Great Green Garlicky 'Alliaria petiolata'
You're looking up that fancy Latin name right now, aren't you. Well, perhaps 99% of you are... congratulations to the 'clever clogs' who didn't need to!
Cheffy excitement annually greets the Wild Garlic season with much wilting and chopping of its leaves. Lots of lovely suggestions for its use here. But as it dies down there is now an abundant and free alternative. Jack-By-The-Hedge.
A little more peppery perhaps, but still with a big nod towards the flavour of garlic. After years of being alerted to its existence just the other day I finally picked and used some.
Reference pictures here to help you find the right plant. Some of the lower leaves retain the rounder shape of youth whereas the upper ones have developed the distinctive spearhead habit.
The seed pods visible below are a quick snack while you are picking... and apparently won't leave you with 'garlic breath'.
No bold adventure with my first use of this ingredient. My pea and ham risotto was finished with bags of fresh mint, tarragon, thyme and marjoram. This meal just shouts out comfort food and with friends round to share it I had no intention of interfering too much with its natural appeal. So, a few flowers for presentation in the knowledge that they would provide an additional flavour... justifying their place on the plate. That flavour was noticed and appreciated with interest. Next time I will almost certainly chop some leaves for inclusion in the mix.
And now I am convinced of its qualities I am determined to make Jack-by-the-hedge panna cottas very soon.
This free ingredient is pretty likely to be just a short walk away from wherever you are.