There are three ‘triffid’ type plants growing in my vegetable bed this month, taller than me and certainly wider. A plant I had discounted as a crop, has taken me by surprise. I am growing three very tall, wide and beautiful angelica plants. The flower heads are enormous and the hollow stems as thick as a mature tree branch.
Perhaps angelica is best known as ‘crystallised candy’, but its seeds are also one of the principal flavouring agents in vermouth, Chartreuse and gin, and thought to be the ‘secret ingredient’ in certain Rhine wines. The leaves can be used as a salad leaf or a substitute for parsley – or so I was led to believe, however I don’t recommend them – horrid, horrid, horrid! They can however be used to flavour fish, poultry, cooked fruits, soups or stews. Its stems, cut and prepared like asparagus, can be chopped and stewed with rhubarb and apples, or crystallised to serve as decoration on cakes and deserts, which is no doubt the angelica form most of us will be familiar with.
Ever an explorer of new things to prepare and eat, I felt I should explore how to prepare crystallised angelica. You are required to cut your stems into strips, soak them for eight hours, boil them with baking soda, drain then remove the stringy bits, cook in a syrup then soak in the syrup for 24 hours, dry, cook, soak, dry, cook, soak, dry and then, after four or five days of this repetitive process, roll in caster sugar and leave until completely dry and glossy. Now, that is what I call a palaver, but I intend to try it!
One thing that could never be called a palaver, is the 4 Villages Spring Fête, which we have successfully held at the Remembrance Field for another year. I write this the day after this great event. Still exhausted with feet throbbing, I realised I needed to feed two happy helpers at lunchtime today, who had volunteered to move car boot loads of stone to line my pond and to dig a few holes. I raided the freezer and came up with a rather delicious tart, that I give you this month. We enjoyed the tart with Buttlings sausages and partridges cooked on the BBQ (strange what you find in the freezer). We enjoyed this eclectic mix of food with a leaf salad, beer won on the bottle stall and rhubarb cake from the cake stall – an impromptu, welcome and tasty lunch eaten in the drizzle. Summer is here. Enjoy what it brings.
Spinach and Cheese Tart
Approx. £5.50 when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores.
Ingredients 1 tbs oil
1 large red onion
400g fresh spinach (substitute part with purple sprouting, chard etc)
500g ready made all-butter shortcrust pastry
2 large free range/organic eggs, beaten plus extra for brushing
400g cheese – a mix is good – I used parmesan, cheddar and Kings Favourite – feta would be good here too
2 tbs fresh herbs, thyme, rosemary, tarragon or dill
Seasoning lots of black pepper, but ease up on the salt depending on your cheese choices.
Preheat the oven to 200°C / gas mark 6. (AGA roasting oven, bottom shelf with cooling shelf above)
1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the onion for 5 minutes until soft and translucent.
2. Add the spinach leaves or chard, if using, and cook until wilted, and set aside.
3. Roll out the shortcrust pastry on a floured surface and use to line a greased and floured 20cm loose bottomed round tin, leaving a generous 3–4 cm hanging over the edge.
4. Transfer the spinach and onions to a bowl and fold together with the grated or crumbled cheese, the herbs, seasoning and the beaten eggs.
5. Spoon into the pastry case and fold the excess pastry in towards the centre – this gives it a rustic look yet you still see the spinach and cheese in the centre.
6. Brush with beaten egg and bake for 30–35 minutes until golden and set.
7. Serve warm with salad and new potatoes, or chill, wrap in foil and pop into a lunch box.
A truly, truly scrumptious lunch, picnic or lunch box treat
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.