Spring is in the air and Zack Deakins, chef patron of 1921 Angel Hill, in Bury St Edmunds, is getting excited
So coming up with a subject matter for this one was easy. . .
Spring – well, more specifically, spring produce.
I know it’s a well-beaten drum but there is a good reason for it. As soon as we are past Valentine’s and heading into March, I literally feel like a kid on Christmas Eve. There is just so much good produce that will come into season over the next month or two that it is impossible not to be excited.
The culinary year for me kind of kicks off mid-January when the beautifully pink forced Yorkshire rhubarb starts, but now is when things really start to kick off.
We have already started to have French white asparagus and beautiful morel mushrooms, but my absolute favourite thing from this time of year, if not all year, comes from much closer to home.
It is one of many fantastic ingredients that come from our lovely county and it is synonymous, to me, with spring. It also gets the majority of the chefs I know most excited.
The delicious leaves have a fantastic ‘green’ garlic flavour and, combine that with their vibrant green colour, it’s easy to see why we all can’t wait to get our hands on it. It just effortlessly adds colour and flavour to so many dishes.
When the leaves are young and tender you can just throw them in a salad or wilt them in a stir fry or a pasta dish. Hell, just throw them on top of a pizza, that’s good for me!
As the season continues, the leaves will toughen up slightly so are brilliant for things such as purées, pestos and soups. Also blitzing them with olive oil will give you the most fantastic green, garlic oil.
Wild garlic soup is probably one of my favourite things to make all year, and always features on the menu at some point during the season. Last year, we had it on our Mother’s Day menu with white asparagus and parmesan, but I have also paired it with things such as confit rabbit and morels. If I were to have it at home though, I would probably just add a poached egg and dig in with some crusty bread.
As well as the leaves, the flowers are also perfectly edible, with a slightly milder flavour. They contrast beautifully with the green of the leaves as they are a brilliant white. If you catch the buds before they flower these are wonderful pickled or even tempured.
Perhaps the coolest thing about wild garlic though is that it grows in abundance locally. It grows wild in old woodlands with damp floors, and there are many, many places in Suffolk where you can find it. Now foraging is not my strong point, but picking wild garlic requires no great knowledge. If the green leaves with white flowers aren’t enough to give it away, the gorgeous garlic smell should be.
Most of the chefs I know have their spot. It is usually a spot they are proud of and almost certainly will not be willing to share its location. For us wild garlic is green gold.
So what are you waiting for, stick some wellies on, grab the kids, get the dog and head out and start picking. Dinner time will be so much more exciting for it.
WILD GARLIC SOUP
150g unsalted butter
2 large sliced onions
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
1 medium-sized, peeled and sliced potato
500g wild garlic, washed and stems removed
80g grated parmesan
Melt the butter in a large pan. When the butter starts to foam, but before it colours, add the onions and cook until the onions are soft and translucent.
Add the chicken stock and bring to the boil. When boiling add the potato and continue to boil until the potato is soft and falling apart.
Put the wild garlic into the pan and return to the boil.
Put everything into a blender with the parmesan and blitz until smooth.
Pass through a fine sieve and season to taste.
Zack Deakins is chef patron of 1921 Angel Hill in Bury St Edmunds
Call 01284 704870