|Mama mia, you stink|
If vampires exist (and you never know, maybe they really do) I think I can safely say that there is no way that any hissing blood suckers are going to want to sink their fangs into my lily-white neck any time soon. Because at the weekend, I ate so much garlic. So. Much. Garlic. So much so that liquid allium still seems to be pouring out of my pores two days later. As I walk around the house, vapour trails follow me about the place and atop my shiny head a heat haze roars, wavering and shimmying the atoms of the air like a veritable jet engine. I pity the poor guy who was parked next to me on the train yesterday morning. He sat down, flinched and then blinked, and then he turned to look at me. Then within seconds his eyebrows fell off his face and his nostril hair combusted, leaving two small puffs of smoke hanging about the carriage. Yes, I fear the stench was that strong.
But no matter, I am in isolation today and I don't think I am going to be a danger to the public for much longer because the odour has got to fade at some point and besides, who cares anyway. We all know garlic is good for you and good for the heart. I am simply looking after number one so don't hold the fact that I smell like Frenchman's armpit against me.
Maybe I am just being paranoid. But the reason for this latest episode of gorging and self-fumigation comes down to the fact that once again, the garden is teeming with the wild stuff. Ramson, buckrams, beer leek or in other words wild, wild garlic. Every spring it arrives and every spring I tear into it, like the Sorcerer's Apprentice, thrashing at the leaves with a blade to eat. Or digging up whole plants with a fork to give away*. And every year it returns, more abundant than ever.
If that sounds like a downside, I don't mean it to be. The wild garlic actually looks very pretty when it pops up around our cherry tree and when the white star shaped flowers rise up and unfold, there is nowt I like better than to tip toe around the foliage like an overgrown fairy, full of the joys of renewal and rejuvenation. But I do worry that one year that I am going to look out and see my entire garden smothered with rampant ramps though.
Every spring, the mission then is to try and think of different ways to use it. So this weekend I made focaccia and topped it with shredded wild garlic. Simples. I also had a crack at a recipe from Jason Atherton's 'Gourmet Food for a Fiver', namely his confit chicken legs with a chorizo and bean stew that uses craploads of regular garlic. For this post I am going to just give the recipe for the bread (cos it's easy) but I highly recommend you sneaking out to buy Mr Atherton's book, if only for the confit recipe. Unless you are a big fan of Chicken Cottage, it can be hard to get excited about chook legs but after the ol' preserving and slow-cook-in-oil treatment, they become transformed. The meat was so delicious, it could almost be a contender to knock duck of its perch. But only almost.
Aiding and abetting both these dishes throughout was the use and addition of Maldon Sea Salt, which of course brings us to the money shot. Having been sent some of this fine product, filtered and gently coaxed from the shores of our glorious Essex coast, I am only too happy to submit a recipe as part of their 'Flavours of Spring' campaign. Despite being a massive county, there is not too much to shout about regarding food produce. Certainly we have our fantastic oysters. We also have some very good meat in the area and we have some fine flour from Marriages. And of course we have our 'leeks', as once suggested in an Essex special of Market Kitchen. Oh yes, Essex leeks are world renowned I'll have you know (I'll also have you know that I burst out laughing when this suggestion was made). But if there is one pillar that Essex can most definitely stand on, it is the pillar of salt from Maldon.
So without further ado, here is my recipe for wild garlic focaccia with Maldon Sea Salt. My flavour of spring that will make you sing like a returning swallow and honk like a Canada goose.
*And if you would like some wild garlic from my garden, please do drop me a line
Wild Garlic Focaccia
600g strong bread flour
450ml lukewarm water
2 tsp dried yeast
2 tsp Maldon Sea Salt (plus extra for sprinkling)
100ml extra virgin olive oil
Small bunch of wild garlic leaves
Take a bowl and mix together the flour and the salt and then add the water, yeast and 2 tablespoons of oil. Mix altogether and form into a rough ball, using a scraper or plastic fish slice to incorporate all the fiddly bits left stuck on the bowl.
Place the rough ball on a lightly floured surface and knead it to buggery. Pulling and pushing and folding and stretching for about 10 minutes or until you get a good sweat on. When the dough is worked enough, it should feel smooth and pliable. When ready, form into a neat ball and pour a generous drizzle into the bowl you used for mixing. Place the dough topside down into the olive and turn and coat all over. Put a tea towel over the bowl and leave in a warm space for an hour, or until the dough has doubled.
Take a roasting tin or ceramic rectangular baking dish and lift the dough in and gently press down with your finger tips, shaping the dough as you go into a rough rectangle/oval shape. Sprinkle over the wild garlic and again gently press it down gently into the dough and then add a good drizzle of olive oil.
Cover and leave to rise again in a warm space for about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat your oven to 220C. When the dough is ready, again gently press your finger tips in to create little divets and finally sprinkle some Maldon Sea Salt over the top and place into the oven to bake for roughly 20 minutes, or until it is golden all over.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack. Just before serving, drizzle some more olive oil over and slice generously.
|Essex Salt, innit|
|Glorious chicken leg|
|Wonderful, cakey bread|