Although today has been beautifully sunny and warm, it is tomorrow that will mark the official start of summer. It will also mark the close of one of the coldest springs on record. The low temperatures throughout March, April and May have delayed early vegetable harvesting in vegetable gardens and allotment plots everywhere, including mine, the Circus Garden. So in this week’s post I am presenting another of my recipes using fresh herbs from my plot, together with that great stalwart of any kitchen, garlic.
Here’s an interesting fact. The British now consume more garlic annually than the French. In fact we eat so much of the stuff that we import thousands of tons of it every year, mostly from China. That’s an awful lot of air miles for a vegetable that happens to be ideally suited to the British climate, and which doesn’t require much space or even much attention once it is planted.
Garlic acquired the unfair sobriquet “stinking rose” back in ancient Greece and its use in both cooking and medicine can be traced back thousands of years. Personally I love the unmistakable, powerful, intense aroma of garlic when it is freshly cut, an act that in itself releases a beneficial compound called allicin which not only acts as an antibiotic (it can, for example, kill salmonella and staphylococcus ) but also has anti-cholesterol and antihypertensive characteristics.
As with most vegetables there is a world of difference between the (often imported) garlic you pick up in the supermarket and the so much better tasting stuff you can produce yourself. I like to grow a range of interesting varieties, including sweetly aromatic Sicilian Red, plump and juicy Spanish Racombole and strong-flavoured Picardy Wight. Garlic stores extremely well and in a good season my allotment plot, the Circus Garden, produces enough to last us throughout the year.
But growing garlic is no longer quite so straight forward as it was just a few years back when I first took on my allotment plot. Despite the low temperatures we have experienced this spring, climate change is a reality and it is thanks to climate change that garlic growers in parts of the UK now have a new pest to contend with – allium leaf miner. Allium leaf miner, or more accurately its larvae, burrows down into leeks, onions, garlic and shallots causing rot which eventually destroys the entire plant. Bizarrely, this pest first surfaced in Wolverhampton but it has since spread across the Midlands and beyond, and is now a serious problem on many allotment sites, including my own, which is why I now have to grow my garlic under netting.
OK, onto a recipe. Garlic always plays an important role in any dish where it is included, exerting a subtle but mature influence and pulling together all the other flavours.
For a long time I’ve had an obsession, a sort of personal holy grail, to come up with the perfect vegetarian sausage, and this recipe is the result of lots of trial and error.
There are quite a few ingredients but they are all relevant – each there to add punch, taste and texture. If, like me, you have one of these handy little gadgets, it takes no time at all to blitz the ingredients and put them all together. This chopper is probably the gadget that I use most in the kitchen. It was very cheap when I bought it years ago and, to me, has repaid every penny many times over.
These sausages do taste amazing and they are incredibly versatile – serve with mashed potato and vegetarian gravy for a great comfort food supper, or include them as part of a vegetarian cooked breakfast. They’re also great for barbecuing.
garlic, porcini and pistachio sausages
3 plump cloves garlic, finely chopped
8g dried porcini mushrooms, blitzed or pounded to a fine powder
100g pistachio kernels, blitzed or very finely chopped
250g halloumi cheese, blitzed or grated
120g vegetarian Cheddar cheese, blitzed or grated
10 spring onions, blitzed or finely chopped
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp dried sage
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
½ tsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp hot water
50g dried apricots, blitzed or very finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 organic free range eggs
3 tbsp Polenta flour, for rolling
2 tbsp olive oil
1. Put the porcini dust into a mixing bowl and carefully pour over the hot water. Mix and leave to absorb for 15 minutes.
2. Add all the other ingredients, apart from the polenta and olive oil, and mix thoroughly. Leave in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
3. Divide the mixture into balls around 60g in weight and then fashion these into individual sausage shapes, rolling them in the polenta to finish.
4. Return the completed sausages to the refrigerator to firm up, or freeze until required.
5. To cook, pre-heat the oven to 175˚C/ gas no. 4. Brush the sausages all over with the olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes, turning occasionally, until browned all over. These can be served with, for example, mushrooms and tomatoes as part of a cooked breakfast but are equally at home served with mashed potatoes and vegetarian onion gravy – a real comfort food dinner.