Invisible Food Walks

Mister North isn’t the only one doing a bit of foraging this spring. I have been attending the fascinating Invisible Food Walks around the Loughborough Estate in Lambeth for the past few months and learning what a wealth of foods can be foraged even in this urban environment…

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Apply wild garlic and a steak to the heart…

Boar steak, wilted wild garlic and Jerusalem artichoke mash

Keeping it fresh and local with a rather decadent mid-week dish: boar steak, wilted wild garlic, and a Jerusalem artichoke mash.

My wonderful local butcher in Todmorden market normally has a range of interesting game in stock, but boar caught my eye on the blackboard last Saturday. I wasn’t sure which cut to buy, so after taking his advice I opted for a chunky leg steak and then mused how best to cook it when I got home. This is local boar, raised a couple of miles from Tod centre: always good to know there aren’t many food miles on my dinner plate. In the dim and distant past this part of the Pennines would’ve been home to wild boar, rooting around the Kingdom of Elmet trying to find goodies to eat. Including (allegedly) wild garlic…

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Brassica Tacks

I love broccoli. I love this much-maligned brassica so much that I get withdrawal pangs if I go too long with it. I love it so much I may have entered into broccoli eating contests with a friend on occasion. So imagine the excitement I felt when I discovered the new world of cape broccoli at the farmers’ market on Sunday…

This excites me far more than the oh-so fashionable purple sprouting broccoli, which can have very woody stalks and a slightly fusty flavour. It looks much prettier to me even if it is basically a purple cauliflower. I was intrigued to know how it would taste and would the colour last on cooking?

I decided to try some of it slightly steamed as I would with the normal stuff, but to encorporate the rest in this delicious sounding dish of slow cooked broccoli with buttermilk and serve it with pasta for a brassica-tastic midweek dinner. I am well known for my tendency to under cook broccoli so I thought I would challenge myself with this different style of dish.

I went for half cape broccoli and half regular broccoli with this very easy to make dish and it looked fantastic in the pan. I added an anchovy to the recipe for a bit more oomph, but otherwise stuck to the recipe. This all required about 5 minutes preparation, before simply leaving it to gently simmer for around an hour.

Unfortunately, this made my entire flat smell like a cheap boarding house as the dreaded musty sulphurous smell of overcooked brassicas permeated everything while it simmered. I figured I could overlook this minor annoyance since the dish was bound to taste delicious. I decided to serve it with pasta and while my bucatini cooked, I took the broccoli off the heat and added the lemon zest and buttermilk, along with some grated parmesan before plating up.

The broccoli did not look at all appealing at this stage. It looked like suspiciously how I imagine ectoplasm might look if you are unlucky enough to have a poltergeist about the house. But I refused to judge this book by its cover and tucked right in…and was instantly disappointed.

This just tasted of watery overcooked broccoli with a slightly warming kick from the chili. Admittedly it would have been better with pasta shapes so that the pasta and the sauce mixed better, but this shouldn’t really have affected the taste. I just think the long slow cooking actually cooked the taste right out of this lovely vegetable.

I ate the lot because after waiting an hour for it to cook, I was starving and because I can’t bear to squander food. But I was thoroughly underwhelmed by this dish and feel that I rather wasted my poor cape broccoli on it. I will be sticking to my tried and tested 3 minutes steaming in the microwave with broccoli in the future and leaving longer cooking of brassicas back in the 50s where they deserve to stay!

Giving thanks for ham and turkey eggs

Ah, turkey eggs. Not quite as rare as hen’s teeth, but still something you don’t see every day. I was lucky enough to be given one a couple of years ago by a colleague whose dad works with a lot of farmers (and I made a 3 egg frittata, with hen, duck and turkey egg… wow!) Thanks to Mr S for that experience…

I’ve been trying to source them ever since, but there are two fundamental issues in tracking down turkey eggs. Number 1: turkeys don’t lay as many eggs as, say, your average chicken. Many fewer, in fact, so that many eggs are actually fertilized and used to grow little turkey chicks. Number 2: they taste rather wonderful as well, so even if they’re not going to be used to expand the turkey population, only somebody benevolent or with bounteous quantities of spare eggs is actually going to allow other non-poultry farmer types to sample them.

As you can see, they’re delightfully speckled and have a distinctive pointed end – not sure if this makes them any easier to pass – turkeys often look rather aggrieved so perhaps not. They also have a very flavoursome taste and a creamy consistency.

I was lucky enough to have been given a few as a birthday present by my friends from Porcus up at Height Top Barn this morning, alongside picking up my bread order, so I resolved to make a luxurious breakfast. First I toasted a couple of slices of wonderful home-made bread, generously buttered it and covered it with some torn air-dried ham, before finishing with two poached turkey eggs and a good dose of freshly ground black pepper. As the photo above might suggest, such a simple and classic combination as ham and eggs was taken to the next level with this delightful breakfast plate.

So, if you ever get the chance to sample a turkey egg, don’t let it slip through your fingers. Although my final advice would be that, due to the thickness of their shells (equal to goose eggs) even if they do slip through your fingers they may well land intact. They just won’t be around for long afterwards!

Rhubarb and quince

Mister North hand delivered me some forced rhubarb straight from the Rhubarb Triangle a few weeks ago and this level of service made me think I should treat this precious cargo with the utmost respect.  It seemed like the appropriate moment to use the rather regal looking quince I had picked up a few weeks previously at my favourite Portuguese deli A&C Continental in Brixton.

A quick search on Google confirmed that I wasn’t making an egregious error in partnering these two, but didn’t give me a huge number of ideas on what to do with them and none of my cookbooks had any suggestions either. I decided to err on the side of caution and simply cook them both in the oven until tender.

I simply peeled and cut the quince as you would with an apple and placed it in a dish with the chopped rhubarb and some fructose to take the edge off. I then cooked them in a 180˚C oven, covered in foil for about 25 minutes, before removing the foil, turning the heat off and leaving the dish for about 30 minutes.

The rhubarb was beautifully cooked, holding both its shape and colour. The quince was slightly less successful, retaining rather more bite than al dente and a strange grainy texture. I have never eaten quince before, so this might just be how they are when cooked, but it felt oddly raw to me. In future I would cook it for longer and more liquid to soften it up more and hopefully realise more of the fabulous perfumed taste of this lovely fruit.

I served this fancy fruit compote with some vanilla ice cream as a dessert and it was heavenly. I haven’t cooked rhubarb in the oven before and I much preferred the taste and texture to that of stewed rhubarb. The quince was light and aromatic and both were complemented by the creamy vanilla of the ice cream, even if it wasn’t eaten with a runcible spoon. Expect to hear me mention both fruits* again very soon!

*I know rhubarb isn’t horticulturally speaking a fruit. But the EU allow it to be classed as one and that’s good enough for me…