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More thoughts on Wild Garlic (and garlic madness).

Well, it is still that time of year isn’t it? See my earlier post about Ramsoms here when that time of year had just started. The hedges and shady woods around the country are still absolutely frothing with the stuff. Now, rather beautifully, they have produced their pretty white flowers making the plants more visible to the untrained eye.

I’d like to say that I’ve noticed a change in the flavour as the plants develop, but I can’t. I thought it would be one of those things that might change. They are beginning to look a little tired and past their best at the moment though. About a month ago they were very bright green & juicy, their leaves a little shorter, so I think really there’s only 1 or 2 weeks left in the season before they pack up for another year. It depends slightly where they’re growing. At this time of year in sunnier spots, the leaves will be more wilted, starting to yellow even. So look for shadier and shorter leaves. They get tougher as they grow.

I ate an unopened flower bulb the other day (well, I thought I’d find out, as you do), and if you thought Wild Garlic was mild, think again, the flowers pack a punch! They look fantastic as a garnish as well.

 The brilliant Mark Hix wrote an article last week in The Independent on Lamb with Wild Garlic Sauce, there’s a link here. A great meat if ever there were one to serve with it. I’ve always found garlic & lamb a fine combination. One of my favourite dishes is a leg of lamb, roasted, having tucked ½ garlic cloves & rosemary into little incisions all over the leg, (it looks great when you bring it to the table as well). So it’s no surprise that this fantastic sauce works so well.  It’s quite grassy in flavour and certainly garlicky.

Here’s the pot of sauce I made last week, still tasting great. I made it with olive oil not rapeseed as Mark suggests (we had no other oil).

That's not pesto!

I’ve since tried freezing it as I made a lot and that worked extremely well, a great way of extending the season. I’m going to try it in ice-cube trays, ready to use all year & melt into all sorts of dishes (pasta, new potatoes, asparagus). It seems a shame not to enjoy it more, but that’s part of the joy of seasonal eating isn’t it?

We had the sauce tossed with warm new Cornish potatoes, asparagus & bacon lardons for a quick & simple dinner last night. The potatoes flecked with green looked like mint sauce which was very confusing!

I think the madness refers to my obsession with the stuff (can you get garlic madness?). I tend to eat very seasonal ingredients until I’m truly bored of them and swear blind that I won’t eat them next year. Somehow my boredom doesn’t last for a whole year.

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First one of the season.

An onion squash if I’m not mistaken.

Don’t know what I’ll do with it yet, but one of my favourites is to roast it in wedges in a hot oven with sage, salt & pepper, olive oil & cinnamon sticks. They’re super-versatile. Roasted, mashed, in warm salads with feta, makes a great soup, pickled, chutneyed, even pizza topping and, er, squashed? (sorry)

It came in our veg box from the lovely people at Leigh Court Farm along with a massive red cabbage & various other items. I like a veg box, my weekly dose of culinary challenge (I know, I need to get out more). But having no choice, and being given a selection of vegetables to cook makes me try things I wouldn’t usually, or at the least I have to get creative & try different dishes.

At the moment there’s a beetroot chutney to be made, I’m nearly sick of runner beans (and they’re beginning to get a little stringy), I’ve got loads of lovely red onions (very good on the bbq with yoghurt & zahtar, recipe to follow) and more potatoes than I know what to do with.

As the seasons change so does the produce. Autumn must be one of my favourite times of year for food. Sweetcorn, squashes, apples, beetroot, blackberries, the list goes on. In fact, when I was looking at my seasonal food list the other day September had the biggest number of foods available, across all the meat, fish, fruit & vegetables. Exciting times if you’re a cook.

No doubt in 3 months time, in the depths of winter I’ll be craving the runner beans and I’ll be sick of the squash!

I like it when my wife goes to the shops. She comes home with things I might not have bought myself.

Last night it was asparagus and fresh peas. Both English, both very in season. Pleasingly, as the asparagus season is getting later, its prices are mercifully coming down. The peas are the first we’ve had this year, very lovely and exciting. The psb (purple sprouting broccoli) is coming to the end of its season (sadly). This year I decided I was going to try to make myself sick of it. It’s one of our wonderful seasonal treats, and one I don’t eat enough of. We had some that needed using up, and it felt right to put them all together as a salad enjoyed in the warmth of our early evening garden.

The barbeque was lit and (for me at least) there was much anticipation. But then that’s often the case with me and BBQs generally. Sausages (of course) and a chicken breast (spiced with cumin, coriander & garlic)  that needed using up from the freezer, went on the literally smoking-hot grill.

A fresh, (and simple) early summer salad:

1 Bunch of asparagus

3 big handfuls of fresh peas, shelled

Purple sprouting broccoli, a small handful

Fresh herbs, 1-2 tbsp, chopped. Whatever you have to hand, but soft for preference. I used mint, lemon balm, marjoram & parsley.

Sherry vinegar (or balsamic if you don’t have it) a splash

Extra virgin olive oil, a big lug

  • Put a large pan of lightly salted water on to boil.
  • Snap the asparagus where it wants to, of its woody ends.
  • One by one, blanch each of the vegetables for 3 minutes in the boiling water. Let the water come back to the boil before you put the next in. Refresh them as you take them out, in cold water.
  • Drain and dress with the oil, salt & pepper.
  • If you happen to have a BBQ lit now’s the time to grill the asparagus. It gives a lovely colour and smoky flavour, that lends itself very well to the pointy green spears.
  • Cut the asparagus into 1-2 inch lengths, on the angle looks good.
  • Mix everything together with remaining ingredients & serve.

To be honest I would have liked more mint & parsley in the salad,as they work so well with the peas. And I meant to put some chive flowers in there too, but I forgot.

Other good things to BBQ;

  • Potatoes, cut very thick, boiled until just tender in their skins, drained & dressed with oil, salt & pepper.
  • Onions, red or white, treated the same way as the spuds.

Yum

Aah, the humble savoy cabbage.

Is it that humble, really? Simply steamed until just tender & dressed with salt, pepper & butter, maybe some caraway seeds it’s surely one of the best of the green leaves. It’s dark earthy flavour works with many different dishes. And the cup shape of the leaves is natural for stuffing.

But finely shredded I think it’s also a much under-used salad leaf. It can be a little bitter, but that’s part of the pleasure, and the middle, paler leaves tend to be much milder and slightly nutty. The other day, it was the best-looking thing in the fruit and veg shop. Absolutely spanking fresh, firm, very green, waiting to be eaten.

One of my favourite savoy salads is made with coarsley grated parmesan, anchovies, lemon juice & capers. A bold and gutsy dish. And easily made vegetarian by leaving out the anchovies.

The original inspiration comes from the River Cafe, who have a fantastic knack for making  ingredients quite exciting, and putting them together in truly creative ways. Food with the greatest simplicity where attention to quality is paramount. Rose Gray, one of the founders of this seminal restaurant sadly passed away early this year after a long battle with cancer. Their food and their influential style has done much,  if not more for the way we cook and eat than Elizabeth David in the 60s. Unique, distinctive books with writing and a restaurant that has influenced & started the careers of many fine cooks.

For 2:

1/2 a Medium Savoy Cabbage

50-100g Parmesan in the piece

2 Tbsp Capers, salted, in vinegar or brine

5-7 Anchovies

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Good Balsamic vinegar

Decent Olive oil

Freshly-ground black pepper

Remove any leaves you don’t like the look of and the tough outer ribs of the cabbage. Shred as finely as you can and wash. A really sharp knife’s pretty necessary here. Leave to dry in a colander or sieve.

Depending on which capers you have, rinse or soak them. If in vinegar/brine a quick wash is usually sufficient. If salted they may need to soak for a few hours. I like the big salted ones. Roughly chop them if they’re big, a bit of texture’s good. The tiny one’s pop pleasingly, so leave them whole.

Roughly chop the anchovies.

Transfer the cabbage to a serving bowl, chuck in the capers, anchovies, lemon juice and a good lug of Olive oil. Give it a good stir.

The original dish was made with Bresaola, delicious cured beef. I haven’t included it because I don’t have any usually! It also had shaved parmesan. But you can coarsely grate it too. The choice is yours, I like it both ways. The shavings adding a layer of savouriness that you can take or leave, and coarsely grated is a bit punchier.

Taste and adjust. More capers, anchovies, oil or lemon as you please. Because of the saltiness of the capers, parmesan and the anchovies it probably won’t need any salt, it will want much black pepper though. Dribble over a little balsamic and serve. If your balsamic vinegar is aged and a little sweet it’ll balance itself quite nicely in the dish.

We ate it with braised lentils and bacon. A warm and soft complement to the crunchy, punchy salad.

Not so eagle-eyed readers will spot a small peppery addition I quite liked.

A really simple light supper. The dressing is so versatile you could serve it with almost any salad, but it really works with peppery rocket.

As with any cheese on toast I like thick bread, toasted on only one side. That way it’s not too dry, it doesn’t burn so easily, but you still get the crunch.

Serves 2 as a starter:

1 Red Pepper

1-2 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar

2-4 tbsp good Olive oil

Salt & pepper

Bread, ideally sourdough, 2 slices

Goats’s cheese, 2-4 thick slices

A handful of rocket leaves

Preheat the grill to really hot.

Brush or smear your pepper with oil & put it under the grill. What you’re looking for is a pepper black in places, really well roasted & soft. So keep an eye on it & turn from time to time.

When the pepper’s soft, transfer it to a bowl & cover for 20 mins or so (use a plate or clingfilm). This generates a bit of steam, allows the pepper to cool & loosens the skin.

When the pepper’s cool enough to handle, peel it, throw away the skin & seeds & drop the flesh into the bowl of a food processor. A few bits of black skin won’t hurt, but don’t be tempted to run it under the tap, cos you’ll wash off all the lovely flavour.

Blitz with the balsamic vinegar & olive oil. Taste. Season with salt & pepper & taste again. Adjust the vinegar & oil as you wish, but remember it’s being served with cheese so you don’t want it too oily, but a good kick of vinegar works a treat.

Toast the bread on one side, flip over & lay the cheese on the bread. Grill, ideally until the cheese is golden, but before the toast is too burnt! I quite like the little burnt corners of toast with my cheese though.

Serve on the rocket leaves, dribbled with the dressing.

After posting my pork, apple sauce & mash I forgot to put up a recipe for celeriac mash. But you hardly need one really. It’s like making normal potato mash, but withceleriac. A tastier mash really, that’s all.

The humble spud is an overlooked and occasionally underrated vegetable. It’s easy to forget about potatoes because they do so much. And I forget sometimes how tasty a plain, boiled potato can be.

But this is about mash.  Potatoes do make great mash of course & so does the “ugly” celeriac. They both make a great side-dish in their own right, but when combined make something altogether. A “posh” mash if you will.

Knobbly, rooty

The celeriac is soft, aromatic & almost as versatile as the spud. It’s gentle celery flavour works really well with pork, in fact with almost any meat or fish. Peel it (can be tough-ish) slice it, grate it, serve it raw mixed with mustardy mayonnaise to make remoulade, chip it, roast it and puree it, it’s good stuff.

The only thing to be wary of is cooking or using it quickly, because it turns brown quite quickly after peeling. To prevent this, drop it into water with lemon juice (acidulated) and then use when you’re ready.

For mash I tend to use equal quantities of celeriac & potato. Peel, dice, & boil them together. Mash or put through a potato ricer or food mill. Season with butter, salt & pepper & serve. You may or may not want to add a little milk, celeriac is a bit wetter than potato so add a little to begin with.

Enjoy!

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