If you go down to the woods today or any day in the next week or so, you should find swathes of wild garlic. Right now is the time to pick it, while the leaves are young and at their most tender for cooking.
Although it looks more beautiful later on, when the small white flowers pierce out from amongst the lush greenery, it becomes a little more fibrous to eat.
Even if you aren’t able to go foraging for it yourself in the woods, this delicate wild plant has now become available in farmers’ markets and specialist shops, so it’s worth seeking it out to enjoy it during the short season. Although called ‘garlic’, its flavour is more like a gentle spring onion and when cooked, it is only softly pungent and enhances other flavours, rather than overpowering them.
Supplemented with a few spinach leaves from my garden (still going strong despite being overwintered), all I needed were fresh eggs, a spoonful of ricotta and fresh herbs to make the perfect early spring dish.
Even though my vegetable patch is looking pretty sparse at the moment, outside of the garden the first opportunities of foraging are beginning, starting with nettles. Stinging or common nettles (ortica dioica) are a great wild gift of early spring and right now is the time to gather them, when the first tender leaves are starting to sprout.
Few things can be as menacing yet desirable as the stinging nettle. Their flavour is delicious, a bit like an intense, rich spinach and they’re full of health giving vitamins and iron. You need to pick just the tops off each plant, where the leaves are at their most tender and once cooked for 2-3 minutes in boiling water, they’re free from the sting. If you don’t cook them long enough, you can still get a harmless little tickle on the tongue.
This year I spent Christmas in Marrakech, staying in a traditional riad the heart of the medina – the old city. Our friends and hosts were great cooks and enthusiastic entertainers and the next few days would be a celebration of Morocco’s extraordinary and exotic food.
Outside the thick, clay walls of the riad, a tangle of narrow alleys led onto the main square, Djemaa el Fna, where the hawkers, market stalls and performers tempt, hassle and entertain. At night, rows of street food vendors cook Moroccan delicacies over burning coals, and the air is filled with smoke and the scent of spices.
Nowness, the video channel premiering the best in global arts and culture featured a film of me at work..here’s what they say and a link to the short film:
July 13, 2015
A Woman’s Work: Blanche Vaughan
The lauded British chef reveals her culinary inspirations
For the third episode of A Women’s Work, we venture into the kitchen with British chef and food writer Blanche Vaughan, who has quietly created her own delectable take on English cuisine. Director Errol Rainey captured Vaughan’s elegant handiwork at her West London home and Devon country escape, which she shares with her art dealer husband, Hugo de Ferranti.
As a young chef, Vaughan sharpened her knives at some of London’s most revered institutions – Moro, St. John and River Café – before publishing an acclaimed kitchen handbook, In One Pot: Fresh Recipes for Every Occasion. A serious car accident left her with temporary memory loss and an inability to multitask; in the face of adversity, however, the remarkable chef developed recipes influenced by the personal constraints she was facing.
This past spring, Vaughan released another successful book, Egg: The Very Best Recipes Inspired by the Simple Egg – a celebration of her refreshingly uncomplicated approach to British produce.
Now is the perfect time to be picking nettles. They are young and tender and like any new season’s produce, at their freshest and best. Given that we spend most of our time avoiding contact with these stinging plants, it’s surprising to think what a pleasure they are to eat. So welcome their new growth and arm yourselves with gloves to go picking, because the reward is certainly worth it. Last week I ate a superb dish of nettle pappardelle at the River Cafe which inspired me to deviate from my usual nettle soup or ravioli recipes. (See my recipe for the Guardian for ravioli stuffed with nettles and ricotta ) The fun of this new method is getting the green colour and the flavour of the leaves into the pasta dough, rather than using the nettles as stuffing for ravioli or blended in a soup.
Fresh young nettles, stings still in tact
As male game birds go, the pheasant has to be one of the most striking. Larger and more colourful than a partridge, with a spike of tail feathers that gives it a wonderful silhouette in flight. Up close, the male bird is a beautiful mixture of chestnut brown, oily dark green, black and red feathers with a precise white ring around its neck.
A hen and cock pheasant – luckily they are usually sold ready plucked!
Pheasant is a notoriously tricky bird to cook, with a great tendency to become dried out and tough. But as they are in abundance at this time of year and readily available in butchers and most supermarkets, it’s a pleasure to eat these birds while they are in season (October to the end of January). Experimenting with various methods of dealing with these problematic birds, I discovered two things: the breast and leg joints are nearly always best cooked separately and brining beforehand greatly improves both the flavour and texture of both.
Around this time of year, there are just a couple of weeks when the late blackberries ripen and the last apples are ready to picked. That starry, seasonal alignment happened last weekend and I was determined to make the most of it. Making a fruit galette is usually my fail safe recipe to turn to when I lay my hands on exceptional bounty like this, be it figs, plums, or this time, apples and blackberries.
The pastry used for galette is thin, crisp and buttery and plays a good supporting role to the fruit, rather than overwhelming it. The free-form shape also allows for a ‘stuffed crust’ – off cuts of the fruit can be finely chopped and tucked inside the folded crust, so every mouthful is a perfect balance of rich pastry and sweet fruit.
I love the way the blackberries bleed their colour over the apple. This is best eaten warm, with a generous dollop of creme fraiche
Last weekend I stumbled upon a bank of wild blackberries at the peak of ripeness. They were so ready for picking, they were starting to drop off the bushes. That same day, I’d gathered the last apples from the tree. Autumnal fruit flavour combinations don’t get better than this.