Cleavers and Vetch Pesto

As you know, the Woodland Ways Team are renown for their brilliance at campfire cookery, indeed it was customer comments that inspired us to create the first volume of the Dutch Oven cookery book, and we’re now working on volume two. Here is one recipe that we inspired people with at the Institute for Outdoor Learning’s Annual Conference.

Cleavers- (Galium aparine). You should be able to find young shoots at this time of year (Dec 2012)

Based on a classic Italian pesto recipe this substitutes the strong aniseed like flavour of basil with the more delicate fresh pea flavour of the young shoots of Cleavers (Gallium aparine) and/or Vetch (Vicia spp). Other plants which have a similar flavour like Chickweed (Stellaria media) or Bladder Campion (Silene vulgaris) leaves could be used instead of or mixed with Cleavers or Vetch.

Vetch- Vice Spp

You need to use the very young tender shoots of both. Young seedlings of Cleavers can be found in early spring and then again in autumn and right through the winter, whilst young Vetch shoots can be found from spring right through the summer into autumn. The green seeds or “peas” of Vetch can be used as well. The purple flowering Common, Bush and Tufted Vetch (Vicia sativa, V. sepium, V. cracca) can all be used.

At this time of year especially with the recent cold spell, Vetch may be thin on the ground but young Cleavers should be around tucked under hedges. Look for the dead, long, dried stems of this summer’s growth scrambling over the brambles and undergrowth and you should find the new shoots coming through underneath. Chickweed too should be available throughout the winter.

With a large pestle and mortar (or in a food processor), pound up 100g of pine nuts, 2 cloves of garlic, 2-3 good handfuls of young Cleaver or Vetch shoots with a good slug of olive oil and 50g grated parmesan.

Serve on pasta like conventional pesto, stir into risottos, on bruschetta or to accompany meat. It goes particularly well with wood pigeon- Columba Palumbus.

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