Hiding in plain sight is supposed to be a trick for those under cover or trying to avoid detection. On a day spent foraging with Giuseppe from the Olive Tree Cookery School it felt like many of our coastal plants and seafood have been doing the same thing. Wherever you look by the seashore (or at least with Giuseppe’s trained eye) there is an exciting ingredient to pick and liven up your plate.
Having trained and worked in a number of high end restaurants including The Criterion under Marco Pierre White, Giuseppe now runs The Olive Tree Cookery School offering a range of day and evening classes to expand your culinary repertoire. In a picture perfect part of Purbeck, The Olive Tree nestles just outside of Corfe and is a brilliant location to enjoy time learning more about food. Giuseppe is an engaging and enthusiastic host, wanting to bring his passion for the local environment and food to a wider audience.
The foraging day includes a couple of spots to pick up a variety of ingredients – first in Swanage from the sailing club round to Peveril Point and then on the marshes between the Rempstone Estate and Studland Bay. A glorious midsummer day in June was a perfect setting and we’d barely got past the sailing club and already had begun to fill our trugs with sea rocket and rock samphire. Sea rocket has a particularly bitter taste with a mustard hit to follow that mellows with a little cooking while the rock samphire is a nice addition to salads, adding a salty finish. Also added to the bag was a little sea spinach and sea aster, a kind of basic seaside green and a few handfuls of elderflower.
Clambering over the rocks around Swanage Bay, Giuseppe gave us tips on what and when to pick, as well as recipe tips for what we were harvesting. In thinking about using them in the kitchen, the many different types of seaweed took on a very different complexion, from the leathery belts of kelp to sea spaghetti and the unappealingly named, but extremely versatile, gutweed. It was good to know that all forms of seaweed are edible and a key feature of the day was Giuseppe’s main advice which is never to eat anything you’re not sure about! As well as the various plant life on and around the rocks, the winkles were also in plentiful supply so we had a couple of handfuls to try later.
The marshes to the west of Studland Bay are unexplored territory for me so it was interesting to head down there in search of sea purslane and marsh (sea) samphire, the latter a popular addition to many restaurant menus. At the edge of the marsh the samphire was extremely bountiful and coming right into season – it has some similarities with asparagus with the older stalks needing to be snapped part way down to avoid the woodier parts.
Heading back to base we pulled over on one of the small country lanes to pick up some meadow sweet flowers, similar in look to elderflower but with a buttery, almond scent to infuse the crème brulee we were having for dessert.
After the sensory overload of the foraging adventure it was back to work in the Olive Tree kitchen. Working together with Giuseppe and the other guests for the day we whipped up a quick meadow flower infused crème brulee for setting while we prepared the foraged greens and winkles and a little elderflower cordial for drinks with lunch. The sea spaghetti was a revelation, boiled for a few minutes and then tossed with the various seaside greens. Accompanying our local harvest was super fresh sea bass and dover sole, blasted under the grill for five minutes with olive oil and herbs together with a rapid fry squid and prawn combination. All delicious and then we had fun with the blow torch to finish off desert with the crunchy caramel topping.
A terrific day all round and thoroughly recommended to learn more about the local coast and produce with a knowledgeable host in a beautiful part of the world. Can’t wait to go back, perhaps for a lesson in Sicilian or Tuscan cuisine.
The Olive Tree Cookery School
The Old Barn
Cats Eye Cottage
t: 01929 477260
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