28/04/2012

Acacia Blossom fritters (Black Locust)



Oh Happy Days! It's warm and everything is growing and bursting open. The trees are weighed down. There are  elderflowers, acacia blossoms/flowers, poppies, buttercups, mallow flowers etc.,etc. and lots of others that I don't know the names of yet....YET, but  I will learn.
The air is also full of pollen and fluffy seeds(from poplar trees and dandelion clocks), not good for the allergy sufferers, like my son for example.
The scent in the air is amazing. Intoxicating. The scent of Elder, Acacia(Robinia) blossom  and soon to be  Linden penetrates into the house. The Acacia (black locust) flowers are opening now. If you haven't ever tasted acacia and have the possibility, try one.







They are fresh and delicious. When they are still closed they taste rather like freshly shelled peas and when they are open they are perfumed. If you do, be careful, bees love them, the trees near my house are humming with them. Acacia honey is my favourite. I get it from a local producer and it's gorgeous.




I first ate fried blossoms  quite a few years ago now, they were prepared by a  neighbour. She made us  Elderflowers, Acacia and Sage leaf fritters. I think the basic recipe was similar to Japanese tempura.
I remember going home with a very heavy stomach as I couldn't stop eating.
As with other Italian recipes everyone has there own version and regional differences can vary enormously.
Not every Italian eats fried blossoms, but most have tried them or knows someone who makes them, especially the older generations.

Here is my version(adapted).  Experiment and create your own.

 Acacia Blossom fritter Recipe

About 12/14 acacia blossoms (newly opened if possible)
about 150/200ml sparkling water (as cold as possible-put in the freezer before)
about 100g self-raising flour (seived)
2 eggs
pinch salt
a tablespoon of  sugar
Oil for frying ( I use organic sunflower oil)


The measures are approximate as you need to make a fairly thick batter which will stick to the flowers.
Break the eggs into a bowl. Beat. (Some people separate and whisk the whites-I don't).
Add some flour, a pinch of salt  and some water and beat and keep mixing a little at a time to obtain a smooth,thick batter. When you are happy with the batter add the sugar(you can add more if you have a sweet-tooth).


 Coat the blossoms in the batter and  deep fry in pre-heated oil (about 170°C). I fry the blossoms as they are, some people remove the central stem and fry the flowers seperately like popcorn.(I remove the stem while eating).Fry until lighly golden. After frying place on kitchen paper to absorb excess oil. Serve dredged with icing sugar or with acacia honey.


 (We like to put our own sugar on, as we all prefer varying amounts). Yum. Eat quickly...Acacia blossoms aren't around for long.



27/04/2012

Nettle Spaghetti





 In the last week I've seen lots of people wearing gloves gathering nettles. I even saw one gentleman collecting the beautiful, enormous specimens very close to my house.  I didn't have the heart to tell him the reason they were so healthy is because they  were growing above the leech system from our house's septic tank.



Maybe he wouldn't have minded but I collected some nettles from a different location. I remembered some gloves, but the stingers passed through them. I should have used plastic/rubber gloves. I read somewhere that if you hold your breath you won't get stung. What nonsense some people dream up for gullible ninnies like myself!

 Nettles are full of nutrients and goodness and we should eat them /drink them or perhaps rinse our hair with them.
I have tried to like them,I really have, but I'm just not keen.
 Last year I tried them on their own as greens, mixed with spinach and as a soup. Yuk! I keep thinking I just need to find the right recipe. In Italy lots of people make tagliatelle with nettles, which creates a mild tasting  green pasta to eat with ragu or funghi.
I don't mind "tagliatelle all'ortica" but I prefer normal tagliatelle. However even if I did like it, I'll leave hand-made pasta to the Italians, it's much too advanced for me. An Italian friend of mine insists that nettles are delicious , but need to be consumed as a delicate taste. So maybe I'm just using too many.

I tried one of my favourite pasta dishes with added nettles ; "spaghetti con aglio,olio  e pepperoncini".
That is spaghetti with garlic,olive oil,chilli pepper and parsley, but instead of parsley I used nettles.

Nettle Spaghetti Recipe (serves 4)
320 g spaghetti/linguine( I prefer the thicker linguine)
2 handfuls nettles (washed , boiled for 5/10 mins, drained and the excess water squeezed out).*
1/2 cloves garlic (sliced)
3 dried chillipeppers(seeds removed and chopped)
extra vergin olive oil
 Rock salt
* keep the nettle water for a nutritious hair rinse or house plant boost.

Bring  a very large pan of water to the boil.(Italians use  a very large pan and a fistful of rock salt).
Cook the pasta for the required time or a little less (al dente is always best).
In the meantime chop the nettles  and remove any tough stalks.

 Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan and add the garlic, after a minute remove from heat and add the chillipepper. When the oil has stopped sizzling add the nettles and heat for a few minutes. Add more oil if needed.

When the spaghetti is cooked, drain and and add to the frying pan and mix well.





My daughter loved it, my husband was non-plussed and my son said he wasn't hungry.
 I quite liked it, but next time I'll try with only one large handful of nettles.

Useful Links




25/04/2012

Liberation Day

The 25th April is a bank holiday in Italy.  April 25, 1945 was the day when the Allied troops finally were able to liberate Italy and today, it commemorates  liberation and  fallen soldiers.
It's been a beautiful, sunny day. It's the first lovely day after all the rain, low temperatures and  wind following the warm spell we had a couple of weeks ago.



  We had a really lazy day and went for a long walk this afternoon. The  colours of nature were vibrant and the scenery uplifting.


Suddenly there are so many wild plants to create with and learn about that I'm not sure where to begin.
 I have a lot of new projects in mind. These are some of  the plants that I would like to gather in the following days;

Nettles
Mallow-leaves and flowers

Elderflowers

Acacia flowers

Linden leaves and flowers
Now all I need is lots of time.
Watch this space............

23/04/2012

Curly Dock Dolmades

Yesterday, I found a Curly Dock plant( well I'm pretty sure it's Curly Dock and not patience Dock). It was very similar to the other Dock I posted about , but the leaves were much longer and thinner.



 As I was by myself for lunch I decided to experiment. I remember seeing a recipe posted on eatweeds.co.uk for "Dock parcels"http://www.eatweeds.co.uk/dock-rice-feta-seaweed-parcels and as I had most of  ingredients in the fridge, I decided to try something similar. I had a bowl of leftover basmati rice from the day before's curry and a pack of feta cheese which was getting close to the use-by-date.I didn't have seaweed, but I wanted to produce a Greek taste as Dock has a similar taste to Vine leaves, so I substituted wild Greek Origano that I picked last year on a Greek island.Greek Origano is the best.

Collecting wild origano, thyme and savory
Ingredients
Curly Dock leaves
Feta Cheese(crumbled)
Basmati rice (cooked)
Origano
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Chives

Blanch the Dock leaves in boiling water (less than a minute).
 Becareful the leaves become too soft very quickly.
Place leaves flat on kichen paper or clean tea towel to absorb water.
Mix rice, feta,origano with a little olive oil and press together to form filling for dolmades.
(I placed the leaves rib side down, as I thought they could be cooked a little more at the heating stage).
Roll up tightly and press in rice at the sides.


Tie up with chives (you could use slivers of leek or even cocktail sticks).
Heat in a little olive oil for a few minutes to seve hot, but they are good cold aswell.


They were delicious served with lemon and tasted very Greek (although real dolmades usually have minced lamb and other ingredients). I was so proud of my experiment I found more leaves today and made them again for my family.
They went down really well with everyone,  which is not always the case with my wildcraft creations! 



I have just found this really helpful post,(wish I'd found it earlier) which will give you lots of tips if you want to try making dolomades with dock or other leaves.They are traditionally made with wider leaves of sorrel or patience dock.
http://www.organicallycooked.com/2008/03/dolmades-leaves-stuffed-with-rice_09.html


Curly Dock Dolmades on Punk  
Domestics

22/04/2012

Earth Day

 Today is Earth Day.  I wouldn't  have known if I hadn't seen  it by chance yesterday.
 Earth Day Italy just got going last year in 2011 with events and concerts.
Earth Day has been celebrated each year since 1970,  events are held worldwide to increase awareness and appreciation of the  Earth's natural enviroment and consider topics such as pollution, green energy, recycling, global warming etc etc.

It always amazes me how anyone could dump their rubbish or not make an effort to recycle for that matter, but sometimes garbage is abandoned in our lovely countryside. In the UK the term is " flytipping".
Criminal organisations are responsible for much worse in some parts of Italy and dump toxic waste and chemicals, even  hiding it in building/landscaping work.

Yesterday I was shocked to see this TV sitting outdatedely on a quiet  country lane. The sharp lines contrasting starkly with the natural environment. Why? Yes, why, if you call the local council they operate a service that collects large unwanted items every week.
I was surprised and heartened to see two notices had been stuck on the TV.



One was handwritten and said something along the lines; "Ugly ******! Was it annoying you in the basement?


The other was printed and translates as; "I've lived in this magnificent place for 50 years and I love and respect these hills.
Whoever left this TV here is an uncivilised  person, unworthy of being part of our community".

We all need to stop being indifferent and protest against people who don't respect our world in whatever way we can.




19/04/2012

Rosemary Lemonade


When I made the wild lemon balm limoncello I had lots of lemons without peel so I used them to make some lemonade, it disappeared very quickly and my son asked me to make some more today. I'd recently cut back a rosemary bush so I added rosemary. Rosemary does grow wild in some parts of Italy, but not here,  I have a bush in the garden. Rosemary is my favourite herb in the kitchen and is indispensible in Italian cuisine.
I remember my Nanna (Grandma) making lemonade when I was little, but it wasn't fizzy.

Rosemary Lemonade Recipe
5/6 lemons (to make 1 cup juice)
8/10 sprigs rosemary
1/2 or 3/4 cup sugar (I don't like it too sweet-you can add more if you do)
1/2 litre sparkling /fizzy water




My son helped me to squeeze the lemons and heated the sugar, lemon juice and rosemary for 5 minutes.
This melts the sugar and makes the house smell fantastic. Don't throw away the squeezed lemons, keep them in the fridge and use them as needed  for cleaning hands, kitchen surfaces,sinks etc. Add some bicarbinate of soda to remove stubborn stains with fizz.(Excellent for stainless steel).


Allow the juice to cool  and then put in the fridge for a few hours. Filter. Add cold fizzy water and ice and drink.      
  A splash of gin also  mixes nicely!


16/04/2012

Ground Ivy Tea or Gill Tea (Glechoma hederacea)



It's been raining here for the past week, not just showers but torrential downpours, which is good as the ground was so dry, but means that I have done very little plant gathering (apart from dandelion leaves). Yes I am a fair-weather forager. It dried up for a wee while this afternnoon and I went for a walk and I picked some comfrey leaves and ground ivy.
 Ground Ivy is  a newly discovered plant for me, well I didn't realise that it's called "Ground Ivy". I've seen it before and thought that it had "mint" in it's name, as at least I recognised it to be from the mint family.



It's very common here and grows profusely especially in shady areas, under hedges and trees. If you crush the leaves it smells like a cross between mint and sage/basil. You can often smell it when someone has been cutting the grass.
Like ivy it's a trailing plant and creeps over the ground. Each joint or node produces roots and the long stalks grow upright. It's hard to get rid of in gardens. It's got lots of other names such as Creeping Charlie, but the commonest is "Gill-Over-the-Ground". Gill comes from the french guiller “to ferment beer" and the Saxons used it to clarify their beer before hops were discovered to be preferable.

Sometimes it takes over









Ground Ivy Leaves

I decided  to try making some tea as "Wildman steve Brill "(Identifying and harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants) drinks it and Mrs Greive (A modern Herbal) rated it. It's a spring tonic and has been used to cure lots of things in the past such as; sciatica, ear problems,  lead poisoning, kidney disorders, indigestion, coughs, congestion, headaches and tuberculosis,(kidney stones in China) plus it has a high vitamin C content.


Gill Tea was popular in the English countryside and ground ivy could be readily bought on the streets of London in days gone by.


I steeped 30g of the washed fresh plant in a pint of boiling filtered water for 5 minutes and drank it hot with honey.
It was earthy, tasty, refreshing, aromatic with a sage aftertaste. It reminded me a little of Greek mountain tea.
I think it could also be pleasant served as iced-tea. However,  really  I would have preferred a nice cup of Earl Grey.

About half an hour later my stomach felt a bit rumbly,  so I thought I'd better research a little more about the plant. There are some conflicting views and although most say it's safe to use even for children and it seems to have lots of positive properties, others say  it should be used with caution. I think that anyone trying a new  ingredient  for the first time should be cautious..... I even know a girl who's allergic to apples.

Wikipedia states;
"Although it has been used as a salad green and in herbal medicines for thousands of years, the safety of Glechoma hederacea has not been established scientifically, and there is sufficient evidence to warrant caution with its use. Cases of poisoning in cattle and horses have been documented."

"Avoid if pregnant as abortifacient. Contraindicated in epilepsy. Avoid if kidney disease "  under caution by PFAF.org

Update 18/04/12
I forgot to say don't throw any left over infusion away. You can use it on scolds, burns, spots and oily skin.
Keep it in the fridge in a sealed glass bottle for a few days.


sources:
www.thekitchn.com/edible-weeds-ground-ivy-149396
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glechoma_hederacea
http://www.eattheweeds.com/ground-ivy/
http://www.susunweed.com/herbal_ezine/February09/goddess.htm
http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Glechoma+hederacea

10/04/2012

Wild Lemon Balm Limoncello

Wild lemon balm (Melissa Officinalis)
Lemon balm leaves
Limoncello is a very popular drink in Italy, especially in the south of Italy where lemons grow easily.
Lots of people make limoncello at home, it's  very easy and a great way to end summer dinners.
Everyone has there own recipe and believes it to be the best. There are also lots of mass produced brands on sale, but usually they are too sweet for my taste.
My Mother-in-Law is very partial to a glass of limoncello. She doesn't make it herself, but some of her friends do. Last summer my recipe caused a bit of a stir.
 A friend of my Mum-in-Law's offered her a glass of her own latest batch and asked her how it was.
She replied that her "nuora"(daughter-in-law) made really good limoncello.
 "Oh really, I didn't know they had lemons in England" came the reply.
 "Ofcourse they don't have lemons there, but she lives here now!"
And so on they bickered for a while.
I felt rather guilty, as if I had insulted "la signora" in person, even if, I'm very proud of my recipe.

RECIPE
10/12 lemons (unwaxed and untreated)
A handful of wild lemon balm (home-grown or shop-bought if not possible)
half a vanilla pod
1 l 90/95 ° alcohol
400g sugar
1 l filtered water



Take 10/12 lemons(depending on their size) as freshly picked as possible,  if they are still green that's great.
Wash and dry them. Peel them with a sharp knife or peeler, being careful to avoid the the white pith.
Put only  the peel in a hermetically sealed glass jar.
 Add a handful of washed and dried lemon balm and half of a vanilla pod.
Add the alcohol. Seal. Store in a dark place for 10/15 days. Agitate gently  every now and then.



After 10/15 days take out the lemon balm and vanilla .
Boil the sugar in the water and allow to cool.
Add to the jar and leave for another week(or two) in a dark place.


It will turn green at first and then yellow
 Filter limoncello with muslim /gauze/ coffee filter / thick kichen paper into bottles and seal.
 Drink straight away or wait a few weeks if you can. It gets better the longer you wait.
 Serve straight from the freezer.(I always keep a bottle in the freezer during the summer months)


Wild lemon Balm Limoncello on Punk  
Domestics

02/04/2012

Sugared Violets



A week has passed since my last post and spring has exploded. It's been really warm, 10°C above average for this time of the year, but we've had no rain since the snow in winter. I went for a walk yesterday to see if there were any violets left, but there weren't many. Violets prefer cooler temperatures. There were a few primroses instead. I picked a few violets to try and make some candied or sugared violets.


I followed the directions for the sugar and water recipe found at http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Candied-Violets   
 My daughter discovered me playing and came to join me. It was fun but very fiddly. We didn't worry about how we placed the  violets on the wax paper too much so the violets were a bit shrivelled looking. If I did it again I'd probably pick less violets and get ready with two pairs of tweezers. I'd also pick some of the tiny leaves as the couple I candied looked cute.

Wash violets  delicately and allow to dry on kitchen paper.
Dip violets in sugar solution.
Place on wax paper and sprinkle with icing sugar.
Allow to dry and cut off stems.
Use for decoration