Archives for posts with tag: Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall

Rhubarb, Rheum rhabarbarum, has been a failure in our garden. Or perhaps I should say we have failed Rheum rhabarbarum. After a very promising start when we grew six or eight plants from seed and watched them grow to maturity, we neglected to harvest any of the stalks and watched the plants die one by one for reasons we have never been able to determine.  I have keen to try growing rhubarb again but am too ashamed to mention this desire to Richard.

When I occasionally see rhubarb in our local greengrocer I sail past it without even thinking of  buying it and making something delicious with it. Rhubarb, after all, should be grown in the garden and not bought packaged in miserable polystyrene punnets.

However when I recently stumbled upon an enormous bunch of organic rhubarb in Haenertsberg in Limpopo I could not resist it.

Rhubarb

It was clear from the size of the bunch that there was far too much for just one dessert. What was I going to do with this rather large bunch of rhubarb? I can’t remember ever actually cooking rhubarb. I had liked the idea of cooking it, I had had little fantasies about walking down the garden path to pick the lovely pink stalks and making a tangy pie, but all I had done was kill the half dozen plants that were going to turn into potential pies.

Rhubarb

Naturally some online research was in order – and Google come up with the goods.

The first recipe that caught my eye was for rhubarb posset. I adore lemon posset.  Lemon posset has been a familiar food on our narrowboat trips since the year  my daughter first made it when she was drawn to a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe in The Guardian. 

I was aware that possets  have been around for centuries although not quite in the form familiar to us denizens of the 21st century. I got a little sidetracked reading up on the history of possets, learning that possets were both enjoyed as a dessert and used medicinally. In the process I found myself reading more than just a few posts on this engaging blog, British Food: A History. 

Rhubarb it seems has even more ancient roots than medieval posset. It was also used medicinally although in this instance in Tibet  – thousands of years ago. It was grown in China too,  but according to James Beard in Beard on Food, Siberia gave us the more common variety of rhubarb that we know and grow.

I was further sidetracked by the accounts of  growing rhubarb in the Yorkshire rhubarb triangle.

After spending a couple of hours in cyber space I realised time was ticking by so I put my mind to getting the rhubarb cooked. I was rather taken by a recipe for lamb cutlets cooked with rhubarb. We were planning to cook Gemsbok shanks that night and it seemed this very English lamb recipe was just begging to be translated into a hearty Limpopo supper particularly suited to a misty rainy day.

We cooked the Gemsbok shanks for about six hours in a very low oven on a bed of chopped  onions and rhubarb, flavoured with star anise and black pepper, with a generous splash of balsamic vinegar.

At the same time, although not for the six hours allotted to the shanks, we roasted the balance of the rhubarb with castor sugar.

In the end, it was hard for me to give up the idea of the posset.  I wasn’t sure we had the right cream so we made a rhubarb fool by folding the baked, cooled rhubarb into whipped cream which we poured into long-stemmed glasses and refrigerated overnight. It made the most unexpected yet exquisite and festive breakfast. Just the thing for a Monday morning.

I am now very keen to get back to Patience (and the UK) as soon as possible to get some of that perfectly pink forced Yorkshire rhubarb. The season I believe starts in December and ends in March. Very chilly weather to be cruising the canals, I think. But perhaps we’ll attempt growing rhubarb in our suburban Johannesburg garden again. As James Beard says, ‘ Rhubarb is one of our first and great garden delights. It should not be forgotten.’

I’m going to need a large and regular supply of rhubarb. Some of the must-make rhubarb recipes on my list are:

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I  agree heartily with culinary go-to man Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall when he  says ‘…what’s not to love about lovage?’

Levisticum officinale is an unfussy plant that pops up each spring without fail. It seems to tolerate quite a bit of shade, lack of water as well as  general neglect. Although ours doesn’t grow to the two metres that some people’s plants seem to it does provide pungent leaves for at least ten months of the year.

In keeping with our medium-term goal of providing almost all our food from the garden I decided that the lovage needs to be eaten as a main component of a meal and not just as an occasional leaf in a salad or a sprig in a soup.

As usual Google was my first port of call when I decided I needed to make a soup using the fresh young lovage and the slowly ageing lettuce in our garden. Number five on the page was Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Lovage Recipes courtesy The Guardian website. I clicked through to find a recipe for a lovage and lettuce soup.

Lovage leaves

Hugh says ‘…one of the most intriguing and versatile of herbs, yet when was the last time you saw it in a shop or even growing in someone’s garden? Time to redress the balance …’ I find myself agreeing with Hugh once again – at least as far as lovage being intriguing – although just how versatile it is remains to be seen in the upcoming weeks. Here’s a start. I didn’t follow Hugh’s recipe but went my own way and made a soup with ingredients I had on hand –  a smoked pork fillet, sour cream and three of these lettuces. With gay abandon – tempered with just a little bit of doubt – I used way more lovage than Hugh suggested. I’m pleased I did. The lovage flavour wasn’t overwhelming at all and I and the other lucky recipients of the meal all found it delicious.

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LOVAGE AND LETTUCE SOUP

Very slowly fry two large finely chopped onions in a large heavy pot in olive oil until very soft. Add four crushed garlic cloves, six very finely chopped young lovage stalks with their accompanying leaves and a diced smoked pork fillet. Add a few very generous grindings of black pepper. Fry all of this very slowly on a low heat for a long time until very tender. (It took me so long that I unfortunately had to miss a school PTA meeting)  I kept the lid on for much of the time.

In the meantime roughly chop three lettuces and cook them briefly in a couple of litres of vegetable stock.

Pick out about half the pork fillet but don’t worry if some of the onion and lovage stick to it.

Combine the lettuce and lovage mixtures, blend until nice and smooth and return to the  pot. Bring to the boil, add the reserved pork fillet and about a cup of sour cream and heat through. Serve the glorious green soup as a light but entirely satisfying supper.

Chopped lovage

I’ll be making this soup again, without the pork I think, but will add a big bunch of tarragon as per Kevin Lee Jacobs. And then I’m keen to try lovage tempura, lovage fritters and candied lovage.

When I went into the supermarket in Northampton to buy the sugar for the hedgerow jelly I noticed they had samphire in the fresh produce section. I’ve been reading about samphire for some years now and had always wanted to try it so although I was supposed to be running down the food supplies aboard narrowboat Patience I decided I HAD to buy some samphire. Of course I had no clue how one was supposed to cook samphire – if one even cooked it at all. But what I did know was that I was definitely going to make it work with the ingredients we had on the boat.

Another quick Google search told me that samphire mixes really very nicely with spaghetti(which we had in the galley) and Hugh came up with ideal  cooking method –  ‘Add the samphire to the pasta pan for the last two minutes of cooking time.’ I improvised with the rest of the recipe by frying bacon, garlic, a shallot  and red peppers to which added a little leftover cream and let it bubble and reduce. I then tossed the sauce lightly with the spaghetti samphire mix and served it with some parmesan and lots of black pepper.

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And what I do know now is that I love that salty, crunchy, green gem of a plant. I have to get back to the UK for the next samphire season!