Food For Free
As we move from spring into summer, there is a staggering amount of exciting produce available. We are surrounded by peas, broad beans, fennel, asparagus, tomatoes and more fruit than we know what to do with. Even your most evangelical gannet must reach a point when they can’t face another strawberry, raspberry or cherry. And then there is the cost. All these seasonal, British grown fruits and vegetables come with a very seasonal, British grown price tag. We do believe that the bounty is worth its bounty, so to speak; but just occasionally, it’s a delight to find something just as seasonal, just as delicious, and just as British, without having to shell out a single penny.
Well, at this time of the year at The Kitchen Cooperative, we can be found grabbing a bag-for-life, leaving our money on the kitchen table, and heading out of our front door to pick up some bits for dinner.
We are going to bag some nettles, some sorrel and some meadowsweet. And there is plenty we can do with them once we find them.
Image courtesy of Jamie-the-Luxray-95
The humble nettle is, understandably, a much maligned and oft ignored ingredient. Memories of badly stung shins mean that most of us would rather never see the hairy little nettle ever again. But bear with us. Find a riverbank or shaded wood and you’ll come across big patches of nettles at this time of year. Once located, pull on some Marigolds for protection and fill your bag with the tops (you just want to grab the first 3 or 4 leaves, they’ll be the most tender and sweet) of as many nettles as you can get your hands on.
Once home with your swag, bring a well-salted pan of water to the boil and drop in the nettles for no more than a minute. Drain them and squeeze out any excess liquid. At this point you can go in many directions. The Greeks would simply dress them in olive oil and lemon juice and call it Horta, a tangle of greens to be enjoyed alongside meat or fish. The Italian’s would chop them finely to make a Sformata, stirring them through ricotta enriched with egg yolks and Parmesan and baking them. We don’t mind what you do with them - make gnudi, fill ravioli, blend through a soup - just promise us you’ll try picking them.
Image by Anne Burgess
Sorrel may be a slightly less recognisable plant than our nemesis the nettle. But a quick Google of “wood sorrel” or “wild sorrel” will throw up images of the little clover-shaped greens or arrow shaped leaves that litter park and woodland. The lovely thing about sorrel is that it has a really long season. If you get a taste for its sharp, lemony flavour, you’ll be able to get it from the beginning of spring all the way through to autumn. Introduce yourself to its addictive tang by mixing a few leaves through a green salad. When you’re more used to the taste, try wilting some in a pan to serve alongside white fish or chicken. Stir shredded sorrel through crème fraîche and toss with some warm Jersey Royals for an addictive potato salad. For a perfect Provençal summer supper, scatter the leaves through warm lentils and serve with a poached egg and toasted sourdough bread.
Image by Maigheach-gheal
Finally, if like us, you’ve been too slow off the mark for picking and making cordial out of the elderflower that grows so readily at the end of spring in the UK, fear not, there is another, less well know, option. And its name is meadowsweet. The clue is very much in the name here. It grows abundantly at the edges of fields and meadows. It is a very tall plant with delicate cream coloured flowers. And it has the most wonderful aroma. You’ll know when you find it by following that sweet vanilla scent.
Image Courtesy of SEWilco, via Wikimedia Commons
Not unlike elderflowers, a cordial made with meadowsweet (simply substitute exact quantities of elderflower for meadowsweet in any recipe) is a rare delight. Similarly, by infusing milk or cream with the meadowsweet, you can easily make the most luxurious tasting panna cotta, ice cream, custard, rice pudding - you name it, meadowsweet will improve it. If you are feeling particularly intrepid, make a simple batter of flour and cold sparkling water and then dip the meadowsweet into it before deep-frying. Hot out of the fryer, sprinkled with icing sugar and enjoyed with a sharp Prosecco, it’ll be the most extraordinarily crispy, vanilla-scented dessert you’ll ever likely nibble on.