I had such a good time with Martin Crawford at his forest garden this afternoon, with the sun shining through the trees; even though it was very wet underfoot and most things are still dormant, there were signs of shoots poking through. He gave me some delicious leaf that tasted like beetroot (I would have assumed it was a weed had he not been with me). He showed me the ostrich fern – just a mass of brown stalks at the moment, but soon it will be sprouting fiddleheads that can be made into scrumptious fritters.
Serves 4Ingredients: 100g (3½oz) ostrich fern shoots Vegetable oil Batter: 30g (1oz) self-raising flour 150ml (5¼fl oz) water 1 tsp olive oil 1 egg salt & pepper Dip: 200ml (7oz) Greek style yoghurt 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley 1 tbsp capers, chopped 1 tsp lemon juice
To make the dip simply add all ingredients together and stir well, then place in a dipping bowl and keep cool.
Wash and pat dry the fern shoots and trim any discoloured or tough ends.
Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and add season. Make a small dip in the middle of the flour and break the egg into the dip. Add the water and olive oil and gradually whisk the liquids into the surrounding flour until you have a smooth batter. The mixture should be quite runny to form a light and crispy coating for the fern shoots, if it seems too thick you can add more water – experiment by dipping a fern shoot into the mixture – it should cling to the fern but not smother it.
In a heavy-based saucepan add 2.5cm (1”) of vegetable oil and place over a medium heat. Add drops of batter to the oil as it heats to check the temperature. When the batter droplets begin to fizz the temperature is right, turn the heat down a little to maintain this temperature and not allow the oil to get too hot. You may need to adjust the heat as you cook.
One by one dip the fern shoots in to the batter and drop them into the oil. Have a plate with 2-3 layers of kitchen paper on top to place the fritters onto when they are done. The fritters will take only a couple of minutes to cook to a golden brown, crispy finish. Don’t over crowd the pan, so you are able to turn the fritters and keep an eye on them – they may cook at different rates depending on their size.
The kitchen paper will help to absorb excess oil and you may wish to pat them on top as well. The fritters will be very hot initially but cool down quickly and are best served fresh and hot. Quickly transfer them to a clean plate and serve with the dip as a starter or nibbles.