Spring is peering at us over the horizon and on those clear, blue-sky days I have been able to dream of a garden full of lovely things to cook! The reality is the ‘hungry gap’ when winter vegetables run to seed and the early summer alternatives are still a long way off. However, if I look closely there is usually something I can use. Careful not to take too many I do strip some leaves from the purple sprouting broccoli to make an iron rich soup. Barely cooked, blitzed then cooled quickly to preserve the bright green colour. I like to serve this with a sourdough crouton topped with a decent local Cheddar such as Sussex Charmer.
There are the smallest new chard leaves growing from ‘Bright lights’ despite the frost and I fancy a stimulating and fresh tasting dish after a winter of warming and comforting. A hearty salad is the order of the day. The chard leaves stems sliced thinly, broad beans frozen from last year’s crop blanched. An avocado (my concession to something from far away!) and some micro herbs gently dressed with a soy based Teriyaki sauce. Topped with a piece of roasted sesame salmon.
The micro herbs pack a powerful punch. I use coriander, parsley, dill and basil. They grow on the windowsill and are harvested when the first leaves appear. Perhaps a Thai coconut soup made with coconut milk, lime juice, fish sauce and palm sugar. Adding uncooked rice vermicelli noodles straight into the soup and some shreds of leftover cooked chicken. Top with coriander micro shoots. Or perhaps a simple two egg omelette (still slightly runny in the middle!)
Turned out on a plate and topped with micro basil. Delicious!
These recent crisp clear days have also produced some fantastic local cod, to follow the local scallop season. Ice white, with really firm flesh and delicate taste, I would far prefer to have this on the occasions it is freshly landed than eat inferior cod more often.
To celebrate this wonderful fish I like to treat myself to fish fingers, prepared in moments! A light batter made using just flour, vegetable oil, sparkling mineral water and a few sesame seeds. The fish is cut into neat strips before dusting with flour, dipping in batter and frying. No need for a deep fat fryer. Just use a cube of bread to test that the oil is hot enough. Two slices of bread, some shredded lettuce and home-made tartare sauce or pea and mint puree is all you need.
As the season progresses I will enjoy being out in the countryside foraging for wild garlic which is prolific in the woods nearby (you can smell it before you see it) it makes a lovely panna cotta for a light late spring starter at a dinner or lunch party. Much of it I will preserve as pesto to stir into pasta. I like to use a range of nuts and seeds to ring the changes. Walnuts and hazelnuts are a particular favourite as are sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Alternatively the fresh leaves will be used in a ‘green’ butter to melt on a pan fried fillet of sea bass.
At this time of year people are starting to plan their celebrations and special events. Weddings, wedding anniversaries and summer parties are already filling my diary and I am particularly excited about providing small cookery classes at local venues using produce from my garden.
Enjoy the season!