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!
I’ve been blogging now for a couple of months and I’ve been looking at some of the other food blogs out there to see what goes on in the food blogging community. I noticed that some bloggers run ‘events’ as part of what they do and I thought it might be fun to join in now that I’m starting to get used to (or possibly obsessed by) the whole blogging thing.
Early on I’d seen the ‘In the bag’ monthly event that is run jointly by Julia at ‘A Slice of Cherry Pie’ and Scott at ‘Real Epicurean’ and was disappointed to have missed out on the January deadline; then I got so absorbed in playing with my blog, adding (and subtracting) widgets, reading Blogging for Dummies, checking out other blogs – you all know how it is I guess you’ve been there too – that I didn’t spot February’s ‘bag’ until it was so close to the deadline I knew I wouldn’t have time to think something up.
So as not to miss out again I watched closely for March’s bag to be announced and then got to thinking about what I could do with these three ingredients (leeks, cheese and eggs) which feature frequently in my cooking but, I immediately realised, rarely in one dish.
So off I went to do some researching in my various cookbooks.
As leeks seemed to be the key ingredient I started by looking for different ways with them that also used both eggs and cheese (for this first attempt I didn’t want to drop one of the ingredients even though you are allowed to, that seemed way too easy). There were plenty of choices with leeks and cheese and a few with leeks and eggs but little that combined all three beyond the inevitable leek and cheese flan/tart/quiche – delicious but very obvious – I was hoping for something a little different and also a dish that could perhaps become a new favourite in my cooking.
I did spot a leeky Welsh rarebit recipe in Hugh F-W’s River Cottage Year that looked rather tasty but decided it felt a little too much like a hearty winter dish and I wanted something that would work well as a fresh and light spring dish. I was also reminded how versatile leeks are, its so easy to fall to just steaming them and serving as a side dish when with a little imagination they could shine in their own right.
Some of the ideas that I toyed with along the way but discarded were (some of my general sources of inspiration are shown in brackets for those who want to pursue any of these):
- Chargrilled leeks with shavings of a hard sheep’s cheese, or with a mayonnaise or hollandaise (Sybil Kapoor, Simply British)
- Lightly steamed, dressed with a vinaigrette and finely chopped hard boiled egg (Hugh F-W, The River Cottage Year and Simon Hopkinson, Roast chicken and other stories)
- A la grecque (Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book and Margaret Costa, Four Seasons Cookery Book) – fundamental flaw with this one was that it didn’t use the eggs or the cheese – oops! But it is delicious.
- With pasta in a kind of vegetarian carbonara style or with homemade pasta (using the eggs) and a leeky cheesy sauce (any Italian cookbook will help).
- As a kind of French onion style soup with a nice melted cheese crouton (I think this was from a Jamie Oliver book where he does a three types of onion soup – I think its Jamie at Home but can’t seem to locate it right now – sorry).
- In a risotto (any Italian cookbook).
- As a gratin….
And so it went on – lots of fun delving in recipe books, finding great ideas, discounting them because they either didn’t use all three ingredients or they didn’t seem to fit with the fact the weather was getting wonderfully spring like. I was beginning to think that I wouldn’t be submitting again this time…….
in the chapters devoted to March and April (with wild salad leaves, with sorrel, with spinach and prosciutto). Something started to stir – I really like frittata and other similar styles of omelette and I often cook one with a delicious fresh cheese called Buxlow Wonmil that I get when I’m in Suffolk.
There wasn’t going to be chance to get any of that particular cheese for this dish but I did want the refreshing tang that it has, so goats cheese seemed a possibility and thinking back to the leeky cheesy rarebit that I’d liked the sound of I remembered that Waitrose stock a Welsh goats cheese (Pant ys Gawn) that would fit the bill. I was beginning to feel like I might be in business. A spring frittata made with good British ingredients to be served, hopefully, with a side salad of early spring salad leaves (I was really hoping for some sorrel as I’d spied some in the herb section at Waitrose recently)
So off to the supermarket this morning to get the ingredients (sadly there isn’t a farmers market near where I live other than going into London to Borough market, which I love but rarely have time for, hence a huge reliance on the local Waitrose.). There was no sorrel left but I did find some English watercress and had to settle for some French lambs lettuce as none of the leaves seemed to be English just yet. So here’s the recipe.
For 2 as a light lunch you need:
4 medium eggs (organic for preference)
½ – 1 Pant Ys Gawn goat’s cheese (I used a whole cheese but see later) – or other fresh tangy soft cheese
1 slim leek
freshly ground black pepper
Salad leaves of your choice
Make sure the grill is on and warm before you start
The Leek: Top and tail the leek and cut into chunks about 1 inch in length then slice these into quarters, rinse the leek thoroughly to remove any grit and drain or spin in a salad spinner. Heat a little butter in an omelette or other shallow pan (of about 6-7” in diameter). Add the leeks and allow them to soften for a maximum of 5 minutes, you are aiming for them to retain some of their crunch.
The eggs: break the eggs into a bowl; add a splash of milk and some salt and pepper. As soon as the leeks have softened a little pour the eggs into the pan and allow to cook slightly. Draw in parts of the sides a few times to create a little fluffiness in the texture. Once you think you have a good base but the eggs are still runny for most of the depth then…..
Add the cheese, which you have crumbled or cut into small chunks. Cook for a little longer and then pop the pan under the grill (be careful with the handle if its not heat proof) to cook the frittata from the top. This will take about 3-4 minutes if the grill is hot.
Remove from the grill and allow to cool slightly, slice and serve with your chosen salad leaves.
I was pretty pleased with the result, the leek flavours showed through well and they were soft enough but still with some bite, the cheese contrasted with them nicely and had a good tang and the salad leaves (dressed with just a little extra virgin rapeseed oil) made for a nice soft balance. I think probably the whole goats cheese was a little too much as the egg flavour was a bit lost so when I make this again I’d probably scale back to ½ of the cheese.
I really enjoyed the whole ‘In the bag’ challenge; it made me think about some ingredients differently, gave me chance to read lots of recipe books and generated lots of ideas for ways to have leeks that I’d either forgotten or not thought of before.
So I’ll be looking forward to whatever is ‘In the bag’ in April.
Today we harvested our first stalks of rhubarb this season. Coming in at six stalks it made a nice compact handful. We’ve got 3 rhubarb crowns and one seems to be slightly ahead of the others so all the stalks came off the one plant.
Over the last few seasons we’ve had mixed cropping results – in the first few years after they were properly established we got a pretty good crop and then a couple of years ago they started to bolt very early in the season. We would get curious but quite attractive flowering rhubarb stems but very little worth harvesting and the flower stems are hollow so no good for the pot. It seems that letting them flower or bolt reduces the crop. This year we could see the same thing was going to happen again so after some searching in gardening books (most of which simply didn’t even seem to recognise the problem) we found some advice in a wonderful old book (The New Illustrated Gardening Encyclopaedia by Richard Suddell, from the 1940’s I believe, its full of lovely pen and ink illustrations) which said the flower buds should be removed as soon as they appear at ground level. So we’ve done that and it seems to have worked so far; I’m hoping for a better crop this year.
I really love rhubarb, its such a wonderful part of the British seasonal kitchen, it can be refreshing and light or warming with a tang depending on how its prepared. For this first batch I decided simple was best and just cooked the cut up stems briefly in a small amount of water with a little sugar added until they became soft but still held some shape. So now there is enough lightly cooked rhubarb to last me this week, for adding to breakfast muesli or making a quick desert with Greek yoghurt. I’m looking forward to its refreshing tang and starting to think of some different recipes to try when the next batch comes through. I might even decide to force one crown next winter to extend the season and make me feel revitalised by the onset of spring a little sooner.
It was the first day of spring on Saturday and the weather ran exactly to form – sunny and warm but with a slight bite to the wind. We all wanted something for lunch that fitted in with the weather – salad would perhaps be too summery and at first we though that soup would be too hearty. What we needed was something that was fresh enough to keep the mood of spring and summer to come but warming enough to take the edge off that wind.
After some time spent flipping through cookery books I found a recipe for pea soup that seemed to fit the bill. Now of course peas aren’t in season right now (and I’ve been working hard at cooking more seasonally of late) but in fact most of us never actually get to have really truly fresh peas straight from the plant, out of the pod and into the pot (or our mouth). Unless you grow your own peas, or know of an excellent source where you can be sure you will get the peas the same day as they were picked, then its very likely the case that the best tasting peas you’ll eat at home will be ones from the freezer. The frozen pea is actually pretty good, its well known that the time from picking to packing is very short and this preserves the sweetness (according to Bird’s Eye field to frozen is 2 ½ hours), and you can now get organic grown frozen peas to lessen the guilt of not buying fresh!
So we settled on pea soup. The recipe comes from a book called ‘The Little Book of Soup’ and was contributed by Gary Rhodes (it’s a nice little book and I’ve cooked a number of soups from it adapting as I go. It also supports homeless charities through donating 70% of proceeds). The recipe in the book suggests it feeds 4 as a generous starter but as we had 4 and this was our main dish for lunch I roughly doubled up the quantities (I didn’t actually have enough frozen peas to do double so I guess the original might be thicker in texture). Below I’ve listed the quantities I actually used and in brackets those quoted in the recipe:
1 litre of chicken stock (600ml water or stock)) – in my opinion stock is always a better base for soup as it gives an added dimension that helps lift the flavour up a level – but as you can see Gary suggests water and since he’s a Michelin starred chef and I’m not we have to grant that he might know a thing or two about making soup.
750g frozen peas (450g podded fresh peas or frozen)
salt and pepper
pinch caster sugar
2 desert spoonfuls of Greek yoghurt (100ml whipping or single cream)
The method is pretty easy you basically bring the stock to the boil add the peas bring back to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes until the peas are tender. Then you add the seasonings of salt, pepper and sugar and liquidise/blend the whole lot with whatever kitchen implement you have to hand for that purpose. Gary suggests you could push it through a sieve to get a really smooth finish and I imagine for a dinner party this might be worth the effort but for a quick light lunch with friends I’d say it’s overkill and time ill spent. Put it back in the pan and warm through adding the yoghurt or cream (or crème fraiche would also work well) just before serving. We garnished it with some fresh chopped mint leaves or for a more wintery take you could try crispy lardons or strips of salami.
Taste wise it was just what we had hoped for, fresh flavours with depth from the stock and just enough soupy warmth to make it a great dish for the start of spring.