Jo from Ludwell Stores has been lamenting the fact that they are unable to stock local watercress, grown in the chalk fed spring waters a matter of yards from their door. It seems that Ludwell watercress is only sold to large supermarkets in pumped up air-tight bags and shipped nationwide. Many of us may have purchased Ludwell watercress without realising we were bringing it back to its home.
Traditionally grown watercress is lush dark green and noted for its distinctive peppery, mustard-like flavour much like its relative the garden flower, nasturtium. Recognised as a food with high nutritional value, it is packed full of nutrients and vitamins some of which include vitamin C, folic acid, iron, vitamin A and calcuim. It is probably best known as a classic ingredient for soup but also goes well with beef, used as a garnish for game and makes a great addition to a mixed green salad. I have read too that the Romans and Anglo-Saxons believed it to be a cure for baldness and Elizabethans thought it had aphrodisiac properties, particularly for women of a certain age!
I have been somewhat fascinated by the farming of watercress since living so close to its production. Many walkers who pass the Ludwell watercress beds, like me, may watch the men working the beds, sowing the small clumps of seedlings into the gravel, throwing them down with precision and care and then adjusting the water level through the sluices, so it is fed gently through the seedlings until fully grown, in just over four weeks. A little word of caution, however, please don't go foraging for wild watercress in the Donhead streams until you've read up on liver flukes.
Watercress will, contrary to popular belief, grow anywhere that is moist, although a clean source of running water is argued to produce better crops. There are a number of websites dedicated to growing watercress from seed in the garden although I have never given it a try. Most watercress beds are situated next to a natural spring, as in Ludwell. Now (April and May) is believed to be the best time to harvest watercress, although it can be gathered at any time when the ground is not frozen. Watercress is highly perishable as many of us will be aware. Keeping the leaves of watercress in water more than a couple of days turns it to a nasty slimy mess.
Many years ago when working in a restaurant in Hampshire, close to the watercress beds at Alresford (considered the World centre of watercress growing), we served watercress with a sprinkle of salt only, sandwiched between crusty white bread. Thinking about this now, I might add some lemon mayonnaise (see this month’s recipe) or slices of ripe pear. Yum. So give a bunch a try. You might just find that you feel healthier, more vital, and less bald into the bargain.
Watercress and Onion Bhaji with lemon, chilli and watercress mayonnaise
(With a nod to Sophie Grigson and Bobby Flay)
Makes approx 12 bhajis.
Approx.£5.80 when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores. You could make your own mayonnaise, however, this recipe uses ready-made ‘Great Taste’ awarded Delouis mayonnaise from Ludwell Stores.
For the Bhajis
30g green lentils
1 large onion, very thinly sliced
40g watercress, roughly chopped
½ tsp salt
75g gram flour
¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cumin
1 small potato, peeled and grated
1½ tbs chopped coriander
20g flaked almonds
Sunflower or rapeseed oil for frying
For the Mayonnaise mix
1 tsp grated lemon zest
juice of 2 lemons
½ green chili (or to taste)
250g good quality mayo (I used Delouis mayonnaise)
1 small red onion, diced
1 stick celery finely chopped
2 tbs chopped, flat leaf parsley
seeds bunch/bag fresh watercress
salt and ground black pepper
For the bhajis
1. Soak the lentils for up-to 4 hours (you do not need to cook them)
2. Spread the onion out in a colander and sprinkle with salt, leaving for 30 minutes then squeeze out excess moisture
3. Drain lentils and dry on kitchen paper then mix in a large bowl with the sifted flour, baking powder, ground and whole spices. Mix well, adding the chopped watercress, grated potato, coriander and flaked almonds. Meanwhile make the mayonnaise mix
4. Place lemon juice in a small saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce to half the volume and allow to cool.
5. Place lemon syrup, chilli, lemon zest, watercress (leaves only) and mayonnaise in a blender and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and transfer to bowl. Add the onions, celery, and parsley and set aside, or refrigerate.
6. Heat a frying pan with 1cm depth of oil, to approx 175°C (or test with a cube of bread – it’s hot enough if the bread fizzes gently)
7. Scoop a dessertspoonful of the bhaji mixture, roll into balls, flatten slightly and lay in the hot oil.
8. Cook gently, turning occasionally until richly browned on both sides
9. Drain briefly on kitchen paper and serve, ideally immediately, with a dollop of lemon, chili and watercress mayonnaise.
A delicious starter or snack or even a picnic item for a burst of spice.
A truly, truly scrumptious more-ish treat
I’ve just returned from the Donhead Village Hall, where entries to the summer show have been arriving for the last few hours. It’s a hive of competitive activity and tension. Magnificent Victoria sponges, shortbread, jams and chutneys. The vegetables and soft fruits look mouth watering, and the perennial flower class, better than ever. As a complete contrast to 2012, when we were all under water and very little in the way of flowers and vegetables for the show – how different this year is! Never satisfied, I would give anything for a little rain just now – my cabbages and chard are starting to crisp up round the edges.
This wonderful weather makes me want to eat outside, be it a quick sandwich, a picnic or a full-blown dinner party. Food and drink just tastes better in the fresh air.
I recently bought a small barbecue from that ‘big supermarket’ in town. It’s orange and tiny (still took over an hour to put it together with more washers, screws and nuts than I needed – always worrying when you have some left over), but its size means you can pop it in the car and take it to the beach or carry to the top of a hill. Having turned the AGA off I am left with a single induction ring to cook on, and I was craving something crispy without having to fry it. I have it alight in the garden as I write. I will have boned chicken thighs with a spicy rub mix and grilled courgettes (the misshapen ones that were not good enough for my summer show entry). I have ‘pick and come again’ salad leaves, young spinach and beetroot and the first of my new potatoes, all drizzled with a homemade dressing. I will eat my supper whilst sitting on the bridge with my feet dangling over the cool river and wash it all down with a chilled glass of white wine. Perfect.
Over-complicating a barbie, can be your downfall. However great the sauce or marinade you serve with it, you really don’t need a plate full of pink chicken legs, sausages and the obligatory beef burger. My heart sinks when I am presented with this unimaginative fodder, especially when accompanied by a ‘wappy’ lettuce salad. I believe that the best barbecues for entertaining are simple, with one headline dish – Moroccan spiced shoulder of lamb, a spatchcock chicken with preserved lemon or sea bream stuffed with herbs, served with something equally simple without too much choice and conflicting flavours. A moist homemade burger is also delicious – just don’t complicate it.
Chilled soup sits well as part of a picnic and of course, barbecues or when eating outside on relaxed occasions with or without company. This is a simple recipe and a true taste of summer for those with a glut of tomatoes and a few herbs in the garden. I know you will enjoy this one.
Chilled Tomato and Pesto Couscous Soup
Approx. £3.70 when all ingredients bought in Ludwell
Two ingredients that have a natural affinity combine to create a refreshing cold soup that has heaps of flavour and a positive, almost dramatic look to it. This is a filling soup that could be served as a main course on its own. Its quick to make and truly scrumptious when eaten with the sun on your back.
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp sugar
4 large ripe tomatoes
1 litre passata
20 fresh basil leaves
300ml plain natural yoghurt
For the pesto couscous
½ red onion
2 peppers (different colours, red and yellow will be perfect)
1 red chilli
small bunch flat leaf parsley
8 mint leaves
1 mug measure of instant couscous
3 tsp (heaped) green pesto
150ml good virgin olive oil
1. Peel and dice the onion and finely chop the peppers.
2. Deseed the chilli and chop finely.
3. Chop the parsley leaves, discarding the stalks reserving a few whole leaves for garnishing. Shred the mint leaves.
4. Measure a mug of couscous and place in a bowl with the pesto.
5. Using the same measure of boiling water, add to the couscous and pesto. Stir until well mixed and leave for several minutes before fluffing up.
6. Juice the lemons and stir in to the couscous together with the prepared vegetables and herbs. Stir in the olive oil and season before chilling.
7. Heat the vinegar in a small pan with the sugar. Allow to cool.
8. Blanch the tomatoes briefly in boiling water, then refresh in cold water before peeling, deseeding and dicing them.
9. Mix the passata and fresh tomato. Shred two thirds of the basil and stir it in.
10. Season, then drip the vinegar mix in carefully, tasting all the time until you find the right balance for your taste. Chill until very cold.
11. Put a heaped tablespoon of cold couscous in the centre of each soup bowl, ladle the soup around this, then pour irregular splashes of yoghurt and olive oil around the edges
12. Tear the remaining basil leaves and reserved parsley and scatter over all.
A truly, truly refreshing and scrumptious dish for this summer
I have a new friend. His name is Trevor. Trevor has been in the village a few years now, dashingly handsome although a little plump. He has an eye for the girls (and there are lots of them strutting their stuff around Ludwell) but competition such as this has never phased me as I know I have something different to offer.
Trevor is a rather mature cock pheasant – glorious feathers of orange-brown, blue, green and red – although he recently lost a small piece of his tail which looks sore, but means I can recognise him some way off. Trevor walks down the field and over the bridge, jumps through the gap in the gate and up to my back door where he peers, making weird woofing noises calling for breakfast. I feed him daily on bird food – the corn and sunflower seeds being his favourite. He often supplements his diet on my herbs and bushes or scratches up my bulbs, which is a less endearing quality of his. I am waiting for him to bring his girlfriends to breakfast as I would have no qualms about bagging them and putting them in a pot with a few onions and what’s left of the herbs. I don’t think Trevor is ever likely to be shot, as I believe he is too fat to fly but is probably a ‘sitting’ target for a lazy gun (that’s not an invitation – lazy guns!).
A brace of pheasant turned up on my doorstep over Christmas, thanks to Peter my electrician. I was keen to remind myself about how to prepare a pheasant the least messy way. I turned to YouTube where I found a couple of methods within my squeamish grasp, one traditionally plucking the bird, the other skinning.
If you are ever faced with the dilemma of how to prepare a pheasant, I would strongly recommend opting for the skinning method as it means no feathers up your nose, or stuck like cement to the floor and on your clothes. You just skin the pheasant as you might a rabbit, presuming you have seen this done. I took the breast meat off in one go and boned out the legs although removing the tendons is strenuous work. I shan’t give you the details here, but this involves cracking bones and pulling bits apart. My passion for food and thrift didn’t stretch to saving the tastier parts of the innards, so that all went in the bin along with the neck and carcass. This would make a great stock, but as I was somewhat overwhelmed by food over the holiday period, I admit to being wasteful.
There is little fat on a pheasant (Trevor could be the exception here) so, if I was roasting the breasts, I would wrap them in bacon or add them to a game casserole, terrine or pie mix. A terrine can be made with a mixture of any bird, game or pork pieces and makes a wonderful centre piece for a lunch party – great for cold suppers, a starter, picnics. Serve the terrine with a crisp salad, a fruit chutney or jelly/sauce and some warm crusty bread or toast. You’ll enjoy this one.
Serves 8. Approx. £14.60 when all ingredients purchased in Ludwell
800g Selection of lean game meats (e.g. duck, pheasant, rabbit, venison, pigeon) plus chicken and gammon. (I used a mix of pheasant; chicken; venison and gammon)
300g streaky bacon, de-rind, stretch and flatten with the back of a knife
For the Forcemeat
500g sausage meat
Small amount of liver from the bird or chicken liver – chopped finely or minced (optional)
2 handfuls of fresh white breadcrumbs
4 tbsp finely chopped parsley and thyme (use tarragon if your meat is more poultry than game)
6 juniper berries – crushed
2 cloves of garlic – crushed
3 shallots – finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 160°C / Gas Mark 3 / AGA roasting oven with cold shelf on middle rack
1. Gently fry the shallots in a little oil, before combining with the sausage meat, liver, breadcrumbs, herbs, juniper berries and egg. Mix well (use your hands).
2. Add the splash of brandy and season. (Check the seasoning in the sausage meat by frying off a small piece before adding additional seasoning).
3. Cut the game/poultry into strips – fat finger size.
4. Brown the game pieces (not the chicken or gammon) by frying gently.
5. Line a terrine dish or loaf tin with the stretched rashers of bacon, ensuring there are no gaps. This is fiddly but therapeutically rewarding.
6. Add a layer of forcemeat, then the strips of game/chicken, forcemeat, game etc., until you have at least three layers of both, finishing with forcemeat.
7. Fold the exposed rashers over the top, cover well with kitchen foil or terrine lid.
8. Place the terrine in a roasting dish half filled with hot water.
9. Cook for 2 hours before testing with a meat thermometer or skewer (which must come out of the centre piping hot). Cook for a further 20–30 minutes if required.
10. Press your terrine as it cools by placing another tin on top with a can or weight of some kind – this is really important for easy slicing and a smarter finish.
11. Press and chill for several hours or overnight.
12. To serve, turn out, slice thickly with a very sharp knife and serve with a fruit chutney and crusty bread or toast. Alternatively, melt down some redcurrant jelly adding a little white wine or juice and serve as a warm sauce.
A truly, truly scrumptious light lunch or supper, anytime of the year.
Shaftesbury’s farmers’ market was in town this last weekend, with some wonderful cheese, meat and fish produce and a new bakery stall, from where I bought a delicious granary spelt sourdough loaf. It was delicious torn into chunks and dunked into some freshly made soup. And soup is the perfect dish to be making now as we slip into autumn, hence this month’s recipe.
Just outside the town hall was a stall laden with corn, leeks, kale, berries and squash. Wonderful squash of around eight varieties, all sizes and shapes. I had to take half a dozen, although that’s a lot of squash for one person to consume. Fortunately, the winter varieties have thick, tough shells that protect that lovely sweet, rich and colourful flesh inside, making them excellent storage vegatables. I bought some hard bulbous squashes, as well as the small softer skin variety like acorn squash. Until the rise in popularity of butternut squash, pumpkins were the most popular squash on our shop shelves, but I really cant abide pumpkin - pappy and tasteless (just a personal view!) This had put me off cooking with any type of squash for years. Nowadays, farm shops sell all sorts of wrinkled, multi-colured, ribbed and striped specimens. The uglier they are, the better they seem to taste, I just wish I was more successful at growing them. My neighbour is very successful. She gave me a spaghetti squash a couple of weeks ago and it is exactly as the name implies, you can fork out the flesh in long strands and serve in place of rice or pasta, especially good if smothered in a fresh tomato sauce. Great for those gluten free guests, but you rarely see spaghetti squash for sale.
At my niece’s wedding earlier this month I served roasted butternut squash (skin on) that I had drizzled with homemeade chilli oil and scattered with toasted seeds and nuts (sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, nigella seeds and almonds). These wedges of golden glory, were accompanied by chunky homemade humous and basil leaves. I was serving this in place of the hog roast for our vegetarian guests. It flew off the buffet table faster than anything else and I was left wondering why I hadnt cooked more and done away with the ‘pig’.
We have Halloween and Guy Fawkes night approaching so a warming squash soup would seem in order, but I have decided to do something different. I love cauliflower, especially with Thai flavours and I think it will be the perfect for bonfire night. I made this recipe first when I knew I had a couple of ‘curry-head’ neighbours popping round, so used them as guinea pigs. I made it too spicy - it was still a good soup but you couldn’t taste the cauliflower. I have refined the american recipe and now, third time in the making, I think it’s fabulous. As I write (it’s early morning) I know I am only a matter of feet from a tub of this wonderful soup. Unconvenitional breakfast, but I am tempted. I hope you enjoy it too, served at any event, season or time of day.
Red Thai Curry Cauliflower Soup (Substitute squash if preferred)
Serves 6. Approx. £0.85p pp when all ingredients purchased in Ludwell
1 ½ tbs vegetable oil
1 medium white onion - finely diced
1 celery stick - finely diced
2 tsp fresh ginger - grated or chopped very finely
1-3 tsp red Thai curry paste (Recommend one tsp only if you want to taste the Cauliflower)
1 tin coconut milk (14 oz) - Reduced fat is fine, just thinner
1 tbs brown sugar
1 tbs fresh lime juice
550ml Chicken or vegetable stock
4 tsp cornflour
1 medium cauliflower, cut into small soup-spoon sized florets
3 tbs chopped fresh coriander leaves
(if making this with squash rather than cauliflower, dice the squash quite small and allow an extra few minutes to cook at stage six below.)
1. Heat the oil in a pan set over a medium heat
2. Add the onion, celery and ginger and cook gently for 5-6 minutes
3. Add the curry paste to the pan and cook for 2 minutes more, keeping the onion mix moving
4. Mix a little of the stock with the cornflour to make a thin paste
5. Add the coconut milk, brown sugar, lime juice, stock and cornflour mixture to the pan and bring to a simmer, stirring often
6. Add the cauliflower florets, return to a simmer for five minutes more, or until the cauliflower is tender
7. Blend, blitz or mash approx two thirds of the soup and return to the pan
8. Stir in the chopped coriander leaves, season (salt only) and serve
If you are serving this in mugs without soup-spoons, blitz all the soup together. Pieces of vegetable are great in a soup if you are eating it with a spoon, but otherwise, not practical.
I know I always say these recipes are the best, but this one really is a truly, truly scrumptious dish.
‘Toast’, the story of a boy’s hunger, by Nigel Slater has to be one of the most endearing, nostalgic and moving books ever written about a boy’s experience of ‘everything edible’ in the 1960’s. Nigel’s book is divided into no less than 69 chapters, each focusing on a food horror or delight. Fairy drops, peach melba, grilled grapefruit, butterscotch Angel Delight, Cadbury’s Smash, sherbert fountains, pickled walnuts, tinned ham and so on.
Incredibly descriptive memories, some that prick the eye, make you shudder or laugh out loud. An excellent read, but an even better audio-book narrated by Nigel himseIf. I listen to this whilst travelling. Driving up and down the motorway or on those monotonous train journeys when the only food experiences that come my way are buffet trolley sandwiches and Ginsters pork-pies.
I was therefore rather disappointed with Lee Hall’s adaptation of the book for the BBC, broadcast over Christmas. Although a brilliant cast, specifically Helena Bonham Carter as Joan, (the voluptuous cleaner and soon to become step mother to Nigel, with such a passion for baking and ‘feeding’ people, that it eventually killed his father,) but this just didn’t hit the mark for me. I did not feel we got the same musings on food, its texture, feel, taste and smell as you do in the vivid writings of Nigel Slater. And what makes me anxious is that you may hold back from reading the book, thinking that that’s all it offers. I urge you to read it, or download the audio-book. Listen out for the Walnut Whip episodes and the moment of ‘being found out’ in the lay-by and that cringing embarrasment he relays, in front of his father.
Priceless. I have a number of Nigel Slater’s recipe books and his musings are as evocative in his recipe books as his autobiography. I turn to his writing for inspiration for this months recipe. A tart packed with flavour for lunch, supper, starter or nibble for a February party seems just the thing. It’s that time of year when the long hours of darkness can seem very bleak in terms of fruit and vegetables. So I look to the beautiful, deep purple rings of the red onion, mingled with crisp pastry, thyme and melting cheese; Gold Hill from Cranborne Chase (this is pricey but worth every penny in this dish), Taleggio, or any semi-soft cheese. A sharp goat’s cheese also works well against the sweetness of the onions.
Whilst this recipe calls for puff pastry (bought, naturally - you would have to be out of your mind to want to make your own), there is no reason why a homemade shortcrust in a tart case shouldn’t be perfect if you want a tidier, crispier base or more formal tart. You could also use these ingredients and method to make a red onion tarte-tatin by sealing the cooked onions (cut in half only, sliced side down) and sealing them in when cool with thick puff pastry and baking until golden; before carefully turning upside down on a platter and slicing in wedges. Great with a roast or cold meats or a meal on it’s own. aif
Red onion; thyme and Gold Hill cheese tart.
Serves 4 as a light lunch / supper or 6-8 as a starter
£8.00 when all ingredients purchased at Ludwell Stores.
(These quantities can easily be increased - e.g. when using a 500g pack of pastry)
6 Red (or white) small to medium onions, approx 800g in weight.
60g Butter - a thick slice will suffice
1tsp Soft light brown sugar
1tbls balsamic vinegar
375g Puff pastry - ready rolled is fine but rather thin
1 Gold Hill cheese - or 100g equivalent semi-soft or goat’s cheese
1 tbls Chopped fresh thyme or rosemary Ground black pepper
1. Peel the onions and cut them in half from stem to root, then into thick segments
2. Melt the butter in a large, shallow heavy based pan and add the onions
3. Cook over a low heat (they must not fry or brown in any way) until translucent and sticky. Give them time, pointless to hurry as this is a slow, gentle process, approx 30 minutes depending on the wateriness of the onions
4. Add the sugar, black pepper and balsamic vinegar, stirring frequently until all the liquid evaporates. Put aside to cool slightly. Preheat oven to 220°C / Gas mark 7 / AGA grid shelf on the lowest set of runners of the top oven.
5. Roll out your pastry on a lightly floured cold surface to no thicker than a 50p piece. At this point you can sprinkle some thyme or rosemary onto the pastry and give a last gentle roll, so the herb is embedded into the pastry (great tip for short crust too, home or ready made). Transfer to a large floured baking sheet.
6. Using a blunt knife, score a border of about 2 cm in from each edge and prick all over with a fork. Chill the pastry at this stage, until you are fifteen or so minutes away from eating.
7. Tip the onions onto the pastry, pushing them almost to the scored edge.
8. Brush the rim with some of the buttery juice or a little oil.
9. Slice the cheese, then break into small pieces and tuck them in amongst the onions. Scatter over the remaining thyme or rosemary
10. Bake until the pastry is golden and puffed up and the cheese and onion begins to brown - Keep an eye on this, may only take 15 - 20 minutes
Serve with a pile of wilted spinach or steamed curly kale, splashed with fresh lemon juice and sprinkled with roasted pine nuts. Alternatively serve with a mixed salad and jugs of cold cider in the summer.
Alternatives for toppings: use leeks rather than onions; mushrooms; tomato and basil; pancetta and parmessan or add some shredded chard to the onion mix at the last moment. A truly, truly scrumptious dish.
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.