding cheese.
- Wash well: even if you’re getting the leaves from a trusted place, it’s still a good idea to give them a very good wash before use. I recommend soaking briefly in cold water to loosen any soil or dust before rinsing well.
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Garlic Mustard Pesto
- 50 grams garlic mustard leaves
- Juice 1 lemon ~3 tablespoons
- 50 grams raw unsalted sunflower seeds or walnuts
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Add the garlic mustard, lemon juice, seeds, salt, and pepper to an immersion blender container or small food processor.50 grams garlic mustard leaves, Juice 1 lemon, 50 grams raw unsalted sunflower seeds, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Mix on low speed to start breaking down the seeds and leaves, then increase the speed to mix into a rough paste.
- Pour the oil into the pesto in a slow stream while mixing, blending until the pesto is very smooth. Refrigerate or use immediately.3 tablespoons olive oil
* For American cup measurements, please click the pink link text above the ingredient list that says ‘American’.
Nutrition is provided as a courtesy and is an estimate. If this information is important to you, please have it verified independently.
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