Garlic has to be one of my favourite ingredients as a chef, it is so versatile and can be used in so many different ways, and if used correctly it can add depth of flavour to a stew, heat and pungency to Aioli mayonnaise or even sweetness when cooked slowly with a leg of lamb for instance.
I also love the many different stages of the growth of the garlic family whether it’s cultivated or wild which gives a slightly different flavour.
We recently held a special lunch here at Ashburnham Place for a group of keen gardeners who had come to a Masterclass with The Godfather of the “no-dig” gardening technique Charles Dowding.
The “no-dig” method is what Nick & Anna have been pioneering in our very own Kitchen Garden, the benefits are numerous, tastier vegetables, soil health, not to mention fewer weeds which has to be a good thing!
All the vegetables for the event lunch came out of the Kitchen Garden from which we were able to produce a delicious lunch, although it was a bit tight in terms of what vegetables we could use.
As we get deeper into summer there will, of course, be a bounty of vegetables we will be able to use but being the second week of May it was slim pickings which meant we had to be more creative.
The beauty of the vegetables available at this time is that they are a mixture of things which have overwintered or have been picked dried and stored over the winter or are just appearing for the first time this year such as Asparagus and on the whole, all marry well with stronger flavours.
Green garlic for instance is the young un-developed garlic bulb which has a milder sweeter flavour than the fully developed and dried garlic we normally buy from the supermarket.
The garlic at this stage looks more like a leek with a slightly bulbous root and the outer skin is pale green and white, fresh and fragrant.
We cook these bulbs with a good length of the stem still attached, whole confit style, which is very slowly cooked in good quality Rape seed oil flavoured with Thyme, Bay leaf and a few Fennel seeds, when the garlic is soft all the way through we remove from the oil and cut in half and then pan fry until golden brown, this caramelisation intensifies the sweetness and umami.
These delicious bulbs of sweet garlicky-ness were part of a warm salad which also included purple sprouting broccoli and the first tender Asparagus tips from the garden.
The whole salad was dressed with a dressing made from another favourite ingredient of mine wild garlic or Ramsons, which were foraged from the river banks around Ashburnham Place.
To add another texture and dimension to the salad and another ingredient from the Kitchen Garden we poached and then very carefully bread crumbed some amazing free-range hens eggs before deep frying them until golden and crispy on the outside but bursting with a golden runny centre.
I think it was a real hit but why not try it for yourself and see what you think.
Recipe for 4 people.
4 green garlic heads, roots trimmed off and tops cut down until approx. 15cm long (keep the tops and use like a garlicky spring onion)
Rape seed oil, Good quality cold press
Sprig of thyme 2 stems
Teaspoon fennel seeds
1 Bay leaf
400g purple sprouting broccoli
12 Asparagus spears, preferably about as thick as an average ring finger, woody root bit removed and all cut to the same size.
200g Wild garlic leaves
4 tbsp. White wine vinegar
5 Very fresh large free-range eggs
Flour & bread crumbs
Maldon sea salt
Take the trimmed green garlic bulbs and place them in a shallow pan big enough for them to lie flat in, lay them top to tail so that not all the bulbous ends are at the same end of the pan.
Cover with the Rape Seed oil and then add the Thyme, Bay leaf, Fennel seeds & a pinch of Salt. This may seem like a lot of oil but you will be using some to make the wild Garlic dressing and whatever is left over will keep and can be used whilst cooking wherever you need a hint of garlic.
Set the pan on the lowest heat setting you can and allow the oil to heat up, keep a close eye on the oil as you do not want it to get too hot or the garlic will just fry, try and keep the temperature below 100c.
Whilst the garlic is cooking take a deep pan that can hold approx. 1 litre of water ¾ fill with water and add the vinegar, bring the water to the boil. Crack 4 of the eggs into ramekins or small cups so it is easier to add the egg to the water in one easy move. Also, prepare a bowl of ice-cold water ready to plunge the eggs in to stop them from cooking.
When the water is boiling add the 4 eggs quickly directly into the rolling boil of the water and then once all are added reduce the heat. The egg white should wrap itself around the yolk forming a perfect oval, cook for approx. 3 mins or until the white of the egg has almost fully cooked but the yolk is still runny, as soon as it’s at this point remove from the water and plunge into the ice bath, repeat with all 4 eggs. You can poach one egg at a time to make it a bit less stressful.
Once the eggs are cold, using a slotted spoon remove the eggs from the ice water and drain them on a piece of kitchen towel. At this point trim off any long strands of egg white which didn’t wrap.
Next prepare the Panné in other words flour, egg & breadcrumbs. Take 3 small bowls and place flour in one, the last raw egg whisked in the second and breadcrumbs in the third.
Being super careful roll the poached eggs first in the flour then the egg and lastly the breadcrumbs, set the eggs on a plate and in the fridge until required. This egg preparation can be made as far as one day in advance if necessary.
Next, we need to cook the asparagus and broccoli.
Fill another pan with water and bring to a boil, when boiling add some salt and the asparagus, boil for 2-3 minutes until just starting to give and then remove from the water and refresh in another bowl of ice water, or the same one as the eggs as long as the eggs aren’t in it.
Once you have blanched and refreshed the asparagus blanch the wild garlic leaf in the same water for about 45 seconds and then remove and refresh in the ice water.
Remove the wild garlic from the ice water and give it a really good squeeze in a tea towel to remove any excess water. Place the wild garlic leaf in a blender beaker and then add the strained garlic confit oil and blend until you have a vibrant green dressing. This liquid can then be passed through a fine sieve to remove any fibres, adjust the seasoning with salt pepper and a little red wine vinegar.
Turn on your deep fat fryer or put a pan of vegetable oil on to heat up, it’s better to use a big pan with a small amount of oil in it, to reduce the chance of the oil boiling over the top when you fry the eggs. Heat the oil until it reaches 175-180c
Set a griddle pan or frying pan over a high heat, take a garlic bulb and split it length ways repeat with all the bulbs and then fry cut side down in the pan until golden, flip them over and fry on the other side, just to heat through, remove from the pan and set aside. Whilst the pan is still hot add a little of the garlic oil and then add straight in the purple sprouting broccoli.
If using a griddle try and get a fairly heavy charring on both sides of the broccoli, if the broccoli is thin it will cook quickly, the thicker stalks may take a bit longer so remove from the pan/griddle and finish in a hot oven.
Slice the asparagus spears in half lengthways and add to the hot pan, as with the broccoli char on the cut side and then flip over.
At this point add the garlic and broccoli back to the pan and mix together.
Turn the heat off but keep everything warm.
Deep fry the egg until golden and crispy but ensure the yolk is still perfectly runny.
Dress the veggies in the pan with the wild garlic dressing and then arrange on plates or serving bowls, drizzle more dressing around and over
Season the egg with salt and place on the salad and sprinkle with the wild garlic flowers to finish.