Ever wondered what happens at SFF after the schools break up, students depart Bristol for warmer (though perhaps not this year) climes and our teachers take a well - deserved break? Usually we use the enforced breather to take stock of the year gone past and look at what's in store for the next 12 months. And this year we're doing the same - but with one difference...
Barny is away.
"I’m trying to write a book", he says
"Neither am I" hollers someone from down the garden somewhere, maybe in that little copse of cobnut trees over there, hiding anyway and ready to skedaddle down the lane if I should come after him with a spade.
Eloise and Claire are happily holding the fort. It is not falling apart. They are doing a high summer clean of the storeroom and everywhere else too. And preparing for the busiest Autumn of Square Food’s life. More of that another time.
Barny is staying in a shepherds hut overlooking an orchard. You can’t see it because it is the other side of that red brick wall. More of this place another time too. Meanwhile because it is a book about food and you can really start from anywhere with food – the beginning, middle or end, all are the same to great cycle of life, I have just been up the garden to see what to have for lunch and here’s what came out of my researches.
Bruschetta of stewed bolted lettuce and fennel.
I’m not sure what’s happening chemically to a lettuce as it begins its journey towards going to seed, but one thing I do know is that its leaves become increasingly bitter to taste. And while a little bitterness in lettuce can be an appealing addition to the flavours in a salad or even on its own, it can also be quite unpleasant.
Likewise bolted fennel eaten raw is inedibly tough - fit only for the compost heap or a donkey. And yet… maybe not.
So today I found a way of combining these two well past-it products to make this very simple and surprisingly delicious dish.
Starter for 4 people
A head of bolted lettuce
1 bolted fennel bulb
red wine vinegar
juice of ¼ of an orange
salt and pepper
4 slices of good bread
Make a dressing of 2 tbs red wine vinegar, the orange juice and 4 tbs olive oil, mix well
Strip the leaves off the lettuce and wash them. There should now be just enough water on the leaves from the washing for you to cook them in without having to add more.
Put a nob of butter and a splash of olive oil in a saucepan, bring to a gentle heat, add the lettuce and a pinch of salt, put the lid back on and stew for about 8 minutes. Remove. They should be darker in colour and look like spinach. And hopefully you will have cooked out all the water. If not drain it off. Put to one side. Don’t wash the pan.
Remove the hard core, the roots and most of the fronds of the fennel completely and finely slice the rest. Put a nob of butter and a splash of olive oil in the same pan, bring to a gentle heat, add the sliced fennel, put a lid on and cook for as long is it takes for the fennel to become soft, adding a splash of water as you need to.
Toast the slices of bread, divide the lettuce and fennel onto each slice and drizzle with the dressing. Serve at room temperature.
I just ate this with some tinned sardines. Bloody lovely.
And because I cooked too much lettuce and fennel to eat on my own as a bruschetta, I sliced and cooked half an onion as well until it was soft in some butter, added the rest of the cooked old lettuce and fennel, along with some crème fraiche (how much? Lots) and a squidge of orange, cooked the whole lot for a little longer and then blitzed it until it was smooth. Delicious though a little dubious in colour.
I would love you to try these recipes for yourself and tell me what you think.
Meanwhile, for myself, I will keep plodding on with this book. Unlike food, books do need to have a beginning. I haven’t found it yet. I think it begins when I was 7. In the depths of a very cold Yorkshire winter when the lake was so frozen over you could walk on it, and when on one day the sun set in a blaze of red so fierce over the elm trees that even the crows in them became silent and when the snow had become hard like rock underfoot, the tractor ruts a foot deep, the hedges on either side of the lane long gone under the snow so that as the darkness gathered around us, we, my brothers and I past being cold, said watch out to each other and we did.
I think it was then. Coming in from such a bitter cold, through the scullery and into the kitchen to the smell of bread cooking in the oven.