Friday, 17 February 2012

A Garden Pesto

The snow melted, this morning I set out to see what edible greens could be found and foraged for a raw Garden Pesto.

I was hoping for Wild Garlic, but it doesn't seem to be coming up yet.  There was however a little bit of wild green:  Dandelion, Nettle, Comfrey.   And in the cultivated garden:  Land Cress, Chard, Beetroot Tops, Curly Kale, baby Leeks, Mustard,  Poached Egg Plant, Red Veined Sorrel, Fennel, Parsley, Marjoram...

I pinched the smaller leaves of all of the above and chopped the lot very finely indeed.  Toasted and ground some Cashew Nuts that were sitting around, these and some Pumpkin Seeds and Hemp seeds.  Stirred the lot into a mixture of Olive and Rapeseed Oils, added a squeeze of Garlic, some French coarse Sea Salt...
Oh!  The joy of a raw vegan Pesto from the scrapings of a winter's garden.  We ate it for lunch on some hot pasta, to pre-empt Spring.

If this is covered in a lot of oil it should store six months or so.  But it's so delicious immediately - why not feast on it these next days awaiting the first Spring Shoots...


For when those Ramsons do appear, a recipe for Wild Garlic Pesto.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Soups and Stews

As the winter cold eventually embraces the Norfolk countryside, and I am obliged to double the numbers of socks worn, forced to better my gloved typing, I am grateful for soups, and stews, every day, morning, noon, dusk...

Pumpkin Daal

My main staple is what I call Pumpkin Daal, made simply and rapidly with a handful of red split lentils, spices and some baked Pumpkin.  I am ever thankful too for the abundance of Pumpkins, still storing well.  I have also just discovered, on the Eat Weeds blog, a "Wild Dahl", made with hedgerow seeds, which looks to inspire some change in my quotidian recipe.

Otherwise, in celebration of these Soups and Stews:

 Butter Bean and Winter Greens Stew, topped with Stale Sourdough Croutons and grated Cheese

The grated cheese adds a French style touch of luxe to this simple peasant stew.

Pumpkin and Cinnamon Soup

Although this picture was taken in the late Summer - that stunning bright sunshadow, unimaginable in today's white/grey - this is a super winter soup, thick, sweet and warming...

Pea and Cumin Soup, with Olive Oil

An all year round favourite, inspired by the discovery of Soupe de Pois Casses au Cumin in a little restaurant on the rive droit.   This can be made in the winter with frozen Peas, split or dried Peas, the latter soaked before cooking.

Tomato and Sourdough Soup

This is a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi.  It is a soup for Tomato season, but if you happen to have bottled Summer's Tomatoes, or made Passata, these can be used.  I followed his recipe, which can be found here, skipping the Sugar and the tinned Tomatoes, and using half a pint of Tomato Passata made in Summer, extra Cumin, and Parsley instead of Coriander.  This soup brings a wonderful ray of Summer in the winter's durge.

Courgette and Basil Soup

A Summer Soup.  But a gorgeous one, so it has a line here.

Flageolet Bean and Swede Stew, with Soda Bread

Another great peasant style soup/stew, nourishing, and delicious if made with some home-made stock.

Potato and Parsley Soup, with Bacon

A delicious soup, a discovery.  Cook potatoes as per mash.  Mash with Butter and Milk, ground Mace, Salt and Pepper.  Dilute further with milk, the cooking water and a splash of white wine.  Add thinly slice Leeks and Shallots, cook very gently for ten minutes or so. Stir in a tonne of chopped Parsley at the very last minute and top with crispy Bacon if you so wish.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Winter drinks - the verdict.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, were spent, you might remember, madly concocting inifinite beverages, that the winter might be spent hunkered down by the fire, a glass of some sweet form of hedgerow inebriation in the hand.  And, thank goodness!  For now, winter is ripe, and the cupboards overspilling with tipple.

First then, the infused liquers.  Gin left to mull with Bullace from the garden, Whisky full of wild Blackberries, Vodka with Elderflowers and Gooseberries.  I have learnt a lot about these.  Often the tendency, and the recipes I have found, have doused the alcohol full of sugar, as well as fruit.  As, it appears, the alcohol alone preserves the fruit and is quite palatable with only the barest brush of sugar, the amount of sugar often reccomended is really for those with a sweet tooth.  I prefer a sharper, dryer and often bitterer drink, so for next year, I will use the following quantities:
4pts Alcohol : 3lb Fruit : 8oz Sugar
With very sweet fruits, such as Blackberries, I might even reduce this to 6oz Sugar.
Secondly, as I am not a drinker of summer cocktails with ice, shaken in tall glasses, I have found the lighter Vodkas and Gins (Gooseberry, floral etc) harder to drink, too sweet mixed with tonic, and not quite my thing on their own.  I have found these best as gifts.  The darker, winter brews, are wonderful alone, warm by the fire, and I will make these again by the bucketful next year.

The Quince Brandy was long awaited, hoping to capture that wondrous floral perfume and tart flavour.  I tried two versions, one raw, and one cooked.  I have to say that having left the both three months in bottles with a variety of spices, the Quince sadly hadn't given much of its inimitable flavour to the Brandy, it instead tasted mainly of the spices, of which too much Star Anise for my palate was evident!  The cooked version did have a slight fruitiness.  Next year I shall attempt with grated Quince, as one friend suggested, no spices and leave it longer, perhaps even with a dash of Quince Juice.  However, it made a wonderful spiced warming drink, and another great Christmas present...

2011 Recipes for infused Alcohols:
Sloe Gin
Bullace Gin
Blackberry Whisky
Gooseberry and Elderflower Vodka
Gooseberry and Whitecurrant Gin
Quince Brandy

Cherry Vodka

As for the brews, the Elderflower Champagne was a dream, drunk young, aged well to a sharper wine, and I shall be making much in the future - despite the explosions in the shed!

Otherwise, I still have to perfect my brewing.  My tactic seems to be: mix it all up, forget about it... and in one case mice had found my muslin bottle tops rather tasty, another had turned to vinegar.  The experts on home-made wines are Carl Legge - see his wonderful blog.  And, Christophe, on Clare Island.  I spent November there racking, bottling, and tasting a variety of brews.  My memory is still sharp with the sweet sour and perfectly musty Rhubarb and Apple Wine, the two years aged Vin de Cassis, which was sweet and rich and drank like a good Port.

The Hedgerow Syrup has been a favourite.  Pasteurised as it was in bottles, it has kept well, and serves as a hot and heartwarming winter drink, to fend off flu, to ward off the weather.  I also made a Quince Syrup, along similar lines, which i drink as a cordial, a lovely flavour, and great quencher of the thirst after a stint in the garden.  Both can also be used in crumbles, compotes and wintry puds...

So... with the coming of Spring, and first the Elderflowers, I look forward to a new spell of concocting drinks to fill the cabinet, for yet another winter hunkered down by the fire.