Bear’s Garlic Pesto / Ail des ours

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Ail des ours – known as ramps, ramsons, buckrams, wild garlic, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic, bear leek, or bear’s garlic – is a wild relative of chives native to Europe and Asia. The Latin name, Allium ursinum, and the french name, is due to the brown bear’s taste for the bulbs and its habit of digging up the ground to get at them; they are also a favourite of wild boar.

Wild garlic can be found growing prolifically throughout the countryside between the months of March and May. The plant is usually found in damp areas of woodland or riverbanks. You’ll be able to identify the flowers by their strong, distinctive garlicky smell. Used in cooking for hundreds of years for its fragrant flavour and antibacterial properties (soldiers in the First World War used the plant as an antiseptic), wild garlic is the perfect representation of spring. The second warmer weather begins to make an appearance, the shoots burst through the topsoil and begin to spread like wildfire. Wild garlic is part of the allium family, along with onions, leeks and (unsurprisingly) garlic. It’s a not too distant relative of the chive and can be eaten in the same way, as the stem, leaf and star-shaped white flowers are all edible. The abundance of wild garlic in the countryside is taken full advantage of by chefs, who use it to flavour all manner of dishes throughout the short season; some even preserve and ferment the leaves for use later on in the year. Obviously, wild garlic tastes like garlic. But it differs from the more common cloves as it is more mellow and has a distinct grassy flavour. The raw leaves have a strong pungent smell, but taste delicate and sweet. Early on in the season, some leaves can be quite fiery, so make sure you sample them before adding to a recipe to avoid disasters.

They are not easy to find and so I was thrilled to find some at my local market on Tuesday.  I grabbed handfuls, filling up a big bag with the leaves and took them home to make some pesto. The good thing about pesto is that it’s easy to make adjustments as you go. Just pound, stir, or blend, until it’s to your liking. It’s especially good mixed with pasta, on its own, or with steamed spring vegetables tossed in, like fresh peas or fava beans, asparagus, or well-wilted greens. I love it smeared on little crostini as an appetizer, atop slices of slightly aged goat cheese.

Makes 1 1/2 cups (375ml)

Ingredients:

200g / 7oz bear’s garlic, trimmed of tough stems (about 4 cups roughly chopped)
1/3 – 1/2 cup /  (35-60g) shelled pistachios
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup (125ml) olive oil
1/2 cup (50g) grated Parmesan

 

Preparation:
Cook the pasta according to the package directions
In a food processor, add all the ingredients, except the olive oil and puree on pulse for a minute
(Using the larger quantity of pistachios will make it thicker)
Dribble some of the olive oil in along the way, to create an emulsion
Taste, and add additional salt, if necessary
If the pesto is very thick, it can be thinned with additional olive oil
I often leave it thick, and if tossing it with warm, just-cooked pasta, will add additional olive oil to the pesto-slicked pasta at the last minute, to get it to the desired consistency
Add the pesto to the cooked pasta and toss
Serve immediately
Enjoy!

Storage: The pesto will keep for 3-4 days in the refrigerator
The pesto can be frozen for up to two months

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Boeuf Bourguignon

Maison Travers

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Boeuf Bourguignon – this is my trademark recipe, my go-to dinner recipe, my all time favourite dinner recipe. It is a stew of surpassing richness and complexity — a stew to impress a date, celebrate a winter birthday, or even serve for Christmas or New Year or just for yourself because you deserve it. The aroma alone — that deeply savory aroma of bacon, onions, slow-cooked beef, and red wine — is enough to make your eyes roll skyward and your knees go weak. Make boeuf bourguignon once and you’ll wonder why anyone ever bothers making anything else.

As the beef is combined with braised onions and sauteed mushrooms, all that is needed to complete your main course is a side of pasta or rice and lots of good bread for the sauce. The stew reheats well and is one of those dishes that tastes even better the second or…

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Harissa sticky chicken

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This is such a simple recipe that takes 5 minutes to prepare yet it tastes like you spent hours cooking it. Perfect summer or winter meal and it can cook in the oven while you are entertaining guests. Delicious served with a couscous and chickpea mixture to absorb all that yummy sauce or simply some pita bread to mop it all up with.

Harissa is a Maghrebi hot, aromatic chili pepper paste, the main ingredients of which are roasted red peppers, Baklouti pepper, serrano peppers, and other hot chili peppers and spices and herbs such as garlic paste, coriander seed, saffron, or caraway, as well as some vegetable or olive oil for preservation. It’s widely used in North African and Middle Eastern cuisines as a condiment, or mixed with water or tomato juice to flavour stews, soups or couscous. In North Africa it’s also sometimes served in a pool of olive oil, into which to dip bread. As it’s strong and pungent, a little goes a long way.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

45g / 3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons harissa
4 tablespoons honey
Juice of 1/2 an organic lemon
4 bone-in chicken legs (can use just thighs or drumsticks)

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 200C / 180C fan / 400F / 360F fan
In a small pan, melt together the butter, harissa, honey and lemon juice
Arrange the chicken pieces in a baking tray or dish
Pour over the harissa mixture
Roast for 45 minutes, basting occasionally with the sauce
Serve with couscous and a green salad or grilled vegetables
Enjoy!