Wild Garlic Pesto

Wild Garlic Pesto

This time of year, a treasure is to be found in our woodlands. Look for some shady area in a deciduous wood. Then just follow your nose, because I’m talking about wild garlic, also known as ramsons. This stuff can be used in salads and soups but also makes a great pesto. One small caution: wild garlic can look a little like lily of the vallley, which is poisonous. However, the wild garlic flower is typical of the onion and garlic family and almost dandelion-like. Also, if you just rub a leaf between your fingers, the smell of garlic will confirm you’ve found the right stuff. For this recipe you’ll want to collect the leaves. Five minutes foraging, will yield at least three jars of pesto.

Back home, pull the stalks off the leaves and weigh out how much you’ll need. About 80g per jam jar. Sterilise some jars in a low oven and then let cool. Wash the leaves to remove dust and dirt and then dry between two towels. The other ingredients in this pesto are 40g each per jar of unsalted pistachio nut kernels and finely grated parmesan, good olive oil and a little salt and pepper.

Place the wild garlic and pistachios in a food processor and whizz until a nice consistency has been achieved. I like to leave it quite coarse, so you still get plenty of small pieces of nut. Then add a couple of tablespoons of oil and fold in the parmesan. The pesto will still be quite dry, so add more oil until you get the consistency you want. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Be careful with the salt as the parmesan is already quite salty. Pour carefully into the jar(s) and press lightly with back of a spoon to get rid of most of the air bubbles. Then pour more oil to completely cover and seal the pesto. At this stage, put the lids on but don’t tighten up fully. After half an hour or so, take a skewer and poke out any remaining air bubbles. If necessary, top up with olive oil. Now you can close up the jars properly. This will keep a couple of weeks or so stored somewhere cool and several months stored in the fridge. If you store it in the fridge the oil may solidify but just take the jar out a while before using and everything will be just fine.

By the way this pesto works really well with the Aubergines Slices with Walnuts and Garlic recipe. Just replace the garlic, olive oil and most of the parsley with about 100g of the pesto. You might just need a little olive oil to get a good spreadble consistency.

Obviously you can stir this into pasta to make a quick and tasty meal, but that’s not all. The other day, I had some new potatoes left over. I crushed these lightly, took some (light) creme fraiche mixed with a little cream, added a good rounded dessert spoon of the the pesto and seasoned with pepper and a little salt. I then put the potatoes in a buttered fairly shallow ovenproof dish, covered with the pesto and creme fraiche, sprinkled with some grated emmental and some pancetta cubes. After 20 minutes at 180°C I had a scrumptious dinner.

Gortnanain Vegetarian Guesthouse and Organic Farm, Co. Cork

Some very good friends kindly gave us a voucher for Gortnanain Vegetarian Guesthouse and Organic Farm, which we used last weekend. This guesthouse is situated in the rolling countryside just outside Kinsale in Co. Cork and consists of the small guesthouse itself and around 9 acres of land given over to growing a staggering array of vegetables and to a lesser, but increasing, extent fruit. The bulk of this produce is used to supply a handful of restaurants in Cork city, including one of the world’s great vegetarian restaurants – Dennis Cotter’s Cafe Paradiso.

Not only do Lucy and Ultan tend the crops, they also do a great job as hosts and chefs for dinner and breakfast. After arriving, we were given a nice cup of tea and had a great chat. We also got to meet the house’s other permanent residents, Snapple and Bramble – head rabbit catchers on the farm. There was one other couple staying that night: Michael and Lorna from NYC. Everyone – guests and hosts alike – sits around the big kitchen table for dinner.

The dinner menu is fixed, but Lucy did ask when we booked, whether we had any preferences or allergies; and they work out the menu based on that information and whatever is available in the garden. Gortnanain has no wine licence but provides a glass or two on the house and you can, of course, bring your own. Dinner was excellent, especially the tomato salad, which completely changed my views on the merits of beefsteak tomatoes. These were ripe to perfection and bursting with flavour. The conversation was great and continued after we retired to the lounge for tea and coffee. Lucy and Ultan’s take on organic was very refreshing. They are committed to local organic food because being near, it’s in peak condition, and organic farming is so much better for the environment. They made no claims that it’s necessarily better for you: for that they’d rather wait for conclusive scientific evidence. Mind you, I think it’s obvious that they believe it.

Next day, after a delicious breakfast, Ultan gave a tour of the farm. It was quite astonishing, what could be produced from a small plot. As we wandered up and and down drills of various vegetables in glorious sunshine, with Ultan weeding as we went, it was quite obvious the amount of work that goes into producing such great vegetables. You must need huge commitment to be doing this on the many rainy days we have.

I can’t recommend Gortnanain highly enough and would urge you to spend a night or two if you’re ever in the area. I know we’re looking forward to our next visit.

New Season Garlic

Early summer gives us a chance to experience one of the kitchen’s stalwarts in its fresh form. Fresh or wet garlic can be found readily and allows dishes to made with lots of garlic taste, which at the same time don’t overpower everything else. There are many things you can do, but here are a couple that I tried this year. The first is a fantastic quiche and the second is a great marinade for a steak.

Fresh Garlic Saffron Tomato Quiche

Fresh Garlic, Saffron and Tomato Quiche

I found the recipe for this quiche in Simon Hopkinson’s fantastic The Vegetarian Option and have been eagerly waiting for chance to try it. It’s a slightly involved recipe, which can be carried out in two stages, but the results are great and I’d recommend that you try it. Don’t be tempted to make this dish with normal garlic as the taste will just be too strong.

Summary

Makes: 4 good portions
Preparation: 20mins + 5mins
Cooking: 30mins + 25mins + 40mins

Ingredients

.
.
100g
65g
1 pinch
1-2 tbsp
.
.
.
100g
200g
1 r.tsp
100ml
1 tsp
2
1
100ml
100ml
100g
30g
Pastry
.
Plain white flour (sieved)
Cold unsalted butter (cut into cubes)
Salt
Ice cold water
.
Filling
.
Fresh garlic cloves (peeled and trimmed)
Ripe tomatoes (peeled, seeded and chopped roughly)
Tomato puree
Milk
Saffron strands
Large eggs
Yolk of large egg
Fresh cream (double cream if you like)
Crème fraîche or sour cream
Light cream cheese
Freshly grated parmesan
Salt
Pepper

Method

First, make the pastry. This can be done ahead of time, in fact it needs to be done at least an hour ahead. Put the sieved flour, butter and salt into a food processor and pulse a few times until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Tip into a large cold bowl and add just enough of the chilled water to bring the pastry together. Put into a plastic bag and transfer to the fridge for at least an hour. If you’re a dab hand at pastrymaking, you can do all this by hand, but it’s hard to keep the butter from getting too warm.

Next, we need to blanch the garlic to take the edge off the flavour. Place the cloves in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, drain. Repeat this twice. Then cover with cold water, add a little salt and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the garlic is soft. Drain and set aside.

In the meantime, heat the milk to just below boiling and switch off the heat. Add the saffron and leave to infuse.

Put the tomatoes and puree, lightly seasoned and with a tiny splash of olive oil, into a small frying pan over a very gentle heat. Let the moisture evaporate, stirring occasionally. You should be left with an almost jam-like texture after twenty minutes or so. Set aside.

After the pastry has cooled, roll it on a lightly floured surface until about 30cm in diameter. Gently line a 20cm quiche dish about 3cm deep. I found it easiest to use a non-stick tin with a pop-up bottom. Prick the base with a fork and trim any excess pastry. Line the pastry with tin foil and cover with baking beans (or chickpeas etc). Place into a 180°C preheated oven for about 15 minutes. Remove the foil and beans and bake for a further 10 minutes. You could of course buy a prepared quiche base, but where’s the fun in that!

All of this can be done in advance.

When it’s time to cook, set the oven to 180°C. Put the eggs, egg yolk and garlic into a food processor and whizz until smooth. Add the cream, crème fraîche or sour cream, cream cheese and parmesan and mix again. Season lightly and stir in the saffron-infused milk.

Next, spread the tomato ‘jam’ over the pastry base. Pour the filling into the case and transfer to the oven. This can be a little unnerving, so it’s best to carry out this step as close to the oven as possible. Bake for a little over 30 minutes until set and the top is golden.

Leave to cool for 10 to 15 minutes, to let the flavour develop. Remove gently from the tin and transfer to a serving plate. Enjoy with a nice green salad.

Fresh Garlic and Rosemary Marinade

The previous recipe left me with about 10 juicy cloves of garlic. I decided to make a nice marinade for a couple of lovely rib-eye steaks I’d bought. First of all, I peeled and trimmed the garlic. I then gave them a very light coating of olive oil and put them in a small ovenproof dish and roasted the cloves in a low (150°C) oven for about half an hour until they were soft. These were then transferred to a mini food processor. I added enough olive oil to almost cover, along with the juice of half a lemon, the leaves from a 30cm length of rosemary branch and some freshly ground pepper. This was all whizzed together and then applied to the steaks. After marinading for an hour or so, the grilled steaks were just delish!

The Saga of the Christmas Turkey

Christmas Dinner

This year Anna’s farmer brother, John, very kindly offered us one of his hand-reared turkies for the Christmas dinner. Being forewarned that they were on the large side got us thinking about what to do with the bird. We picked up one of the smaller ones, as seen in the picture, but it still weighed in at around 10kg, and came with all the giblets.

We decided there and then to remove the crown and save the legs and wings for future dinners. After dissection, the crown still looked pretty big, so we weighed it and found it to be 4kg: obviously too big for the two of us, so we split it in two. I made about 3.5 litres of very nice turkey stock out of the carcass, of which I froze about 2 litres for future use in soups and the like.

So, read on to see what we did with this magnificent specimen!

Christmas Dinner

Since we were only cooking the crown, we were naturally worried about it drying out. We decided to give it a two-stage preparation, suggested by Domini Kemp in the Irish Times. On the evening before, we poached it in a cider, water and orange juice liquor, suitably enhanced with salt, sugar, cinnamon and orange zest. After simmering for about a half an hour, we turned off the heat and left whole thing to cool with the lid on until the dinner time the next day. We then smothered it with butter and roasted it on a bed of coarsely chopped root vegetables, along with a lemon and a splash of white wine, for about 45 minutes. The turkey stayed lovely and moist. We accompanied it with potatoes roasted in goose fat, peppered sprouts and buttered carrots, as well as a nice gravy made with some of the stock. Very tasty. Pacing ourselves, we made sure we left some room for a bit of cheese and Christmas pudding!

Leftovers

One of the fun bits about the Christmas Turkey is finding ways of using up the rest of the bird. This is what we did this year.

Turkey Soup

We actually had our first left-over on Christmas Eve. Using meat pulled off the carcass and the neck after making the stock, along with some slices from the heart and gizzard and carrots from the stock, we put together a delicious soup.

Turkey Pizza

Covered a base with a little tomata pizza sauce, then sprinkled on some turkey, brie cheese and cranberry sauce. Cooked for 10 minutes in a very hot oven. Really good. Have to confess to buying a prepared base, but there are good bases for sale: ours was from Pizza del Piero in Rathmines, Dublin.

Turkey Quesadilla

Basically the same as the pizza without the tomato sauce, but the filling is sandwiched between two flour tortillas and fried on both sides with a good knob of butter.

Turkey Pie

Cut chunks off the crown. Unbelievably not quite gone yet. Made a nice velouté, enriched with some cream, mustard and a little grated gruyere. Added the turkey and some baby onions, which had previously been peeled and fried until golden. Topped with a puff pastry lid and cooked in a very hot oven until the pastry was golden. Delicious

Paella

On New Years Day, we cut the last few chunks from the crown and used in place of chicken/pork in a delicious paella dish, which I’ll post soon. Due to the limited supplies in the shops I had to replace the spinach with pak choi from the local Asian shop. Tasted a bit different but still very good.

Asparagus Time

Spargelzeit in May is one of the two times each year that the normally reserved Germans get very excited about food. At this time of year the reason is asparagus, or to be more exact white asparagus. In Ireland we see very little of this wonderful vegetable except for some very sorry dried out specimens from Peru or Kenya. These are not the real thing, so I would urge you to try them if you’re in Germany or anywhere in central Europe at this time or get someone to bring a kilo or two home. Once you’ve tasted good fresh white asparagus, I think you might find it hard to get too excited about the green variety.

It is best to buy you asparagus directly from the grower or at least in the market. It really should be picked that morning. When you buy it, go for spears that are a little thicker than your thumb. Make sure the bottoms are not cracked as this is a sure sign they are drying out. Normally the spears should be kept damp by the seller. When you get them make sure to wrap them up tight. If you can, spinkle a little water on the them first. You can then store them for a day or two in the fridge.

To cook, you need to peel the stalks generously first, using a vegetable peeler. It’s best to lay them flat when doing this as they can easily snap. Trim the ends and reserve. There are purpose-designed asparagus pots, in which the asparagus is cooked standing up, and these are your best bet. However if you don’t have one a large frying pan is fine. Cook in lightly salted water until tender. You can also put a pinch of sugar in the water if you find the taste a little bitter. Don’t be tempted to cook the asparagus al dente as this leaves the bottoms of the stalks very tough and stringy, as well as not cooking out the bitterness. However, overcooking means you have wasted your money. You should aim for fork-tender.

There is any number of weird and wonderful recipes for asparagus (link ) but in my opinon, the simplest such as with butter and parmesan, or with hollandaise and a poached egg are the best. You can use the ends of the stalks and any broken spears as the basis for a delicious soup along the lines of Broccoli Stalk Soup .

By the way the other time the Germans get so excited about food, is in the autumn when the wild mushrooms start to come in.

Yoghurt

We’re now being told by scientists what our ancestors have known for thousands of years: namely, that live natural yoghurt is really good for you. It doesn’t really matter if you spell it yoghurt, yogurt, yoghourt or even joghurt, it’s healthy, tasty and we should eat more of it. The best bit is that you can make it at home for a fraction of the shop price with almost no effort at all. Once you have the base natural yoghurt you can flavour anyway you wish.

Yoghurt

To make 1.5 litres of natural yoghurt you need to start with 2 litres of milk and a 150g pot of live yoghurt. You can pick any brand you like as long as it contains live cultures. Since the resulting yoghurt will resemble the taste of the starter pot, it makes sense to pick one you like the flavour of. The beauty of making your own yoghurt is that the last 150g of the current batch can serve as the starter for the next. You can keep doing this until you find the flavour changing or experience difficulties getting the yoghurt to set. Low-fat milk is OK if you want but the results are better with normal milk. Some people even add cream!

Take the starter pot out of the fridge. Pour the milk into a large saucepan. The pan should not be more than one third full, in order to avoid the milk spilling all over the stove when it boils. Putting enough water to cover the bottom of the pan in first seems to help keep the milk from catching, but unless the pan is teflon-coated, you’ll still have a little scrubbing to do afterwards. Bring the milk to a boil and immediately reduce the heat very low, so that the milk barely simmers. Let the volume reduce to about 1.5 litres, which should take about 1 hour. Skim any thick skin that forms according to your own preferences: some cultures actually prize the bits of skin in the yoghurt. Transfer to a clean ceramic or glass bowl and let cool, again removing any thick skin.

Sterilise 2 750ml jars in a lowish (about 125°C) for 20 minutes of so. Leave to cool so that you can handle them. Judging when the milk has cooled sufficiently is the only tricky part of making yoghurt. If it’s still too warm it will kill the yoghurt culture and if it’s too cold, the yoghurt will take forever to set. Generally a little over body temperature is a good target. If you hold the bowl in your hands and it feels only barely warm, then that’s good. Other people say that once they can comfortably hold their finger in the milk for 10 seconds then it’s at the right temperature. You can even consult the literature and measure the perfect temperature using a thermometer! Anyway, I find that it takes about an hour at room temperature.

Add the starter yoghurt and stir well. Pour into the jars, wrap these up snug in a warm place for about 8 hours or overnight. The airing cupboard or hot press is suitable and an old sleeping bag works well for keeping the heat in. Next morning transfer the jars to the fridge. You can leave the yoghurt longer if you prefer a tarter taste. The yoghurt will keep for around 2 weeks.

Crème fraîche

The tangy taste of crème fraîche makes it very versatile in the kitchen. If you can’t get your hands on some, it is possible to make a pretty good substitute in a similar manner to yoghurt. Bring 250ml of whipping cream (about 40% fat) to a boil and let bubble for a 30 seconds or so. Let it cool to just over body temperature and add about 30g of live yoghurt. Stir well and transfer to a sterilised jar. Place in a warm place for 24 hours and then keep in the fridge. It is not quite as thick or tangy as real crème fraîche but it’s still a good substitute and will keep for around 2 weeks.