Monday, 25 May 2009

Marsh Samphire

In season from now until September, marsh samphire is a sea plant that grows wild mainly along the coast of East Anglia and Humberside on muddy, salty flats washed by the tides.

These emerald green knobbly stems are a prized delicacy, sometimes known as sea fennel or poor man’s asparagus that can be found at fishmongers and farmers’ markets during summer.

Traditionally samphire is pickled in vinegar but the succulent stalks are delicious lightly steamed and eaten fresh with garlic and lemon butter or with white and oily fish. Samphire is naturally salty so wash well in cold water before use.

Galton Blackiston, the Michelin-starred head chef at Morston Hall in Norfolk, has a recipe for local new potatoes with bacon, samphire and soya beans in his new book Summertime (£18.99, Virgin Books). The bacon lardons are fried with shallots and garlic and mixed in a bowl with the other cooked ingredients and a large knob of unsalted butter. Serve with an easy-going red to match the saltiness, such as a ripe fruity 2008 Recchia Bardolino, Italy for around a fiver from Waitrose.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Grape exceptions - English wine

English Wine Week runs until May 31 with events and tastings in vineyards around the country (

Most English vineyards focus on white and sparkling wines. The chalky soil of the South-East allows classic grape varieties used in Champagne, such as chardonnay and pinot noir, to flourish, and some of the bubbly has bagged international awards.

The latest fizz on the podium is a white pinot brut from Camel Valley vineyard in Cornwall, which was runner-up to Champagne Bollinger in a global sparkling wine competition in Italy at the end of 2008. The Lindo family make it from red grapes, using all their flavour with none of the colour (

To celebrate English Wine Week, Marks & Spencer is promoting three new English wines from the Chapel Down winery in Kent, including a light and fruity English Rosé 2008 (£9.99) made from a blend of the rondo, shonberger, pinot noir, bacchus and huxelrebe grape varieties and a fresh and crisp 100 per cent White Bacchus 2008 (£9.99).

St George's mushrooms - patriotic fungi

Wild mushrooms are not confined to the cold, damp days of autumn. A spring flush of fungi is happening around now, which includes the St George’s mushroom whose season is supposed to start on the patron saint of England’s day (April 23), the morel and the first wild oyster mushrooms.

St George’s mushrooms have a firm texture, a moreish mealy smell and an earthy, wood smoke flavour. The French call them le vrai mouserron, “the true mushroom”. They grow in a wide variety of habitats, from woodland to pasture, but are often found on chalk grassland. Forage for them or try upmarket food halls such as those at John Lewis and Harvey Nichols.

The less fuss the better when cooking fungi. Wash, shake and put in the frying pan with a little butter, some wet garlic, fresh herbs and a pinch of sea salt to bring out their full flavour. Serve on sourdough toast, partner with asparagus in an omelette or chicken in a casserole.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Wonders of watercress

National Watercress Week (until May 24) celebrates a truly British and seasonal arrival, up there with the likes of asparagus.

These sprigs of shiny round leaves on thick peppery stalks grown in mineral-rich spring water beds are great in salads, sandwiches, chopped in sauces or soups or used as a garnish for fish dishes.

This week around Arlesford, in Hampshire, there will be free farm tours and special menus at pubs and restaurants. (

For an ultra healthy start to the day try a Champneys’ watercress, apple and kiwi fresh juice or a Virgin Mary made with a blend of watercress (100g pack), 150ml freshly squeezed orange juice, 400ml good quality tomato juice seasoned with tabasco sauce to taste.

For a simple watercress soup, soften a chopped onion and a chopped potato in butter. Add 2 chopped bunches of watercress with 4 parsley stalks, and a light stock. Season. Simmer until tender. Puree. Thin with milk. Reheat or chill.

To make a watercress pesto, fill your blender with a bunch of watercress, a handful of basil leaves, a clove of garlic, a handful of toasted pine nuts, 5 tablespoons of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and generous shavings of parmesan. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, whizz everything together, then stir into a bowl of pasta.

Ravishing radish

Easily cultivated at home, the small cherry-red and pert pink French Breakfast radishes that Brits are familiar with take about a month to grow in the garden, but their paler carrot-shaped relation, the mooli, a Japanese favourite, can take a whole season to grow.

Radishes fall all too easily into that category of common veg box leftovers, which is a shame because they can really add a mustard-flavoured zip to a salad or stir fry and need to be used swiftly before they shrivel. Store them briefly in iced water to enhance their crunchy texture.

Try them sautéed in butter with garlic or sliced in a salad with cucumber and fennel turning up their peppery heat with a hint of chilli, cumin, coriander and a squeeze of lime. Radishes can be added to a super healthy coleslaw along with sunflower seeds and apple, sliced thinly in a goat’s cheese sandwich, or even coated in oil and paprika and baked in the oven as chips.