Spring is fully under way here in the hills of rural Somerset. Everything is fresh, green and hopeful. The first of the orchard blossom is decorating the plum and cherry trees, swathes of wild garlic line the stream, and masses of feathery young nettles have appeared along the hedgerows.
Our gaggle of six geese spend their days snacking on the cheerful yellow dandelions that blanket the lawn, and padding through the flowerbeds looking for comfy spots to sit and lay. The garden is dotted with their scraggly nests of twigs, leaves and moss, and we are overrun with enormous chalk-white goose eggs.
The first shoots of new growth are appearing in our kitchen garden too, but there isn’t much to harvest quite yet, save for a few herbs and asparagus spears. But we really want to make something with the wild food we have in our garden right now. So, this recipe combines foraged wild garlic leaves, bitter dandelion leaves, and nettles, which thankfully lose their sting in the cooking process and take on a delicious spinach-like flavour. There’s also a covering of rich, custardy goose egg and sharp cheddar. Plus a buttery pastry spiked with fresh chives. The result is a delicious and generous-sized tart for the dinner table.
Wild Garlic, Nettle, Dandelion and Goose Egg Tart
For the pastry
- 150 g wholemeal plain flour
- 100 g plain white flour
- 1 pinch sea salt
- 125 g unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
- chives, a small handful, finely chopped
- 40 g mature cheddar cheese, finely grated
- 1.5 tbsp cold water
- 1 small chicken egg, lightly beaten
For the filling
- 2 goose eggs (or 5 large chicken eggs)
- 200 ml whole milk
- 10 tbsp plain yoghurt
- 1 pinch sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 100 g young stinging nettle leaves
- 1 knob unsalted butter
- 40 g young dandelion leaves
- 60 g wild garlic leaves
- 100 g cheddar
First make the pastry. Sift the flours and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and lightly rub it into the flour until the mix looks like fine breadcrumbs. Gently fold in the chives and grated cheddar. Sprinkle over the cold water and stir it into the pastry along with the beaten egg. Bring the mixture together to form a green-flecked dough and shape it into a ball, leaving the bowl clean.
Roll out the pastry into a rectangle and use it to line a butter-greased, shallow baking tray or tart tin (about 35cmx25cm). Prick the base with a fork a few times, then put in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes.
Lightly beat the goose eggs in a jug. Remove the pastry from the fridge and brush the inside with some of the beaten egg, before popping it in the oven and baking for 15 minutes until lightly cooked and dry to the touch. If it puffs up a little during cooking, lightly prick it with a fork again and gently push down to deflate it (we learnt this tip for blind baking without beans from Delia Smith's website).
Meanwhile stir the milk and yoghurt into the goose eggs and season with a generous pinch of sea salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.
Bring a deep-sided pan of water to the boil and drop in the nettles. Simmer for a few minutes until they are wilted and are cooked through. Drain and leave to cool before squeezing out any excess water from the leaves. Reuse the same pan to melt a generous knob of butter over a medium heat, add the dandelion leaves and cook for a couple of minutes before throwing in the wild garlic leaves, which will wilt almost immediately. Once the dandelion and wild garlic leaves are cooked, stir in the drained nettles and season with salt and pepper.
Scatter the cooked greens evenly over the base of the pastry case, then sprinkle over the grated cheddar and pour over the egg mixture. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes until puffed up, cooked through and blistered golden.
We are always extra careful when foraging ingredients for cooking. We never pick anything that we can’t identify and, if unsure, we consult the advice of our guide books. We particularly like the River Cottage handbooks, by John Wright, who pens his words in a way that is easy to understand, knowledgeable, and full of good humour. River Cottage Handbook No.7: Hedgerow, covers all of the wild ingredients in this recipe. Luckily nettles, dandelions and wild garlic are some of the easiest plants to identify and come in plentiful quantity at this time of year. However, our wild garlic grows close by to the poisonous hemlock water-dropwort and lords and ladies plants, and although the leaves look very different, a lapse in concentration when picking could make dinner time most unpleasant, so we always exercise extreme caution.