It’s a bit early in the year to be talking about harvesting seeds – surely that’s an autumn activity. But the sweet cicely has already flowered and is now bearing long green seeds.
I only discovered that the seeds were edible this spring… I’m a bit of a newcomer to growing sweet cicely and hadn’t used the leaves before last year. The unripe seeds have a gently sweet, aniseedy flavour. Jekka McVicar’s Complete Herb Book suggests adding them to fruit salads, or chopping them into ice cream.
Using the green seeds in the kitchen will leave fewer to ripen on the plant and then scatter themselves about. Which should mean fewer seedlings to rehome next year. Added flavour and weed control in one.
So, what to do with this newly discovered ingredient from the garden? Certain members of the family aren’t too keen on aniseed as a flavour but, taking the ice cream idea as inspiration, I thought stirring some chopped seeds into mascarpone cheese might be acceptable. The mascarpone was to be used as a filling for a tart, and topped with gently roasted grapes. I’d been wanting to try roasted grapes since I saw a recipe for roasted grape bruschetta in Polpo. The roasting softens the grapes and brings out the flavour – definitely something I’ll be doing again.
Roasted grape tartlets
(makes 4 tartlets)
For the pastry:
60g caster sugar
100g plain flour
25g ground almonds
small pinch of salt
85g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
For the filling:
1 tbsp unsalted butter
about 40 red seedless grapes
150g mascarpone cheese
1 tsp finely chopped green sweet cicely seeds
finely grated zest of ½ an unwaxed lemon
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp icing sugar
Preheat to oven to 180oC, 350F, gas 4. Grease four 9cm (3 ½”) diameter tart tins.
To make the pastry, mix the sugar, flour, ground almonds and salt in a bowl. Add the cooled butter and stir to bring everything together and form a ball of soft dough. Tip the dough out onto a work surface and divide into four evenly sized pieces. Put one piece of pastry into each of the tart tins and push it out gently to cover the base and sides of the tin. Bake the tart cases in a preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, until the pastry is just starting to turn a light golden brown. Take care not to over bake.
To roast the grapes, melt the butter in an ovenproof dish then add the washed grapes, swirling the dish around a bit to coat each grape in butter. Roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until the grapes are softening and starting to get a darker colour.
While the pastry and grapes are cooling, mix together the mascarpone, sweet cicely seeds, lemon zest and juice, and icing sugar. Taste to check the flavours – add more chopped seeds, lemon or sugar if needed.
Remove the pastry cases from the tart tins. Assemble the tarts by spreading ¼ of the flavoured mascarpone over the base of each pastry case and topping with about 10 grapes for each tart.
I’m pretty sure these tarts would also work very well with a roasted rhubarb topping. If I had a rhubarb plant that had produced more than a single stick of rhubarb, I would have tested this idea… maybe next year. What fruit topping would you add?