Easter is that moveable feast, sometimes appearing in late March and other times staying out in the wings until late April. This year, it took centre stage smack in the middle of April and often coincides with warm sunshine and the hint of summer to come. So, why not make the most of the Bank Holidays in April and May with some outdoor dining?
A wonderful friend keeps me up to date with new cookbooks and the most recent, ‘Sour’ by Mark Diacono, has become a trusted companion in the kitchen for intriguing recipes and inspiration. His sourdough toast topped with labneh, roasted grapes and strawberry sambal is a taste sensation.
I’ve made labneh for years, when a milk intolerance (which is happily in the past now) forced me to find alternatives to cream. Labneh can be sweet when made with icing sugar and cinnamon, or savoury (as in this recipe), when mixed with salt and crushed garlic.
I’ve always used sheep or goat’s yogurt since it’s more digestible. Simply mix the yogurt with garlic and salt, then pop into a muslin lined sieve to drain overnight. It makes a simple cream cheese alternative. The strawberry sambal is flavoured with spicy chillies and garlic and is a versatile accompaniment to so many dishes.
CHEESY QUAIL EGG MUFFINS >>
We run a gluten-free baking course and the comment most elicited from attendees is ‘nobody would realise these cakes, biscuits and muffins are gluten-free!’
Our last course had me experimenting with what to take on a picnic for gluten-free friends.
This recipe makes 12 mini muffins or 6 large muffins, in which case a small hen’s egg can be used instead of the quail’s egg.
• 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• 2 tbsp butter melted and cooled
• 1 large egg
• 284ml pot of buttermilk
• 250g gluten-free plain flour
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
• 150g grated Parmesan cheese
• 1/2 tsp sea salt
• 1 tbsp chopped chives
• 6 slices Prosciutto, chopped into small pieces
• 12 quails’ eggs, hard-boiled and peeled
Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a muffin tin with cases.
Sieve the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt together.
Whisk the oil, melted butter, egg and buttermilk together in a bowl, then add the sieved flour mixture to it and stir gently with a wooden spoon.
Add the chopped prosciutto, chives and all but three tbsp of grated parmesan (reserve that for topping the muffins). Do not overmix, otherwise the muffins will be tough.
Add a spoon of the mix to the muffin cases and then top with a quail’s egg (or small hen’s egg if you are making large muffins). Cover with the rest of the muffin mix, ensuring it goes down the sides of the egg.
Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and bake for five minutes at 200C, then turn the oven down to 175C and bake for another 8-10 minutes, or until the tops are golden.
Eat with lovely homemade chutney.
RICH PICKINGS FROM THE GARDEN >>
New season’s herbs start to appear in abundance: chives, sorrel, hyssop and lovage make a welcome difference to spring recipes. Wild garlic growing down by the stream is paired with spinach and any excess leaves are blanched and frozen in ice cubes trays to add a garlicky hit to scones and tarts throughout the year. Both Swiss chard and spinach from the veg plot need using up quickly since they’ll both go to seed (bolt) in June.
JOBS IN THE GARDEN >>
It’s full steam ahead in the spring garden. As soon as soil temperatures exceed 7 degrees, sowing of all veg seeds can begin in earnest. Early potatoes can be planted with a thick layer of mulch over the tops and then earthed up, or even covered with fleece, should any late frost be predicted.
Any rhubarb that was forced this year can be given a welcome feed with organic manure or a proprietary liquid feed. Rhubarb should only be forced every three years, so look out for any of this year’s stock being sold off cheaply after winter to up your rhubarb plants to at least three.
FOR ONLINE INSPIRATION >>
Please visit the Linnels Farm blog, where we will be uploading recipes, videos and at-home projects to keep people motivated and upbeat during self isolation. The first one is ‘Creating an Edible Planter’.