G&G has switched off the hob, folded away the tea towels, watered the greenhouse and has gone on a study trip this week.

I’m at River Cottage on the Devon/Dorset border to learn some new tricks and attempting to earn my keep by helping out in the kitchen in exchange. So far I think the exchange might be more in my favour than in theirs since I seem to be exposed to so many new ideas every day that it’s hard to keep track. (Earnestness klaxon: this post may see a departure from my usual tone or restraint, it really is a cook’s idyll down here and I’m liable to gush. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.) Here are a few of the highlights so far.

Chorizo

I’ve made chorizo mix before using this River Cottage chorizo recipe, but I’ve never had the facilities, or know-how to do the sausage making part. Turns out that, apart from being hopelessly suggestive in a proper Carry On Kitchen way, it’s remarkably straight forward. We used them to make super cute mini hotdogs for canapés.

Nettle Porridge

RCHQ porridge

I love a weed. Regulars may remember the weed kiev last year. And of course the weed pizza the year before. But nettle porridge was a new one on me. It’s fair to say that pinhead oatmeal, nettle and savoury porridge might be a hard sell back home at G&G Towers (Mr G&G might have another one of his weed supper related mutinies) but with the help of a cracking pork stock, Gill Meller made it into a really stunning spring lunch on Saturday. Here is my approximation of the recipe he demonstrated in the class:

Serves 2

  • 2 spring onions
  • 1 glove garlic
  • Slug of white wine
  • 100g pinhead oatmeal
  • Approx 500ml pork stock
  • 2 (gloved) handfuls of nettles
  • Feta type of cheese (we used Homewood pickled ewe’s cheese which was knockout)
  • Peashoots, broad bean shoots, edible flowers and other things pretty

This is essentially like making a risotto, but using oatmeal instead of arborio rice. The same principles apply – add the liquid a little at a time and always keep stirring.

Begin by chopping the spring onion and crushing the garlic.  Sweat them both down in a little oil over a gentle heat. Whilst that’s doing its thing, pick the leaves from the nettles and blanch them briefly in boiling water. This cooks them and removes the sting. Whizz the nettles to a puree in a blender, season and set aside.

Next, pour a good slug of wine into the spring onions and bring to the boil. Add the oatmeal to the pan and start stirring. As the oatmeal soaks up the liquid, add a ladle of pork stock and continue stirring. Keep going until the oatmeal is thick, porridge-like and soft. You want a bit of bite left in it though, just as you would with risotto rice. When it’s cooked, stir in the nettle puree, season to taste and serve with the flowers, shoots and cheese scattered artlessly atop the porridge. Perfect.

Drop Scones

RCHQ drop scones

On arrival, guests are welcomed to River Cottage with a cuppa and a nibble – how civilised. For veg course guests on Monday we made yogurt with rhubarb puree and oranges served with drop scones. I’ve often seen drop scone recipes, thought how lovely they looked, made a mental note to make them at the next brunching opportunity, and then promptly consigned them to the archives, never to be recalled. No more! There will now be no brunch but drops scones. For the recipe click here: River Cottage drop scone recipe.

What’s so refreshing about the food here is that it’s totally of the land. The menus are inspired entirely by what this beautiful Devonshire valley has to offer – the flowers in the veg patch, the nettles in the ditch, the meat from the pigs up the hill, the mould in the air that cures the bacon. And nothing is wasted – leek tops are saved for stock, ends of bacon are used in terrines (more of which later this week), spare beets go to make sorbet (again, more later). It makes for a pretty confusing fridge, but it shows a respect for the ingredients and a loathing of waste that is genuinely impressive. It feels very natural. Very traditional. Very honest. And very, very good fun.

(Incidentally, thanks to the very talented Nick Hook Photography for the non-Instagram picture.)