Category Archives: Ramblings

My Roman Affair- Pizza and Gelato Top Spots

I’ve become disastrously negligent with my blog of late, so I’m going to attempt something a bit quicker in the hopes that it will happen more often. Here you have it: more pictures, more info’, less fluff.

When it comes to second homes Spain, and Catalonia in particular, has been my great love for years….. but right now I feel rather like I’m having an affair, I just can’t get enough of Rome. It all kicked off with a couple of visits, in my Queen of Beans role, to the United Nations FAO last year, although what really ignited the passion was Rachel Roddy’s cookbook, (and it’s so much more than a cookbook), Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome. If you’re planning a trip to Rome or just want to bring a bit of Rome into your home you just have to own this book or, at the very least, read Rachel’s weekly column in the Guardian Cook. I spent a morning making pizza bianca with Rachel and fabulous son Luca and if you’d like to spend some time cooking with her she’s one of an inspiring trio who run the fabulous ” Market to Table” classes in Trastevere.

Testaccio is where you’ll most likely end up if you’ve become as obsessed with Rachel’s writing as I have (I’d like to point out that this post will be as much of a surprise to R as it may be to you – it’s just that I’ve become her number-one fan/bordering on stalker). The rather hazy picture below, snapped from an EasyJet window shows Testaccio in the bottom left corner. You can actually see our fab’ Airbnb (familiar washing-line view from the door) situated between the triangular and square piazzas in Testaccio. I’m sure that I’d be able to do an “X” marks the spot if I was more techy. It’s a perfect neighbourhood; walking distance from all the top spots yet a million miles away from all the touristy tat stalls and over priced gelato.

Testaccio market is a proper, buzzy, local business with luscious piles of fruit and veg’, butchers with plenty of offal, fishmongers, cheesemongers, hardware stalls, shoe shops and a seemingly limitless array of underwear and aprons on offer too. Don’t miss one of   Sergio Esposito‘s famous allesso (boiled beef) and cicoria sandwiches.

I’m not much of a fine diner (can’t afford to be either, if I’m honest) and holidaying with our daughter Imi made it a perfect excuse to focus predominantly on vast quantities of pizza and gelato. I can’t claim to have discovered any of these great establishments (with just 4 days in a place you haven’t t got time to make the wrong choices)  I turned to info’ from Rachel ( Roddy of course), Katie Parla, A Diana Henry piece for The Telegraph  and gleaned valuable snap shots from Dan Vaux-Nobes’ Instagram (@essexeating).

So, in short, Pizza we loved:
Bonci Pizzarium, Via della Meloria, 43, ( walking distance from The Vatican or Cipro Metro station) This is pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) which is fab’ as you can taste so many different types – favourite was probably broccoli, hazelnut, potato and mozzarella or perhaps the n’duja with burrata

Pizzeria Remo, Piazza di Santa Maria Liberatrice, 44, Testaccio. Real favourite with the locals + tourists in the know. Often a queue outside, great classic pizza, wonderful fried suppli di riso and also the best beans imaginable (and I know my beans)

Trappizino, Via Giovanni Branca, 88, Testaccio. Can barely be termed a pizza at all, more like pizza corners stuffed with traditional Roman dishes such as aubergine parmigiana, chicken cacciatora or beef tongue with salsa verde. Heaven, really heaven and fantastic local craft beers on offer in their little bar next door.

Tavernaccia Da Bruno Via Giovanni da Castel Bolognese, 63, Much more than a pizzeria  –  had the most spectacularly good wood-roast porchetta and pigeon, sautéed cicoria to die for, and Imi declared that her Pizza Margherita was the best in Rome.

Favourite Gelato (the difference in price between the historic centre and less touristy areas was HUGE)

Gelateria La Romana, Via Ostiense 48, Testaccio (quite a big chain but extremely good nevertheless, you’ll find other branches) Panna cotta with fruti di bosco and toasted pine kernels was sublime. Love the fact that we had to queue at 10pm on a chilly night in April.

Panna & Co, Marmorata 115, Testaccio. Our “local”, we had a few! Imi The Gelato Queen’s favourite gelateria of the trip with pistachio meringue coming in as the top flavour.

One to strike off: I marched Mims and Peter half way across Rome for the famed Carapina gelato – it’s closed down! May be about to spring up elsewhere but do check. Otherwise Come il Latte gets great reviews but we never quite made it.

Top Coffee:

Pasticceria Barberini, Via Marmorata, 41,TestaccioMorning coffee and pastries here became the daily ritual. Love the way the locals down their espressos in a matter of moments and then get on with their day. Spectacular range of cakes- everything we tasted was ridiculously good.

Caffe Sant’ Eustachio, Piazza di S. Eustachio, 82 ( near the Pantheon) The BEST coffee ever. Reputedly down to own roast beans and water from an ancient aqueduct. Be sure to stand at the bar, its what all the locals do and they’ll sting you if you sit down outside.

We ate in plenty of other places but these were the faves. Also, for me, one of the joys of renting a flat is being able to cook/cobble together something yourself. Testaccio market and then the very exclusive but amazing Volpetti (a delicatessen like you’ve never experienced before – also in Testaccio) are great places to stock up. We had a picnic too but that’s another story and another blog post, along with a crostata recipe and news of Rachel Roddy’s next book.

Thanks to “With Mustard” for requesting this little list (I’d not have got around to it otherwise)

 

Festival Season – Spilling the Beans

No sooner is the summer music festival season over than the flurry of food festivals begins. It’s harvest, the perfect time to get excited about all of our local fare and artisan producers, and to indulge too (you’ve got months before all those irritating people begin shouting about detoxes and beach bodies). This year I’ve been blowing the trumpet for pulses, as many of you are already well aware.

First stop was beautiful Ludlow, one of the original food festivals ,that started out in 1995. The main festival venue is the castle but there are events all over the town, and what a stunning town it is. Sorry, I only managed a few snaps whilst I did some speedy sightseeing before making my appearance on the stage. I managed to gather some fabulous bits from the stalls too – plates to die for from Sytch Farm Studios, chorizo and saucissons from Charcutierltd , Ludlow Blue cheese from Ludlow Food Centre and then the most divine custard tart, that I ate straight away, from the fabulous Harp Lane deli’ right off the market square. Now if you’ve been clicking on all those links it’s a miracle you’re still here, so well done.

I cooked up my favourite green pea fritters (here’s the recipe).I did put some fabulous local chorizo on top this time, delicious cooked up with some red onions and a splash of Herefordshire cider. The second dish was a freekah and butterbean number with roasted cauliflower (here’s a red rice version but do use freekah instead – just boil in lightly salted water until tender and drain.)

On my way home, as I drove from Ludlow to Bristol through some of England’s most stunning countryside, I got all excited. I’ve now made a pact with myself that whenever I’m on a long journey I’ll turn off up a random lane and stop for a few minutes just to breathe and take in the scene. First stop Ocle Pychard, who could resist? And just look what I found!

The next weekend it was off to Abergavenny, to work with kids cooking up some British baked beans. I’m a firm believer that getting children in the kitchen is a great way to encourage adventurous eating and invaluable life skills. We used Hodmedod’s red haricots to make our beans with fried onions, carrot, celery and garlic and a tin of chopped tomatoes. With a little seasoning and a dash of local cider vinegar those beans put the supermarket beans-in-gloop to shame. There’s a recipe in Cool Kids Cook. We added a little chilli and lime juice to our beans and toasted them in a wrap – hey presto! Quesadillas! I’ll get Imi on the case to give you a demo’ very soon.unspecified-2

Now I have to admit that I was so taken up (in a good way) with the kid’s workshops that I only had a couple hours flying around the amazing festival, I managed to squeeze in one of Pembrokeshire Beach Food Company ‘s lobster and seaweed butter rolls. One day I’ll make it to their original beach shack, Café Môr, in Pembrokeshire, in the meantime I’ll sniff them out at every possible festival opportunity. Random stop this time was overlooking the Usk valley just a few miles outside Abergavenny: plenty of sheep, very green hills and blackberry brambles for some opportunistic picking.

Next up Bradford, The World Curry Festival, a long train journey but so worth it; part of a week-long festival celebrating curries of the world with chefs such as Ken Hom and the broadcaster /comedian Hardeep Singh Kohli. I was giving a dal demo, I did worry that I might be teaching grandmothers to suck eggs and so I pulled all the stops out with this magic Sambar recipe. For any of you who came to the demo you’ll find the chickpea Sundal Accra recipe here and the simple Tarka Dal recipe here

DSC_1625.jpgSouthern Indian Vegetables with Dal  – Sambar

Sambar is a southern Indian staple. It’s essentially a dal cooked with whatever vegetables are in season, so don’t worry about the long ingredient list, just use what you have to hand..
Traditional sambar has a very loose and almost soup-like consistancy and is served alongside rice, dosa or flatbreads. I like to make mine a little thicker.
For the curry – (serves 6 with rice or flatbread)
100 g red lentils (or more authentically  toor dal) well rinsed and drained
1 tsp turmeric
2 onions, sliced
2 small potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 aubergine, diced
100g pumpkin or squash
a handful of french beans
3-4 tbsp tamarind paste
salt
For the spice paste
1 tbsp oil
3 shallots, diced
100 g dessicated coconut (unsweetened please)
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 dried chillis
For the Tarka
1 tbsp ghee or oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
10-15 fresh or frozen curry leaves
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
Put the lentils in a large pan with the turmeric and cover with 600 ml/1 pint of water.
Simmer, covered, for about 45 minutes or until the lentils are soft ( you may need to add a dash more water). Add the onions, potatoes, tomatoes, aubergine and pumpkin and cook, stirring from time to time, until tender. 
Meanwhile take a small frying pan and heat up the oil. Fry the shallot until soft and then add the coconut, coriander, cumin and chillis. As soon as the mixture is aromatic and golden remove it from the heat. Make a fine paste using a pestle and mortar, a spice grinder or small processor.
Add the green beans, tamarind paste and spice paste to the lentils, stir and cook until the beans are tender. Do add more water if you like the traditional, soupier consistancy
Re-use the frying pan and make the tarka. Heat the oil and cook the mustard seeds until they begin to splutter, add the curry leaves and chilli, stir once and then tip over the sambar.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my little diary of events, more like a newsletter this month, I assumed you’d jump to the recipe if you got bored! Next stop on my “Pulsathon” is Brussels and then on 22nd October you can find me at The Dartmouth Food Festival. I’ll be cooking with kids and also doing a beany demo’ too. Come along, I’d love to see you.

 

 

Amsterdam, Liquorice and Stem Ginger

I’ve been meaning to write about our long weekend in Amsterdam for over a month now – in fact I have a queue of blog posts lined up and now, after the rush of pre-Christmas cooking classes, I might just get down to a bit of writing.

Jenny Chandler and Family Amsterdam

Soaking up the winter sunshine in Amsterdam

I just can’t believe that I’d never been to Holland before, I suppose that I’ve always felt that it’s right on the doorstep- any how we decided to escape at half term on a hideously early flight, which did mean that we were fit for little more than watching the world go by from a barge for most of the first day. We’d booked a 48 hour, jump-on-and-off boat ticket  on line (with museum entries too) so I felt rather smug and über-organised for once, saving some precious euros as well as a lengthy queue.

The boat was ideal, Imi rather randomly spent most of the time engrossed in a puzzle book about  Ancient Egypt allowing us to soak up the scene. Mile upon mile of skinny canal houses with their glorious gables cutting into the clear blue sky,  bikes everywhere, stalls of tulip bulbs and the odd Gouda cheese emporium. Amsterdam was everything I’d expected – all the clichés in a good way, bar the delights of the red light district which we left to the stag parties (although the crotchless, fishnet body stocking in the shop window by the tram stop did lead to a challenging discussion with an 8 year old).

I didn’t expect to be making many gastronomic discoveries on the trip, we were travelling with Imi after all and there’s only so much time that she’ll put up with poking about in food markets and perusing restaurant menus. We came upon the Saturday organic farmer’s market in the square by the Noorderkerk quite by chance; they were doing a roaring trade in oysters and I snapped up cheese, bread, apples and raspberry tart for a picnic lunch.

We left the fabulous museums until Monday and Tuesday when the crowds had calmed down a bit and were surprised at how relatively quiet they were. There were moments in the Van Gogh Museum when you could find yourself standing quite alone in front of one of those oh-so-familiar masterpieces, it was just a million miles away from the Mona Lisa scrum I experienced a few years ago in Paris. The Rijksmuseum was mind-blowing too, with Imi’s highlight being the 1660, Pieter de Hooch’s Mother’s Duty ( a mother delousing her daughter’s hair)- rather topical after a recent school memo about the latest nit outbreak

Back to the foodie stuff though –

Autumn beer, a dark delicious brew became the holiday refreshment  – particularly the Chouffe Boc 666 (which I’ve since discovered is Belgian!).

My newly found snack of choice was the local ossenworst – a sort of lightly smoked, subtly spiced raw beef sausage, a bit like steak tartare, served with dark bread, pickles and mustard.

We were  determined to eat a traditional Indonesian Rijsttafel (a huge spread of tiny dishes) whilst we were in Amsterdam and our dinner at Sampurna right next to the flower market on the Singel canal was very good indeed.

And then came the Liquorice?– Now I thought that I liked, even loved, liquorice – from the super-commercial Bertie Bassett variety to the soft Kiwi sticks and even the salty Italian pastilles in their tiny designer tins. So, when we found a wall of liquorice in a traditional sweet shop, I went a little wild and bought bags of the stuff: salted, sweet, with honey, with bay and then a good scoop of the Amsterdam “drop”. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could have prepared me for the astoundingly hideous taste of the “drop”- flavoured with ammonium chloride! The rest of my liquorice haul was not much better – so please all you Dutchmen and Scandi’s (yes, you chaps eat it too) explain yourselves.

& finally came the splendid pancakes at Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs. There is a bit of hype surrounding this tiny place (just four tables), especially since Anthony Bourdain visited, so I’d definitely book. Thankfully you do burn off a bit of energy getting up the unbelievably steep stairs, as the pancakes are huge. Star of the show was the cheese pancake with a mound of finely diced stem ginger piled in the centre. It’s a combination I’ll be repeating and did remind me just how much I love stem ginger.

And just incase you were wondering what else you could do with stem ginger?

  • Slice and eat with plenty of salted butter on wholemeal toast for breakfast.
  • Use as a marinade for grilled salmon – Dice finely and mix with orange juice, zest and soy sauce. Pour over the salmon (leave in one piece rather than individual portions), leave for 20 minutes and then grill until caramelised on top and still wonderfully juicy inside.
  • Added in thin slices to a chocolate or pear tart.
  • Combine with rhubarb – in fools, crumbles or my favourite rhubarb and ginger pavlova.

 

Camping and Crumpets

With just a few days left of the school holidays it certainly seems that the Indian Summer will be bypassing us this year. So, it’s probably a little bonkers to be coming up with a camping tip at this stage in the day but…. there are just a couple of festivals left and surely a couple of dozen hardy campers who might be up for some sound advice.Panoranic shot of The Green Man

I’m not a serious camper by any means, in fact I feel quite proud having managed to make a couple of festivals this summer, clocking up a total of seven nights under canvas (or more truthfully nylon). I’ve certainly never considered camping a refreshing holiday – you come back knackered, usually bedraggled and damp (if you live in the UK), with enough dirty washing to keep you busy for days. Cooking on a piddley-little gas flame with ingredients from a not-so-cool cooler box is not really my idea of fun either. A great festival plus is the fabulous selection of food stalls, my favourites over the 2 weekends being (without a doubt & in no particular order)  Poco,  Goan Fish Curries and the Pembrokeshire beach Shack) So, to be honest the extent of my cooking is really just breakfast.

At WOMAD, once the bread had almost run out and virtually turned to cardboard I suddenly remembered the dozen crumpets I’d snapped up just before we left. Now the best thing about crumpets is that you don’t have to be one of those desperately organised types with a gazebo and fully equipped camp kitchen. I’m amazed at the kit that some people haul to a festival: picket fences, inflatable sofas – some friends of ours took a half hundred weight of sand to use as a sand pit to entertain the small kids one year. I get hot, bothered and very, very irritable just carrying the absolute essentials, so this tip is for the basic 1-ring-burner type of camper.

The Ultimate Bacon and Tomato Camp Crumpet

Having fried your bacon in your one and only frying pan you can set that aside to keep warm whilst you throw a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes into the hot bacon fat (I never said this was going to be particularly healthy) Once the tomatoes have begun to split you can tip those into a bowl too. Now, if your pan isn’t too precious just wipe it out and oil with a smear of butter or oil and cook up the crumpets, a few at a time, until toasty (a good couple of minutes on each side). Serve at once topped with your bacon and tomatoes, AND this is particularly good with a glass of red wine if your breakfast has morphed into brunch!

The Green Man, in the Brecon Beacons presented a trickier crumpet situation. Peter was away in the Arctic and so realizing that I didn’t have a packhorse I’d really packed light (only the absolute essentials such as full fancy dress outfits for the children) and we relied on my friend Sally’s cooking gear. Sally’s tiny, high speed burner was like a rocket launcher and boiled water in a matter of seconds but cremated my first crumpet. After a couple of attempts we discovered the

Fried Nutty Butter Crumpet

Take your pan and melt a good knob of butter per crumpet – we had to cook ours one at a time due to pan size. Fry the crumpet for a couple of minutes on each side over a medium heat; the butter will smell caramelised and will have disappeared into the spongey crumpet.

Serve hot with Marmite or jam. Scrumdiddlyumptious

 

Thank you to the Ives family for some pic’s and the fabulous grass skirt and tutu modeling.

 

Learning to Love Water

It’s ridiculous but I never seem to drink enough water. I sometimes get that searing, top of the skull headache that signals dehydration and often wake up feeling desperately thirsty. Why? It’s extraordinary when we have water on tap, that so many of us fail to achieve the recommended daily fluid intake of 1.6 litres for women or 2 litres for men a day. OK it doesn’t all have to be water but most of it should be; it just seems so much easier to drink coffee, tea or sugary cordials not to mention all the wine, beer, cider and spirit options  (current favourite : Aperol Spritz).

Last weekend we made our annual pilgrimage  to WOMAD – a festival of world music and dance near Malmesbury. It’s our summer highlight and this year was a scorcher. We adore WOMAD, you can flit from Senegalese kora and drums to Welsh folk, from Jamaican reggae to Ukrainian “ethno chaos” (in the words of the WOMAD programme! ). The children go wild and have a sense of  freedom and adventure that’s difficult to find nowadays. One of the highlights, and I know it sounds bonkers, is refilling their water bottles. Once the kids have their bearings we allow them to disappear for a minute or two into the crowds (yes, it’s terrifying to begin with, but when do you give a child their first sense of responsibility and space?). They make their way to the  Frank Water refilling station (more about Frank in a moment) and return triumphantly with their bottles of chilled water. Their insatiable desire for these tiny bursts of freedom means that they drink water by the pint, which is great in the heat. 

So Frank Water has become synonymous with WOMAD for the children, but there’s so much more to shout about. You can read all about the Bristol based charity on their website but I’ll sum up as best as I can. Frank sell refillable water bottles at festivals, cutting down on all the plastic disposable bottle waste whilst raising money to fund sustainable clean water projects in the developing world. It’s genius – and this year in particular, in the intense heat, I really appreciated having their beautifully cool water, whereas I’m ashamed to say that I do often take water for granted. One in ten people worldwide have no access to clean water whilst, rather extraordinarily, many of us spend money on bottled water when we’ve got perfectly good water on tap. We’re spoilt.  Frank Water also sell Devon spring water by the bottle in all sorts of restaurants, cafes and shops with those proceeds going to the charity too. So look out for these guys and give them your support.

Frank Water

And now to my new resolution to drink more water. Here are a few of my tips, although I’m only a couple of weeks in.

1. Pour some water into a large bottle or jug so that you can gauge how much you’re drinking

2 Remember to chill it – it makes such a difference (obviously if you have one of those swanky American style fridges you can bypass this stage)

3. Flavour your water, and I’m not talking squash here.
-Try putting a few sprigs of mint and slices of lemon into the water, it’s instantly more interesting.
-My all time favourite trick comes from The Lido where they sometimes have long ribbons of cucumber whisping around in a jug of chilled water, the taste is very subtle but wonderfully refreshing.
-Literally any fruit sliced or slightly squashed and added to your glass of water will add a little something.

4. Boiling water poured over a large slice of fresh ginger makes a great coffee/tea alternative (that’s once I’ve had my caffeine – which I couldn’t possibly give up)

Radishes and Robins

 

Radishes

Radishes are one the great summer treats- just fabulous with a bit of unsalted butter and some crunchy salt. The idea of serving  them like a flower arrangement came from perhaps the glitziest restaurant I’ve ever been to. St Tropez’s Le Club 55 is the most ludicrously expensive, super -chic beach bar in existence…….and we arrived by helicopter! It’s seems like a different lifetime as I sit in my tiny back garden and think back to my super-yachting days. I worked aboard an Italian owned sailing boat as the cook and the owners did, just once in a while, invite us to partake in their bonkersly swanky lifestyle.

Our trip to Club 55 (please think it in French or it just doesn’t work) was to celebrate the re-fitting of the boat’s main mast – quite a hairy business which involved cranes, plenty of manic arm waving and lots of filthy French swearwords. I’d been given the important job of filming the event for the owners who’d wisely decided to miss the action. The first lesson in filming: never  turn  a camera on its side even if the tip of the mast doesn’t fit into a landscape shot. You had to watch the entire video with your head cricked to one side…… very irritated Captain and THANKFULLY highly amused boss.

The family popped into the boat yard in their helicopter to look over their beautiful yacht before flying on the extra few miles to Pampelonne beach. I leapt at the chance to hover over St Tropez  and then spent most of the time with my eyes shut, virtually hyper ventilating; there’s nothing I hate more than flying. So we landed in the car park next to the Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s and made our way out into the shady, understated beachside restaurant. There on every table was a jug of radishes, some butter, salt, aioli and a basket of perfect baguette. The extraordinary thing is that  I have no memory of the rest of the meal, I was probably too busy people watching. So it just goes to show that the simplest, quickest thing to prepare can often make the most impact.

Another very delicious accompaniment to radishes was dreamt up by the talented chaps at one of my favourite restaurants, the antithesis of ritzy-glam, The Ethicurean here in The West Country. It involves frying a sliced spring onion and a couple of finely chopped cloves of garlic in rapeseed oil until really fragrant. Then adding a couple of tablespoons of chopped white anchovy fillets (you know, the delicious ones pickled in vinegar) and cooking for a minute. Allow to cool and then stir in about 5  tablespoons of crème frâiche. Season and then serve with a pile of freshly dug radishes ( an hour soaking in icy water will restore some crispness if your bought radishes seem a little tired)

The week before I took the picture I’d found some of those  slender, pink French breakfast radishes with their long whispy tails, they’re my favourites, not today. But, any good radish with  leaves intact can be bunched together tightly with some string and pushed into a squat jug or bowl. 

Talking of lapping up the simple things in life I have to share these pictures of Reg with you. Every year Peter hopes to hand feed a robin, he’s had no luck for the last couple but then Reg arrived. The trick is patience; when the robin is feeding its young it will be bolder than usual and so, by placing a small plate of live mealworms close by and waiting motionless whilst it feeds, the robin will gain confidence. Then it’s a question, over about a week, of moving the plate closer and closer until you’re holding it. Eventually the robin will land on your hand and even flutter outside the kitchen window until you come out to feed it.

We’re just hoping that Reg will be back again next year to feed another brood. The thrill of holding such a delicate little bird on your hand is extraordinary. So light, so perfect.

 

 

A Walk in the Woods, Wild Garlic Risotto & Other Stories

It felt as if it might rain at any moment  last Saturday but I was determined to collect my ramsons, as the wild garlic leaves are often known. In fact wild garlic has many common names such as wood garlic, buck rams, bear leek and even stinking Jenny (which sadly reminds me of my childhood nickname, Smelly Jenny, that was always banded about at Christmas when I just couldn’t leave the Stilton cheese alone) I’d been planning a trip to the woods ever since Jules asked me for some wild garlic recipes during a most fabulous dinner at Bell’s Diner a couple of weeks ago (there’s another blog post – I promise). So this post is for you Jules.

The damp air magnified all those incredible deeply earthy, vegetal smells of woodland and everything was so lush. The new beech leaves were that almost fluorescent green that lasts just a few weeks. Then, once we reached the sweeping carpet of wild garlic, the ground seemed an unnaturally vibrant shade of Pantone green, the sort of colour that Imi might paint a picture of a jungle. Old stone walls were blanketed in feathery moss, it was simply stunning and the waft of garlic almost overwhelming. The wild garlic is apparently an indicator of ancient woodland just like the bluebells that so often grow alongside – how amazing to think that this scene has probably changed so little over the centuries. It will be a picture here in a couple of weeks time too, with the white garlic flowers and the huge swathes of lilacy bluebells, but you’re best to pick the garlic now as the leaves do become more bitter as the season goes on.

I’m always dreaming of getting a dog, firstly because I adore them but also because they make you take the time out for a walk, and I just don’t do it often enough. The garlic hunt brought my friend Kate, me and our girls out into the woods on a day when you’d probably never have planned a stroll-  it seemed so gloomy and threatening and yet it was breathtaking. So get out there, come rain or shine, but do be a bit careful that you are picking garlic and not the rather similar Lily of the Valley. The smell will shout garlic at you and each leaf grows from a separate stalk where as the toxic Lily of the Valley leaves grow 2 or 3 leaves to a stem.

DSC_9617And what to do with your booty? I was planning on making and photographing a number of different dishes but I’m afraid we kept eating them before I got a chance to whip out the camera. The wild garlic leaves give a more chivey taste than the more familiar bulbs of garlic we buy all year round and I particularly love this flavour in anything  to do with eggs.
So here are a few ideas to set you on your way.

  • French Omelette- ( for 2) fry 1/2 a diced onion in a blend of olive oil and butter. Beat 4 eggs up with a splash of milk, pinch of salt and a handful of sliced wild garlic. Add the softened onions to the mix and then fry 1/2 of the mixture at a time in a small omelette pan. Grate over a little cheese such as mature cheddar as you are frying. (Don’t forget that omelettes are fab’ cold  in sandwiches – the Spanish do it all the time) Throw some into a Spanish tortilla with the potato or an Italian frittata with some courgettes and parmesan.
  • Scrambled Eggs – obvious but delicious all the same. Chop up a good handful of garlic leaves into ribbons and stir into the scrambled eggs for the last minute of cooking (just enough for the garlic to wilt.
  • Risotto- I’m being lazy but assuming that most of you probably have a basic risotto up your sleeve ( I should probably have done the same for the omelette!) Just stir a good handful of sliced ramsons (per 2 portions) into the rice a couple of minutes before you finish the cooking. I fried up my left over risotto the next day too…. Add a couple of eggs to the cold risotto to bind the mixture and throw in a bit of extra parmesan. Fry in a flat cake in your omelette pan, flip over using a plate and brown the other side too and serve with a tomato salad.
  • Pesto – Try substituting garlic leaves for the basil in a traditional pesto recipe. I like to make the pesto using Pecorino rather than Parmesan in this case. Don’t just use this for pasta, try it blobbed into soups or stews too.

I’m planning on coming up with a few more adventurous recipes over the next few weeks (Kate had a wonderful wild garlic bread and butter pudding in the Tyntesfield Café)  but I’m desperate to get this post off tonight and entice you into a bit of foraging whilst the garlic’s at its best.

And a little reminder to all you West Country-ites – there’s a BIG food festival happening in Bristol next month. I have a couple of classes here, on May 6th Eat your Way to a Healthier Lifestyle and May 7th  Spring into Summer. Take a peek at the full line up of events on the Bristol Food Connections website

Bristol Food Connections