Wild garlic pesto and the latest letter from N&Q

4 May 2021

Spring has been slow in establishing itself this year. It’s been sunny and dry — too dry if you ask gardens and plants — but also very cold. We’ve probably noticed it more than usual, as meeting friends is still confined to the great outdoors (for just a few more weeks!) which has made us yearn all the more for that mildness in the air.

I wrote about this forced but gleeful embrace of outdoor socialising in my latest newsletter, which you can find here if you haven’t seen it yet.

In it too is this recipe for wild garlic pesto — that most welcome signal that the earth is waking up and spring has finally arrived.

Wild garlic pesto

A bunch of wild garlic leaves
Grated parmigiano
Nuts (walnuts, pine nuts, almonds)
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground pepper
Good olive oil

When I make this pesto it seems too fiddly to measure the ingredients precisely, but I do have rough ratios in mind.

3/5th wild garlic
1/5th grated parmigiano
1/5th nuts

Wash and coarsely chop the wild garlic.

If using almonds, start by chopping them briefly in the food processor before adding the other ingredients. If using walnuts or pine nuts it isn’t necessary to do so.

Place all the dry ingredients in the food processor and pulse blend, slowly pouring in a drizzle of olive oil. Continue adding the olive oil gradually until the ingredients have formed a paste that has the desired consistency.

Taste and adjust the salt and pepper if necessary.

Store the pesto in a jar in the refrigerator with a protective layer of olive oil over the top.

Leek and wild garlic quiche with trout or pancetta

30 March 2021

Spring has sprung and it is time for quiche. ‘Why?’ you ask. I’m not sure, but that is how it works in my mind.

Perhaps it is the still tentative but now perceptible promise of picnics. Maybe the hankering for boisterous post-egg-hunt Easter brunches from another era, which somehow disappeared with the move to London. Or is it just the availability of leeks, to the near exclusion of all else … ?

Well, it is unmistakably spring, and had we no calendar there would be no mistaking it. Magnolias have burst, the daffodils are already waning, wild garlic is abundant.

And so, I’m making quiche.

In addition to the leeks and wild garlic, I’ve used another leaf, erbette spinach (aka erbette chard or perpetual spinach), which adds herbaceousness and really melds everything together. I found it available from my local farm delivery, but it isn’t all that common. Regular spinach or chard leaves would also work well.

I’ve tried versions of this quiche both with pancetta and with trout, and I’m hard pressed to decide which is the better one. I think it depends on the mood, and the availability of one or the other. So this recipe offers both options, I leave it up to your inclination.

Leek and wild garlic quiche recipe

Pastry crust (or store-bought)

4 to 5 leeks (about 750g)
Pat of butter and olive oil

Salt
50g wild garlic
150g erbette (perpetual) spinach (alternatively, spinach or chard leaves)
120g hot smoked trout fillet (alternatively, pancetta)
4 eggs
300g crème fraîche (or sour cream)
Squeeze of lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated cheese such as Gruyère if using pancetta (optional)

Preheat the oven to 175C (350F)

Roll out the pastry and transfer it to a buttered pie dish. Poke the crust all over with a fork, and place it into the refrigerator while preparing the filling for the quiche.

Trim the leeks, wash, slice thinly, and rince again. Drain as much as possible.

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy skillet, add the leeks, a generous pinch of salt, and cook over slow to medium heat until softened but if possible not browned, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash and thinly slice the wild garlic into a ‘chiffonade.’ Wash and coarsely chop the erbette (spinach or chard).

When the leeks are softened, add the spinach and wild garlic just for a minute or two, until wilted.

If using pancetta, transfer the leeks etc. to a bowl and set aside, and brown the pancetta to the desired hue in the (wiped) skillet.

In a medium or large bowl, crack the eggs and whisk them well with a fork. Add the cream and mix well. Then stir in the leeks, spinach, and wild garlic, with a generous squeeze of lemon.

Take the pie crust out of the refrigerator. Sprinkle the trout or pancetta evenly on the dough. Pour over the egg/cream/vegetable mix. Smooth the top.

Sprinkle generously with freshly ground black pepper and grated cheese, if using.

Bake in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the crust is golden and the filling just set.

Enjoy with a green (or red or yellow) salad.

Basic unsweetened shortcrust

30 March 2021

I use this recipe all the time for quiches and savory tartes (like this Classic French tomato tarte with mustard ). Sometimes also for sweet ones. It is based on a classic shortcrust pastry, with the sugar omitted.

Basic unsweetened shortcrust recipe
Makes enough for 2 quiches

210g white wheat (or spelt) flour
40g wholemeal rye (or buckwheat) flour
Large pinch of sea salt
125g cold unsalted butter
One egg

Small glass of cold water (I usually drop an ice cube into the water and leave it for a few minutes)

Mix the flours and salt together in a bowl. Add the butter, cut into cubes. With your hands, squish the butter into the flour until the mixture feels like coarse bread crumbs, with some larger pieces of butter remaining.

In a glass or small bowl, beat the egg and a tablespoon of water with a fork.

Add the egg to the flours, and mix well to obtain and homogenous dough (with some visible streaks of butter remaining). Let the dough rest in the fridge, wrapped in parchment paper or cling film, for at least an hour and up to a day.

When ready use, generously butter a pie dish, and dust it with a sprinkling of flour. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface, lifting it occasionally as you do it so it doesn’t stick to the surface. Roll it out into a circle as thinly as you like it and so that it won’t break.

To transfer the dough to the dish, loosely fold the dough in half once, and again, so it is now a multi-layered ‘quarter.’ Pick this up, place the point of the quarter at the center of the pie dish and unfold the crust, and press the sides carefully so that they hug the dish. Poke the dough all over with a fork.

At this stage, if the filling and/or the oven aren’t yet ready, place it into the refrigerator until ready to use.

(Any unused pastry keeps for 2 days in the fridge, or can be frozen)

NEW Letter from Nettle & Quince !

3 March 2021

I’m starting a new letter companion to these pages! It will feature stories, ideas, recipes, and inspiration through the seasons, month by month.

The first letter is coming out this weekend: all about citrus — Sevilles, sweet oranges, blood oranges, lemons …— with links and recipes including this whole lemon tarte and Seville orange and cardamom infused gin !

You can sign up right here ⬇️

Pear and apple butter

19 February 2021

Or food like therapy.

I like to think I’m an optimist, try to see the upside, focus on the good bits. I hate to wallow or complain, I have little reason to. This year has tested that.

And, the other day, I sank as far to that bottom as I ever will. I felt very sorry for myself. The UK seemed to be drifting away from the world even farther, with travel restrictions tougher, multiple mandatory tests imposed, hotel quarantines looming, all of which put the possibility of just crossing the water to go ‘home’ — always a basic reassuring given — more and more in question.

When, serendipitously, a friend left a bag with three kilos or pears on our doorstep.

It took me a couple of days to decide what to make of it, until the option presented itself as self-evident: pear and apple butter (I always have lots of apples on hand). I had never made it. I’m not sure I had ever had it. In fact, I sort of thought I was making something else: Apelstroop — or thick apple syrup, which I now realise is something different, made just with apple juice rather than purée.

Making apple butter is at once very easy and very time consuming. It is exactly the type of project to undertake at that moment when there is absolutely nothing to do, and no place to go. It is mindless. Meditative. And smells extremely good.

It was a bit of a springboard. Thanks, Claire!

Pear and apple butter barely adapted from Do Preserve by Anja Dunk, Jen Goss, and Mimi Beaven

2kg pears (it is also possible to use only apples, if that’s what you have)
1.6 kg apples
18 cloves
250ml (1 cup) water
60g sugar
120ml (1/2 cup) maple syrup
Juice from 1 lemon

Wash the fruit and chop it all up into medium chunks, peel, core, and all.

Place the chunks of fruit in a large saucepan with 250ml of water and the cloves. Cook until completely soft, about half an hour, stirring occasionally all the way to the bottom of the pan.

Pass through a food mill to obtain a soft purée.

Return the purée to wide pot, add the sugar, maple syrup, and lemon juice, and cook over low heat, stirring nearly continuously, especially as the purée thickens, For.A.Good.Long.While. A few hours probably, for that quantity, until the purée has become a dark brick spreadable ‘butter’.

Store in sterilised jars and keep in the fridge (Or process the jars for long conservation).


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