Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love in the time of borage

I'm not into doing things because some consumerist zeitgeist dictates it.

For me Valentine's Day is just one of those days when I experience a general resentment of consumerism gone mad. I hate feeling like I’m expressing my deepest care and desire because a Hallmark marketing drive says so.

I ignore it, I dismiss it, and then am vaguely surprised when someone else suggests we do something a little bit special.

The suggestion was too, too seductive: no presents, not a candlelit restaurant table or a snugly little weekend away (I love all those things, I just get ridiculously resentful when it’s expected). Just a simple dinner at home. But a special one. Details were up to me.

So I went to market on Sunday to buy ingredients for the unplanned / hastily planned Valentine’s Day dinner. In my head (and indeed, requested of me) was an entrĂ© of chervil and Moreton Bay Bug salad (so sweet. so cheap).

But when you leave things until the last minute, and don't turn up to the market until closing time, your options are limited.

No bugs. No chervil. Some frozen crayfish tails, at $65 per kg. Not going to happen. At least I got hold of a couple of duck breasts for main course.

But what there was, at my favourite grocery stall which was packing up, was a $2 table. Including the last little box of borage flowers.

Sure it's a bit twee, a floral entre for St Valentine's Day. But also intriguing - I've never used borage before. You don't see it every day. And sometimes things that look a bit romantic are a bit romantic. And sometimes there's nothing wrong with being a bit romantic.

I’d seen a recipe that had borage flowers as a garnish for bug salad. Bugs weren’t on offer, but I thought maybe another kind of sea creature might marry well. The offerings were limited, but a mountain of tiny little whitebait caught my eye, much, much smaller than I’d ever seen. Each was half an inch long at best. So. Bait and weedy looking flowers for the day of love. It is, I guess, what you make of it that matters.

I came home and consulted the archives.

According to my herb and spice compendium*, the “whole plant is covered with fine bristly hairs, conjuring a ‘don’t touch me’ demeanour”. A nice irony for Valentine’s Day for the hostile.

The Welsh name for borage is ‘llanwenlys’ which means ‘herb of gladness’, and Pliny wrote that it eliminates sadness and makes a person glad to be alive. And it really is very pretty.

The book say it has a sweet slightly cucumber-like flavour. A quick rethink resulted in cucumber and borage flower salad with little crispy whitebait fritters**.

Sous vide duck breast with creamed corn and mushroom duck sauce***.

And dessert was a variation on a mille feuille - a stack a puff pastry with hazelnut, pistachio and almond cream and fresh raspberries.

With champagne of course.

* Spice Notes by Ian Hempill
** The whitebait fritters are simple (from February Australian Gourmet Traveller) - lemon rind, 50 corn flour, 250 g fresh whitebait. Mix. Smoosh into fritter shapes. Shallow fry in hot olive oil.
*** The duck was a recipe straight out of The French Laundry Cookbook (I substituted Swiss brown mushrooms for morels, morels being both unavailable and prohibitively expensive). Page 172 if you are interested.

Borage Salad

Julienne three very small whole cucumbers. Toss with salt, and a teaspoon each of olive oil and champagne vinegar, and half a tablespoon each of finely minced salad onion and finely chopped chives. Just before serving, toss through the borage flowers (about 1/4 cup).

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