Archive for the 'spring' Category

Goodbye winter, hello spring

Spring is finally here, and I’m back blogging. I don’t deal very well with winter, so decided to take a break from this little corner of the web; I wasn’t feeling very inspired and B. ended up cooking for most of the season. But now I am back and full of ideas – and, most importantly, feeling excited about food again.

When produce that has been absent for so many months comes back into season, it really does feel like I’m welcoming back old friends. I was so happy to get hold of some purple sprouting broccoli (finally!) and wild garlic this week – two signs that spring has finally sprung.

I had great plans to experiment with PSB this year, but because the season is so short, when it came down to it I had to have purple sprouting broccoli with cream (courtesy of Nigel Slater). Possibly my favourite dish ever, I have now had it three times in two weeks!

As well as having a fantastic mild garlic aroma, ramsons (as wild garlic is also known) adds great colour and vibrancy to many dishes, including soups, omelettes and salads.

After last year’s risotto, I decided to try something new with my wild garlic, even if it was still on the Italian theme. Pesto is so simple and seems to be a popular way to use up wild garlic, so I decided to give it a go myself and branch out from the classic basil variety I usually knock up.

I warn you now, this stuff is potent – you and your house will smell of garlic but it is totally worth it. I added some basil leaves to temper the flavour, and used a grassy tasting good-quality olive oil.

The resulting pesto was, as you would expect, very garlicky, and had quite a kick to it. I stirred it into gnocchi and these little potato dumplings were the perfect partner, adding substance while allowing the wild garlic flavours to sing. I found this pesto to be a fantastic alternative to basil, plus I didn’t get the usual indigestion I have following a particularly garlicky meal – bonus!

There was enough pesto leftover to turn into a fish stuffing the following day. To bulk it out I added a bunch of fresh parsley and coriander, capers and a couple of anchovy fillets to turn it into a pesto/salsa verde filling for mackerel. The flavours were a perfect foil for the oily fish; it was a fantastic spring lunch served with potato salad and fresh bread rolls.

All in all, this is a fantastic, simple sauce that heralds the arrival of a new season. Goodbye winter, hello spring!

Wild garlic pesto
90g wild garlic leaves, washed and roughly chopped
2 big handfuls of basil leaves
20g pine nuts, toasted
65g Parmesan, grated
Extra-virgin olive oil

1. Pound the wild garlic leaves and basil in a pestle and mortar (or in a food processor). Add the pine nuts, Parmesan and continue to pound/process.
2. Pour in enough olive oil to make a fairly loose consistency but not completely runny and season with sea salt and black pepper.

Better late than never

I’ll keep this post fairly short and sweet (much like what I baked for this post) since I have left this so late in the week. Despite having a four-day weekend, I have been rushed off my feet, but better late than never!
Easter is the time for baking, and while I am not cooking with a particular seasonal ingredient this week, I am hoping the fact that baking was involved is seasonal enough – normal service will be resumed next week.
After B. and I spent most of Saturday in an alcohol-fuelled haze after going wine tasting in West Sussex and then spending the rest of the day in a pub, I was looking forward to Easter lunch at my parents’ house. There, we proceeded to eat a huge meal (basically a re-run of Christmas – turkey and all the trimmings.)
So, after drinking all of Saturday and eating all of Sunday, I couldn’t face anything too rich or chocolatey. I felt like something light and fresh but still sweet, so I decided to make coconut and lemon macaroons on Easter Monday. (After all, Easter wouldn’t be Easter without some form of baking.)
I absolutely love the flavour of coconut and have always liked macaroons, but hardly ever have them, and when I do, it is always the store-bought kind. One of my new year’s resolutions was to try cooking some of the things I always just bought in the supermarket, so this seemed like a good place to start.
Since I had never made macaroons before, I decided to browse the internet to get a feel for macaroon recipes. After looking at a few, I decided to base my macaroons on Nigella’s coconut macaroons recipe.
I tweaked it by adding lemon zest and lemon juice; the lemon juice also worked to replace the cream of tartar, as I didn’t have any in my cupboard. (Apparently 1½ tsp of lemon juice replaces ½ tsp of cream of tartar, according to this.) I also decided to make lots of little macaroons, rather than eight large ones.
I must admit I was sceptical at first – it seemed a lot of coconut to add compared to other recipes I had read. However, it worked a treat, and the macaroons were fantastic (even if I do say so myself!).
They were crunchy and slightly toasted on the outside, but coconutty on the inside, with a hint of lemon, which was just what I was after. It could be a little more moist in the middle, but other than that, I was pleased. Nigella suggests using shredded coconut to keep things moist, but I had to settle for desiccated as that was all I could find. All in all, it made a fantastic Easter Monday treat – just right after pigging out the day before!

Coconut and lemon macaroons
Makes 18 small macaroons

2 large egg whites
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
100g caster sugar
30g ground almonds
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g desiccated or shredded coconut

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/gas 4.
2. Whisk the egg whites in a bowl until just foaming, then add ¾ tsp of lemon juice.
3. Continue to whisk the egg whites until they begin to form soft peaks, then add the sugar gradually, about 1-2 tsp at a time, while whisking.
4. When the sugary egg whites are glossy and shiny, and the peaks are holding their shape, fold in the lemon zest, remaining lemon juice and vanilla extract with a spatula. Then fold in the almonds, and finally the coconut.
5. Shape into small balls with your hands and place on a lined baking tray. Bake in the oven for about 12-15 minutes until just beginning to colour. Place on a cooling rack to cool.

Sunshine and showers

Well it had to happen, didn’t it? After banging on last week about how spring had arrived, it proceeded to pour down for most of the week. Ah well, it was to be expected in rainy old England. However the sunshine did manage to poke its head through the clouds for a little while today, so I took the opportunity to wander out into the garden and hunt down any sign that better, warmer weather is on its way – after all, British Summer Time has officially begun and there needs to be something to make up for one hour’s lost sleep!

Last week, along with purple sprouting broccoli, I also received a bag of freshly picked wild garlic in with my Riverford delivery, which was a nice surprise. I have never cooked or even seen wild garlic before, so this was yet another journey into the unknown.

Wild garlic grows in woodland, near or among bluebells, smells of garlic (surprise, surprise), and has long pointed leaves and delicate white flowers. The flowers only blossom towards the end of the season, and are said to have a stronger flavour than the leaves, and are edible. Although commonly found in woodland, wild garlic can also be cultivated in gardens, but I have been told that once it is established, it is very hard to get rid of.

I’ve been thinking all week about what my inaugural wild garlic dish should be, and decided on a risotto, one of my favourite meals to cook. (I promise not all the dishes I feature on this blog will be of the Italian variety!)

I love the freedom that you have with a risotto – you can pretty much add any flavour combination you like. My favourite risottos are butternut squash, Gorgonzola and sage, and spinach, pancetta and Parmesan, but these are not quite in fitting with the seasonal theme, so they will have to wait for another day.

I decided to pair the wild garlic with a strong goat’s cheese; the selection of goat’s cheeses in the supermarket wasn’t amazing, but I found a mature goat’s cheese from Cornish Country Larder which was strong enough to do the trick. I find most hard goat’s cheeses readily available are quite bland, and I didn’t want it to be overwhelmed by the wild garlic.

Wild garlic has quite a strong garlic flavour (but still milder than bulbs), and is also reminiscent of the green parts of spring onions, and this complemented the strong, tangy goat’s cheese. The flavours worked really well together, and I would definitely make it again.
The flavours also work very well in an omelette with (not-so-seasonal) tomatoes. However, omelettes are B.’s department and he cooked them for our dinner – rather embarrassingly, I cannot make a decent one; they always end in disaster!
All in all, the risotto was a delicious, warming dish with a fresh flavour – just right for a sleep-deprived Sunday full of sunshine and showers.

Wild garlic and goat’s cheese risotto
Serves 3-4
Few glugs of olive oil
Knob of butter
1 large onion, diced
1 garlic clove, sliced
300g risotto rice (I used Arborio)
Glass of white wine (optional)
1 litre of vegetable stock, hot (I used Swiss Marigold Bouillon)
2 large handfuls of wild garlic leaves, roughly chopped
150g strong hard goat’s cheese

1. Fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil and butter over a low heat, making sure it doesn’t colour.
2. Add the risotto rice, stirring well to coat in the butter, then pour in the wine, if using. Cook for a few minutes to fry off the alcohol.
3. Add enough stock to just cover the rice, stirring continuously. Add more stock as it is absorbed for about 10 minutes (you should still have some stock left at this point).
4. Stir in the wild garlic, cook for a minute or so, then resume adding the stock, stirring continuously. Continue to add the stock until the rice is cooked, but still al dente. (I found I needed an extra 300ml of water).
5. Crumble in the goat’s cheese and heat until melted. Serve immediately, topped with a little more crumbled goat’s cheese.

New beginnings

After an extremely harsh winter, the first signs of spring seem to be appearing, and not a moment too soon. I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to all the exciting produce that this season has to offer, and can’t wait to see what shows up in my veg box.

Spring is a time of new beginnings and, this being the first official day of the season, is the perfect time to begin my blog. I am lucky enough to work for a well-known food magazine as a sub-editor and writer, but this will be my personal space to talk about what’s in season, some ideas with what to do with the bountiful produce the seasons bring, and other food-related writing.

The recipes I post will be a mixture of my own and favourite recipes from well-known cooks and chefs – and all seasonal of course.

I live in the Surrey countryside with my boyfriend, B., and he loves food and cooking just as much as I do. We do most of the cooking together, so this blog is a joint project; although you will mainly hear from me, B. will always be in the background – and who knows, he may even make a special appearance once in a while.

Our kitchen is small, but we make good use of the space, and look forward to a time when we have a large, airy kitchen, hopefully with a Kitchen Aid. We receive a Riverford veg box each fortnight; we are quite adventurous and love trying new things, and hope that getting the seasonal box will help us explore even more new dishes.

Until recently we didn’t have a kitchen all to ourselves, so although we are enthusiastic cooks, there is still a lot for us to discover, even with everyday produce. Join us on our culinary journey, as we cook our way through seasonal fruit and veg (with the odd sweet thing, too).

I was excited to receive some purple sprouting broccoli in our veg box this week – it was more purple and had thinner stalks than the pre-packed type that I normally see in the supermarket. Although classed as a winter vegetable, it heralds the arrival of spring and the end of a sparse period on the fruit and veg front. Although I have eaten purple sprouting broccoli before, B. hadn’t, and I had never cooked it before, so this was an adventure for both of us.

First cultivated by the Romans, purple sprouting broccoli doesn’t need much cooking and has a much more subtle taste than its green cousin. It is a great addition to stir-fries and salads, and makes a fantastic side. However, I wanted to cook something where purple sprouting broccoli was the main event.

Despite the slightly warmer weather, there is still enough of a chill for me to hanker after something warm and comforting. I decided to do a quick pasta dish that I had been eyeing up for a while. Pasta with sprouting and cream from Nigel Slater’s wonderful book Tender Volume 1: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch is simple and speedy, and combines some of my favourite ingredients: blue cheese, crème fraîche and garlic.

The orecchiette pasta was surprisingly hard to track down (I eventually found it in a branch of Waitrose, sadly not my local one) but it was worth it. Meaning ‘little ears’ in Italian, this traditional Puglian pasta is the perfect shape for this dish and is often paired with broccoli. The sauce pools in one side of the pasta, and clings to the ridges of the other. Before today, I had actually never tried this pasta before, but I will definitely be having it again.

I cannot recommend this dish highly enough; the creamy cheese sauce had a tang from the Gorgonzola and a savoury note from the anchovies that complemented the purple sprouting broccoli perfectly. I couldn’t get enough, and I am not ashamed to admit that after polishing off the pasta and veg, I drank the rest of the sauce from the bowl (B. actually licked his!) – yes, it is that good. Normally I like to tweak recipes, but I can honestly say I wouldn’t change a thing.

Overall, it was exactly what I hoped it would be: comforting, yet light and creamy, perfect for a sunny but cold spring day.

Pasta with sprouting and cream (adapted from Nigel Slater’s book, Tender Volume 1: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch)


Serves 3-4

250g purple sprouting broccoli

250g fresh (or dried) orecchiette

30g butter

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

4 anchovy fillets, rinsed and chopped

250g crème fraîche

170g Gorgonzola

  1. Bring two deep pans of water to the boil. Trim the purple sprouting broccoli; break into smaller florets, trim any dry ends or tough stalks but do not remove the leaves. Lightly salt the water in one of the pans and drop in the purple sprouting broccoli. Cook for 3-4 minutes until tender, then drain and set aside.
  1. Wipe out the broccoli pan and return to the heat with the butter, garlic and anchovies. Cook on a low heat for a minute or two until the anchovies have dissolved. Add the crème fraîche and Gorgonzola and cook on a medium heat, stirring continuously until the cheese has melted.
  1. Meanwhile, generously salt the water in the other pan and drop in the pasta. Cook according to pack instructions (about 5-6 minutes) then drain well.
  1. Add the cooked purple sprouting broccoli and pasta to the creamy sauce and serve immediately.


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© 2015 Sharon Lane

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