Yesterday when I was catching up with posts on a few of my favourite blogs I spotted a pasta blogging event that Mangocheeks at Allotment2Kitchen was taking part in. So I followed the links and ended up at Presto Pasta Nights, which this week (PPN #117) is hosted by Katie at Thyme for Cooking. The concept is that you blog about a pasta dish (well anything that has pasta or noodles in actually) and as pasta is one of my favourite quick dishes I thought it might be fun to take part especially as I had pasta for lunch on Monday from a mixture of things lurking in the fridge.
As I work from home quite a lot I get to rustle up whatever I fancy each day from whatever I can see in the fridge. I don’t often buy things specifically to use for lunch but instead muddle through with whatever I can find from leftovers and store cupboard basics. Its fair to say our cupboards and fridge are fairly well stocked so it not often that I struggle to make something tasty, but I do tend to really on pasta, salads and open sandwiches a lot.
On Monday the fridge yielded:
- some cooked garden peas and new potatoes leftover from dinner the night before
- the remains of a bunch of asparagus that had got hidden behind something else so it wasn’t in top form any more but still edible
- some fresh tarragon pesto that was dangerously near its use by date
- the last of a chunk of parmesan
So I headed to the cupboard and dug out the current pasta shape (some De Cecce Tortiglioni) and cooked it as per the packet instructions. I steamed the asparagus above the pasta for about 7 minutes and then cut it into 2cm lengths. Once the pasta was done I drained it, put it back in the pan and stirred in a couple of spoonfuls of pesto, and tossed it with the asparagus, peas and potatoes (cut into 1cm dice). Into a bowl with a good grating of parmesan on the top and there was my lunch. Maybe 15 minutes from fridge to table – not bad.
Note: The fresh pesto was Purely Pesto. I’m going to be doing a producer review soon so watch out for that.
“Here, turn right here, this has got to be it”.
We swerve round the corner and bounce along the driveway. “Nice pond, but where’s the big house?” There’s plenty of rolling parkland and a cluster of outbuildings but no grand house to be seen.
There’s also a tall affable looking chap wearing wellies and a big chunky jumper so we slow up and roll down the window. “Here for the food foraging?” he says, “follow the track round between these buildings and you’ll see a group of parked cars and over to the right people on the lawn, that’s were you need to be.” So we drive on as instructed and sure enough there’s about 15 cars and a bunch of people standing about having coffee. I get out and amble over and my husband drives off to a day of peace and quiet.
I get a coffee and Polly (half of the duo that makes up Food Safari) passes me some still warm flapjack (yum! this is a good way to start) then introduces me to the rest of the group – none of whom I’ve met before but some of whom I’ve been chatting to via twitter (yes that’s you @Farctum and @EssexGourmet). Once everyone is here Tim (the tall affable chap in wellies, he’s the other half of Food Safari) tells us the format of the day. We’re going to be foraging for wild foods here on the estate and then also down by the river Blyth (also on estate land) then we’ll be off to The Anchor at Walberswick for a lunch show-casing some of the wild foods.
Tim hands over to Jacky (aka WildFoodie) who’s our foraging expert today. She explains that we are on private land so sadly we can’t entertain any thoughts of popping back sometime to bag some more goodies; well I guess not unless we can get to be new best friends with Hektor who manages the estate, I imagine he’s probably got enough friends already though. Jacky also explains that the weather in Suffolk has been so dry recently that we probably aren’t going to find enough stuff in really good condition for us to take bagfuls home. We are going to have to be content to watch and learn, that’s the nature of foraging, it’s a real luck of the draw thing. Jacky had a scout about yesterday so she’s got lots of examples to show us and she’s been able to collect enough goodies for our meal later.
Then we move on to our first spot, I’m expecting we’re going to have to walk a good distance across the park perhaps into a wooded area, but no, there’s plenty to see only steps away from where we are. Take a look – what can you see that’s edible?
Hmmm looks like a bunch of weeds in a badly tended garden if you ask me…..but hold one we are going to find at least FOUR, yes that’s four, edible goodies in this patch.
Okay so clearly I’m in nappies on the foraging front compared to the likes of Jacky – I can’t see a thing I’d fancy eating. But with Jacky’s expert guidance we learn about ground ivy, cleavers (aka sticky willy – hmmm), nettles, ground elder, burdock and elderflower – blimey that’s six – and I don’t think Jacky was even trying hard….she tells use how to identify each of them through look, feel and even sound and also which bits to pick and even how to pick (clever scissor movement with your fingers for nettle tops). We taste as we go when things are okay to eat raw. Mostly everything we test has a fresh but quite bitter taste but there are differences between them.
Next its time to move on to the river. But before that a few of us think a comfort stop might be good so Polly takes us over to the stable block, which has been converted into a rather lovely looking B&B, and we get to use the facilities there. I also get a quick lesson in the intricacies and long running feuds of the Rous family and learn that the final version of the big grand house was knocked down (some say a fortuitous fire…) in 1953, so that’s why we couldn’t see it. There are plans afoot for a new house to be built.
Anyway down to the river – I would say bank but here the estuary is really wide and flat so it’s more like a gentle slope. The estuary systems in Suffolk and Norfolk are havens for all sorts of things and in particular marsh samphire.
If you look really hard you can see the samphire at the front of this picture
I’ve had this before, bought from local farm shops and I love it. We are a little early in the season but we can see the samphire starting to sprout like some kind of mini primeval forest. We get to test the samphire and its wonderfully juicy with a salty tang –I’m looking forward to it being available in the farm shop soon and hoping we get some at lunch. We also find sea purslane which looks a bit like a succulent version of sage although it tastes nothing like sage. Again it’s juicy and salty.
And finally we head off to The Anchor pub at Walberswick with our appetites suitable whetted. But before we get to tuck into lunch we take a quick look at the pub’s allotment where Jacky tells us about poppy leaves (nice and sweet and almost pea like in flavour), hops shoots, dead nettles and chickweed (plus other assorted things you might just throw away but can actually eat!).
At last it really is time for food. We wander over to the beautifully refurbished stable block and are served with glasses of refreshing elderflower scented beer from Lowestoft whilst nibbling on fresh asparagus, tempura hop shoots and absolutely wonderful chickpea and samphire mini pancakes. These are so divine we are nearly knocking each other out of the way to get our hands on them; I’m definitely going to be trying to recreate them at home.
Mark then guides us into the stable block itself where a huge long table awaits us and a further three courses of food with matched beers. Mark is an absolute mine of information about the beers and clearly likes to surprise his guests with things such as a Gueuze he describes as having aromas of sweaty horse saddle and horse piss – great! Hektor and I try to tell him that we are not especially familiar with either of these but to no avail. Food wise every thing was delicious but dishes and flavours that particularly stood out were the chicken of the woods in the risotto,
The chicken of the woods is the pinky/orange bits
a very meaty mushroom that might make some vegetarians shudder, the semi pickled carrots in the salad, the elderflower panacotta
and finally my favourite local cheese, Buxlow Wonmil. It makes a change to have lovely food paired with beers rather than wines and is something I might try myself. Of the beers I think my favourite was the Frambozen although the Gueuze was much nicer than Mark’s description would lead you to expect; its kind of nicely tangy and refreshing, a bit like liquid sourdough.
Its time for everyone to head their separate ways, full of new knowledge, exceptional food and plenty of beers. I have a glass of Benedictine for the road (fortunately my husband is collecting me) and we waddle off clutching our information packs, happy foragers that we now are.
You can find out more about Food Safari’s days out in Suffolk on their website, arrange gift vouchers for loved ones or simply book a treat for yourself. I’m hoping to try another one of their days soon.
To view the menu and other information about The Anchor at Walberswick click here. Go on treat yourself to some great food and beer.
A few weeks ago I treated myself to a ‘Tarte Maison‘ tin from John Lewis. Its a lovely thing, 3 times as long as its wide and calling out to have something pretty made in it. Initially I’d intended to make a rhubarb tart that I’d seen Jonathan (aka @Browners), over at ‘Around Britain with a Paunch‘ mention on Twitter. I’ve not got to the rhubarb tart yet – mainly because we don’t eat that many desserts so it just hasn’t happened.
But this weekend I thought it would be nice to do something a little bit different with asparagus that still let it shine and played to its best qualities but moved away from simple steaming and dressing (much as I love it just steamed).
The tart tin seemed just the thing to show off the asparagus.
It was quick and easy:
1. Steam 10 asparagus spears until tender and then immediately plunge them into cold water so they retain their vibrant green colour. Cut each spear in half so you have a bottom end and an end with the tip on.
2. Grease the tart tin and then line with four layers of filo pastry (I needed 8 sheets which overlapped in the middle). Pour in baking beans and blind bake for 7 minutes at Gas 6/200C/400F. Remove from oven and careful remove the baking beans. Allow to cool slightly.
3. Lay the bottoms of the asparagus spears in the pastry case. Add soft goats cheese cut into small pieces (I used 100g of Pants y Gawn). Pour in beaten and seasoned eggs (it took 6 medium eggs).
4. Lay the tops of asaparagus spears on the eggy mix. Bake 20 minutes at Gas 6 until the mixture is firm. Allow to cool, admire, slice and serve.
Yesterday I had an assignation at Liverpool Street Station in London with a man I’d never met before called Dan (at least that what he said his name was).
We agreed to meet at 11.30 BST.
He said I’d recognise him by the flowers and the gentle aroma of garlic. How he was going to identify me we didn’t establish. Gave me plenty of get out but not him.
Fortunately there aren’t that many people just standing looking like they are waiting for a man bearing a wild garlic plant at that time of day – most people are busy rushing to or from somewhere. Me, I was just loitering.
Anyway along came a guy with a garlic plant and I reasoned there wasn’t going to be 2 people doing this so I said ‘Hi’ and as luck would have it it was Dan! We chatted bit, Dan told me about how to look after the plant and what to expect. We compared foodie notes. I handed him a sample of my home made sloe vodka (vintage 2006) as a thank you and he went off to carry on his day job (and sneak a nip of vodka I think) and I took the garlic for a coffee followed by lunch – most enjoyable and not too many odd looks.
The plant is now at home, the cats have checked it out and decided its not for them, I sampled some today at lunch and was impressed, so next up is to plant it at the shady end of the garden and hope that next year we have a good crop.
I can’t wait for a feast of wild garlic next year
With big thanks to Dan over at FoodUrchin for giving me a little bit of his garden.
As the sun has been out quite a bit over the last few weeks my mind turned to ice cream making. I don’t make lots of desserts or do lots of baking – I enjoy it but we just don’t eat dessert that often so it kind of gets wasted (this is not some ‘health’ or ‘no sugar’ things its just I prefer munching on savoury stuff these days); but every now and then a sweet dish is just what’s needed.
There are some really good ice creams out there especially at farm shops – enough really to make you wonder if home made ice cream is worth it, but of course it is – it’s a great project thing and good for impressing guests (or just your other half).
I’ve been a fan of Alder Carr Farm’s Alder Tree ice creams for a good number of years and when I get the chance I indulge in a little pot, sometimes insisting on a stop off at their farm shop just to get my hands on one. My favourite flavours are; Gooseberry and elderflower, Raspberry, Stem ginger and rhubarb and Summer fruits – its so hard to pick. Anyhow, we went for a walk near Blythburgh the other day and I was hoping for an ice cream treat at the end, but we were later than expected due to a route diversion and so there was no hope of getting my mitts on any ice cream anywhere ?
Okay a big disappointment – but there are always ways to compensate and so I started planning some ice cream making. I’d picked up some rhubarb at the farm shop and hadn’t decided what to do with it so, with the cogs in my head whirring into action, I settled on either rhubarb and elderflower or rhubarb and pink ginger ice cream. I generously allowed my husband to pick between these two choices and he went for the ginger option.
This is so easy to make you won’t believe it! You’ll need:
rhubarb – a couple of sticks
4 tbsp pink ginger cordial (I used Thorncrofts)
100g of greek style yoghurt
100g of crème fraiche (basically half of the standard size tub)
an ice cream maker (much easier) or a strong plastic box and a freezer (slightly harder)
What to do?
1. cut the rhubarb up pretty small – about 5mm thickness max – you don’t want big stringy bits of rhubarb in your ice cream. Then simmer in about 2tbsp of water (no sugar) it until its soft and breaks up easily (10-15 mins should do it). Leave it to cool completely.
2. when its cool mix in the 4 tbsp of pink ginger cordial (undiluted); or of course elderflower cordial if that’s what you fancy. Check the taste and add a bit more if you like things extra sweet.
3. stir in the yoghurt and crème fraiche – it’ll be pretty sloppy
4. fire up the ice cream maker if you have one and pour in the mixture, allow to churn. It’ll take at least 30 minutes to get to a good frozen but soft scoop consistency. Eat.
5. if you don’t have an ice cream maker then first of all get on to your loved ones and drop hints that you’d quite like one – the ones where you freeze the bowl start at around £35, if you’ve got rich loved ones make noises for one that has its own freezing unit (£220+). Then once you’ve done that put the mix in the plastic box, put it in the freezer and take it out every now and then to stir it as this breaks up the ice crystals and mkes for a smoother consistenty, probably every 2 hours will do it. It’ll take about 8 hours if you can wait that long.
Enjoy, and feel smug.
Wild garlic had been popping up on my radar for a couple of weeks as being very much in season and ‘very now’ i.e. a thing it seems we should aspire to be seen eating. Never one to want to miss out on an emerging trend I thought I’d best give it a go.
I didn’t fancy going off to forage for it – it mostly grows in woodland and by river banks – neither of which are that common in East London (and those that there are you’d probably not want to harvest wild garlic from). It’s apparently easy to identify with mid to dark green glossy leaves about 6 inches or so long and the garlicky smell is a give away – I remember that from woodland walks in Wales. Anyway I thought I’d keep an eye out to see if there was any on sale.
Eventually I struck lucky at the farm shop in Middleton, Suffolk – no I didn’t go to Suffolk to find wild garlic I was going anyway- there it was for sale by the bag looking pretty fresh and perky to me.
I did a bit of searching around for suggestions as to how to use it – most books and sites saying it could be substituted for chives or garlic though its milder than the latter. Spring herb soups also seemed to be recommended and salads. All good sounding stuff. After a bit more thinking about how to incorporate it into our meals over the next couple of days I decided on two different options:
Sautéed with a mixture of chard and kale to give a flavoursome mix of greens (about 1/3 of each would be about right). I chose to use rapeseed oil (which I’m currently switching to for quite a lot of my cooking, and because I was challenging myself to get as much of the meal locally as possible). I served it as a side dish with chargrilled lamb cutlets and new potatoes. It was pretty good but as I had only used about ¼ wild garlic and as the cooking softens the flavour it was a little bit lost – I’d try it with 1/3 wild garlic next time I think and perhaps add it after the other greens to preserve more of the flavour.
The second time I used it I decided to do a warm potato salad with a vinaigrette made from 1 part white wine vinegar to 4 parts extra virgin rapeseed oil and a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard all shaken in a jar. I did lots of potatoes (local grown Charlotte – so a good waxy salad potato) and after simmering them for about 15 minutes I allowed them to drain for about 10 minutes (covered) before tossing them in the dressing then adding the chopped wild garlic and tossing again. This was really very good. The warm potatoes brought of the garlic flavour well and they were nicer, I think, than either spring onions or chives done in the same way – spring onions can be too harsh and chives not strong enough – the wild garlic was just right. It was just as good next day cold.
So if you can get your hands on some wild garlic, either foraging or from a farm shop, then give it a go. These are two simple recipes to get you started but there’s lots of other good ideas out there too. I’ll certainly be trying it again.
Last night I had mussels just as they should be – wonderfully fresh, plump, sweet and with a tang of salty sea-ness about them. Cooked in the classic style of mariniere – butter, white wine, shallots, parsley and served with crusty bread to mop all the delicious juices.
I have to confess I didn’t cook them myself – I’ve always been a bit scared about preparing shellfish at home, maybe I just need to find a reliable local source and give it a go. The instructions in books always seems a bit of a faff – lots of leaving the shellfish in a bucket of water for days (!), swooshing them round to get out any grit, tapping them too see if they are dead or alive (and I don’t mean the 80s band from Liverpool), scrubbing, scraping etc etc, all before you get to cook them for about 5 minutes. I like the hard work to be done by someone else sometimes and I just do the eating.
So these were my starter at Regatta in Aldeburgh (after a bracing walk and a quick pint of Adnams). I followed them with salt beef, home made piccalilli (homemade by the team at Regatta not by me!) and new potatoes. But the mussels had been so lovely and such a generous portion (the amount some places would give you as a main to be honest) that I stalled part way through the salt beef – and now I’ve got a little take out to make a sandwich with for lunch tomorrow ?.
I’d say these were the best mussels I’ve had by far ever and I’ve eaten a fair few in my time. Just goes to show how good local produce (there’s plenty of mussels produced on the Essex and Suffolk coast) fast from the producer to the table can be. So good I might even venture to cook some myself this season.
No pictures sorry, was too busy eating!