I got these potatoes the other day from the supermarket, I picked them partly because they were relatively local (grown in Cambridgeshire).
Now I know that doesn’t mean they can straight from Cambridgeshire to may local store, they probably went to some central warehouse miles away and then came back. But hey.
I found this nestled amongst them.
So I suppose I know they were grown in real soil, probably in Cambridgeshire.
Or do you think they add random bits of flint at the central warehouse to kid us.
Last week I took part in Dan of Food Urchin’s dinner blogging challenge (called ‘Where’s my pork chop?’). Basically I cooked him some dinner and in return I got, well these:
There’s loads of potatoes, beans and courgettes hiding under the kale
I’m going to be blogging what I cooked for Dan in a separate post so check back for that in the next few days. Here I want to tell you some of what I’ve done with the veg so far.
Dan had been down to his allotment bright and early on the day of the swap and picked me a selection of goodies in their prime. In the bag were charlotte potatoes, curly kale, green (French) beans, courgettes and COURGETTE FLOWERS ?. I’d been hoping for some of the latter as I’ve only tried them once before and they aren’t that easy to buy. We’ve tried to grow our own courgettes this year but we aren’t having much success so far (the first lot of seeds didn’t germinate) so I was particularly delighted with the flowers.
Of course as everything had been picked only a few hours before I took the picture above the veg were absolutely bouncing with freshness. I was pretty pleased with my haul and it really demonstrated how lovely and fresh veg can be when their distance from the ground to the kitchen is short. I now have allotment envy.
So what I have I done with the veg so far?
Well as recommended by Dan I did some of the kale with oil and chilli. I actually steamed it first then gave it a quick sauté in rapeseed oil and chilli flakes. It was really good, the kale still had a little bit of crunch to it and the chilli complemented the slight bitterness that is inherent in brassicas like kale. I’ll definitely try it like this again and venture out into varying the spice choice as well.
The potatoes are just brilliant. One of my gripes about potatoes is that its not that easy to get ones that taste of anything much but when you do WOW instead of thinking potatoes taste kind of bland and nothingy you realise they have an earthy sweetness all of their own. Dan’s potatoes hit the mark on this – I assume its because they were straight from the ground. So far we’ve had them simply boiled and also crushed and cooked with some onion. Yum.
The beans and the courgettes we’ve steamed and tossed in a little oil or butter – again when things are this fresh they can shine on their own. And the flowers?
Well searching in cookbooks, on the internet and tweeting all seemed to point to stuffing the flowers, dipping in a tempura batter and deep-frying. Hmmmmm. I’ve never deep-fried anything; I don’t own a deep fat fryer, I too vividly recall close calls with chips pans in the 1970s (and that safety advert they used to run) to suddenly think that deep-frying them is the way to go. I also don’t want to experiment with a new technique on my precious courgette flowers – imagine if it goes wrong…..after a bit more thinking and searching I decide to just have them fresh and perky as they are in a salad but I do go with the flavours that many of the deep fried recipes suggest i.e. fresh soft cheese and herbs.
I simply tore the flowers and tossed them with the rest of the salad (rocket, basil, lollo rosso, tomato, cucumber) before adding some of my favourite Buxlow Wonmil cheese and drizzling with a little oil. The flowers aren’t particularly strong in flavour but they add a both a different colour and texture to the salad. They are curiously soft yet slightly crunchy at the same time and a good addition. I guess if I get more flowers I might dare to experiment with deep-frying but for now I’m happy I stuck to adding my flowers to a salad. (Dan – more flowers please….)!
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.
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.
I’ve been reading quite a few cookbooks recently that have a seasonal theme to get some new ideas for different winter dishes.
I’ve been particularly enjoying Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s (HFW) ‘The River Cottage Year‘ (this link is to Amazon.co.uk). I’d already tried a couple of the soup recipes and then I spotted the recipe for ‘Smoky cheaty brandade’ (page 49) and I just happened to have some smoked haddock that I’d been planning to use for kedgeree but thought I’d try the brandade instead.
It was fairly simple to make (about 1 hour total from start to sitting down to eat – and of that time about 20 mins was prep the rest was the dish cooking). I made half the quantity in Hugh’s recipe and 2 of us ate half of it so I now have plenty left which I’m planning to fry up as fish cakes later the week. I guess if you had a really big appetite it wouldn’t go this far but with some braised courgette and greens it made a good size main course which we followed with some cheese.
The recipe goes like this – adapted from Hugh (with my comments in brackets):
(per HFW this serves 4 as a main, 8 as a starter or 12 as a canape – but see my comment above):
500g smoked haddock or cod fillet
whole milk (actually I used semi skimmed and it was fine) – about 400ml
500g mashing potatoes – peeled (floury ones that mash well are king edwards and maris piper)
4 tbsp good olive oil, plus extra
2-3 large garlic cloves
optional – 1-2 tbsp double cream (I didn’t use this)
- Poach the fish in the milk for about 5 minutes (the milk should just cover the fish and if the fillet is particularly thick it may take a few minutes extra – its ready when the flakes will separate easily – use a sharp knife to test it). Leave the fish in the milk to cool.
- Boil the potatoes in lightly salted water until tender, drain then mash with a generous knob of butter and some of the poaching milk to get a soft but not sloppy mash.
- Remove the fish from the milk and flake it off the skin and make sure you pick out any stray bones, discard the skin and bones.
- Pour the olive oil into a small pan and add the finely chopped garlic, sweat on a very low heat for 2-3 minutes and don’t let the garlic colour. (I used the full 4 tbsps of olive oil even though I used only half the quantity of fish and potato).
- Put the fish into a food processor and pulse to a paste whist adding the olive oil/garlic until the fish is the consistency of mash potato – add more oil or the cream or some of the poaching milk to achieve this.
- Mix the fish and mashed potato together – BUT NOT in the food processor or it will go all gluey – and season with black pepper.
- Spread in an oven proof dish and bake at gas 5 (190C) for 15-20 mins. (It didn’t go very brown on the top so you might want to crank the oven up for the last few mins or pop it under the grill if this is the effect you are looking for. I imagine it would be pretty tasty with some grated cheese on top).
- Serve with toast and/or greens, leek, chicory or other green veg. (We had greens and courgette – tho I admit the latter is not very seasonal).