If I am guilty of one thing every spring, it is of losing my shit over the annual return of wild garlic.
I’m aware that I make a slightly parodic picture: The wayward urban forager who runs to that secret patch in the local woodland armed with a pair of kitchen shears, trying to keep my scarf from collecting too much dirt as I hunch over another patch of those glossy green leaves. But I’m happy looking foolish if it means walking away with a big ziploc bag stuffed with the seasonal bounty, trailed by an allium scent cloud that follows me all the way home.
It’s not just about the satisfaction of making off with a quantity of wild garlic that would have cost upwards of £10 or £15 in a greengrocer, divided across multiple fiddly little plastic packages. It’s that wild garlic – so zippy, so freshly pungent, so alive with the new season – really is temporary, and if you want to make the most of it, you have to do so in a narrow window of time. I like the creative possibilities of that constraint. In the past, I’ve used wild garlic in pierogi, pasta, chimichurri and seafood soup. And this year, I’m tucking it into quesadillas, alongside squished oyster mushrooms and chipotle and jalapeno peppers.
Squished mushrooms, you might ask? Credit for that goes to US-based food writer Bettina Makalintal, who shared the technique on Instagram before writing about it in Bon Appétit. The idea is simple: Place mushrooms in a large, pre-heated frying pan (preferably cast iron), then squish them using the weight of a second, slightly smaller frying pan (also preferably cast iron). The result: evenly golden-brown, crisp mushrooms that never get close to soggy. Oyster mushrooms work well here, with their innate meatiness and chew, their savoury heft. By crisping them in advance, then mixing with the chillis, wilted wild garlic and a handful of coriander, they add pleasing bite to the quesadillas without any structural-integrity-threatening sloppiness.
I knew I had to cook with mushrooms once I heard a bottle of Kindeli Tinto was headed my way. This natural wine scene stalwart is a reliable, if mutable, favourite. The 2020 version is 92% Moutere Valley-grown Pinot Noir and 8% Shiraz, and upon tasting, I was struck by the wine’s earthiness and austerity. It’s as crisp and crunchy as autumn leaves and, in the way that Pinot can, it whiffs of mushroomy forest floor. There’s some bracing cranberry in the mix, but this is a wine that feels prevailingly savoury to me.
It certainly worked with those squished mushrooms and smoky chipotle, and the pops of brightness from the jalapeno and coriander seemed to draw out an innate, if shrouded, fruity character. For this transitional time of early spring, when wild garlic begins to bloom and you can still have the weather of three seasons in one day, I can’t think of a better combination.
Oyster Mushroom, Wild Garlic and Chipotle Quesadillas
Makes 6 quesadillas
Adapted from Milk Street
300g oyster mushrooms
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 jalapenos, stemmed and thinly sliced (and deseeded, if you prefer)
2 large chipotle peppers (from jar of chipotles in adobo), roughly chopped (plus extra adobo sauce)
Flaky sea salt, to taste
20g wild garlic, roughly chopped
30g fresh coriander
6 large (or 12 small) flour tortillas
200g comté, grated
125g ball mozzarella, drained
Salsa verde, optional
1. First, prepare the mushrooms. Using a damp tea towel or paper towel, gently brush off any dirt or grit. Add vegetable oil to a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan and place over high heat. Once hot, but not smoking, add half the mushrooms in a single layer. Line the bottom of a slightly smaller frying pan with foil and place over the mushrooms. Using your hand (or a tea towel, if it gets too hot), press the pan down forcefully to squish the mushrooms.
2. Cook the mushrooms for 3-4 minutes like this, or until they are deeply golden-brown on the bottom. Using a spatula, flip the mushrooms and cover again with the frying pan; press down and cook for 2-3 minutes more, or until golden-brown on the reverse side. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining mushrooms.
3. Turn the heat down to medium-low. To the frying pan, add the jalapenos and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until starting to soften. Next, add the chopped chipotle peppers and cook for 1-2 minutes more. Return the mushrooms to the pan and mix through; season generously with flaky sea salt. Add the wild garlic to the pan and stir through; cook for 20 seconds, or until just starting to wilt. Turn off the heat and mix through ⅔ of the fresh coriander. Squeeze over the lime juice and set aside.
4. Prepare your quesadillas. On half of each tortilla, sprinkle over grated comté. Add an even layer of the mushrooms and chilli mix before adding a spoonful or two of adobo sauce. Top with shredded pieces of mozzarella and a garnish of fresh coriander; be careful not to overstuff your quesadillas. Fold the tortilla over the filling, so it makes a half-moon shape.
5. Wipe out the large frying pan you used earlier, add a drizzle more vegetable oil if necessary, and place over medium heat. Once hot, add however many quesadillas can comfortably fit in the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown; flip and do the same on the reverse side. Cook a little longer, flipping frequently, if the cheese is taking a while to melt. Remove from the pan and garnish with a sprinkling more coriander and salsa on the side, if preferred. Repeat with the remaining quesadillas and serve immediately.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer and wine hound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen. Don’t miss out on Claire’s wine and food pairings, which go out every month in our Natural Wine Killers subscription box.