In the midst of Winter, whilst many herbs are resting, there is one game girl who rises again and again to the culinary occasion...
My lovely Myrtle bush in her evergreen glory, continues to grow and flourish and provide me with lots of spicy, aromatic leaves throughout the Winter.
She is easy to grow and if her leaves do get any problems, I simply prune her hard down and new bright green leaves appear.
At the moment, we have had builders outside, hence, she has a slight dusty coating but still she thrives and myself, and it seems, tiny, small spiders at least appreciate her...
Myrtle is, I feel, sadly neglected in modern day cooking which is a great, great shame. Her spicy aromatic leaves once used a lot in cooking centuries past can give so much flavour to a dish.
I use them in place of Bay Leaves to flavour a cheese sauce or to add to a soup or casserole.
If adding to a sauce, I would suggest removing them before serving but if adding to a long, slow baked casserole they can be left in as they will slowly become tender and can then be eaten.
Looking back through history, Myrtle is associated with many ancient legends and traditions in different cultures. One, for example, is her association with the Roman goddess Venus and love and as such, many a bride’s bouquets throughout the subsequent centuries, often included a sprig of Myrtle.
I have had my Myrtle now for a good few years. She was purchased originally from Jekka McVicar, who is a truly inspirational herb gardener here in the UK.
I would very strongly recommend looking at her website if you want to know anything more about herbs www.jekkasherbfarm.com
If you have an opportunity to visit her fantastic herb farm in South Gloucestershire, near Bristol, on those rare Open Days, then please do seize it! Her Workshops, which I have been fortunate to have gone to in the past, are incredibly instructive and Jekka is so very helpful and generous with advice.
My Myrtle thrives in a large pot. I find she doesn’t like gales or being overly wet. Being in a container, means I can move her around the garden to try and avoid too much wind and rain. Her favourite position by far, seems to be with her back up against a warm wall.
Back to the kitchen...
I’ll try to remember to post some more recipes later in the year for how to use the flowers and berries but for now using the leaves in a warming casserole.
Chestnut, Celeriac and Myrtle Infused Red Wine Casserole.
This is a definite Winter warmer of tasty chestnuts and root vegetables in an aromatic red wine cheesy creamy base infused with spicy myrtle.
It is really easy to throw together, leave to infuse and then to heat up later to serve to an appreciative audience...
200g whole precooked chestnuts- vacuum packed
I medium celeriac, peeled and diced
800g canned peeled tomatoes-chopped
1 large carrot-copped into batons
1 large onion-roughly chopped
1 small head of medium broccoli -chopped
A little extra British extra virgin rapeseed oil for frying
1 large glass of red wine
500ml of vegetable stock
200ml crème fraiche
12 fresh Myrtle leaves-roughly crushed to release their aromatics
1 tbsp of fresh Thyme, chopped
Grated flavoursome cheddar to garnish-as much as you desire!
In a large casserole pan, heat the oil and gently fry the chopped onion.
Once translucent, add the chopped carrot and diced celeriac and continue to fry gently. As they just start to brown, add the red wine and boil off the alcohol for a couple of minutes.
Then, add the chestnuts (chopped in half), chopped tomatoes, Myrtle leaves, Thyme and vegetable stock.
Bring to a gentle boil then turn down the heat and simmer.
At this point you could turn off the heat and allow the flavours to thoroughly meet together and infuse and then reheat later or freeze to store for another day.
When ready to cook, place the casserole dish in to the oven at 150c for approximately 45 minutes until the contents are much reduced .
Then add the chopped broccoli on top of the mixture and place a lid on top as you are almost trying to steam it to retain the colour and texture and continue cooking for approximately another 8 minutes.
Once the broccoli is cooked and it has reached that stage where all the contents are succulently thick, remove from the heat and gently and reverently stir in the crème fraiche to make an unctuous, creamy mix.
Top with a very generous serving of your favourite grated cheddar so that it melts and oozes down the sides.
You will find the tender chopped celeriac has matured wonderfully absorbing all the flavours together including the nutty chestnuts and spicy myrtle.
To make the most of the cheesy, creamy tomato sauce either serve with rice or to be truly decadent, just dunk in some crusty bread!
Very, very comforting indeed to eat on a cold evening...
I urge you please, to try to grow and cook some Myrtle now...