If you don’t live in the countryside, Mark Diacono’s new book A Year At Otter Farm (Bloomsbury, £25) will make you want to. Packed with over a hundred recipes using fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables grown on his smallholding in North Devon, the 180-page cookbook is a celebration of good British home grown food. Food writer Diacono, who is a former environmental advisor, turns his carefully-nurtured garden bounty into simple, straightforward and beautiful dishes. And he uses some surprise ingredients you wouldn’t normally find grown on British soil.
‘My farm is the UK’s first Climate Change Farm,’ Mark explains. ‘We need to acknowledge the fact that the climate is changing. By growing things like apricots and pecans on our farm I hope I am doing my bit to ease the situation.’
Arresting climate change, Mark tells us, is not simply about being aware of the food miles that ingredients have to clock up to get to our shelves. ‘Take peaches, for example, which mainly come from the States and Italy. They’re picked two weeks before they’re ripe, then chilled until they reach the UK’s supermarket shelves before they’re allowed to ripen. Just think of all the energy consumed for this – the factory chilling process, lorries, planes, supermarket air-conditioning and fridges... My peaches get sold to local suppliers and I’m trying to do my bit in my own way.’
And it seems that Mark isn’t the only one to be turning their thoughts to this problem. Some of the big supermarkets are starting to grow their own climate-change crops too, with apricot farms in Kent and kiwi farms in Dorset.
So what can we do to reduce our own carbon food footprint at home? ‘Eat locally, ask where things are from,’ says Mark. ‘Go online and find out what fruit and veg are in season now and buy British. Grow stuff! Herbs in a pot on the windowsill are easy to grow and so much cheaper than buying a bag then forgetting about it in the fridge until it goes all slimy.’ Mark’s favourite patio or balcony ingredients are Szechuan Pepper Plant, Japanese wine berries and Society Garlic, ‘’The flowers are edible, and look lovely on salads, and you don’t get garlic breath from them either.’ And we like the sound of that!
THREE RECIPES USING BRITISH INGREDIENTS IN SEASON NOW
Elderflower & Strawberry Drop Scones
Drop scones – small plump pancakes of sorts – make a fine breakfast. Even plain, without fruit, and just ribboned with honey and cream they are fabulous. Add raisins, brandy, grated apple, regular strawberries quartered – or whatever combinations come to mind – and you’re unlikely to be disappointed. This combination is the finest I have come up with. The mini strawberries just begin to break down when the scones cook, leaching some of their juice into the batter, while the florets dissolve, leaving the ghost of their scent and flavour behind. The spelt isn’t critical – I like it for the nuttiness and substance but using all plain flour, wholemeal or a combination is perfectly fine.
For the drop scone batter:
Makes about 12 * 65g plain flour * 65g spelt flour * 1 tsp baking powder * 25g caster sugar * A pinch of salt * Up to 100ml milk * 30g butter, melted * 2 free-range eggs
To assemble and cook:
6 heads of elderflower* 2 handfuls of mini strawberries, such as Mignonettes * 2–3 tsp vegetable oil for frying
- Sift the flours and baking powder into a bowl and stir in the sugar and salt. Make a dip in the centre.
- Add 2 tbsp of the milk and the melted butter to the eggs, and beat just enough to combine. Pour into the dip in the flour and beat in. Add the rest of the milk in a trickle, beating it into the flour until the batter drops – rather than pours – from a spoon; you may not need all of it.
- Use a fork to strip the elderflower florets from their stalks and stir the florets, along with the mini strawberries, into the batter.
- Put a few drops of oil into a large frying pan, wipe them around with a crumpled piece of kitchen paper, and warm over a moderate heat.
- You will need to cook the drop scones in batches – cook 3 or 4 at a time. Lower dessertspoonfuls of the batter into the hot pan, leaving space in between to allow them to spread a little. When you see bubbles appearing through the batter, use a palette knife to turn the drop scones over. Cook for another minute or so, until golden. Remove and keep warm while you cook the rest.
- Serve the fruity drop scones warm, with yoghurt or cream.
Broad bean falafels
I love falafels of all kinds and, with or without pollock, this is the one for spring into summer. The fish works really well – it can be smoked or unsmoked, haddock or another flaky white fish – but it is by no means integral. The falafels are as good without it, just different. Although they are great with a leafy salad and relish or a salsa, I usually jam falafels into toasted pittas or wrap them in warm flatbreads, with something sharp, such as pickled chard stems or a dollop of gooseberry salsa (see below), or yoghurt with poppy seeds and mint stirred through.
Serves 4 * 400g freshly podded broad beans * ½ tsp cardamom seeds * ½ tsp cumin seeds * ¼ tsp cayenne pepper * ½ tsp coriander seeds * 3 garlic cloves, crushed * ½ small onion, finely chopped * 30g coriander leaves, finely chopped * 30g flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped * ½ tsp salt * ½ tsp baking powder * 2½ tbsp plain flour * 1 large free-range egg, lightly beaten * 200g pollock, poached and flaked (optional) * Vegetable oil for shallow-frying * 100g sesame seeds
- Unless you’re using the smallest freshest broad beans, you’ll need to lightly cook the beans until just tender. Place them in a pan, just cover with water and bring to a gentle boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, then drain.
- Meanwhile, lightly toast the spices in a dry pan over a medium heat to intensify their flavour. Zap to a coarse powder in a coffee grinder, or pound using a pestle and mortar.
- Put the broad beans, garlic, onion and herbs in a food processor and blitz until smooth.
- Add the ground spices, salt, baking powder and flour to the food processor and pulse until well combined. Add the egg and pulse until incorporated. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the pollock if using. Cover and refrigerate for an hour.
- Slowly heat a 2–3cm depth of vegetable oil in a wide pan to 170°C, or until a cube of bread dropped into the oil browns all over in a minute or so. Adjust the heat if need be.
- Shape the bean mixture into balls, roughly the size of golf balls, then roll each in sesame seeds to coat. Fry in small batches for 8–10 minutes, turning until evenly golden. Drain the falafels on kitchen paper.
I’m indecently proud of this recipe. My wife is no great fan of home smoked mackerel or very sharp/sour food, but she loves the combination of mackerel and this salsa. It works beautifully with smoked or grilled fillets and I guess it would be a fine partner to goose, duck or pork too.
4 tbsp caster sugar * 3 tbsp white wine vinegar * 150g gooseberries, topped and tailed * 3 shallots, finely sliced * Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime * A small handful of mint, finely shredded * A small handful of chives, chopped * 2 lovage leaves, very finely chopped* Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Put the sugar, wine vinegar, a good pinch of salt and a few twists of pepper into a pan and bring slowly to a simmer.
- Add the gooseberries to the pan and cook gently, stirring frequently, for a couple of minutes only – you don’t want the fruit to soften. Take off the heat and allow to cool.
- Stir in the shallots, lime zest and juice, and the chopped herbs. Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours or more before serving to allow the flavours to mingle.
<A YEAR AT OTTER FARM BY MARK DIACONO, BLOOMSBURY BOOKS, £25)