Chef Peter Gilmore calls his garden his place of ‘wonderment and imagination'. He grows heirloom vegetables in long raised garden beds, and these are tasted at many stages of their development... sometimes delicate buds, sometimes the flowers or leaves. If something is delicious, it's then grown on a bigger scale for use in his restaurants.
During an early morning visit, I tasted Mexican day lilies that have a pleasant leek-like flavour, their petals like a textured butter lettuce; a golf ball–sized kohlrabi so small and sweet and crunchy; purple peas and pea flowers. It gave a context to the many textures, tastes and temperatures that Peter likes to build into a salad. The combination of pretty, light, crispy artichoke ‘petals' with Parisian carrots, the crunch of toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and nuts, the complexity of the sherry dressing, creamy cheese, puréed carrot... all shout elegance and perfect balance at the same time.
100 g unsalted butter
1/2 onion, diced
1 white celery stalk, diced
1 garlic clove, finely diced
300 g medium sized carrots, diced
750 mL vegetable stock
300 mL good quality dry sherry
150 g caster (superfine) sugar
50 mL sherry vinegar
1 L sunflower oil
8 small purple artichokes
150 g sheep or goat feta
100 g smoked almonds, lightly toasted
40 g pepitas (pumpkin seeds), lightly toasted
100 mL extra-virgin olive oil
16 peeled baby Parisian carrots, blanched and halved lengthways
16 nasturtium leaves
16 ice plant tips
16 pea flowers
Melt 50 g of the butter in a saucepan. Lightly sweat the onion, celery and garlic together (you do not want them to colour). Add the carrots and the vegetable stock. Cook at a medium simmer until all the stock has evaporated and the vegetables are soft. Place in a food processor with the remaining butter and blend until it forms a fine purée. Pass through a drum sieve, then season to taste with salt. Refrigerate until required.
Place the dry sherry and the sugar in a small saucepan and mix until the sugar is dissolved. Place the pan over high heat until the sugar and sherry starts to caramelise. You will notice a slight change in colour and a caramel aroma. At this stage carefully add the sherry vinegar, which will help to release the caramel. Bring back to the boil and turn off immediately. Allow the sherry caramel to cool completely.
Heat the sunflower oil to 180°C. Using a sharp knife or a bread knife, cut the top third off the artichoke head and discard. With your hands peel back the outer artichoke leaves to expose the softer inner artichoke leaves. Separate the softer artichoke leaves and place them in acidulated water (lemon juice and water). Peel the artichoke stems and bases and slice finely. Add these to the leaves in the acidulated water. In small batches, dry the leaves well on a tea towel (dish towel) and fry until golden brown. Drain the artichoke leaves and sliced stems on paper towel. Put aside until required.
To assemble the dish, crumble the goats cheese feta onto your serving plate. Lightly dress the almonds and pepitas with some of the olive oil and lightly season with sea salt. Spread the almonds and pepitas over the feta. Add half of the blanched Parisian carrots. Dress this liberally with the sherry caramel dressing. Pipe small dots of carrot puree all over the salad. Top the salad with the crisp artichoke leaves. Garnish with the remaining carrots, the nasturtium leaves, ice plant and flowers. Sprinkle with sea salt and a drizzle of the remaining
olive oil. Serve.
Tip: Make the sherry vinegar dressing and puréed carrot in advance and if you want that restaurant look, put them in piping bags.
Credits: This is an edited extract from Food Safari: Earth Fire Water by Maeve O’Meara published by Hardie Grant Books insert RRP $60 and is available in stores nationally.