Jhe kitchen and the garden are bursting with energy. The pot of lemon thyme on the kitchen steps sports the first leaves of wormwood, the crabapples, greengages and plum trees are a foam of white blossoms, and the market offers bags of wild garlic and asparagus early – the first welcome signs of a cook’s spring.
Tender green garlic leaves are best stored raw among leaf lettuce and sprigs of watercress in a spring salad — or better yet, wilted briefly in a hot skillet and tossed into a bowl of Hollandaise sauce. The woods where I grew up were carpeted with leaves and their star-shaped white flowers every April, the intriguing smell as I walked through them on my way home from school. If only I had appreciated the verdant bounty at my feet.
A wild garlic pesto is a magnificent thing – a vibrant batter thick enough to spread. A pasta sauce, yes, but so much more. I like to spread it on sheets of puff pastry, roll them up and cut them into rounds. Baked in the hottest ovens, they come in the form of fragrant and tasty Danish pastries. Wild garlic pesto can also be used instead of or in combination with mayonnaise. Equal parts of each is a good rule of thumb.
This week, I made a puff pastry filling with some of my leaf loot and crème fraiche. Wet from the kitchen faucet, they steamed in seconds in a hot skillet. Pressed dry and coarsely chopped, they were mixed with dairy products and used to coat tiny broccoli sprouts in a pie crust.
After a full day of spring sunshine, a cool evening saw me pull out the rest of the white chicory and use it in a casserole with some chicken and another tub of crème fraiche. The zesty notes – light, creamy and fresh – feel great for those early spring days in the kitchen.
Wild garlic and broccoli pastries
You can use asparagus instead of broccoli, if desired. Blanch the stalks and tips first, cut them into small sections, then drain them and place them in the puff pastry cases before covering them with fresh cream and cheese. Makes 4 long, thin pies
puff pastry 230g
long stem broccoli or purple sprouting 200g
wild garlic leaves 100g
pecorino 60g, finely grated
double heavy cream or fresh cream 200ml
Preheat the oven to 200C/thermostat 6. Place the puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface and roll it out into a rectangle of about 28cm x 22cm. Place the longer edge facing you, then cut it into 4 rectangles. Transfer them to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Use the tip of a knife to score a rectangle in each piece, about 1.5 cm from the edges. Don’t score so deep that you cut through. Brush the outer edge of each rectangle with a little beaten egg. Bake for 15 minutes.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cut the broccoli into long-stemmed florets. Drop broccoli into boiling water – it will turn dark green in seconds – drain and set aside.
Take the sheet of tart shells out of the oven. Gently push the marked rectangle in the center of each crate down with the back of a small spoon to form a large dip in the center of each.
Wash the garlic leaves and stems. Put them, with water still stuck on them, in a small saucepan and cover with a lid. Place over moderate heat and let sit for a few minutes until wilted. Flip them with tongs and cook for another minute, then remove them, drain them and roughly chop them.
Stir the chopped garlic leaves and grated pecorino into the cream or crème fraîche, then lightly season with ground black pepper and set aside. Divide the broccoli between the tartlets, then pour the garlic cream over each. Return to the oven for 10 minutes or until the cream has melted and is slightly honey-colored in places. Serve immediately.
Chicken with fresh cream and endives
A mixture of chicken pieces including thighs, drumsticks and breasts, with the bone in will work well here. For 3
olive oil 2 tablespoons
Butter a thick slice
chicken pieces 6
chicory 3 heads
brown sugar 2 teaspoons
white wine or vermouth 125ml
lemon half juice
creme fraiche or heavy cream 100g
parsley a handful, chopped
Heat the oil in a large, deep pot over medium heat. Add the butter and, when it melts, put the chicken pieces in, huddled against it but with room to brown. Flip them over once the underside has taken on an appetizing pale gold color and continue to color the other side. Remove them from the pan.
Preheat the oven to 200C/thermostat 6. Peel and finely chop the shallots. If the butter and oil are still in good condition, you can use them for the next step. If not, throw it away and add some new oil. Add the shallots to the skillet and let them soften over medium heat for 6 to 8 minutes, until soft and golden, stirring occasionally.
Cut the chicory in half and place it in the pan, among the shallots, cut side down, and cook for about 5 minutes until the underside begins to brown. Turn the chicory over, sprinkle with sugar and a little salt and pepper. Once the chicory has blackened, add the wine or vermouth and bring to a boil, then return the chicken to the pan and cover with a lid.
Cook for about 50 minutes until the chicken is tender, then remove from the heat. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and keep warm. Put the pan on low heat and stir in the lemon juice, then the fresh cream or cream. Bring to a simmer, stir in the chopped parsley, then check and adjust the seasoning.
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