recipes

Inheritance recipe: wild garlic pesto

An occasional series in which I pass on recipes that have been important for our family. They’re mainly for my children, Miriam, Finn and Benjamin, but I like to think other people might stumble across them and enjoy them too.

garlicky stream

Wherever you go and whatever becomes of you three, I hope that you will always be within foraging distance of a patch of wild garlic. Then I will know that you must be near to trees, possibly in ancient woodland, and with luck some running water too.

bend

with anenomes

The wild garlic in ‘our’ woods has been up for about ten days now. It’s one of the heralds of spring round here, part of an overture to the growing season that begins with lesser celandine in March, continues with the garlic and wood anemones. and segues into inky splashes of bluebells all across the banks of the stream.

greens

You can track the progress of spring just by the garlicky smell. This morning I caught a faint tang just before I turned onto the path; soon the entire valley will reek of it. The trees are mostly bare still, but the valley floor is thick with the garlic, along with celandine and wood anemone. While I was picking the leaves I could hear wrens, robins and a nuthatch. A great spotted woodpecker was drumming in the distance.

bud1

I’ve always called the plant wild garlic, but ‘ramsons’ is at least as common a name. It’s also known as stinking nanny and Londoner’s lilies. According to Richard Mabey’s extraordinary book Flora Britannica (you need a copy of this), the Old English root of ‘ramsons’ is hrmsa, a word that crops up in a slew of place names: Ramsey Island, Ramsbottom, Ramsholt, Ramshorn and more.

In a few weeks the woods will be brimming with its starry white flowers. By then, though, it will be too late to forage as once the flowers are out, the leaves become tough and bitter. See if you can get out and find some now, and then try this wild garlic pesto recipe which your dad and I are having on wild (but not foraged) salmon tonight.

Walnut and wild garlic pesto
Traditionally, you make pesto with pine nuts but they are expensive so I decided to use walnuts instead. What follows is adapted from a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe here. I’ve probably already told you: if I could only have one cookbook it would be Hugh’s River Cottage Veg Every Day.

ingredients

You will need:

  • About three large handfuls of wild garlic – around 75g
  • 50g walnuts (without shells, obviously)
  • 35g hard, mature cheese. Parmesan is the obvious choice; I used a hard goat cheese; a salty, grainy Pecorino would also be good, or you could use a vegan substitute
  • Zest and juice of half a lemon
  • About 120ml extra virgin olive oil

Put the walnuts in a baking tin and roast at 180 degrees for about eight minutes. Use a timer: they will go from toasty brown to blackened cinder in seconds. Leave to cool.

Wash and dry the wild garlic thoroughly (chances are you’ve picked it somewhere muddy), chop it roughly and throw it in a food processor. A liquidiser would probably work too.  Add the cooled nuts, the finely grated cheese and the lemon zest. Blitz to a paste.

processor

Leave the processor running, add the lemon juice and then the oil in a steady stream. The pesto will be quite sloppy but it firms up a bit in the fridge.

finished pesto

The end result is DayGlo bright with a big, gutsy flavour that explodes in your mouth. It can be a bit throat-catching when you first taste it, but it calms down once it’s incorporated with other ingredients in a meal. You could always add a handful of (preferably flat-leaf) parsley to take the edge off.

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Rhubarb rhythms

After eleven years of living in this beautiful corner of Sheffield, I have learnt the rhythm of spring in our woods. It goes like this: celandine, wild garlic, wood anemone, bluebell.

IMG_3099

Celandine

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Wood anemone

We’re into wood anemone time at the moment, and the wild garlic is also thick on the ground. Soon it will be time for a bit of foraging but first I need to pay homage to that other great harbinger of spring in Yorkshire: forced rhubarb.

rhubarb

I’ve written enthusiastically about this delicacy before, and a couple of years ago I posted this recipe for sharlotka, which I still rate highly. However, when we were in Edinburgh recently, some lovely friends produced a brilliantly simple rhubarb dessert that I just have to share here. Delicious results from very little time in the kitchen, and also including a hidden ginger nut – what could be better?

I’ve tweaked it a bit, drawing on a recipe for rhubarb syllabub from Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook, which is one of my go-to books when I’m trying to decide what to do with a vegbox, or a glut of vegetables from the garden. Highly recommended.

Sam and Claire’s rhubarb and ginger layer

To serve 6

  • grated zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 6 stems young pink rhubarb, about 500g
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 2 star anise
  • 6 gingernut biscuits
  • Greek yoghurt

You will also need six ramekin dishes

ingredients

stewing

Warm the orange juice and sugar in a pan until the sugar is dissolved. Cut the rhubarb into thumb-length segments and cook in the orange juice with the zest, cardamom and star anise for 8-10 minutes, then cool. Reduce the liquid by lifting out the rhubarb pieces and boiling the juice until it becomes syrupy.

Put a ginger biscuit in the bottom of each ramekin and spoon the rhubarb over the top. Finish with a dollop of Greek yoghurt and refrigerate before serving.

finished1

Tastes as though it took ages.

For my children: clementine cake

A long time ago I had an idea that when our children left home I would give them a recipe book with all their favourite meals in. Like many parenting resolutions, that one didn’t work out too well (I lost heart when the few I had written up fell victim to a computer that erased my hard drive.)

Still, better late than never but this time I’ll write them out here, away from bolshy hard drives and in a place where others might enjoy them too. It’ll be an occasional series of ‘inheritance recipes’, those meals that became a regular feature of our life together while we were all growing up and that perhaps they will want to pass on to their families in the future.

The first is the one that always says to me that Christmas has arrived in our home. The kitchen fills with warm, citrusy aromas that gradually waft up the stairs, heightening the sense of anticipation as the Big Day gets nearer.

It’s Nigella Lawson’s clementine cake and I’ve been making it every year for more than a decade. Like many of our family’s favourite recipes, it comes from her first cookbook How to Eat. Published before Lawson was regularly on television, the book is full of dishes that you want to make again and again, and that actually work in the context of your everyday life.

I regret the one-dimensional portrayal of Lawson that has developed since she became a TV star. I actually bought How to Eat all those years ago because I was intrigued to find out what kind of recipes a Booker prize judge would write (she was on the panel in 1998).

I wasn’t disappointed. I love the way this book is written. It’s intelligent but down to earth, competent but not threateningly so. The language is as enjoyable as the food. ‘Purple-sprouting broccoli is avoided by those who think that good food has to be fancy,’ she writes. ‘Clearly they don’t deserve it.’

Of a baked custard she says: ‘When you eat it, it should be just warm, soft and voluptuous, like an eighteenth-century courtesan’s inner thigh; you don’t want something bouncy and jellied.’ I do wonder whether this one sentence sowed the seeds for the way most people seem to think of her now, but in context it is a brilliant description that conveys exactly what the cook should be aiming for.

Like a lot of Lawson’s recipes, the clementine cake is expensive both in terms of the ingredients and the length of cooking time. Foodbanks and hunger have, rightly, been in the news almost daily for the past week and I hesitated before I cooked it this year.

But to my mind some occasional feasting is an important part of what it means to be human and in the end I decided that something that is so resonant for our family, not to mention delicious and easy, should continue to be part of the way we celebrate Christmas.

So here goes, kids: inheritance recipe #1

Nigella Lawson’s Clementine Cake
From How To Eat (Chatto and Windus, 1999)

4-5 clementines (about 375g weight in total)
6 eggs
225g sugar
250g ground almonds
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder

Boil the clementines in plenty of water for two hours. (Put the lid on the pan: the year that I didn’t, it boiled dry and I spent a couple of hours on Christmas Eve trying to remove caramelised clementine from the base of a very expensive pan your great-uncle Lyn gave us as a wedding present.)

Drain and, when cool, cut each clementine in half and remove the pips. Pulp the whole lot, including the skins and pith, in a food processor. (Apparently you can do this by hand but get a food processor if you can afford it: it’s the one kitchen gadget I wouldn’t be without.)

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/190 degrees C. Butter and line a 21cm Springform tin.

Beat the eggs, then add sugar, almonds and baking powder. Mix well, adding the pulped oranges. Here’s a good Nigella sentence: ‘I don’t like using the processor for this, and frankly, you can’t baulk at a little light stirring.’ Hear, hear.

Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin and bake for an hour. A skewer should come out clean. After about 40 minutes, rest a piece of foil or greaseproof paper on the top of the tin or the cake may burn. Cool in the tin.

clementine cake

 

don’t bash Jack Monroe – just shop like her

Imagine what would happen to supermarkets if we all bought everything we needed from their most basic range, topped up with a few treats from the ‘about-to-go-out-of-date’ shelf and a little free range meat when we could afford it.

That pretty much describes the shopping habits of Jack Monroe, one of the most talked-about cooks in the country, whose meticulously costed recipes, developed when she had less than £10 a week to spend on food for herself and her son, have won her a book deal, a couple of Guardian columns and now, controversially, a role in a Sainsbury’s ad campaign in January.

There’s a wearying predictability about the vitriol that has been heaped on her, the accusations that she is ‘selling out’, the cries of ‘shame’.

Really these kneejerk reactions have completely missed the point.

I am no fan of the supermarket and in my dreams every suburb and housing estate has a regular market selling locally grown, seasonal food, alongside a few independent and ethical traders whose businesses contribute to a thriving local economy.

As I said: in my dreams.

Until that day we need to face the fact that our food system is very, very broken and make the best we can of what is on offer. And if we really care, we will also call out the multiple injustices inherent in the industry and support alternatives as they emerge.

I don’t know exactly why Sainsbury’s have asked Jack Monroe to front their campaign but I’m absolutely certain it’s not because they want people to shop as she does.

As I understand it, her role will be to demonstrate how to use the leftovers from a roast (free range) chicken.

Are Sainsbury’s really anticipating that the result will be a decline in chicken sales because people are suddenly making better use of the meat? That’s not how businesses work.

No, supermarkets just want to get us through their doors because they know that most of us, once we are there, do not stick rigidly to a Jack Monroe-style shopping list but are easily lured towards special offers, ready meals and bogofs that bring them the biggest profits and are the worst offenders in terms of promoting waste and perpetuating low wages for producers.

Fellow shoppers, it is up to us. We all have a choice. Even inside the supermarket we have a choice.

What Jack Monroe has shown us with her recipes and her campaigning is that even if you only have a tiny budget it is possible to take back some of the power that is concentrated in the hands of a very few retailers.

I think it would be hilarious if the result of the ad campaign was that we all started cooking our own food with ingredients from the supermarket basics range and making our own lasagne instead of buying the ready version.

Sainsbury’s will be banking on us not doing that. But in the end Sainsbury’s doesn’t control how we spend the money in our wallets – we do.

 

 

romancing the sprout

Some of my best days in 2011 were spent in the wonderful west Yorkshire town of Todmorden. I wrote here about my most recent visit and about the incredible edible project. You really can’t spend much time with Todmorden folk without becoming inspired to do more with vegetables and, more importantly, be honest about how your food choices affect the world around you.

Over the Christmas break I got to thinking about how our family could eat in a way that has less impact on the environment and is more sustainable in the long term. Growing more of our own food is an obvious first step and I have some plans in that direction, but for now it is January and there’s not much in the garden.

So I decided we should go back to having a weekly veg box, something we used to do but abandoned because I had an idea that it was too time consuming. I know organic parsnips with the mud still on them are much better all round than the anaemic, plastic-wrapped variety you get in the supermarket, but back when I had just started a degree and was juggling it with work and a teenager crisis, I felt I couldn’t cope with anything extra. If anything is worse than a shrink-wrapped courgette in Tesco, it’s a mouldy organic one looking at you accusingly from the bottom of the fridge. (Though I’ll admit it’s a close run thing.)

I hope to return to the issue of time in another post. I don’t think you can get away from the fact that doing things in a sustainable way often appears to gobble more time than the convenience option and may well actually do so. But speed can be overrated, I think. Just as I’d rather pay a few pence extra for fairly traded bananas, so I think I need to be wiser about how I spend my precious time.

Anyway, the first veg box arrived from the excellent Riverford. A stunningly beautiful red cabbage and some fabulous purple sprouting broccoli sat alongside more homely offerings such as carrots, potatoes, parsnips and leeks.

No problem deciding what to do with any of those, but I have to admit I was temporarily stumped by the bag of Brussels sprouts. The two teenagers who still live at home are definitely not picky eaters, but they really do not like sprouts. In their entire lives, they have never managed more than one at a time, and that is with the Christmas dinner. There was only one option – I would have to cook the sprouts for my Friday night ‘date’ with Julian.

This Friday tradition goes back to when our children were small and we couldn’t afford to go out and pay a babysitter too. It’s a great excuse to splash out a bit on posh food. Sometimes I get sea bass or tuna steaks from the fishmonger; sometimes we indulge in home made tortellini from the Italian deli. What we do not expect to eat is anything as homely as a Brussels sprout. But I love a challenge and what’s more I knew my amazing Leith’s Vegetarian Bible (now out of print, but there is a newer edition) was unlikely to let me down.

Enter the Brussels Sprouts Gratinée. Let me tell you, this did not look promising. But I put that down to the sprouts and all our prejudices about them. In fact – and as is usual with the Leith bible – the taste was excellent. Crunchy sprouts and a crispy, cheesy topping contrast perfectly with the creamy, paprika-spiked sauce and the smooth potatoes. Add candlelight and a glass or two of red wine and I promise you the humble sprout can be transformed into the food of romance.

Brussels Sprouts Gratinée

Sightly adapted from Leith’s Vegetarian Bible by Polly Tyrer

450g Brussels sprouts

350g unpeeled potatoes

1 teaspoon paprika

a pinch of cayenne pepper

200ml crème fraîche

50g wholemeal breadcrumbs

1 dessertspoon of butter, melted

15g Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Switch the oven to 200 degrees C and grease an ovenproof dish with butter. I used a round one; the base has a diameter of 21cm.

Trim the stalks and outer leaves from the sprouts. I didn’t bother making a little cross in the bottom, although I know some people say you should. Cook them in boiling salted water for just five minutes. Drain and allow to cool slightly.

Cut the potatoes into even sized shapes and cook in boiling salted water for about 10 minutes. They should be just tender. Drain and allow to cool slightly.

Cut the sprouts in half and slice the potatoes. Mix together gently and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Stir the paprika and cayenne into the crème fraîche and season.

Put half the sprouts and potatoes into the dish. Spread over half the crème fraîche. I found this a little tricky, but a bit of coaxing with a palette knife did the the trick. Top with the remaining vegetables, then the rest of the crème fraîche.

Mix the breadcrumbs with the melted butter. Stir in the cheese and parsley and spread on top.

Bake for about 20 minutes, by which time the vegetables will be hot and the crumbs crisp and brown.