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 should be rambling today up at Rushmore. Striding up and down hill and vale through the driving rain and back to a hot meal at Rushmore Golf Club. It is the first ramble of the year, and despite my New Year’s resolution to get to grips with my waistline, I cried off, being exertion shy and a sensible fine weather rambler only.
I have just looked at the menu from the Rushmore Golf Club restaurant and was pleased to find a wonderfully seasonal menu reflecting the soul of British cooking. Game hot pot, twice cooked belly of pork, brisket of beef with champ potatoes, all served with seasonal vegetables. Hearty meals indeed that could be followed by a choice of puddings including a winter fruit trifle or local Stilton and Cheddar. I’m tempted to throw a bucket of water over my head, splash mud on my legs, pinch my cheeks for a rosy glow and merge unnoticed into the group as they walk exhausted and battered back to the club house to settle down to a well-earned meal. I think I might be rumbled though and be ostracised from the group for ‘bear faced cheating and gluttony’.
What Rushmore illustrates is that you can fill a menu with great choice for all and entertain with the best seasonal, local produce. We are living in a world where the production, marketing and sourcing of food, has gone mad. Eating soft fruit in January for example, with its watery diluted taste, dulls the excitement, the palate but most of all the anticipation of the zingy, glorious freshness of a punnet of sunripened, freshly picked berries from the bush in July. I hope and mostly believe, anyone with a true interest and passion for fresh, best value, tasty food, will shun the jet-lagged beans, blueberries and sweetcorn. Seasonal cooking is not a high-minded duty or a restrictive chore but a liberating pleasure. (I may have to be a little hypocritical when it comes to bananas, however hope you know where I am coming from.) The fact that local, seasonal produce comes without a punitive cost to the environment is a bonus many will appreciate. Had the Donheads suffered like Cumbria in December, I am sure this would have concentrated our minds about what we are doing to our planet by continually demanding year round tasteless exotics amongst other things.
Cooking in harmony with the seasons gives me immeasurable pleasure and satisfaction, especially if it’s local or picked from my own tub, garden or vegetable patch. In this wet miserable weather I like nothing more than those toe warming casseroles and stews, pies and puddings, which is exactly where I am heading this month. I have only cavolo nero (black kale) and Jerusalem artichokes to harvest this month, but both will be delicious with this month’s recipe, a warming soupy stew of beef, oxtail and vegetables for bleak days. In a world where our approach to food often seems a kind of madness, seasonality is pure sanity. So for those with New Year resolutions to turn an ear or thought to quality, seasonality or sustainability, please start by treating your family or friends, or even just yourselves (because you’re worth it) to a hearty locally sourced one pot supper this month. Finger wagging over, as I eye up a Moroccan clementine in the fruit bowl. aif
Shin of beef with oxtail and pasta
Serves 6–8 Approx.
£18 when all ingredients bought in the Donheads.
This will freeze well without the pasta which may be added on reheating or add cooked potatoes as an alternative to pasta.
Ingredients (you can add any root vegetable to this recipe or adapt it for a base for any soupy stew with rabbit, mutton or game).
1kg shin of beef (Buttlings will trim and dice this for you into large pieces)
250g pancetta or bacon pieces – cut into chunky cubes
300g oxtail (it’s the bone marrow you want)
2 onions – peeled and sliced
2 large carrots – peeled and cut in to medium-large sized chunks
3 sticks of celery – sliced
1 litre beef stock (made from a cube is fine – or use canned stock from Ludwell Stores if you don’t have home made)
250g macaroni or soup friendly pasta – orzo would work
Olive oil or dripping
Bay leaves, fresh thyme
If cooking in a slow oven rather than for a long simmer, preheat the oven to 140°C / gas mark 3 (AGA simmering oven).
1. Heat a little olive oil or dripping in a large heavy frying pan
2. Gently fry the pancetta or bacon until lightly browned and the fat runs, then transfer to a large casserole
3. Brown the shin of beef in the residual fat in the same pan in batches, transferring to the casserole as soon as it is slightly coloured
4. Seal the oxtail in the same pan, adding a little more oil if needed and add to the casserole
5. Finally sweat the onions in the same pan without allowing them to colour, transferring to the casserole when soft and translucent
6. Add the carrot chunks, sliced celery, a couple of bay leaves and a sprig of thyme
7. Pour over the beef stock adding a little water if needed – the meat should be covered by a good couple of centimetres
8. Season well although sparingly with salt
9. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered at a very low simmer for 2–3 hours until the meat is completely tender. Alternatively, once brought to a simmer cook in a slow oven, covered.
10. When tender, remove the oxtail and pull the meat from the bone, returning the meat to the casserole, discarding the bone. Stir well.
11. Cook your pasta of choice separately and when almost cooked through drain and add to the casserole just before serving. You don’t want it mushy!
12. Serve in large warmed bowls as a complete meal or add some lightly shredded and blanched kale.
A truly, truly scrumptious hearty winter supper
It has been a few months since I penned an issue of ‘Truly Scrumptious’, having been away on a holiday of a lifetime. Then the last Digest issue coincided with the apple season when, really, the only contributors had to be our friends from Donhead Apple. Thank you to Richard and Karen, and Gavin and Kevin for their great contributions over the summer.
My holiday was truly stupendous (and mostly scrumptious). Fifteen days travelling through Cambodia and Vietnam, where the history, colours, food and countryside is breathtaking. However my heart went out to the people who, despite surviving civil war and armed conflict, were generous, kind and altogether quite remarkable. We saw some spectacular sights, like the 12th century Angkor Wat temple, one of the largest religious monuments ever constructed, and Ta Prohm Temple hidden deep in the jungle with its overgrown roots of enormous trees and vines (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was filmed there). Having watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat our group of 12 was treated to breakfast of phở, (pronounced fur) a Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of a clear broth, linguine-shaped rice noodles called bánh phở, fresh lime slices, spring onions, a few herbs or greens, shredded chicken and slivers of red and green chili. We ate at rickety tables with paper cloths, slurping from large bowls, napkins to our chins, absorbed by the environment, smells, and tastes. It was historic and I sought phởout at our various hotel breakfast bars as we travelled, but none was quite as good.
We had a very special meal with one family, deep in the jungle on the Mekong River – a large spiky elephant fish wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over a hot fire and then served with a banana flower salad and jack fruit. We had seen many of these ingredients at the local food markets which my sister and I gravitated to, away from the rest of the group. We saw boxes of squid as long and thick as my arm, sacks of fresh cinnamon, mace, star anise, dried fish of every shape and colour hanging from the rafters. There were live turtles and baby alligators, as well as mutant looking fruits and vegetables. One of the main reasons for this enormous variety lies in the obsession with fresh ingredients for every meal (very little frozen meat or fish there), so the route to the consumer is short and direct – from the garden, farm, the abattoir or the dock. We saw all kinds of produce, livestock, and equipment being transported on mopeds through country roads, villages and big cities to the markets and restaurants. There are over five million of these bikes in Vietnam, often heavily laden with live ducks hanging by their feet, dried noodles reaching 6 feet above and out from the driver, mountains of coconuts, fridges, tyres, ladders – anything including pigs, cats and dogs squashed into cages for the market. Yes, they farm the latter two for the dinner table.
Nonetheless, early into our trip I dined on deep-fried tarantula. Its legs were very greasy and its hairs stuck in your teeth. The highest level of revolt was felt snacking on a fried silk worm. They were sold on the streets in paper bags, by weight, much like we would buy sherbet lemons. Our guide had a ‘quarter’ of such treats. The abdomen of this silkworm burst inside my mouth releasing its sour creamy contents. I spat it out onto the street! Whilst I found it repulsive, the eating of insects is not peculiar to Asia by any means. I read this morning that Britain’s first insect restaurant has opened in South Wales. Grub Kitchen offers bug burgers made from crickets, mealworms, and grasshoppers and served with cheesy locust croquettes. You only need to experience eating these critters the once! Buttlings and Ludwell Stores, please steer clear!
Winter Sunshine Cake (Saffron and Lemon Syrup from Honey & Co. Food from the Middle East)
Approx. £9.50 when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores.
A superb cake or dessert for the dead of winter. The lemon slices glow like winter sunshine, lighting up your day, your palate and your spirits.
270g caster sugar
4 medium eggs
200g ground almonds
2 tbs plain flour
1 lemon, juice and zest
½ tsp baking powder
For the syrup and topping
2 lemons, really thinly sliced
pinch saffron (big pinch)
Preheat the oven to 180ºC / gas mark 5 (AGA roasting oven, rack on the bottom with cooling shelf above)
1. Line and grease a 24 cm diameter cake tin with greaseproof paper.
2. Place the thin lemon slices in a pan of water and bring to the boil. Drain, and repeat. By now all the bitterness should be gone.
3. Drain for a second time and then return to the pan and cover with 400 ml of fresh water. Add the remaining ingredients for the syrup and boil for 8–10 minutes. The peel should be soft and syrup thickened.
4. When cool, layer the lemon slices all over the base and a little way up the sides of your cake tin (you may have lost the bit in the middle of the slices, but that’s fine as the yellow cake mix will fill them in nicely). If you can get some of the saffron fronds to show on the base, this will add to its attractiveness.
5. Cream the butter and sugar together until well combined but not fluffy.
6. Stir in the eggs, ground almonds and turmeric, then fold in the semolina, flour, lemon juice and zest, salt and baking powder.
7. Mix well and pour into the cake tin.
8. Bake in the centre of the oven (other than AGA users) for 20–25 minutes, then turn the cake around to ensure an even bake and bake for a further 10–15 minutes, until golden and firm.
9. Remove from the oven and pour over all the remaining syrup to soak in (use a skewer to make holes over the top of the cake if you wish).
10. Allow to rest for 20 minutes before turning out, turning it on its head so the bottom-side is uppermost.
Serve with crème fraîche or cream.
A truly, truly scrumptious winter treat!
Thank you very much to Richard and Karen Ecclestone for Truly Scrumptious in the last Digest –- a delicious spicy fish dish – just what we are needing as the nights draw in. Introducing guest contributors Kevin Wood and Gavin Tait of the Donhead Apple Company, we are this month treated to another warming recipe that is truly perfect for autumn.
We have just come back from two weeks’ holiday and I am taken aback by how quickly summer seems to have rolled into autumn. Gone are the long hot days – ok, wet ones in our case – to be replaced with chilly, dewy mornings and dark evenings that are fast creeping in. It is the time of the year when you want to reach for thick woolly jumpers and enjoy home cooked comfort food, snuggled up next to a warming glowing log fire. This month’s recipe is the warming Chicken, Apple & Cider Stew made with the local award winning Donhead craft cider (we have just won our 1st Great Taste Award!).
We have the pleasure in guest writing from our kitchen overlooking the glorious Vale of Wardour with our cider orchard in the foreground. It is amazing how fast the trees have grown since we first planted the orchard on a cold December weekend back in 2011. We planted 500 trees then and now have over 800 trees. We’re forever saying there is no more room for any but it’s amazing how the odd one sneaks in here and there when no one is looking.
We grow six cider apple varieties and one dessert. The varieties were chosen both so that they would pollinate each other (with the help of the new beehive) and so that the blend of bitter sweets and bitter sharps will produce a rounded cider with rich tannins that will soften and mellow during the nine months between pressing and bottling. Varieties such as Kingston Black, Somerset Red Streak, Yarlington Mill and Harry Masters Jersey evoke images of times past when cider was an essential currency in attracting farm labour.
As the trees mature our annual harvest increases and, so far, this year looks like being a vast improvement upon last. Cider apples usually ripen later than dessert apples and it’s not uncommon for harvesting to take place in November. Something about the aspect of the Donhead orchard, however, seems to give us an early harvest so, by the time you read this, picking may have started.
There are plenty of fantastic British dessert apple varieties coming into season too, but most of us would have trouble just naming a few – Braeburn, Bramley, Cox, Discovery and Pink Lady. What about trying a Blenheim Orange, Feltham Beauty, Egremont Russet, Worcester Pearmain or a Laxton’s Superb? We have a Worcester Pearmain in the orchard and it has a sweet to pleasant flavour which if left improves as the apples ripen.
If you are walking along the footpath please stop and say hello. We always love to chat and talk about the apples, the orchard and most importantly the cider! Whether it’s baking a fruity Dorset apple cake, cooking a tangy apple sauce to go with your roast pork on a Sunday or simply enjoying a bottle of award winning Donhead Craft Cider, enjoy autumn, buy apples and remember to buy British.’
Gavin & Kevin www.donheadapple.com
Chicken, Apple & Cider Stew with Buttery Mash
Approx. £9.75 for the stew when all ingredients bought at Ludwell Stores.
For the Chicken, Apple & Cider Stew
3 tbs Plain flour 8 Free range skinless, boneless chicken thighs, halved
4 Free range skinless chicken breasts, halved
2 tbs Olive oil
4 Leeks – sliced into chunks
200g Carrots – sliced into chunks
200g Baby turnips
500ml Chicken stock
750ml Donhead Craft Cider
Bunch Fresh tarragon – chopped
4 English eating apples, peeled, cored and chopped into large chunks
For the Buttery Mash
900g Potatoes (Desiree or King Edward)
50g Unsalted butter
50ml Single cream
Freshly ground salt and cracked black pepper
Make the Chicken, Apple & Cider Stew (Suitable for freezing after step 3)
1. Coat your chicken in flour seasoned with salt and cracked black pepper. Heat 1 tbs of the oil in a large casserole and sear the meat in batches until golden brown (4–5 minutes). I highly recommend following this step as you can easily skip it; this locks in all of those nice chicken flavours which will add to your dish.
2. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon, lower the heat and then add the remaining oil.
3. Add the leeks and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the carrots and turnips. Next add your apples, chicken stock, Donhead cider and freshly chopped tarragon. Bring to the boil, cover, then lower the heat and simmer for 45–50 minutes until the chicken is cooked.
4. When ready to serve add a little extra tarragon and a good grinding of freshly cracked black pepper and a hearty portion of buttery mash. Make the Buttery Mash
5. Use a potato peeler to peel the skins as thinly as possible and then cut the potatoes into even-sized chunks.
6. Put the potato chunks into a large saucepan then pour boiling water over them. Add a pinch of salt, put the lid on and simmer gently until they are absolutely tender (approx. 25 minutes).
7. When cooked, drain the potatoes, and add the butter and single cream. Cover them with a clean tea towel to absorb some of the steam for about 5 minutes. Then, using a potato masher or back of a fork, begin to break them up.
8. As soon as the butter and cream are incorporated, season well with salt and freshly ground cracked black pepper and serve piping hot.
A truly truly, scrumptious stew that makes enough for two batches so that you can make dinner once but enjoy eating it twice!
AIF (the pen of ‘Truly Scrumptious’) has asked us to write this edition’s offering, whilst she is gallivanting around in South East Asia. We consider this to be a great honour, but a very daunting task, given the amazing articles she consistently writes, and the delectable recipes she brings to the Donheads.
The location of her vacation and the produce from Semley Fête have inspired this edition’s recipe. What, you may ask, was the produce from Semley Fête? Well, it took the form of two coconuts won at the shy, by dead eye Dick, who thought he’d done particularly well until he learned that Simon Lewis had come away with three!
So, what to do with the coconuts? The first problem being how to get into them without resorting to throwing them against the wall? Hopefully we can demystify the process and enable everyone to make good use of this excellent culinary ingredient.
First, extract the coconut water from within by piercing two of the dark coloured ‘eyes’ at one end of the coconut with a sturdy skewer (you may need to encourage it to penetrate with a tap or two from a hammer). Drain the liquid into a jug and reserve. Next, using your hammer, tap the nut all around, not too robustly, but enough to start the shell cracking and separating from the inner flesh. The idea is to break the outer shell without damaging the flesh inside. Peel away the hard outer layer and you should now have a brown coloured inner nut. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the brown outer skin leaving the delicious white flesh. You may be tempted to taste it at this point!
We are now going to create coconut milk, which we can use in our recipes. Put the flesh in chunks into a blender with your coconut water, made up to 225ml with water, and grind well for a couple of minutes, until the water and coconut are well integrated. Pour the contents into a sieve placed over a bowl and with the back of a spoon push as much of the liquid as possible through.
What you now have is a thick milk, called the first extract. Return the shreds to the blender with another 225ml of water and blend again and sieve to get the second extract. Repeat this process to get the third extract. The residue shreds can be toasted in the oven and used as desiccated coconut and then can even be ground up for use as flour.
So, good luck at the coconut shies and use your winnings by trying out the recipe on the next page!
rle & kse
Bengali Fish in a Mild Coconut Gravy
Approx. £9.50 when all ingredients bought at Buttlings & Ludwell Stores.
This dish is inspired by Anjum Anand, whose book, Indian Food Made Easy, does exactly that! The cost will obviously depend on your accuracy at the coconut shy! We love the heat and pungency of the green chillies, but if your taste is for less hot fare, then use fewer chillies, or leave them out altogether. If you have failed to win any coconuts, you can substitute with shop-bought coconut milk and coconut cream.
First obtain your coconut milk as described earlier.
2 Medium onions, peeled and cut into chunks
8 g Fresh ginger, peeled and cut into chunks
6 Green cardamom pods
2 Large shards of cinnamon
3 tbsp Vegetable oil
2 Large cloves of garlic, peeled and made into a paste
3–6 Green chillies, slit lengthwise, but left whole
¾ tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Coriander powder
350–400 ml Coconut milk (2nd and 3rd extracts), or canned coconut milk
Salt, to taste
1 tsp Sugar, or to taste
600 g White fish fillets, such as haddock 50–100 ml
Coconut milk (1st extract), or shop-bought coconut cream
Preheat the oven to 190°C / gas mark 5. (AGA – absolutely no idea!)
1. Blend the onions with the ginger to a fine paste.
2. Grind together 2 cloves, 3 cardamom pods and 1 cinnamon shard in a pestle and mortar and set aside.
3. Heat oil in large non-stick pan. Add the remaining whole spices and fry for 20 seconds or until fragrant.
4. Add onion paste and fry over a medium heat, stirring frequently until golden brown (approx. 10 minutes). It is important that the onions are cooked through.
5. Add garlic, chillies, turmeric, coriander powder and a splash of water and cook for 1 minute.
6. Stir in 2nd and 3rd extract coconut milk (or canned), and salt and sugar, bring to a boil and then simmer over a low heat for 3–4 minutes.
7. Meanwhile oil an ovenproof dish and arrange fish fillets within.
8. Pour the gravy to cover the fish and bake in the oven for approx. 10 minutes until the fish is just done.
9. Remove from oven and stir in your 1st extract coconut milk (or shop-bought coconut cream) and reserved spices.
Serve with plain rice and nice green steamed vegetables or a salad. You can, of course, use this gravy as a basis for any fish, shellfish or prawn dish – delicious!
A truly, truly scrumptious and creative fish dish.
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.