You may never have heard of ramsons. But you might have heard of wild garlic and it’s the same thing. Purportedly named after being found on the banks of the River Irwell that flows through Ramsbottom, it’s also occasionally known as bear garlic or boar garlic because of those animals’ liking for it. I’m lucky enough to have it grow at the bottom of my garden and, as the season’s just starting, I’m able to gather it for the restaurant. Some greengrocers sell it but you can pick your own. Usually found along the banks of rivers, it’s easily identified by its garlicky smell, particularly when rubbed between the fingers. It’s important that you test it like this because visually the leaves can be confused with Lily of the Valley which are poisonous!
Mackerel can be filleted by the fishmonger or the recipe works equally well with fresh sardines.
- Two mackerel fillets
- Flour for dusting
- Two thick slices of bread
- Three or four tomatoes – eyes removed and roughly chopped
- One fennel bulb – finely sliced
- A generous handful-sized bunch of ramsons
- A small handful of hazelnuts
- A few fresh soft herbs
- Extra virgin rapeseed or olive oil
- Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Bring a large pan of water to the boil and blanch the ramsons in it for 20 to 30 seconds. Immediately drain and refresh in iced water to stop them cooking further and to retain their colour. Drain and dry using a tea towel before putting them into a blender along with the nuts and a glug of rapeseed oil. Blend until it resembles pesto, adding a little more oil if necessary and season with salt and pepper.
Heat a grill pan or heavy-based frying pan, add the tomatoes and fennel along with another glug or two of rapeseed oil. The contents, along with the resulting liquid, will make both a garnish and a dressing for the dish with the acidity coming from the tomatoes. Cook gently for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, dust the fish fillets with flour and cook, skin side down, in a hot pan for a few minutes, until the skin is golden and crisp. At the same time, brush the bread with oil and toast under a pre-heated grill.
To serve, arrange the tomato and fennel and fish on top of the toast. Finish with a generous spoonful or two of ramsons puree and sprinkle around some of the torn soft herbs.
Previously published in The Northern Echo