Monday, 7 June 2010

What's in my basket?

I came back from a week away to be greeted by a host of nodding artichoke heads, welcome splashes of orange California poppies and plenty of weed seedlings. There was crimson treasure waiting too. My smallest girl Matilda, was delighted to find a whole bowlful of strawberries hidden beneath a tangle of grass and bindweed. I also noticed with alarm that there is a giant hogweed growing inside my shed.

The crops I've raised from seed this year and planted out are still struggling to establish themselves - tomatoes, chillies, dahlias and zinnias  are all  looking distinctly feeble after a week of extreme heat and torrential rain.

Last week we picked and ate vine leaves (see below  for recipe).  

This morning I also I pulled up the  garlic I planted  last November and will be leaving it out to dry before rubbing off the papery skins and plaiting it. It could be bigger but some of the bulbs looked a little mildewy, so out they came.

Spring sown salad is delightfully small and tender right now. We picked wild and cultivated rocket, little gem, cos freckles and marvel of four seasons to eat with a herby lemon and thyme roasted chicken.

Stuffed Vine Leaves (Dolmades)

Now is a great time to make dolmades. Vine leaves are young and tender and if you use new season garlic (sometimes called wet) you will find the delicate flavour of the young garlic really shines through  in these clean tasting dolmades, which are stuffed very simply with rice and herbs. Pick an extra bag of tender vine leaves and freeze them to use in winter - they are very resilient and freeze well.  If you can’t find fresh vine leaves use the pickled ones sold in delis. Vines are a fairly commonly grown plant in urban gardens so keep your eyes out for any growing against warm city walls in your neighbourhood. 

Serves 4 as part of a picnic lunch

2 green garlic bulbs  (use 1 shallot, a bunch of 8 spring onions and a clove of garlic if you can’t find green garlic) Later on one fat bulb will do with some greens
40-45 fresh young vine leaves (this includes extra leaves as a decorative bed for your dolmades and some larger, tougher ones to put underneath the parcels as they cook).
150g shortgrain rice (risotto will do)
4 tablespoons chopped dill (you could also use mint)
4 tablespoons of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
juice of 2 lemons
sea salt and pepper

In a large pan of salted boiling water, blanch the vine leaves for about a minute (you can probably do about 5 at a time) then refresh them in a bowl of cold water.  If you are using preserved vine leaves soften them in boiling water for about 10 minutes, then drain and refresh them in cold water.  Spread the vine leaves out on a clean tea towel ready for use.

Trim the roots and outer leaves of the garlic plants keeping as much of the green as possible. Wash them well and finely chop the white and the tender parts of the green.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pan and cook the garlic very gently (or the shallot, spring onion and garlic which should all be very finely chopped) until soft and transparent. Add the herbs, the rice and the juice of 1 lemon and, stirring continuously, cook for about a minute. Remove from the heat. Season and stir well.

Take a vine leaf and place it veiny-side up. Be gentle, they tear easily. Snip off the tough stalk and place a heaped teaspoon of mixture on the stalk end of the leaf. Fold the bottom (nearest to the filling) up over it and then bring in the sides of the leaf, keep rolling all the way up to the top and you should end up with a nice fat cigar shape. As you make the dolmades put them seam-side down in a circular pattern on a plate this will give you the best idea of what size of saucepan you need.

Line a heavy bottomed pan with the older tougher vine leaves or any that you have broken. Place the dolmades seam-side down starting from the edge and making circles into the middle. Pack them nice and tight as this stops them from unravelling. Cover the vine leaves with about 2cm water, squeeze over the other lemon and pour over 2 more tablespoons olive oil. Take a plate slightly smaller than the pan on top the vine leaves. Weight it down. Bring the liquid up the boil then turn it down to a very low simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Do keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t boil dry. After 30 minutes the rice will be cooked and the liquid almost all gone. Very carefully, use tongs to remove the dolmades and transfer them to a plate. Reserve any liquid that is left, let it cool and then mix with a little Greek yoghurt and some olive oil as an accompaniment to the vine leaves. If you don’t have any liquid, make some zsatsiki to go with the vine leaves (see page 00).

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