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5 Reasons to Celebrate Fresh Herbs by Nikki Duffy, author of

THE RIVER COTTAGE HERB HANDBOOK

Herbs can give you almost instant gratification – even if you grow your own. Try the ‘micro-leaf’ approach.

This simply involves sowing herb seeds then harvesting as soon as the first young ‘true’ leaves start to form – often in two weeks or even less. The baby leaves have an amazing, intense flavour and look beautiful on a salad, pizza or soup. Fastgrowing, aromatic herbs such as basil, chervil and coriander are ideal. Sow your seeds fairly thickly on to seed compost in a seed tray or length of guttering, cover with another thin layer of compost, then leave in a reasonably warm place. Keep the compost just moist, not wet: misting with a spray bottle is a good idea.

Herbs make your food beautiful. You’ve probably sprinkled chopped parsley or snipped chives over dishes before –

and both these old favourites look wonderful as well as tasting delicious. But there are many more herbs that will enhance your food visually. Try borage flowers (really easy to grow), sprinkled on fruity puddings or frozen into ice cubes for drinks. Marigold petals are lovely strewn over cakes. Chervil has the most elegant, lacy little leaves that look gorgeous floating on a soup, or, if you want to add colour to a salad, try some dramatic purple basil, scarlet nasturtiums, purple perilla (an Asian herb with a cumin-like flavour) or the tiny flowerlets pinched from a white chive in bloom. All of these taste as good as they look.

Herbs anchor you in culinary tradition. They are so often the flavour that ‘makes’ a classic dish: the bay in the béchamel sauce, the tarragon in the béarnaise, the basil in the pesto, the sage in the stuffing, the mint in the tabbouleh... They are building-block ingredients for cuisines the world over, allowing you to achieve authentic results.

Conversely, herbs also invite endless innovation – and rarely make you suffer for it. You can try anything you like with fresh herbs. At worst, your dish will

taste of too much dill or not enough thyme: herbs rarely ruin anything. At best, you’ll discover some amazing combinations: perhaps lemon verbena and raspberries, lavender and lamb, or bergamot and parmesan.

Growing your own herbs gives you access to ingredients you could never buy in the shops. Lovage, angelica, sweet cicely, hyssop, winter savory and Thai

basil are just a few of the incredible, fragrant, delicious herbs you can grow easily at home. Many herbs can be grown in pots and some even thrive indoors.

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THE RIVER COTTAGE HERB HANDBOOK by Nikki Duffy With an introduction by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall Hardback £14.99


BROWSING THE BLOGS With the plethora of food blogs online sometimes it’s hard to find the real gems but oh the thrill of discovering a new blog with enticing, beautifully photographed recipes and engaging writing We wanted to share Madalene Bonvini-Hamel and Ross Kemp’s blog The British Larder which celebrates seasonal food and hopes to inspire creativity. In 2010 the blog evolved from “clicks to bricks” with the opening of the eponymous British Larder gastropub in Suffolk, recently named Best Newcomer 2012 at the Gastropub Awards. Both professional chefs - Madalene trained under Gordon Ramsay and Michel Roux Jnr - the recipes are expertly written and their sheer number invites hours of browsing, especially as they’re helpfully divided into seasons and themes like picnic recipes or kitchen classics. There are even videos and slide shows to help explain trickier techniques like preparing an artichoke. We love their idea for Easter - Hot Cross Buns with Cardamom and Golden Sultanas - a wonderfully fragrant and sophisticated twist on an old classic. Inspiring? Yes.

RHUBARB RHUBARB RHUBARB! March, the last of the autumn’s apples have lost their crispness and it’s long before the abundance of summer fruit. Then, into the sparseness of late winter comes rhubarb, delicate pink with pale yellow leaves, and with it the first hint of summer ahead. It’s delicious simply roasted with a little orange and some honey, served with yoghurt, but if you’re looking for more variety, Sarah Raven’s GARDEN COOKBOOK, which celebrates seasonal fruit and veg from her beautiful gardens, has a number of recipes for rhubarb including rhubarb sorbet, rhubarb upside - down cake and the following recipe for rhubarb syllabub.

Rhubarb Syllabub One of my favourite spring puddings. It’s easy and quick to make, as well as being light, frothy and delicious. For 6–8:

For the syllabub:

Juice and grated zest of 1 orange 100g caster sugar 6 stems of young pink rhubarb (about 500g) 2 cardamom pods 2 star anise

284ml double cream Grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon 3–4 tablespoons Grand Marnier,dry sherry or white wine 100g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 190°C/gas mark 5. Warm the orange juice in a pan and dissolve the sugar in it. Cut the rhubarb into sections the length of your thumb and cook in the orange juice with the zest, cardamom and star anise for 10 minutes. Then cool the fruit. To make a syrupy juice, lift out the rhubarb pieces and boil up the juice until it thickens. To make the syllabub, put the cream, lemon zest and juice, alcohol and sugar into a bowl and beat for several minutes, until the mixture becomes thick and light. Remove the cardamom pods and star anise from the rhubarb. Put the rhubarb into individual glasses, spoon the syllabub mixture over the top and chill for a couple of hours.

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March Cookery Newsletter