leftovers and preserving – my January kitchen

I know preserving doesn’t seem the most likely kitchen activity for the middle of winter but even while I’m making leftover meals (I still have turkey stock for risottos, turkey in the freezer, slow-cooked red cabbage and a lot of Christmas cake) I’m dreaming about Spring/Summer meals. Thanks to the ham and chorizo that’s air-drying next to our wood-store.



In December I bought a pig from a friend who has a small farm, partly so that we could make good use of the cage Guy made (when we had 3 Berkshire pigs to clear the garden) for protecting ham while it hangs outside. We hang it from rafters at the back of our house, under a covered area where the ham can still benefit from wind but stay protected from rain – or snow if we have any. I salt a leg of ham for a couple of weeks first, then wipe it and wrap for hanging as here.

We also made sausages, a plain English style sausage and fresh chorizo. I’d bought hog casings for sausage and salami previously from Weschenfelder and borrowed a friend’s sausage-making equipment. This time I was very excited when Weschenfelder offered to let me try out their sausage-making machine – it meant I could have several sessions of making sausage and chorizo. Ruby was also very keen to get involved so we had a couple of sausage-making fests after school. Thankfully the machine is really easy to assemble and use, perfect for a clumsy Mum and an 8 year old!

Along with the leftover meat going into noodle dishes and Indonesian influenced Nasi Goreng type dinners, the odd toad in the hole or sausage and mash is going to make an appearance amongst the copious January frugal/healthy lentil and egg based dishes.


In my kitchen at the moment there’s also:

-Experimentation for Cowboy style campfire dinners for the Giffords Circus competitionfor this year’s tour of the Cotswolds (a must on my list of things to do for 2016). We’re thinking home-made baked beans (that pig may come in handy here too), cornbread, puds with maple syrup?

– Some lovely Farmers hand-cream that I have to hand. I love the fact that it’s made by the sea in North Wales (already planning a holiday to this wonderful coast for this Summer) and uses lavender grown on a hill farm in mid Wales.


– Lots of enamel ware, including a great little saucepan that I had for Christmas. Earmarked for camping trips this year (I really want to try the Elderflower Orchard at Thistledown Farm this year), in the meantime it’s made warming my milk for morning coffee very pleasurable and has been used for an extra batch of cranberry sauce.


-Plenty of slow cooking on the wood-burning stove. It’s been used to make the red cabbage and cranberry sauce and seems perfect for slowly simmering stews and casseroles from Gennaro Contaldo’s ‘Slow Cook Italian’ one of my current favourite cookery books that I’m enjoying cooking my way through. Pheasant Ragu tonight.

Bubbling away

Not too many New Year resolutions for me but plenty of things I’m full of enthusiasm for cooking and eating this year and so many places I can’t wait to explore.

Would love to link this post in with In My Kitchen, previously hosted by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial and now by Maureen of Orgasmic Chef. I love the glimpses of other people’s kitchens around the world offered by IMK, and look forward to more beautiful, inspirational and inspiring posts from Celia, Sally of My Custard Pie and many others.




goose eggs, air-dried ham and asparagus

Boiled eggs and soldiers are firm favourites in this house. And at this time of year the best soldiers have to be asparagus, with the rich abundant yolks of goose eggs perfect for dipping.


Not the most patient of cooks when it comes to fiddly sauces, I have to admit to not being a hollandaise expert. So I love the idea from Alex at Dale Cottage Diaries idea that if you add a drop of vinegar to the egg yolk of a soft boiled egg, it makes an easy hollandaise substitute.

I was also inspired by Rusty Pig at Ottery St Mary when we visited Mazzard Farm recently. Rusty Pig were cooking a Saturday night feast for a group of partying farmers when I popped in. The feast started with an ‘edible table’ where everyone could tuck into a spread of proscuitto style ham (from free-range pigs reared at local smallholdings), goose eggs and asparagus.

We don’t have geese, but are lucky to have a couple of great farmshops just down the hill with us. The goose egg season is short and obviously asparagus isn’t around for long too. So I was very excited that it coincided with our air-dried ham being ready too.

The air-dried ham from our pigs had been hanging in a cage in our open woodshed – protected from the worst of the elements (and inquisitive animals) but with wind able to dry it. We were still nervous when we unwrapped it from its muslin, wondering if we had a foodie treat or a mouldy mess on our hands. Amazingly it was the former.

It’s quite strong tasting, pretty salty and best savoured in thin slivers. I’ve added it sparingly  to risottos, frittata with goats cheese and it’s adding a lot of flavour to countless meals.

The saltiness goes perfectly with fresh asparagus and the richness of egg yolks. This isn’t a recipe, more of an idea. But I boil goose eggs for about 7 minutes for a nicely runny yolk. The asparagus is steamed for a few minutes and everyone can help themselves – wrapping slivers of air-dried ham around the asparagus if they like and dipping the ‘soldier’ into an egg. It’s worth varying it with purple sprouted broccoli dipped in soft boiled eggs too. All you need is some good bread and butter and this is such an easy but lovely treat of a supper.





air dried ham and wild greens

As I rinsed off the ham that I’d been salting ready for air-drying, I caught sight of the still vivid green chard leaves in the garden. Reminds me that there are some mixed Italian leaves that I grew for salad that may be a bit large and on the bitter side now for salad, but could be great wilted with chard and mixed with parmesan and ricotta for a ravioli filling.

A lot of my favourite recipes stem from the ‘Cucina Povera’ tradition and what with the salami hanging over my head as I go to collect logs for the woodburner from the covered porch, I’m starting to feel quite like an Italian peasant.

Then a glance at the tub of ricotta reminds me how excited I was this summer when a Waitrose opened 15 minutes away. Well, it used to be a long drive to get to any supermarket. Now I can buy parmesan and ricotta without losing a couple of hours of precious time. Okay, I feel a fraud.

I also feel very lucky that these days we’re able to dip into the ‘Cucina Povera’ traditions of so many cultures. This way of rustling up tasty, nutritious meals from whatever modest offerings nature offers has resulted in so many of my favourite dishes. From Ligurian pasta fillings to Indian curries (from whatever our garden offers), Moroccan tajines, Asian noodles and Spanish rice dishes.

What with the greens and the prosciutto style air-dried ham I’m attempting it’s the Ligurian recipes I’m thinking of at the moment.  One of my favourite areas of Italy, Liguria is a rugged strip of land wedged between mountains and sea. Partly because the terrain makes large-scale farming difficult, Ligurians are incredibly resourceful at making the most of the local vegetation. There are few flat plains for growing grain or rearing livestock and the fertile valley bottoms tend to be used for the cultivation of flowers that give the Riviera dei Fiori its name. So the Ligurians have become adept at growing delicious food in their ortos (small areas of land, often just outside their villages) and supplementing it with wild food.

This preoccupation is part of the “di magro” cooking tradition, a way of rustling up tasty, nutritious results from whatever modest offerings nature offers and it evolved during times of poverty. Of course, with a lot more sunny weather to help their ortos along than us British gardeners are used to, nature’s offerings are hardly meagre. Try nutritious home-grown and wild greens in a Torta Verde, as a filling for Pansotti con Preboggion (“big belly” pasta) or mixed with ricotta for ravioli di magro, and you’d have to agree it’s a good thing that the “di magro” tradition has persisted in more prosperous times.

My garden may not exactly be a sun-drenched orto, in fact it looks pretty bare at the moment. Yet the number of family meals that it provides still amazes me. I’m starting to get excited thinking about next year’s planting already and wondering what will go with the air-dried ham that should be ready in 6 months or so. I’ve protected my globe artichokes with fleece and mulch this year, hoping they’ll make it through. And young broad beans should go well with my chorizo and prosciutto style ham, I must plant lots.

With all this Italian inspiration, couldn’t resist browsing Franchi seeds. Their broad bean seeds come with a reminder of Pasta con fave and have me dreaming of broad bean pasta with plenty of parmesan, parsley, maybe mint and slivers of my ham. These borlotti pods look so beautiful too don’t they.

This is how I’ve attempted to cure the ham so far, will keep you posted. All my meat curing so far has mainly been based on Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s The River Cottage Cookbook, internet research and advice from Alex at Flora’s Posts.

Air-dried Ham (Proscuitto style – I hope!)

Preparing the ham – I used one leg of very free-range (they rooted around a big area of our garden) Berkshire pig. Luckily our nearest butcher, in Mickleton, was able to tunnel bone the leg. This means you can put salt easily inside the ham (reducing the risk of it going rotten) without having the hassle of sewing it up. Apparently tunnel-boning is a very skilled task, worth asking your butcher to do if you’re planning air-drying.

Salting – I took a large plastic storage container with a lid, then found another smaller plastic container that fitted inside standing on a block. We drilled holes in the smaller container for drainage then poured salt in a 2cm thick layer at the bottom of it. Having rubbed salt inside the ham, I placed it on the bed of salt and covered in more salt, so it was covered all over by about 2cm. A piece of wood went on top of the salt, then a weight. We put the lid on the larger container and left it in an unheated, cool room for the liquid to drain. Ours salted for about a month. basically you need to allow no fewer than 3 days per kilo and no more than 4 – 4 is safer but may result in a salty ham. I’m assuming the salty ham will be used sparingly for salty flavour anyway.

Hanging the ham – I washed off the salt, wiped it all over with a piece of muslin dipped in cider vinegar, then wrapped tightly in a double layer of muslin. It now has to hang in a cool, well-ventilated place for four to six months. Wind is good, but it must be protected from rain and hungry wild animals. Remembering the footprints in our garden last time we had snow, I’m very aware that once we go to bed, a wide variety of creatures appear to party around our house. So we made a protective cage, with a wooden lid but wire sides that will hopefully let the wind in but keep everything else out.

Will let you know in the Spring when I unwrap if I have a lovely prosciutto or a rotten mess. Fingers crossed.


photo of wild greens ravioli at the top is by Foto Archivio Agenzia in Liguria.