Spring Watercress

So Lady Fanny Truncheon was correct, it has been proved that watercress can actually improve the skin, diminish spots and freckles and even reduce your wrinkles. But you have to eat 80g of raw watercress a day, which might become quite a challenge even if you love it as much as I do.

My favourite way to eat watercress is in Lao Salad, you can retrieve the recipe from my other blog ‘Ant Egg Soup’ – Lao recipe meanderings”, here using this link – Luang Prabang Watercress Salad.   

We tried it as a face pack and since it has more vitamin C than oranges, more iron than spinach, more B vitamins than blackcurrants and more calcium than milk, it can do no harm.  My daughter and I made up an ‘eighteenth century face pack’ made from chopped watercress mixed with two egg whites, a squeeze of lemon juice and a bit of corn flour to thicken it up. It was slightly tricky to apply (don’t wear white!) but our skin felt silky and plumped up afterwards.

Watercress also makes delicious soup and in order to get the best out of this nutritious plant, chop the watercress and add it at the last moment when the soup has cooled a little.

Watercress Soup  – serves 4

Fresh watercress 120g
butter 55g
the white parts of 2 leeks chopped 200g
4 potatoes, peeled and chopped 350g
Marigold bouillon veg stock 1000ml
4 heaped tablespoons crème fraîche 4
salt and freshly milled black pepper

 

Begin by melting the butter in a large thick-based saucepan, then add the prepared leeks, and potato and stir them until they’re coated with the melted butter.

Next sprinkle in some salt then cover with a lid and let the vegetables sweat over a very gentle heat for about 20 minutes, giving the mixture a good stir about halfway through.

Now add the stock, bring everything up to a simmer, cover, and cook on a low heat for about 10-15 minutes or until the vegetables are quite tender.

Meanwhile chop up the watercress.

When ready, remove the pan from the heat and when it’s cooled a little liquidise the soup.

Return the soup to the saucepan, swirl in three tablespoons of crème fraîche, add the chopped watercress and season to taste with salt and black pepper

Serve in soup bowls and garnish each one with a little extra crème fraîche and some watercress leaves.

Alternatively, garnish with horseradish and crispy chopped bacon.


 

Kitchenalia Cartoons can also be seen in Devon Life Magazine –  the Devon county magazine (UK) offering hundreds of pages of articles and superb photography every month.

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Devon Octopus

While the Spanish gobble up most of the European catch of octopuses (not octopi, look it up) our native curled octopus is much maligned as an unsightly monster from the deep and often left as seagull food when caught up with the rest of the catch. I’ve been unable to find old British recipe references for octopus put they surely must have been eaten as they sometimes get into crab and lobster pots and Westcountry people rarely waste a good meal. They start to come in shore around the coasts of Devon at this time of year and make an excellent eating at a very reasonable price. The native is distinguished from its larger Mediterranean kin and by having a single row of suckers on each arm instead of a double row and no one really knows why. When resting, they curl up their arms tightly hence the name, but maybe they should be called the Houdini octopuses because they can squeeze through tiny gaps as narrow as their beak.

There are many ways to cook an octopus but boiling them for an hour or so in a pot of salted water with some garlic, onion and herbs is the simplest and most versatile if you have never done it before. The cooked octopus can then be cut up and flavoured with a squeeze of lemon, paprika, good olive oil and flaky Malden sea salt and served as tapas, or with plain boiled potatoes, Galician style. At this point you can also flash grill them on a charcoal fire or add them to other dishes like risotto or pasta. I often cook Octopus and then leave it overnight in a flavourful marinade to eat the next day.

Due to their diminutive size I usually allow one for each person eating (about 500g per octopus). They are very easy to prepare and there are many videos on YouTube showing you how, but your fishmonger will do it for you in seconds. You will be left with a hollow head cap and a ring of arms.

BEFORE COOKING

Tenderising – easiest way – put then in the freezer and take them out 24hrs later.

Second easiest way – blanch in boiling water for 10 seconds then take them out four times

Having done this you will need:

2 Curled Octopus

I peeled onion

A whole head of garlic cut in half, not peeled

1 ½ teaspoons of salt

Herbs such as – a bay leaf, peppercorns, a bit of fennel, parsley stalks, a bit of thyme

For the marinade

Several glugs of Good olive all

Malden sea salt

Paprika

Juice of half a lemon or a teaspoon or so of wine vinegar.

Fill a large heavy pot with water, add the salt and bring to the boil.

Add the peeled onion, garlic and herbs.

Add the octopuses, bring back to the boil then lower the heat to simmer and cook until tender. I check after ½ hour then again at one hour, then every 15 minutes. These two took 1 hr 15mins. To test for tenderness use a sharp knife it should go through easily. I sometimes remove the head caps before the arms as they tend to cook more quickly.

I get my octopuses from Gibsons Plaice in Exeter, suppliers of high quality, fresh local fish sourced daily from Brixham Fish Market. Call 01392 495 344.They are very friendly and professional and you can phone up in advance and ask them to find you particular species when they go to market.There is always lots of lovely fresh fish on display at Gibsons’s Plaice 

Kitchenalia Cartoons can also be seen in Devon Life Magazine –  the Devon county magazine (UK) offering hundreds of pages of articles and superb photography every month.Text refs:

 

Nettles

It’s Nettle Week, let’s celebrate with beer! Nettle beer can be ready to drink in a ten days but you could wait longer for a better brew. The flavour can vary from something similar to ginger beer to pale ale depending on your recipe. Traditionally, you add ginger and other hedgerow herbs such as goosegrass (pictured below) wild sorrel or horehound, for flavour.

Nettles are home to many species of moth and butterfly larvae such as the Red Admiral, Peacock and the Magpie moth and the plant supports over forty kinds of insects.

Nettle Seeds (dried before eating) are supposed to give one clarity of thought, a sense of well being, and heightened energy. I put them in smoothies to add a zing.

Nettle tea aids digestion and is good for the skin, kidneys and disorders of the urinary tract. Steep a few leaves in a mug of boiling water for 5 minutes first thing in the morning, for an excellent mild-tasting herbal tonic to start your day after the night before’s nettle beer drinking.

Nettle Beer

Nettle Tops (approx a carrier bag full or about 450-550g)

Optional – Mix with a handful of sticky wild goosegrass (also called cleavers)

5 lts water

10g of fresh ginger root crushed a little

450g sugar

Juice of two lemons

50g cream of tartar

A sachet of beer yeast

 

  1. Boil the nettles and ginger (add a handful of the cleavers, horehound, a little dandelion root or a little sour sorrel for different flavours) for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain through a colander lined with some muslin into a sterilised bucket.
  2. Stir in the sugar until dissolved and leave to cool. Add the lemon juice and the activated yeast. Cover and leave for three to four days.
  3. Making sure you leave the sludgy sediment at the bottom of the bucket, siphon the beer into a fermenting jar with an airlock stopper or sterilised swing-top bottles but beware of exploding bottles! You can brew this in sterilised plastic bottles to be on the safe side. Ready to drink in a week but you could wait longer for better beer. The flavour can vary from something similar to ginger beer to pale ale depending on your brew.

Another favourite way to eat nettles is Nettle Gnocci, made with light ricotta rather than potato flour, the recipe can be found on one of my earlier posts here: https://devonium.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/nettle-gnocchi-with-cherry-tomato-sauce/

Nettles Growing with Goosegrass

It makes green soup and cordial

Or steep the leaves for tea

Or use it

as a tonic

As it’s absolutely free.

 

 

 

Wild Garlic Season – Ramsons Relish

Ramsons form fragrant spring carpets in shady woodland areas at this time of year. The origins of many place names such as Ramsey Common, Ramsdale and Ramsbottom are derived from this ancient word. The plant is related to chives, and their botanic name, Allium Ursinum, contains the latin word for bear (ursus) as bears are extremely keen on them and dig up the bulbs with enthusiasm. Wild Garlic is easy to find in woods, just follow the aroma of garlic in the air and look for their shiny ovate leaves and white balls of little star-shaped flowers.The leaves taste much milder than bulb garlic and can be eaten raw. The flowers are also edible, have a peppery flavour and are very tasty when fried in batter as tempura.

Seasonal and delicious, Ramsons Relish has many uses –

Sandwiches – An excellent addition to cucumber, chicken or cheese sandwiches

Pasta – use the condiment like pesto

Smoked salmon or pan-fried fish – an excellent side sauce

Mayo – Mix it into fresh mayonnaise and use as a dip

Rice – Wild garlic risotto

Mash –  Mix the relish into mashed potato.

Soup – Use the relish as a drizzle

Salad – Ramsons Relish makes an excellent addition to vinaigrette

Scrambled eggs – stirred into creamy scrambled eggs, divine.

Potato Frittata – one the side, one of the best

A pathway of wild garlic at Buckland Abbey

 

 

The Dartmoor Easter Hare

Jugged Hare by Mrs Beeton (use two or three rabbits as our beautiful hares are in decline).

Ingredients

Two or three rabbits

680g (11⁄2lb) Gravy Beef

285ml (1⁄2 pint) Port Wine

225g (8oz) Butter

Forcemeat Balls – fried or baked

1 Onion

1 Lemon

6 Cloves (I use only 3)

Pepper, Cayenne and Salt, to taste

Directions

Skin, paunch and wash the rabbits.

Cut it into pieces, dredge them with flour and fry in boiling butter.

Have ready 900ml (11⁄2 pints) of gravy, made from beef and thickened with a little flour.

Put this into a jar.

Add the pieces of fried rabbit, an onion stuck with six cloves, a lemon peeled and cut in half and a good seasoning of salt, pepper and cayenne.

Cover the jar tightly, put it up to the neck into a saucepan of boiling (simmering) water.

Let it stew until the rabbit is quite tender, taking care to keep the water boiling.

When nearly done, pour in the port wine and add a forcemeat balls (these must be fried or baked in the oven for a few minutes before they are put to the gravy).

Serve with redcurrant jelly.

Very Good.

Time: 31⁄2 to 4 hours. Sufficient for 7 or 8 persons.

 

Artichokes favoured by a King

In the 16th and 17th century walled vegetable gardens were springing up on country estates all over the land. With fashion comes profit and new vegetables like artichokes were soon grown in the market gardens that developed around London as the middle classes sought to emulate the gentry with tables laden with fresh fruits and vegetables.

Patrick Lamb master cook to “their late Majesties, King Charles II, King James II, King William & Queen Mary, and Queen Anne” gives seven recipes for artichokes in his ‘Royal Cookery’ book published in 1710, and a little later John Nott, chief cook to the Duke of Somerset, among many other aristocrats, listed seventeen recipes in his book ” The Cook and Confectioner’s Dictionary in 1723″ so their popularity and status was rising pretty swiftly.

To Pickle Artichokes by John Nott

“Take Artichokes that are not too ripe, because they will be full of strings; when you have pared them around to the bottom, let them be boil’d tender, take them up, and let them stand to cool; Make a pickle of white-wine, good stale beer, a good quantity of whole pepper, and a little salt and put all into a barrel, and keep them close; they will serve for boil’d or bak’d meats for all the year.”

More contemporary ways with Artichokes

Artichoke Pasta – The mint is the key to this recipe. Buy a tub of grilled marinated artichokes (in olive oil), chop them up a bit, pour some of the oil from the tub in a frying pan and fry for about 5 mins. Squeeze on the juice of 1/2 a lemon + the zest and toss with pasta. Finish with a handful of fresh mint leaves. Serve Parmesan in a separate dish.

Simply eat the leaves with vinaigrette, then plunge the whole heart into the sauce dish and gobble it greedily down. Satisfaction.

Green Pizza with artichoke, feta and pesto

Artichoke and wild mushroom pie

Artichoke hearts and potatoes braised with peas in tomato sauce

Artichokes baked with anchovy stuffing
Podded broad beans with artichokes cooked in vegetable stock and white wine.
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