At this time of year, my kitchen expands to the outdoors – at least when it isn’t raining (not an uncommon feature of a British summer). But when the skies are clear and the weather warm, the herb and fruit gardens, the patio with its big picnic table and barbecue all add up to my outdoor kitchen extension. And, to top it all, the chives are in bloom at the moment, waving their little purple pompoms – those perky cheerleaders of the herb garden.
For a while now, I’ve been harvesting my herbs, starting with making rosemary sugar from the subtly flavored blue flowers. I tested it in a fabulous lemon-polenta cake and have subsequently tweaked the method of making rosemary sugar by infusing the fresh sprigs of rosemary in sugar instead of the flowers (which turned out to be a bit too subtle). The revised sugar really worked in the second lemon and polenta cake. More rosemary sugar tests to come, as I’m eagerly awaiting peach season to poach them in this infused sugar.
Another infusion was sale aromatico, aromatic salt, a recipe that I modified from Tessa Kiros’ Tuscan cookbook, Twelve. Finely chopped herbs and other aromatics mingled with the flaky sea salt. The salt is great for grilled fish, meat and veg – perfect timing since the barbecue is back in action!
It took a while for the mint to perform, but I was finally able to make my first batch of mint and balsamic salad dressing which we use throughout the summer on salads and grilled vegetables. It is fabulous on grilled aubergine and courgettes.
The feathery fennel was the opposite of the mint – growing leaps and bounds from the very beginning of spring. I used its feathery fronds liberally in a Sicilian pasta sauce with sardines served with homemade and hand-rolled rustic Tuscan eggless pasta, pici.
Another of the herbs I’ve been using is my wild garlic. It is one of the garden’s earliest arrivals, but at this time of year it has nearly retreated back into the ground. At the height of its season, I kept seeing posts with people making variations of wild garlic pesto. First were Chicago John @ From the Bartolini Kitchens and Melissa @ The Glen House. It was only when I spotted a close-up photo of “wild garlic” in Cottage Grove House’s post for another wild garlic pesto (this time in a yummy combination with pea shoots), that I began to wonder if we were all talking about the same plant. Me, being me, I dug in and did a little research. Yes, there are different types of “wild garlic” – one native to Europe and Asia (Allium ursinum, commonly known as ramsons), the other native to North America (Allium tricoccum, commonly called ramps). Chicago John and Cottage Grove House used ramps, while Melissa used ramsons. I discussed the differences a little in my May diary entry for Around My Edible Garden, but have still to find any reference that tells if there is a difference in taste between these two different “wild garlics”. My (very) pungent wild garlic – ramsons – were used judiciously in numerous batches of little Cretan greens pies called hortopites and Corsican inspired herb popovers.
The filling for those herb popovers was a soft goat cheese, produced from my first (rather disastrous) attempt at making cheese with rennet. It was quite by accident, that I discovered that May is the busy month for the Dairy. Or, so says Richard Bradley, an 18th-century Professor of Botany at Cambridge University, in his book, The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director in the Management of a House and the Delights and Profits of a Farm (6th edition, 1734). Arranged by month, the chapter for May begins with the statement telling us just that – a busy month for the Dairy. The frontispiece of the book had a wonderful engraving of the various activities on the farm – with the Dairy in one corner showing maids churning butter and lining up bowls for cheese making, a little dog at the entrance meeting a man delivering fresh milk, and another milking in the field just above. It’s all very pastoral and industrious – the delights and profits of a farm dairy! However, I probably should have heeded the warning that it is “first necessary to know how to manage the rennet” before my initial foray into rennet cheese making.
I recently got a new cookbook – The Creamery Kitchen by Jenny Linford – mentioned by Selma in her May IMK post. I was so excited when I saw it! That set me on the road to make feta cheese. It turned out to be a long road, with numerous detours and the inevitable dead ends, but with one minor success that tasted feta-ish and even looked like the real thing. It is a work-in-progress as improvements are still required!
Given the new growth in the herb garden, conveniently just a few steps outside the kitchen door, I wasn’t surprised when I started finding more ways to cook with these fresh aromatics. However, it was quite a coincidence that my kitchen has been turned into a modern version of that 18th-century dairy during the month of May!