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I can’t believe that just a month ago the weather was mild, the leaves were golden and crisp, and we were out in a city park hunting for mushrooms. Led by local forager and medical herbalist Jesper Launder(www.jesperlaunder.com), a group of us were diving into bushes (much to the amusement of dog walkers and families out for a walk) and grubbing about in the undergrowth, all for the love of edible wild mushrooms.
I find that once I get my eyes tuned in, as it were, to seeing mushrooms then I see them everywhere. But I wasn’t having any luck this particular weekend. Waist-deep in brambles, surrounded by knee-high nettles, looking in all the inhospitable, unreachable spots that I thought a mushroom would just love to grow in…but nothing. As a fairly competitive person, I was a bit miffed at other people’s finds, even if they were often inedible.
Then I came across this…yes, the big white mushroom in the middle.
I finally got my mushroom-vision sorted, and they just started popping up everywhere. I seem to have a knack for finding hidden treasures on the ground, my mother always told me off for picking up ‘rubbish’ from the floor (although once it was a £20!). Anyway, the ’big white mushroom in the middle’ is an Asphalt Mushroom, similar to the cultivated mushrooms we find at the supermarket, and so-called because it is often found pushing through tarmac in the most mundane areas of urban sprawl. Mine (I was very protective of it) was found half buried in soil, hence its rather grubby appearance, and I had to excavate around it in order to remove it.
As you can see we ended our walk with a couple of basketfuls of some fantastic wild mushrooms – including some Shaggy Ink Caps (which N found) and were delicious fried in butter until golden and crisping round the edges.
What I love about Jesper’s mushroom walk (it’s not the first we’ve been on) is at the end, he sets up some burners and cooks up all the edible mushrooms we’ve foraged with a lot (a lot!) of butter and we all get to taste them. It’s always a delight to see kids eating things you’re sure under different circumstances they’d turned their nose up at. But as the most avid hunters and foragers, they forget and just want their share of the prize.
Following on from my last post, I have decided to dedicate this post to pumkins and squashes. I have a strange love affair with pumpkins and squashes – I am drawn to them with their beautiful curves and gorgeous colours, but I almost prefer them as a work of art, rather than food to be eaten.
Part of the problem is that I don’t really know how to cook them in a way that I enjoy, and my partner N particularly dislikes their flavour, which means that I am even more unlikely to cook them. I am seduced by them at the grocers, and then they end up as ornaments in our kitchen. I was really quite upset when I hacked apart my pale slate blue “Blue Squash” and transformed it into a risotto. I really enjoyed it but N ate it grudgingly, slightly happier with crispy pancetta disguising the flavour. I think I truly preferred it as a ornament, an object of beauty to admire in my kitchen.
A few model shots of the squash that was (how I miss it!) and below is my squash risotto recipe – in my bid to make a squash risotto I liked (I am generally put off by the recipes that have large chunks of squash in them) I blended up my squash before adding it to the rice. It made the most fantastic, golden orange risotto.
Heat your oven to around 200°C. Cut up the sqaush into chunks, put into a roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for about 30-40 minutes or until the squash is soft. Remove and cool.
In a large saucepan or deep frying pan heat the knob of butter and a drop of olive oil. While the oil is heating, finely chop your onion. When the butter starts to gently bubble, add the onion and a generous grinding of black pepper, and cook until soft.
Make sure your stock is warm. Add the glug of white wine and a ladleful of stock – it should boil furiously for a couple of minutes until the liquid has reduced by half. Now pour in the rice and stir continuously for a couple more minutes.
You want to make sure it’s a gentle heat and then simply start adding in a ladleful of stock at a time, stirring the risotto until the liquid is absorbed, then adding another ladleful and so on until all the stock in used up. This usually takes around 20 minutes. If the heat is too high the liquid disappears too quickly and you’ll find you have to use more stock.
Meanwhile, peel any skin from the roasted squash and blend to a puree. When the risotto is nearly done, add the puree and stir well – it goes quite sticky. If you want to fry off some pancetta until crispy, now is the time to do so, you could also drop in a couple of sage leaves as well.
Stir in a dollop of creme fraiche and finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil – and crispy pancetta and sage if you wish.
*Note: This froze well and was quickly reheated in a pan.*
On this rainy, bitterly cold day I thought I would like to write about some of the vegetable gardens that I have seen on my travels. I have decided to start in France, more specifically in the Loire Valley region, which is where I have stayed on my last two visits. We camp at a delightful, intimate campsite run by an expat-English family – we can highly recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a rustic, relaxing break. The campsite is called Le Chant D’Oiseau and more info can be found at http://www.loire-gites.com/.
Anyways, back to vegetable gardens. Our visit at the end of the summer was full of diverting down side streets and peering over walls to see what other people were growing in their gardens. The hot summer weather in the Loire allows for tomatoes such as these to thrive, which makes me incredibly jealous as I think back to my poor attempts.
This small vegetable garden in a small hillside town on the banks of Loire river shows that the smallest of spaces can be productive – look at those squash plants! I was very curious about the number of plants and herbs that were dug into the ground in pots…any suggestions as to why?
We passed the pumpkin below on a scenic (or perhaps slightly lost) route we took through some vineyards, and N was instructed to pull over while I ran back to get a photo. Consequently, we discovered a beautiful old property opposite the pumpkin patch that we fell in love with and momentarily lost our heads in gidding thoughts of selling up and moving to rural France. I shall never forget that house with its warm sunbathed courtyard.
I couldn’t resist posting this picture I took today of Trevor and “his girls” – one of which will be our girl for Christmas. He’s very handsome and keen to keep a watchful eye over his girls, who were all making a peculiar peeping sound today – I guess it must be the sound girl turkeys make.
As I left with a bag of braising steak (tomorrow evening I am attempting a beef stew and dumplings for friends who are coming over for dinner) and a savoy cabbage I spotted this lovely kitty enjoying a snooze in the sun snuggled into the straw bales – a perfect cat flat.
As I sit at home recovering from an operation to remove one of wisdom teeth (eugh!) I am again thinking about happier times and things. It is drizzling outside and I have let one of my bunnies out to roam the garden, although I’m sure he’s in fact hunkering down in his cosy house.
Last night as I tried to get off to sleep I was thinking about the local farmers markets and the different markets I’ve been to around the UK and abroad, and ultimately got to thinking what it is that makes a great farmers market. I have come to the conculsion it is vegetables. There are some delicious offerings at farmers markets – homemade pies, deep ruby coloured streaky bacon, and crusty sourdoughs – but for me, a table heaped with fresh, straight from the earth, picked that morning vegetables is what I’m really after.
My local farmers market it really good and swarming with people long before their advertised opening time, and has for sale many of those fantastic products I listed previously, but it does lack exciting vegetables. There are two markets which stick out in my mind for great, stomach-tingling vegetables: Stroud Farmers Market (in Gloucestershire) and the Saturday market in Saumur (a bit far to go for most UK shoppers as it’s in the Loire Valley in France). When I think back to my visits to these markets, it’s vegetables that I’m dreaming of – crisp lettuce the size of mixing bowls, boxes full of peas, heaps of heirloom tomatoes, new potatoes covered in soil.
Vegetables are at the heart of what we eat, they make up (or at least should I believe) the bulk of our meals and can be so exciting. Having a wide choice of vegetables encourages me to be creative, to eat simple, clean, refreshing food. Some of my best meals have been made without a kitchen, just a bowl of beautiful vegetables, a sharp knife, some seasoning and perhaps the odd barbque-singed sausage and hunk of gooey cheese for good measure. These are my best food memories.
Yesterday we took a trip to Little Heath Farm in search of a delicious cut of pork for our lunch today. We don’t normally do the whole Sunday Lunch thing, but every so often it seems like a nice thing to do. Today is one of those days, and we are working on the crackling as I write this post!
We’d bought our pork, some of their own grown potatoes (gently roasting in goose fat), and a couple of apples from a local orchard, and were on our way back to the car when two small piggy faces appeared from behind the barn. On further investigation, we discovered two young pigs rooting around on a patch of scrubby grass, clearly on the wrong side of their fence.
Sue came out of the farm house with a big smile and a wave, and we pointed out the escapees. Sue and her husband have managed to keep them in their field for the past four days without them finding a hole in the hedge, which is a record. Recently they were found on their way down the lane towards the local pub and beyond the road – eek! Sue has grave concerns for the local golf course should the pigs venture further…
As we left, having ordered our Christmas turkey – Trevor (the big daddy turkey) and “his girls” are housed in a barn looking towards the farm shop – Sue was seen disappearing behind the barn with a stick in hand. We have bought all our pork and beef from Little Heath Farm for over a year now, and have never before seen the pigs that their raise and who end up in our sausages. It was a truly special occasion to see the happy pigs that Sue and her family breed, care for, and eventually slaughter.