May 5th 2013 – Slugs and snails and a Jack Russell’s tail

The weather was fine for the Fête de St. Georges, the dragon was slain, good triumphed over evil.  Now I’m not sure how much I can read into this but certainly there are a few battles in the garden which I fight every year and some I just can’t.

We have two natural ponds and these, despite the best efforts of the Gendarme, as the heron is known, there is a lot of noise.  It keeps Marie-Rose awake at night and every year we symbolically devour a plate of Cuisses de grenouilles.  I can take it or leave it, but for Marie-Rose it is revenge, pure and simple.  Not that the frogs we eat come from the pond.  We can’t win the battle and quite frankly, there should be no battle to be fought.  Peaceful coexistence is called for, even if the frogs have a different view on ‘peace’.  Besides, they are useful.

Other battles include the one against bindweed.  I confess.  I do spray it from time to time, using a little plastic cone to stop the chemical being blown around on reaching other plants or even the soil.  This is not so much a battle but a campaign of attrition.  Each year there is less but I must be vigilant.

There is the fight against slugs too.  This year has seen their numbers reduced and I thank the chickens who gladly eat the larva when exposed by the clearing the grass etc at the foot of my raised beds.  I’m sure that the frogs eat some but I can accept that I am kidding myself here.  What they, and the pipistrelle do, is to hoover up mosquitos and their larvae, to such an extent that we hardly ever see them in the house.

I have also been hand-pollinating my apple trees.  I bought a new one this year, a Belgian variety called Reinette de Waleffe, as one of my trees was in flower much before the others in the area.  There seem very few pollinators about at the moment so I must do it myself.  The shape of things to come I guess.

Now slugs are homeless snails, and when I see the fresh, crisp dandelion leaves all around, I hanker after snail risotto.  The dandelion leaves are free, but I do recommend that you search out the biggest ones.

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Many people are worried about dog wee contamination, so I use one of these:

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I find a big patch of dandelions, off the beaten path, and call Cooper over.  If he doesn’t sniff and wee on them then I’m sure no other dog has either.  It’s not quite like having a truffle hound but hey.

Washed and picked over we get:

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Snail, mushroom and dandelion risotto

Other ingredients you’ll need are:

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The cheese you see is Cornish Yarg wrapped in Wild Garlic leaves.  I always thought Yarg was a real old Cornish word, maybe Cornish for ‘jolly tasty cheese’ or some such.  In fact it is the cheesemaker’s name backwards.  If you don’t have any then use what you like, although garlic is necessary somewhere so add a finely chopped clove to the lardons and mushrooms later.  You’ll also need some hot stock, chicken, veal or vegetable.  A litre should be ample, so long as you haven’t over-estimated the amount of rice.  Which I do.

Firstly ensure that you have nothing else to do for 30 minutes.  Risotto demands your full attention.  So, finely chop the shallot and fry gently in some bacon fat if you have some.  If not, use whatever you prefer and contemplate frying some lardons of bacon to add later.  Add half the butter and enough rice for two.  Continue to fry gently until the rice starts to become opaque – do not let brown.  Add the wine and cook off the alcohol.  Now start adding the stock, a ladle at a time, waiting for all the liquid to be absorbed before adding the next. Stir as you go.  This is important but don’t be vigorous. In a separate pan fry sliced mushrooms gently in some butter (with the lardons if using) and when ready (10 minutes) add the snails.  Keep warm. When the rice is just right, ie, you are happy to eat it, add the snails and mushrooms and warm through for a moment.  In with the cubed cheese and dandelions:

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Taste, season, add the remaining butter, stir once and serve.  You won’t have forgotten to warm some plates, of course.

© Bob Cavanagh, 2013, http://www.deliciouslydifferent.be