This week I have been under the influence of Dan Barber. Not literally, as I haven’t had the chance of meeting this amazing chef, but by watching him on “Chef’s table” (a series on Netflix) and reading his works. He is truly a man after my heart with his thinking on how we eat, what we eat, and more importantly what we waste.
What resonated with me is his view that some of the greatest dishes came to be because of an overabundance of particular ingredients, or the shortage of something. Some of the world’s most iconic dishes like Bouillabaisse (a famous French fish soup) were created to use up excess fish that the fishermen couldn’t sell or Coq au vin, as a way of tenderising old roosters.
Barber also strongly supports crop-rotation by farmers by using what they are growing. Pairings of crops kept the soil fertile over generations: rice and beans in Italy or millet and lentils in India. Monocultural farming breaks that relationship. Creative humans found ways to use the rotational crops that were grown so nothing was wasted. Japanese grew buckwheat to replenish the soil for growing rice and found a way to use the buckwheat by converting it into soba noodles. Being able to pick and choose what we eat, as we do today, was unheard of for most of human history.
I truly believe that we can all play a part by being frugal and innovative with our food and eating a bigger variety of plants and vegetables. If you are inspired by Dan Barber, do check out the “Waste not” tab on the blog.
My wild affair
That brings me to wild garlic, something that until last week I had only heard of, but never seen. Assuming it would look like garlic, I was surprised to see wild garlic in the form of beautiful flowers and long green leaves at the farmer’s market.
Turns out that it’s the leaves that are redolent with garlic flavour and if you tear one and smell it, you are left with no doubt. Wild garlic plants grow in spring in shady woodland, alongside bluebells, and are easy enough to forage for if you know where to look. But with all things wild, it’s important to know what you are picking.
Not quite sure what to do with it, I turned it into pesto. I blanched the leaves briefly before using. Some more herbs (I needed to finish off like coriander and flat-leaf parsley), pine nuts, lots of olive oil and some grated parmesan made for a most delicious and fragrant pesto. We proceeded to eat it with pasta, dolloped on soup, stirred into scrambled eggs for a memorable brunch, and spread in a sandwich with the last bits of Portuguese pata negra and cheese.
Recipes this week
It’s that time of the month when the last batch of homemade Nutella is finished, the hazelnut stock depleted, and brat no. 2 on the prowl for his next treat. At times like these, nut butter beckons.
Having recently made a batch of raspberry jam, it seemed appropriate to complete the picture with peanut butter, which brings me to another cooking stalwart who I haven’t mentioned – Alton Brown of the “Good Eats” fame. He was a pioneer of sorts when it came to the science behind food, and a lot of his recipes, including peanut butter, are embedded firmly into my repertoire. If you don’t like peanuts, use anything you like; cashews, almonds, pistachio, all work really well, or just a combination, if you want to finish off bits of nuts lying around.
Whilst on the subject of treats, peanut butter was swiftly followed by peanut butter biscuits sandwiched with a chocolate ganache.
Homemade pasta is both a luxury and a staple for us, and I am posting a recipe for Cannelloni al Forno, which a true family recipe in that it involves the whole family in both cooking it and eating it.
Pomegranate molasses chicken is the sort of meal, that warms the cockles of my heart. It’s a complete meal in one, and although I don’t consciously think “healthy” when I cook, this is one meal that does tick that box assiduously.
Finally a Smoked salmon & egg tartine for the rookies amongst you. One of the readers had suggested that I should start with basics (a la Delia Smith) with “how to boil an egg”. For those interested, the instructions are in this recipe.
This week, here’s my toast to “Love, cook, waste not and want not”.