The Bitter Herbs of Spring

We’ve been getting the Seasons Veg Box from Riverford all winter. It’s been full of good things – parsnips, carrots, swede, cabbage, leeks. I’ve done loads of fun meals and it’s certainly kept us warm and comfy. But with the changing weather, I’ve really started to appreciate the old accounts you read, of people combing the countryside for dandelions and other new leaves, just to taste something fresh and tart.

In this morning’s box there was a bag full of dark green wild garlic leaves. They’re textured a bit like basil, and you get one long thin leaf on a stalk. The smell wasn’t too strong, but eating them raw gives you a wonderful garlic burn. Literally, my mouth is still stinging a bit. Mind you, I have been pigging out.

Lunch was a roast beef and garlic sandwich, on some seeded bread with a few dabs of mayo. Dinner was pasta with wild garlic pesto.

  • 2 oz about of pine nuts
  • an ounce or so of Parmesan cheese, thinly sliced or grated
  • 2 anchovies (the proper dark grey fillets in oil)
  • 100 ml thick green 0live oil
  • 2 handfuls wild garlic leaves (I suppose you could mix with basil if you want it milder)

I toasted the pine nuts and put half of them in a blender with half the cheese and the anchovies. Whizz whizz with a dribble of the oil to get it going, feed in the leaves. Add more oil to get the texture you want – thick paste or flecked sauce.

Cooked some pasta (just plain spaghetti worked well), and toss with the pesto, adding the rest of the pine nuts and cheese. Stunningly pepper hot, salty and the brightest bottle green in the world.

And there’s some pesto left, too. I foresee a poached egg on toast with green drizzle for breakfast.

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World’s Easiest Cranberry Sauce

I've always made this, I don't care if everyone thinks Delia invented cranberries, she can just sod off.

  • Take a pack or box of cranberries.
  • Put them in a saucepan and just cover with orange juice.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer until the berries pop.
  • Sprinkle all over with sugar, stir it in.
  • Simmer until it's all syrupy.
  • Put in a bowl and serve hot or cold.

There.

You can ring the changes with the liquid, although it needs some pectin / acid, and the amount and type of sugar, depending on how you like it. If you start with sugar in the liquid, the skins toughen and you will get whole berries in a thick jelly, which is fine if that's what you want, I prefer more of a jam. You can add shreds of orange peel, slivered nuts, whatever stuff takes your fancy.

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Ginger Sauce for Goose

I like bread sauce, John doesn't. And it doesn't really go with goose anyway (although it's divine with sprouts). One year I found a German idea, which was like bread sauce except made with gingernut biscuits instead of bread. And that's proved quite popular. Except this year I messed it up, and every rescue attempt took it further and further away from the original. It ended up quite interesting, though, worth making a note of to repeat as a thing in its own right, or at least using as a starting point for something better.

  • Most of a big tub of half fat creme fraiche
  • A finely chopped shallot
  • About half a pint of Chardonnay
  • About half a pack of gingernuts
  • Some powdered ginger, allspice, pepper and salt

Heat the cream, mix in the wine and shallots and cook slowly for an hour or so until the shallots don't taste raw and crunchy any more. Crumble in the biscuits. Taste and add the spices to suit. Keep warm until ready to serve the goose – any chunks of biscuit will dissolve if whisked, or you could leave the lumps in if you like.

Next time – cook the shallots better first! maybe in a bit of butter. A drier wine wouldn't hurt, it was a bit oversweet. Or just chicken stock.

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White Sauce for Christmas Pudding

Mam used to make this. Dad and John both like it, I prefer cream. I couldn't find a recipe for it anywhere the first time I had to make it, but it turns out there's one on the cornflour packet. It's wacky stuff, you can make it thin for pouring or any level up to set-like-plaster-of-paris.

  • 2 tbsps cornflour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 0.5 pint milk
  • brandy

Put cornflour, sugar and enough milk to make a paste into a saucepan. Heat at low/medium until it starts to bubble. Take off the heat, add the rest of the milk and as much brandy as you like, a bit at a time and whisking as you go. When it's smooth, heat again until thick, whisking constantly. It has a tendency to seize up at any opportunity. Serve hot.

You can use vanilla, or other flavourings, although I would imagine liquid things are best. Dry spices wouldn't come out well, it cooks too fast and there's hardly any fat. If you wanted cinnamon, for example, I'd use cinnamon vodka.

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In Memoriam – Julia Child

The recipes that I use most are more for the winter – we have either her Chou Rouge a la Limousine (red cabbage braised with red wine, spices and chestnuts) or Endives a la Flamande (braised chicory) every week just about. But at some point this week we will have (not necessarily at the same meal !) Cotes de Porc Sauce Nenette (pork chops with mustard, cream and tomato sauce), Chou-Fleur Beurre au Citron (cauliflower with lemon butter sauce), and I have some halibut fillets which could use a Sauce Mousseline Sabayon. And some squid tubes I was planning to stuff and steam in a Coulis de Tomates a la Provencale (tomato sauce with fennel and orange peel among other good things). And the Foie de Veau Saute Sauce a l’Italienne recipe (calf liver with tomato, mushroom and ham sauce) will do very nicely for some chicken livers over pasta. If the weather does turning minging, I am also tempted by Laitues Braisees (braised lettuce) in place of salad. It means spending some time today preparing things, but it will be worth it. If you haven’t been pointed at it already in the last couple of days, I can do no better than send you to the Julie/Julia Project at http://blogs.salon.com/0001399/2002/08/25.html I am up to October 16 2002, and rationing myself to a month at a time.