An impromptu day out recently, found me eating a picnic with friends in the hail, at Stourhead. Undetered, we created a makeshift tent and enjoyed the finds of my fridge from which I had conjured up a red onion, thyme and feta cheese tart,, roasted vegetables with orzo pasta and crisp green salad. Nothing could dampen our enthusiasm for a tasty lunch off plastic plates although we moved to the warmth of the car for hot coffee and the first of british stawberries.
The finds from my fridge included a bag stuffed with wild garlic collected on my walk near Pythouse the previous day. Ramsons or wild garlic, as the name suggests, grow unchecked in their massess in damp woods and in our lanes, often cheek-by-jowl with bluebells. They are easily recognisable, first by their pungent smell and then by their broad leaves, like those of lily-of-the-valley with a pretty white head of starry flowers. So far as the flowers are concerned, they are around now, finishing by mid summer. A handful of these flowers brought a burst of taste and colour to our picnic. The flavour is softer, more pleasant than cloves of garlic bulbs and the smell less intense. You can also make fritters from the whole flower heads by dipping them first in a tempura style batter (two parts flour, one part cornflour, salt and chilled fizzy water, blended into a light batter.) Dip these into hot oil and they are ready in a couple of minutes - great as garnish with fish. The garlic leaves can be made into a pesto although I prefer to stuff the leaves into the cavity of a chicken and roast. The meat and the juices will have been infused with a hint of garlic, nothing too assertive and the juices allow for the making of a tasty gravy. Discard the leaves.
Rhubarb too is filling my fridge these weeks and I notice Ludwell stores is selling their own home-grown rhubarb. These dark; rosy luscious stalks have become the staple of crumbles, tarts and fools in my home. It seems very English to me but I believe rhubarb originally came to us from Northern Assia. For a change, I want to use rhubarb to make an acidic relish, to eat with oily fish, duck or pork.
Sophie Grigson, in her edifying book ‘Meat Course’ has a section ‘in praise of fat’. Pork fat in particular she describes as unfashionable and although this writing is now fifteen years old, I don’t believe this fashion has changed. Rather than sneer at it, I have chosen to join Sophie in her praise of fat and include here, a wonderful pork belly recipe that celebrates the fat and allows it to bubble up through finely scored skin, almost frying it to a crisp, yet leaving the meat meltingly tender and moist. Much of the fat will have rendered itself to the bottom of the pan. Pork belly is a bargain and requires very little preparation. Buy good quality, on the bone that has not sat in plastic wrapping. Ask your butcher to score well, right to the edges and loosen the bones, removing them before slicing into chunks.
Tempting as it is, suggest you serve this only occasionally to bow to fashion. aif
Crisp, Roast Pork Belly with Spring Rhubarb Relish
(Relish after ‘River Cottage Preserves’)
Pork approx. £1.25p pp, Relish £1.45 per jar, when all ingredients purchased in the Donheads.
1kg Single piece belly pork, skin on (well scored, right to the edges)
1tsp Sea salt
For the Spring Rhubarb Relish - makes 4 x 340 grm jars
For the spice bag (tie in muslin or a jelly bag)
50g fresh root ginger, bruised (just whack it with a rolling pin)
2 cinnamon sticks, snapped in half 6 cloves
400g granulated sugar
100ml cider vinegar
1kg rhubarb (untrimmed weight)
1. Make your spice bag with the ginger; cinnamon and cloves.
2. Put the sugar, vinegar, 100 ml water and the spice bag into a heavy based pan. (Don’t be alarmed by the small amount of liquid).
3. Heat gently for 10 minutes to dissolve the sugar and soften the spices. Set aside for 20 minutes ensuring spice bag is well immersed.
4. Trim the rhubarb stalks and chop into 2-2.5cm chunks.
5. Add the rhubarb and raisins to the spiced syrup. Cook gently for 15-20 minutes until the mixture is thick but the rhubarb is still quite chunky. 6. Remove and spoon into warm sterilized jars and seal. Serve cold.
Oven - 200C / Gas Mark 6 / AGA top oven, rack on first rungs
1. Lay the pork, skin side down, in about 2 cm of salted water in a heatproof pan or flat-bottomed roasting tin and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove and pat dry.
2. Rub the skin with the sea salt
3. Place pork, skin side up on a rack in a roasting pan adding water to just below the rack.
4. Bake for 90 - 120 minutes, topping up the water as necessary
5. Turn your oven up to 220C / Gas mark 7 or AGA users move roasting tin to the top of the top oven. Cook for a further 20-30 minutes until the skin puffs up and turns crisp, but don’t allow it to burn. Remove and rest.
6. Remove bone piece and slice along the scored lines, then into chunks.
7. Serve hot/warm with the cold rhubarb relish
Best served with something fresh - a crunchy salad of cos lettuce; rocket or watercress, french beans; warm new potatoes, garlic flowers, apples and walnuts with a dressing of oil, vinegar, apple juice and French mustard, is a perfect match.
A truly, truly scrumptious dish.
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.