Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Petal power blooms in kitchens

Petal power is blooming in British restaurant kitchens. For a splash of vivid colour, silky texture and exotic aroma, flowers are hard to beat. And they’re seasonal and often local to boot.

At a recent Slow Food workshop, held at Petersham Nurseries in Richmond, Surrey, head chef Skye Gyngell arranged a three-course floral menu featuring figs with goats’ cheese, ricotta, Parma ham and rose syrup; grilled quail with sour cherries, toasted walnuts and ras el-hanout (a, North African blend of crushed dried Damask rose petals and spices), and violet meringues with English strawberries and cream.

At this week’s Hampton Court Palace Flower Show (rhs.org.uk/hamptoncourt), the Growing Tastes kitchen garden, designed by Michael Balston, features three types of edible flowers: Asian hemerocallis, or day lilies, which add a sweet crunch to stir fries or can be steamed like French beans; British nasturtiums which, like marigolds and violets, can be scattered in salads or used to garnish dishes and, from the Mediterranean, the intense blue flower of borage, which is popular in Pimm’s and cocktails. Look out for more floral cuisine in the Growing Tastes cookery theatre.

As a general rule the flowers of vegetables and herbs are safe to eat but some flowers are toxic. In Britain, nasturtiums, marigolds and violets are scattered in salads or used to garnish dishes. Avoid petals that have been sprayed with chemical pesticides and discard the petal’s white base which has a bitter taste.

Dried rose petals mixed with cumin seeds and nutmeg can be rubbed into game or lamb and added to couscous for a fragrant flavour.

Spoon sweet violet confit or rose petal jam into Greek yoghurt or rice pudding and drizzle rose syrup over cakes and pastries.

Petals can also be added to blended teas. Try delicate white tea with rose as a palate cleanser, or black Ceylon tea with violets.

If the back garden fails you, Secretts Farm in Surrey has a range of edible flowers (01483 520500; secretts.co.uk).
While most regions pick a weekend to celebrate their local food, Hampshire settles on a whole month. Highlights for this weekend include Lavender Lust, a chance to see this pale violet plant more commonly associated with the bathroom distilled at Hartley Park and indulge in the farm’s lavender biscuits and cup cakes decorated with lavender water ice.
At home try apricot and lavender compote with crème brulee or Greek yoghurt. The lavender adds a perfumed twist to the sharp sweetness of apricots.

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