Foraged Food – Moules Marinière

Moules Mariniere

The allotment provides us with a lot of our food; we harvest lots of fruit and veg from the standard sized allotment chunk of land. However, when it comes to protein we struggle. Short of eating the plethora of slugs which attempt to sabotage our vegetable growing, or the masses of woodlice which have taken a liking to our apples, its pretty hard to produce meat protein on an allotment. But what about chickens I hear you say? Well, yes they would do the job nicely, but we’re not allowed to keep livestock on our plots, so that’s not possible for us.

I’m always up for free food sources; whether the leftover veg at the local grocers, bin diving at supermarkets, or foraging the hedgerows of Sussex, I tend not to let the opportunity pass. Whilst down at the beach the other day we came across a load of mussels. Not massive examples of the common bivalve, but large enough to give us a little free protein in our diet. Having watched the recent BBC Horizon programme on the environmental effects of eating meat, I’d been reminded that mussels are a great source of protein, and are one of the most environmentally friendly methods of getting meat into your diet. Plus, if you forage them they are free! I should add a caveat here. I know that the mussels I foraged were from a safe source; a couple of months back I had a conversation with someone who had been eating for years, mussels, shrimp, even lobster, all caught on this beach. Obviously, its also only ok to forage mussels if there are lots there to take and they’re of a decent size.rockpooling

Moules Marinière

You will need (serves 2)

About 1kg mussels (cleaned, rinsed, and checked over for ones which don’t close)
1 shallot (finely chopped)
1/2 clove garlic (finely chopped)
1/2 tbsp. olive oil
1 small glass of white wine
50ml double cream
Black pepper to season

Fry the shallots and garlic gently in the oil until they are soft and translucent. Turn the heat up and then pour in the wine. Bring to the boil for a minute, throw in the mussels, then give the pan a shake. Cook the mussels for a few minutes until the majority of the mussels have opened to show their vibrant orange interiors. Pour over the cream, add some black pepper and then transfer to a dish to serve. I always think you need either bread or French fries to accompany this.



Elderflower Cordial

I look forward to the first few Elderflower blooms on the tree at the allotment. For me it really marks the start of the growing season, and in particular the start of the period of cropping from the allotment. At the moment the Queen of the Hedgerow is covering the land with white blooms and its heady scent. Elderflower has historically been known as a medicinal herb; being diaphoretic, anti-inflammatory and anti-catarrhal, and can be prepared as tea, tincture or a cold infusion. In culinary terms it is used in fritters, and perhaps most often made into a cordial. For me an ice cold drink of Elderflower cordial with a sprig of mint is the perfect summer afternoon refresher, and best of all its cheap and easy to make your own.


 You will need
About 25 elderflower heads – Elderflowers need to be picked in the first half of the day and in sunshine in order to get the best cordial.
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons and 1 orange, plus their juice (about 150ml in total)
1kg sugar
1 heaped tsp citric acid (optional)

Check out the elderflower heads carefully and remove any bugs and bits. Place the flower heads in a large bowl together with the orange and lemon zest. Pour 1.5 litres boiling water over the elderflowers and citrus zest. Cover and leave to infuse overnight. Strain the liquid through a jelly bag, before pouring into a saucepan. Add the sugar, the lemon and orange juice and the citric acid to help preserve the drink and make it clear. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes. Once ready, use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles. Seal the bottles with swing-top lids, then pasteurise for twenty minutes at 80°C. Even without pasteurisation I have had bottles last for several months, and enjoyed the cordial well into the autumn.

I’m entering this recipe for Four Seasons Food celebrating the vegetables of spring.  FSF is run by Anneli at Delicieux and Louisa at Eat Your Veg who is hosting this month.


I’m also dead chuffed to be shortlisted in the FOOD category for the BIBS (Brilliance in Blogging Award). If you think I deserve to be in the final then please vote for me by clicking on the picture below. Thank you for all your support!

BiB Food 2014


Taking the Sting Out Of It – Nettle Risotto

Nettles consume the phlegmatic superfluities which winter has left behind. Nicholas Culpepper 1653

Like many allotments, ours has the occasional weed. Indeed; we have, the last eight years, been battling an attack of bind weed, with occasional skirmishes with ground elder, nettles and goose grass. Many of these weeds were essential foods in Medieval times. People like Nicholas Culpepper knew the nutritional benefits of these now unwanted plants; they even put them in books such as The Fromond List (a list of ‘herbys necessary for a gardyn’), compiled by Surrey landowner Thomas Fromond in about 1525.

Across the world nettles for example are used in many dishes, from frittata, and a Scandinavian soup, to a version of the Greek spanakopita. The Italians seem to be particular fond of the humble nettle; so, as the nettle ‘crop’ at the allotment was looking particularly lush and fresh, I decided to make use of this foraged food for a risotto. Nettles are not known as Stinging Nettles for no reason, they have many hollow stinging hairs called trichomes on the leaves and stems, which act like hypodermic needles, injecting histamine and other chemicals that produce a stinging sensation. In order to avoid the obvious issue of being stung when picking I wore gloves and picked only the top few leaves, placing them straight into a last of bag as I did.20140430-082937.jpg
You will need
Two large handfuls of young nettle leaves
1 litre chicken stock
50g cubed butter
1 onion, very finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
250g Arborio rice
A small glass of dry white wine
50g grated Parmesan
A handful of toasted pine nuts

Start by blanching the nettles for a few minutes in boiling salted water, before whizzing in the food processor with a little liquid to make a purée. Next heat the stock, you want it to be just simmering so when you add it gradually to the rice it doesn’t reduce the temperature of huge dish too much and slow the cooking. In a thick bottomed pan, sweat the onion gently in a little butter and olive oil until it’s translucent and soft. Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes, before adding the rice. Cook the rice for a few minutes until it starts to become slightly translucent, then pour in the the glass of wine. You want to let the wine evaporate until the onion and rice are nearly dry, then add stock, a ladleful at a time, stirring constantly, each time waiting for the liquid to evaporate before adding the next ladle.

Continue this process for about ten minutes, then add the nettle purée. Stir into the rice and continue to add the stock until the rice is al dente. When the rice is ready, add the cubed butter, seasoning and Parmesan and put the lid on the pan. Leave the risotto to rest for a couple of minutes, before beating the butter and cheese into the rice and serving. Sprinkle the toasted pine nuts on top and add a little more Parmesan and a drizzle of good olive oil.
Nettle risotto

Nettles are such a great resource, which as well as being nutritious and plentiful are free! Why not take the sting out of your food bill and give it a go. Any other suggestions for foraged greens?

I’m dead chuffed to be shortlisted in the FOOD category for the BIBS (Brilliance in Blogging Award). If you think I deserve to be in the final then please vote for me by clicking on the picture below. Thank you for all your support!

BiB Food 2014



I’m entering this recipe for Four Seasons Food celebrating the vegetables of spring.  FSF is run by Anneli at Delicieux and Louisa at Eat Your Veg who is hosting this month.