First sign of Spring: wild garlic and walnut pesto

DSCF1077I always know that Spring is here when i’m walking the dog in the forest and we stumble upon a carpet of luscious, green leaves. All of a sudden our nostrils are filled with the perfume of fragrant, musky garlic.I prefer to eat it fresh, but as it arrives in such abundance, I tend to freeze bunches of it. For best results, the leaves should be picked young , before they flower. It’s very easy to identify – mainly due to the garlicky fragrance which is released when when the ground gets warm in the sun, or when you rub the leaves between your fingers.It is found in dappled shade, woodland areas, often near water. In Yorkshire, I used to find a lot along the banks of the river Wharfe. Do be careful though. It could be mistaken for toxic plants such as Lily of The Valley if you are not familiar with it. Its flowers are small, white and star-like. I always blanch it as you never know if a passing fox has relieved himself on a leaf! Wild garlic is wonderful, simply tossed into pasta, in an omelette, a tart etc…DSCF1081

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“Ail des ours”, or wild garlic (one of my illustrations from my camera-less period!)

 

Below is a recipe I am very fond of which works well with walnuts or hazelnuts.I tend to throw everything into the pasta, but if you have the luxury of a blender, you could always mix the pesto in your appliance and add to the pasta afterwards. I do like the simple approach though!

Blanch a good handful of leaves for 3 minutes.

Drain and finely chop them.

Add to hot pasta and throw-in a handful of ground walnuts (or walnut powder if you have it).

Generously drizzle the pasta with some virgin walnut oil. Of course, i’m biased, having lots of oil to hand(we do ship to the UK and Europe, do contact us if you’re interested). You could, of course, substitute the walnut oil for a good virgin (cold-pressed) olive or sunflower oil.

Mix-in a handful of grated comté (or your favourite hard cheese).

Add a touch of cider vinegar and season well.

Serve immediately.

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Michelin starred chef, Jocelyne Lotz-Choquart, cooking live on the radio with Jean-Pierre!

On friday morning, Jean-Pierre was delighted to be invited, as the guest producer, on Jocelyne Choquart’s radio show. She concocted a surprising dish: organic mussels with garden vegetables and walnut oil.

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Jocelyne Lotz-Choquart, was the proprietor and Michelin-starred chef of the famous “Mungo Park” restaurant in Besançon, from 1990 to 2006. She now has a radio show on France Bleu Besançon, where each week she puts local food in the spotlight, as she creates a recipe using a product she has chosen when visiting farmers’ markets in the region.It takes place live in the bustling, covered market in Besançon, in the presence of the said producer.

The result was spectacular: the salty, tender mussels worked perfectly with the sweet crunchiness of the vegetables. The delicate walnut flavour added a soft, almost creamy contrast to the dish. Topped off with the walnut powder (grated pressed walnuts, which remain after pressing), this added an earthy kick to the dish.I was familiar with scallops and walnut oil but had never thought of associating these ingredients. What a discovery! Perfect for the season and the imminent arrival of Christmas feasts!

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The outing also enabled us to rediscover the covered market (Marché des Beaux Arts), which has been somewhat revived by the arrival of a restaurant and bar in the centre of the building, where you can enjoy a great “plat du jour”, inspired by the fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced from the surrounding stalls.

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I had no idea that organic mussels even existed, but apparently it is a very recent phenomenon, first recognised officially in 2011. The organic label is mainly based on the quality of the water, the mussels are grown on shellfish beds in special conservation areas that our free from pollutants, with regular tests being carried out.The term “bouchot”, the sort of mussels Jocelyne uses in her recipe, designates a traditional method in aquaculture, whereby the shellfish are grown on ropes, attached to wooden poles in the sea.The term also has an AOP (“appelation d’origine protégée”), meaning that to be called  “Bouchot” mussels, they must originate from La Baie de Mont St Michel, on the coast of Brittany and Normandy. Organic mussels are also produced in Scotland and Ireland.

Organic “Bouchot” Mussels With Garden Vegetables and Walnut Oil

Serves 4

1kg of “Bouchot” mussels

2 baby leeks

2 small white turnips

1 carrot

2 celery sticks

2 shallots

1 heaped dessert spoon of double cream

10cl of chardonnay

4 dessert spoonfuls of walnut oil

50g of walnut powder (or ground walnuts if you can’t get this. Do contact us if you would like to order some!)

2 dessert spoons of neutral flavoured oil(rice-bran or organic sunflower oil)

1. Rub the mussels with a knife to remove any dirt stuck to the shell.

2. Rinse them in cold water, rubbing them together. Leave to one side in a colander.

3.Wash, peel and finely chop the vegetables.

4. In a large pan, sweat the vegetables in the rice-bran oil until tender but maintaining a crunch.

5. Add the wine, cream and some ground pepper. Leave to reduce for a few minutes.

6. Add the mussels to the pan. Cover and leave to cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly until they open.

7. When open, check the flesh which should be tender and not rubbery.

8. Shell the mussels by using another shell to pull out the flesh. To prevent them from continuing to cook, you will need to remove some of them with a slotted spoon and leave to one side in some foil.

9. While you are shelling, place the remaining sauce in a frying pan and cook on a low-heat for 5 more minutes.

10. Put the shelled mussels back into the sauce and heat for a minute or two.

11. Serve using a ladle. Add a generous drizzle of walnut oil and the walnut powder or ground walnuts.

12. DO NOT ADD SALT. Mussels are naturally salty. Bon appétit!

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The recently inaugurated tram in Besançon

The recently inaugurated tram in Besançon