Sunday, 11 March 2012

Raucous revitalisation

The more they flew, the more noise the rooks made. Whether you can call it melody is the question I lay pondering. Gilbert White goes so far as to say 'rooks, in the breeding season attempt sometimes, in the gaiety of their hearts, to sing, but with no great success.' Most of the old bird books attempt some version of 'rude harmony', 'sweet thunder' or 'musical discord', but I prefer to think of their utterances as conversation, or the roughest of folksong. Rooks speak in the strongest of country burrs. They are rasping, leathery, parched, raucous, hoarse, strangled, deep-throated, brawling, plaintive, never reticent and, like all good yokels, incomprehensible. No doubt you could play a dead rook like a bagpipe, all drone and no melody. If you found yourself across the fields from a Somerset pub late at night at cider pressing time, you might hear something like a rookery.
Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees, Roger Deakin

At Woolstone, South Oxfordshire, there is a rookery. Of late I have fallen in love with it. I want to live underneath its branches in the chocolate box thatched cottage a lucky family own. I love the hollering of the rooks. Watching their nests sway precariously in the branches, and little young straining their necks and flapping their wings to secure food from their raucous parents, could keep me occupied for hours. It is yet another one of those beautiful sights that reminds me, spring is here. The world is preparing to be recreated. All things new are beckoning, the future is just around the corner....waiting.

This time of year begs for fresh, powerful flavours which, like the hooligan rooks, take no prisoners. Later in the spring I'll call for delicacy - lemon, tarragon and soft spring garlic - but, for now, the transition between winter comfort and summer nibbles, lies in the power of mint, anchovy, chillies, ginger, wholegrain mustard - everything and anything with a kick, ready to revitalise your taste buds. Last night we ordered a take away Indian curry to this house, and it was perfect. We had walked in the spring sunshine most of the day, and the warm spices of balti, passada and razzalla were just what the doctor ordered. This week though, I might get round to making this. I have been dreaming of it.

Roast Fillet of lamb with anchovy and mint


10g Mint
50g Anchovy Fillets
4 tbl sp Olive Oil
4 - 5 cloves new season's garlic
350g large lamb fillet
new potatoes to serve

Pull the leaves from the mint and put them in a food processor. Drain the anchovies, but do not rinse them; you want all their fishy saltiness. Put them in with the mint, together with the olive oil, the garlic and several serious grinds of black pepper. Blitz it to a slush - it should be a sort of herby slop - then scrape it in a bowl large enough to take the fillet. Roll the lamb in the paste, cover the bowl with cling film and set aside somewhere cool for a couple of hours, but preferably not quite as cold as a fridge.

Get the oven hot. Ideally it should be at 220C. Put the fillet in a roasting tin, spreading it all over with the paste. Roast for about fifteen to eighteen minutes, which will toast the outside without burning the mint, and leave the meat juicily pink within.


Leave for a few minutes to rest, then slice into thick chunks and serve with a few new potatoes. I finish the new potatoes in the oven, part boiled, crushed slightly and seasoned with rosemary, black pepper and olive oil.


1 comment:

Jackie Parkes said...

Fabulous post & blog!