The kitchen and the garden are full of energy. The pot of lemon thyme on the kitchen steps is bearing the first absinthe leaves, the crab apple, marigold and plum trees are a white bloom foam, and the market has bags of wild garlic and early asparagus – the first welcome signs of a cook’s source.
Put the tender green garlic leaves raw between the coleslaw and sprigs of watercress in a spring salad – or even better, wilt them briefly in a hot pan and stir them into a bowl of hollandaise sauce. The woods I grew up in were covered in the leaves and their white, star-shaped flowers every April and the smell was mesmerizing as I walked through them on my way home from school. If only I had appreciated the green abundance at my feet.
A wild garlic pesto is a glorious thing—a living paste thick enough to spread. A sauce for pasta, yes, but so much more. I like to spread it on sheets of puff pastry, roll them up and cut them into circles. Baked in the hottest ovens, they emerge as a fragrant, savory Danish pastry. Wild garlic pesto can also be used instead of mayonnaise or in conjunction with mayonnaise. Equal parts of each is a good rule of thumb.
This week I made a puff pastry filling with some of my leaves and some crème fraîche. Wet from the kitchen tap, they steamed in a hot pan in a matter of seconds. Dry pressed and coarsely chopped, they were stirred through the dairy products and used in a batter casing to cover tiny sprouts of broccoli.
On a cool evening, after a full day of spring sunshine, I pulled out the last of the white chicory and used it in a casserole with chicken and another tub of crème fraîche. The zesty notes – light, creamy and fresh – feel just right for the first days of spring in the kitchen.
Wild garlic and broccoli pastries
If you like, you can use asparagus instead of broccoli. Blanch the stalks and tips first, cut into short pieces, then drain and place in the puff pastry cases before covering with crème fraîche and cheese. Makes 4 long, slender tartlets
puff pastry 230gr
long-stemmed broccoli or purple sprout 200 g
wild garlic leaves 100 g
pecorino 60g, finely grated
extra thick double cream or crème fraîche 200ml
Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. Place the puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface and roll out to a rectangle of approx. 28cm x 22cm. Allow the longest edge to face you, then cut into 4 rectangles. Transfer them to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Using the tip of a knife, cut a rectangle into each piece, about 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) from the edges. Don’t score so low that you cut straight through. Brush the outer edge of each rectangle with some beaten egg. Bake 15 minutes.
Bring a deep pot of water to a boil. Divide the broccoli into long-stemmed florets. Plunge the broccoli into the boiling water—it will turn a deep green in seconds—drain and set aside.
Take the sheet pan with the ramekins out of the oven. Using the back of a small spoon, gently press down on the center notched rectangle of each container to form a large indentation in the center of each container.
Wash garlic leaves and stalks. With the water still attached, place them in a small pan and cover with a lid. Let simmer for a few minutes over moderate heat until wilted. Turn them over with tongs and cook an extra minute, then remove, squeeze dry and coarsely chop.
Stir the chopped garlic leaves and grated pecorino into the cream or crème fraîche, then season lightly with ground black pepper and set aside. Divide the broccoli among the tart cases, then spoon the garlic cream over them. Return to the oven for 10 minutes or until the cream has melted and is slightly honey colored in spots. Serve immediately.
Chicken with crème fraîche and chicory
A mix of chicken pieces with thighs, drumsticks, and bone-in breasts works well here. 3 serves
olive oil 2 tbsp
butter a thick slice
chicken pieces 6
chicory 3 heads
Brown sugar 2 Tea spoons
white wine or vermouth 125ml
lemon juice of half
Crème fraîche or thick cream 100 g
Parsely a handful, chopped
Heat the oil in a wide, deep saucepan over moderate heat. Add the butter and when it melts, place the chicken pieces in, nestled tightly together but with room to brown. When the underside has turned an appetizing pale gold, flip them and continue coloring the other side. Take them out of the pan.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. Peel and finely chop shallots. If the butter and oil are still in good condition, you can use it for the next stage. If not, discard it and add some new oil. Add shallots to skillet and cook over medium-low heat until soft and pale golden, 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Halve the chicory and place cut-side down between the shallots and cook until the underside begins to colour, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicory over, sprinkle with the sugar and some salt and pepper. Once the chicory has darkened, add the wine or vermouth and bring to a boil, then return the chicken to the pan and cover with a lid.
Bake until chicken is tender, about 50 minutes, then remove from heat. Place the chicken on a serving platter and keep warm. Place the pan over a low heat and stir in the lemon juice, then the crème fraîche or heavy cream. Bring to a low bubble, stir in the chopped parsley, then check and correct the spices.
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