Who doesn't like free stuff? Since moving to the countryside from the big smoke nearly six years ago, I've marvelled at the free food waiting to be found in our beautiful fields,woodlands and streams. Tasty treasures such as field mushrooms, wild garlic, sorrel and my favourite find, watercress!
You'll find it growing in the clearest, cleanest streams - I get mine where an underground spring surfaces in a quiet part of Sussex...
But a word of caution, do your research and be absolutely SURE you know what you are eating, and if in doubt, leave it out! I once had to do a meeting with a client with a numb tongue and lips due to eating something I thought was sorrel... it wasn't. Luckily I was just embarrassed by my attractive temporary drool and not poisoned!
Back to the cress. This is proper, pungent, fiery stuff - fab in salads and fantastic in a quick and easy made soup. If you can't find it, buy it as fresh as possible and give this recipe borrowed from Felicity Cloake a try:
1 onion, finely chopped
Pinch of salt
400ml whole milk
3½ bunches (about 420g) watercress, washed and roughly chopped
75ml double cream
Heat the butter in a large pan over a medium-low heat and add the onion. Season and cook gently until soft, but not coloured. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute.
Gradually stir in the milk and 250ml water. Bring to just below the boil, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare a large bowl of iced water. Bring a large pan of water to the boil and plunge in the watercress to wilt, reserving a few leaves to garnish. Tip out into a colander, and then into the iced water.
Squeeze the cooled watercress out and add to the pan. Puree the whole lot thoroughly, add the cream and season to taste. Reheat if necessary: delicious hot or chilled.
On to the pesto. Wild garlic is in season now and is another punchy ingredient from Mother Nature. Known in the US as 'ramps' and tasting like a cross between spring onions and garlic, it's a magical ingredient that transforms pasta, fish, salads, wilted greens and loads more. Find it in woodlands and along riverbanks, where the smell of it will hit you before you notice it's broad, pointed leaves and small white flowers. I'm lucky enough to have it grow on my lane:
In our house we love to smear it on home-made pizza dough bases and fire in our wood oven (there's a blog post coming for that!) for the best garlic pizza bread ever. Make sure everyone has some and then nobody can pick on you about your breath!
Here's the recipe I use:
(Makes six small jars - although I make a mixture of jarred and frozen in small tupperware boxes. )
300g wild garlic leaves, washed
180g nuts - walnuts, pecans, almond, pine nuts all good, experiment! I use hazlenuts as they are from Kent, like me :)
180g Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
400ml olive oil, plus extra to cover
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place all ingredients except oil in a food processor, pulse a few times, then carry on blitzing whilst adding olive oil a little at a time.
You will see when the mixture starts to loosen and personal taste will decide how fine or loose you want the pesto.
When you're happy transfer to jars and pour a few mm's of the olive oil on top to cover the pesto. Whack on the lid and store it in the fridge. It'll keep a few weeks with the oil serving as a lid. You will need to top up the oil lid.
Let me know what you've enjoyed it with! Hope you enjoyed my first ever blog post :)