As a child I was mildly fascinated with flowers. Well, OK, I was totally obsessed. Whether it was nodding bluebells in the woods or the magenta drops of my Nan’s fuchsias, I loved them all.* As I grew up I became intrigued by whether flowers could be eaten (my stock question for any new plant I encounter). It’s probably no surprise that one of the first vintage cookbooks I purchased was Flowers as Food (1934) by Florence White. Within this book I found a recipe for a Crab Salad with Marigolds which forms the basis for the recipe below. The original author, who refers to herself as an ‘Old Maid’, concludes her recipe with the following statement:
‘For marigolds should be present at the last rites of the crab that meets its end in a salad – for all to gaze upon, and not to eat.’
In truth I have to say that I don’t think the common pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) offers much in the way of flavour, at least not the ones that have self seeded in my garden. However, they make a pretty addition to any salad although I am inclined only to strew the petals over the dish rather than use entire blooms. The punch in my recipe comes from a nasturtium leaf pesto. Nasturtium leaves have a peppery taste not dissimilar to the watercress called for in the original recipe (although botanically speaking they are from different families).
It may seem like rather a lot of fuss for a simple lunch but most of the elements (besides the crostini) can made in advance so it is actually fairly quick to throw together. Incidentally, the nasturtium pesto is lovely on pasta with a few blanched French beans so feel free to make more than you actually need (it will store well in the fridge in a sealed container for a few days).
*When I was around five or six I once stripped a neighbours’ garden of all its marigolds and lobelias to adorn a pile of very uninteresting bricks in my back yard (my father was building an extension).The bricks were much improved by their colourful garland but neither the neighbours nor my parents could see the benefit of this addition. It’s the only occasion I remember being smacked with the slipper. Despite this experience, the love of flowers endured (although I did stop pilfering them from other people’s gardens).
Serves 2 as a light lunch or 4 as a starter
Ingredients for the Radish Pickle
- 4 medium radishes
- 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 2 tsp granulated sugar
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
Ingredients for the Nasturtium Pesto
- A good handful of Nasturtium leaves (c. 25g), washed
- 3 tbsp (c. 15g) finely grated parmesan
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 tbsp chopped, roasted hazelnuts
- 50ml light olive oil (or another mild oil like grape seed oil)
- Salt, pepper and lemon juice to season
Ingredients for the Crostini
- 4 thick slices sourdough bread
- Olive oil for brushing
- Salt, pepper and lemon juice to season
- 1 x 340g tin Cannellini beans, drained
- 100g white crab meat
- 1 tbsp small capers
- 2 tbsp nasturtium pesto (see above)
- 2 calendula blooms
- 60g baby salad leaves
- To make the radish pickle. Dissolve the sugar and salt in the vinegar (microwaving it for 20 seconds on 800W helps speed the process up). Thinly slice the radishes using a mandolin. Toss the radish slices in the sweet vinegar with the chilli flakes if using. Leave to marinate for at least 15 minutes or longer if possible. This pickle can be made a day ahead. The longer you leave the slices to marinate the more vivid pink the pickle will be.
- To make the pesto: Place all of the ingredients in a food processor then blitz to a smooth paste. Adjust the seasoning according to taste.
- Get a griddle really hot. Brush the sourdough slices with oil then season with salt and pepper. Griddle the bread for around two minutes on each side, pressing the slices down to achieve the griddle marks on the bread. Allow to cool before serving.
- Mix the beans, crab, capers, pesto and petals from one of the calendula blooms. Season well with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
- Top each slices of bread with a few salad leave. Divide the bean mixture between the slices then crown each mound with a little of the magenta radish pickle. Scatter the crostini with the remaining calendula petals then serve with any remaining salad leaves on the side.