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Pork chops and spring gems

After the harsh winter (thankfully an ever-more distant memory now we’re firmly into May) the recent bout of superb spring weather has brought welcome warmth and cheer in more than one way. Spring heralds two of our favourite fresh British delights: wild garlic, and asparagus. We’ve already written about both on several occasions, but with seasonal goodies this great, I’m not ashamed to sing their praises a little more. They provided the perfect partnership to prime Pennine pork last month.
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Wild Garlic Pennine Pesto

I can’t believe it’s only a year since I first tried cooking with wild garlic: this proved to be a revelatory experience on two levels. First, I rediscovered it’s fun to forage for local, wild food (as Miss South can testify with her participation in regular Invisible Food Walks) and secondly, I found out wild garlic tastes really, really good.

There’s a spot nearby where ramsons run wild and profuse so at the weekend I picked a few handfuls… some to take to city-dwelling veggie mates who appreciate the delicate spring freshness… and the rest for me. I tend to pick the leaves and the occasional flower bud, rather than lifting whole plants. After all, this should be a sustainable food one can come back to year after year, so keep the roots and flowers going. So now I had the sustenance from this year’s spring, what was I to make of it?

Towards the end of last year’s season I had a recommendation to make pesto from the wild garlic leaves, as it freezes well and is a good way of preserving a little bit of spring sunshine into the winter months. I didn’t have time to try this out, although I did freeze a few leaves, which we ended up using in our blog’s first birthday dinner. So it seemed only right that I give Pennine pesto a go this year as the brief season is now fully underway.

I’ve previously made Pesto Genovese at home, taking my cue from years past when our mum used to convert the surfeit of fresh basil from the greenhouse into great pesto. From what I remember it was pretty classic pesto… only basil, parmesan, good olive oil, pine nuts and garlic. Last year MIss North and I were very pleased with a fantastic pesto we made from cobnuts and beetroot tops. However the whole subject of pesto making is a contentious subject, discussed in this piece by Felicity Cloake, so I did some more reading. The more I read, the more I wanted to keep it simple, doing a straight swap of basil for ramsons. I rather liked this blog post about wild garlic pesto, so after some brief prep I rolled up my sleeves and got started.

I (rolls eyes) toasted my nuts in a heavy pan, then tossed them in sea salt and let them cool down fully to bring out the best of their flavour. Meanwhile I washed each ramson leaf. Yes, one by one, like some slow-motion chlorophyllic shampoo advert. Although it’s a bit of a faff when you have a load of leaves it’s worth doing it properly to remove any icky things. I grated the cheese (half pecorino romano, half parmesan) and measured out the oil.

At first I tried to use my mortar and pestle to mash up the mix (doing things the traditional way), but I soon realised I’d need a Belfast sink-sized setup to grind all the long leaves easily. I was also getting hungry, so I used the hand blender instead, incorporating the wild garlic, nuts and oil in batches. Once they were done I stirred in the cheese, and a healthy grind of black pepper. I kept the final mix quite coarse; wanting a little bite from the pine nuts, and to let the grated cheese bind everything together. If anything I think it was a wee bit thin, so in future I’d probably reduce the quantity of olive oil, although it was only afterwards I realised I should’ve kept some back to top the jar off with.

The pesto was vividly viridecent; ramsons don’t have the same tendency to bruise or discolour as basil, so it looked fab. The flavour was clean and fresh, without tasting too ‘thin’ or indeed too ‘garlicky’. Tastes and looks great over some good spaghetti or linguine… and as I’ve made enough to keep me going for a while, any spare can go straight in the freezer to add some springtime greenery for a later date!

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Guestrant at Electrik with Deanna Thomas*

I’ve read about Electrik Bar’s ‘Guestrant’ sessions since they started last year, but despite making mental notes to check them I’d never managed to organise it. Their most recent event, with guest chef Deanna Thomas of North Star Deli fame, tipped the balance for me. This was on Valentine’s Day, and the prospect of a night out, unencumbered by saccharine-sweet clichés, red roses and crappy piped (or worse still, dodgy live string) music provided a fine excuse for a good meal out with my partner.

For those who don’t know it, Electric Chair was one of the venerable institutions of the Manchester club scene from the 90s onwards (Mister North has fond memories of multiple occasions spent in darkened basements listening to Detroit deepness, dirty disco, Mancunian classics and rampant riddims thanks to these guys). These days the Electriks empire has perhaps mellowed and diversified with age, and they opened the unsurprisingly-named ‘Electrik’, a fine café/bar in south Manchester’s Chorlton, a couple of years ago.

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Knowing me, knowing you… ah-ha!

Game, ceps and mash…

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We’ve written before about our shared love of game, especially the profusion of locally-sourced goodies from my part of the world in the Pennines. As our first birthday beckoned, and we thought of something to raise a fork and a glass to, I picked up a brace of partridge from Stansfield’s in Todmorden with an eye to our celebratory seasonal feast. As luck would have it, work took me to London for the weekend so we conspired to rustle up a hearty wintery meal which would encapsulate many of the tastes and temptations of the first twelve months of our blog, from both north and south.

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Forearmed and fore-ribbed: Christmas beef

 

fore rib of beefAt the end of the festive season, on the twelth day of Christmas, it’s as good time as any to write up our Yuletide dinner… our first since starting the blog in early 2010.

With both of us back at the family home this year there’d been some debate about what the main dish should be. As a family we’re not traditionalists, and rather enjoy Christmas dinner being an excuse to indulge in a quality meal, regardless of convention. Last time it was a fantastic shoulder of lamb, and this we we plumped for forerib of beef, ordered a month in advance from McKee’s farm shop in the Craigantlet Hills above Belfast. This is beef from their own farm, and they’re proud of the provenence and hanging of their meat. Rightly so. Might you, we had a bit of concern that Northern Ireland’s coldest winter for decades could wreck havoc with the mission to pick up the joint, but it’ll take more than that to stop our family from a prime bit of beef. And this was one serious a cut of meat, clocking at a shade under 6kg. That’s a 50p piece next it in this photo.

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