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Doing some weeding in the garden over the weekend, I’ve realised that there isn’t a single border that doesn’t have wild marjoram growing in it.  From a few plants, it’s quickly spread to colonise the entire garden.  But I’m not complaining – I can use the leaves in the kitchen, and the flowers pull in the local wildlife and are good for cutting to add to summer bouquets.  So, apart from being an attractive addition to the border, that’s three reasons to have marjoram in the garden.

Wild marjoram 2

Marjoram is originally from Mediterranean areas, but is obviously very adaptable.  It doesn’t just cope with the worst that the Yorkshire weather can throw at it, but seems to thrive here.  As well as wild marjoram (Origanum vulgare), I grow Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare subsp. hirtum ‘Greek’) for cooking with, and have Gold tipped marjoram (Origanum vulgare ‘Gold Tip’) and a variegated variety for their looks.

Gold tipped marjoram

Like a lot of herbs that have a long association with man, it’s had a wide range of uses over time.  One of my favourite oregano stories is related to its use as an antidote to poison.  Aristotle observed that after eating a snake, tortoises would immediately eat some oregano which he assumed was to prevent them dying from the effects of the snakes venom.  On this basis he suggested that oregano be used to treat cases of poisoning.  I’m not in any way recommending this method of treating poisoning – there are probably better alternatives available nowadays…

Variegated oregano

I’ve not been very adventurous with marjoram or oregano in the kitchen – pizzas and tomato sauces have been about the extent of their uses so far.  But this is all going to change, largely because eating it might be the only way to keep its growth in check.  So first up is a cheese and onion tart flavoured with fresh Greek oregano leaves and some young chives too.

Onion, herb and cheese tart

This is my offering for June’s Herbs on Saturday over at Lavender and Lovage.  I don’t remember which month it was I made my first entry for this challenge, but I reckon it can’t be far off a year ago – and I’m still enjoying it… thanks Karen!

Herbs on Saturday for June: Cooking with Herbs Challenge - Win a Pot of Culinary Lavender Grains

And then there’s a new recipe challenge too – Cheese, Please! hosted by Fromage Homage.  June’s cheese is one of my favourites – Cheshire, so I couldn’t pass up an excuse to cook with it.

Fromage Homage

Cheese, onion & herb tart

For the pastry –

250g plain flour

pinch of salt

125g unsalted butter, straight from the fridge

1 large egg, beaten

about 4-5tbsp icy cold water

For the filling –

2 medium red onions, chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

freshly grated nutmeg

125g Cheshire cheese, crumbled

a handful of fresh herbs (oregano and chives work well), finely chopped

100ml double cream

100ml semi-skimmed milk

3 eggs

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Make the pastry in advance, to give it time to chill before using.  Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl, then grate in the butter (it makes the grating easier if you dunk the butter in the flour once in a while).  Gently mix the butter through the flour, breaking up any clumps and making sure it’s evenly distributed.

Add the egg and a little of the water.  At first you can stir the egg and water in with a spoon, but after a while it may be easier to use your hands.  You want to use as little water as possible – just enough to bring the dough together, so add the water a little at a time and mix through gently until you have a ball of pastry that is just holding together.  Wrap the pastry tightly in clingwrap or greaseproof paper and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

While the pastry is chilling, heat the oil in a pan and cook the onions over a medium heat until they are tender and becoming translucent.  A long slow cooking brings out the sweet flavour of the onions, so give them 10 or 15 minutes to cook gently.  Remove them from the heat and stir in a good grating of nutmeg.

Preheat the oven to 190oC, 375F, Gas 5 and grease a 20cm flan tin.

Roll out the pastry and line the base of the tin.  Toss the crumbled cheese and chopped herbs together and use half of the mixture to cover the bottom of the flan.  Add the onions on top of the cheese, then the remaining cheese over this.

Beat the eggs, cream and milk together until completely mixed, and season with a little salt and pepper.  Pour this over the cheese and onion in the flan.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes – the egg mixture should be just set, and the top a nice golden brown.

We ate slices of flan with boiled new potatoes coated in butter and parsley, and peas cooked with mint… but it would be just as good with a tomato salad and some fresh, crusty bread.

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