Edible Weeds

The first things to start growing in Spring are usually weeds – but thankfully many of them are edible.  Here are some recipe suggestions.

Warm Dandelion Salad with Bacon and Egg

Dandelions leaves should be picked whilst they are very young and tender – as soon as they begin to appear in early spring.

For each person, dice a good cube of very fat pancetta.  Heat a solid iron frying pan and cook the lardons of bacon gently until the fat begins to run.  Now add cubes of bread, which will absorb the fat and begin to crisp along with the lardons.

Whilst this is cooking wash and dry your dandelion leaves and bring a small pan of water up to simmering point ready to cook the poached egg(s).

When the bacon and bread croutons are crisp remove them from the pan.  Slide the egg(s) into the gently simmering water where they will take just a few minutes to cook.  Deglaze the pan with a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar.  It will bubble and reduce to almost nothing, but capture all the flavour from the pan.  Remove the pan from the heat and quickly toss the lardons, croutons and dandelion leaves in the pan.  The dandelion leaves should do no more than wilt slightly and pick up the flavours from the pan.  Turn the salad out onto a plate and top with the poached egg.  The soft centre of the egg will be all that is required by way of dressing.

GREEN SOUPS

Soups made with green leaves, be they wild or cultivated, usually have potato as the thickening ingredient.  Use the following as a master recipe, which you can vary depending on the leaves to hand: watercress, wild garlic or herbs for example.  The principle is the same each time, you make a well flavoured base of onion (and/or leek) and good stock (chicken is my preference).  To keep the colour vibrant, the leaves should be cooked only briefly.

NETTLE SOUP

25g/1 oz butter

300g/10 oz potatoes

110g/4 oz onions

110g/4 oz sliced leeks

Salt and pepper

1 litre/1¾ pints chicken stock

150g/5 oz young nettle tops

150ml/¼pint single cream

Peel and chop the onions and potatoes.  Both can be weighed before preparation, the potatoes should be cut into dice of approximately half an inch. Clean and slice the leeks, which should then be weighed after slicing.

Melt the butter in a heavy based saucepan that has a close fitting lid.  Add the prepared vegetables, season them with salt and pepper and stir to ensure that they are all coated in butter.  Then put the lid on the pan and sweat the vegetables over a low heat for 10 minutes so that they soften without colouring.

Add the stock and bring to the boil.  Simmer the soup until the potatoes are soft.

Wash the nettle tops.  If you are confident that your food processor will chop everything thoroughly you can add them to the soup now, but if you are using a less efficient blended where the leaves might wind themselves around the blade, it would be safer to chop the nettles first (wear gloves if doing this by hand).

Once the nettles are added to the hot soup they need cooking for only a minute or so.  The hot liquid will destroy their sting.

Blend the soup until smooth then return it to the pan together with the single cream.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  Reheat to simmering point and serve.

WILD GARLIC PESTO

This is made in exactly the same way as the classic basil pesto, but with wild garlic leaves.  It is quite pungent so use it sparingly – added to the top of the Winter Vegetable Soup below for example, or mixed with warm Pink Fir Apple potatoes for a spring potato salad.

1½ oz young wild garlic leaves, washed

2 tbsps pine nuts (or substitute almonds or wild pignuts)

Extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsps finely grated Parmesan (or substitute a mature British hard cheese such as Cheddar or Old Smales)

Put the wild garlic in a food processor with the nuts and process until finely chopped.  Continue to process adding a stream of olive oil until you have a loose paste.  Stir in the grated cheese by hand.

This can be stored for a couple of days in a jar in the refrigerator but cover with a fresh layer of olive oil first.

WINTER MIXED VEGETABLE SOUP

Treat this recipe as a guideline only.  The idea is to use up whatever winter vegetables are still available, supplemented by dried beans, pulses or grains.  Think of it as a British version of Minestrone.

Serves 8

Olive oil

1 onion

1 large carrot

1 stick of celery

1 leek

1 potato (weighing about 6 oz/150g)

8 oz/225 g diced swede, turnip or squash

3½ oz/100g split peas (don’t need soaking, but pre-boil for 10 minutes)

3½ oz/100g spelt (whole or pearled – pearled may be added uncooked but whole should be pre-cooked for about 20 minutes)

4 pints stock (chicken, ham hock or vegetable)

Shredded cabbage or wild garlic to garnish (if you prefer you could make a wild garlic or parsley “pesto” as above)

Peel and dice the vegetable.  Soften the onion in the olive oil first, then add the carrot and continue to cook for about 5 minutes before adding the rest of the vegetables and cooking for a further 10 minutes.  Add the hot stock, split peas and spelt and cook for a further 20 minutes or until everything is tender.   Add some shredded cabbage or wild garlic towards the end of the cooking so that the colour remains bright.

Egg and Bittercress Sandwiches

Forget any thoughts of those tired egg sandwiches that usually get left at any buffet selection.  Freshly made, with free range eggs and good bread, they are in a completely different league.

Mustard and cress is the traditional accompaniment and sprouting seeds is an excellent way to get some early fresh greens.  Supermarkets more often sell sprouted rape seeds.    If you want to sprout your own, sow the cress three days before the mustard so that they will both be ready at the same time (5 days after you have sown the mustard).  All you need is a damp piece of kitchen roll in a shallow container.

Alternatively you could harvest Bittercress from your garden.  It has a similar, strong peppery flavour, and is almost certain to be growing in profusion!  It looks like a little spiders web of fine leaves.

To make your sandwiches, simply hardboil the eggs and then plunge them into cold water.  This both makes them easier to handle and prevents a ring forming around the yolk.  Peel as soon as you can handle them and mash with a fork adding a little mayonnaise, salt and pepper.  Cut your cress and fold through.  Fill the sandwiches and serve immediately.

See also Spelt Recipes for Frumenty with Wild Garlic and Leeks and Nettle Ravioli.

Homemade Sausages

HOMEMADE SAUSAGES

It’s probably not worth making less than 10lb of sausages at a time.  The cuts of meat you use will depend on the fat content of the pork.  Traditional breeds with a very good covering of fat, such as Tamworths, are probably best made from the shoulder.  Less fatty pigs will be better if you use half shoulder and half fat belly pork.  Modern, very lean pigs will need to be mixed with pure back fat, which is not easy to come by nowadays, or use just the belly.  If the meat is too lean the sausage will be dry, whilst a fatter sausage can be cooked in a way that renders much of its fat.

To 10lb of boned pork add:

3 oz salt (2%)

1½ lb (15%) white day-old sourdough bread.

20 metres Hogs casings, soaked in cold water

Herbs, spices and flavourings to taste (see below)

 

The meat should be kept as cold as possible, so work in a cool room and return the meat to the fridge until it is needed.

Begin by roughly cutting the meat so that is easy to feed through the mincer.

Fit a coarse disk into the mincer and mince the meat into a large mixing bowl (for very coarse sausages dice by hand).   When you have minced all of the meat, follow with the bread.  Sprinkle over the salt, fresh herbs, spices and other flavourings as required.  Mix thoroughly, then put through the mincer a second time.  It is a good idea to cook up a teaspoon of the mixture to check the flavourings before making the whole batch.

Remove the mincing blades and fit a stuffing nozzle onto the mincer. Take about a metre length of hogs casing from its soaking water, tie a knot in one end of the casing, place the open end over the nozzle and then feed the casing on until you reach the knotted end.

The next stage is much easier with two people, one to keep feeding the stuffing into the machine, and the other to control how tightly stuffed the casing becomes.  This is done by holding the casing firmly in place on the nozzle and releasing more only as the casing becomes full.  If you overfill the casing it will burst and you will have to feed the stuffing back through into a fresh casing.  Remember also that you will need some room for the filling to move when you form the sausages.  Hogs casings should however give you nice plump sausages, about 6 to a pound of meat.  These will cook better than small thin sausages.  Stop filling when you get close to the end of the casing, but leaving enough room for tying the sausages before knotting off the end.

To form the links hold the entire casing up by its middle and twist it to form the first link.  Then twist at the required intervals going in opposite directions for each sausage to prevent the links unravelling.

Flavourings:  Below are some traditional regional recipes, but essentially chose what you like.  Parsley, black pepper, mace and lemon rind are a favourite combination of mine.  Sage is very traditional.  A proportion of bacon in the meat is also very interesting.

Cambridge Sausage

Effectively the Cambridge Sausage is the standard British sausage, flavoured with sage, thyme, cayenne, ground mace, nutmeg, pepper and salt.

To 2½ lb minced pork add 6 oz of fresh breadcrumbs and ¾ oz salt plus:

1 tsp fresh sage

½ tsp fresh thyme

¼ tsp ground mace

¼ tsp grated nutmeg

¼ tsp freshly milled pepper

Lincolnshire Sausage

The only seasoning used (apart from salt and pepper) in a Lincolnshire Sausage is sage – they should be quite a vivid green colour.  To the above basic mixture add 4 teaspoons of chopped fresh sage.  These sausages should be left for 2-3 days to mature before eating.

Cumberland Sausage

Cumberland Sausage uses no breadcrumbs, only meat.  It is also formed as one coiled, continuous sausage.

To 3½ lb meat add:

1 oz salt

½ tsp sage

½ tsp rosemary

½ tsp thyme

a good pinch of Cayenne pepper

¼ tsp grated nutmeg

½ tsp freshly milled white pepper

Oxford Sausage

These are unusual for a variety of reasons.  Firstly they are made with equal parts of lean pork and veal together with beef suet.  Old recipes suggest that this should be in the same proportion as each of the meats, but modern tastes will probably prefer half this.  Secondly there is always the addition of grated lemon rind and thirdly they are never put into skins.

8 oz lean pork

8 oz lean veal

4 oz beef suet

4 oz fresh white breadcrumbs

grated rind of 1 small lemon

1 tsp. chopped sage

1 tsp. Chopped thyme

1 tsp. Chopped marjoram

1 tsp. Salt

freshly milled black pepper

Mince the pork and veal together.  Coarsely grate the beef suet and mix with the meat and remaining ingredients.  Form into sausages with your hands on a lightly floured surface.  Leave overnight to firm up and develop their flavour before cooking.

Gloucester Sausage

This is similar to an Oxford sausage in that beef suet is added rather than pork fat, however the seasonings are more like that of a Cambridge Sausage and they are always put into their skins.

NB I have specified fresh herbs in all of the above recipes.  If you must substitute dried, halve the quantities.