After a month in which I was beginning to think that I might never get out into the garden again, let alone do any gardening, and that the only option was to build an ark, the sun is finally out. Where there once was a lawn of sorts, now there’s something more resembling the jungle in Borneo. Slugs have munched their way through the runner bean plants that I rashly planted a couple of weeks ago leaving only stumps. But the salsify is spectacular.
I planted the salsify seeds nearly a year ago and have been enjoying cooking with the roots. Sometimes known as oyster plant because the roots are supposed to taste slightly of oysters. I can’t see it myself although they are delicious – slightly sweet with a silky texture. The roots look a bit like thin parsnips and they can be used interchangeably in recipes with the very similar scorzonera. Once they’ve been peeled they go brown incredibly quickly so putting them in acidulated water while you’re preparing the other ingredients is probably a good idea. The first thing I ever cooked with them was a recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall which has become a real staple in my repertoire and which is utterly delicious. So this is his recipe not mine:
45g unsalted butter
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
3 tablespoons of fresh coriander, finely chopped
1 tablespoon flour
Salt and pepper
Peel and coarsely grate the salsify. Saute the salsify in half the butter over a medium heat until softened. Mix with garlic, chilli, coriander, egg and flour in a bowl. Season and shape into six fritters. Heat the remaining butter and olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and cook until golden brown. About 4 mins on either side. Serves 2 for a light lunch.
But its not just the root you can eat, if you leave them in the ground over winter you get beautiful purple flowers in the spring, and the flower buds are utterly delicious too. It’s too simple to write down as a recipe, but if you cut the tightly furled bud (see above) along with about about 10cm of the stalk below and steam them for about 4 minutes, they are utterly delicious eaten whole like asparagus with maybe a little melted butter. I ate a plateful last night and actually think I prefer them to asparagus. They’ve got the added bonus of no unpleasant and smelly side effects when you go to the loo later!
My slightly delusional aspiration is for my garden to be a potager, with as many of the plants as possible earning their keep by being both delicious and beautiful. And for me salsify certainly ticks both boxes.