Eating spring

Eating spring

By
Tom Hunt
Contains
55 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781849494182
Photographer
Laura Edwards

Asparagus

April to June: Ready, set, go… when the asparagus season starts, make sure you’re the first to the shop, as you’ve only got six weeks to enjoy this tender and flavoursome treat. Steam, boil, stir-fry, barbecue, or just eat it raw, but make sure it’s sitting in pride of place on your table, preferably with a big pot of aïoli next to it for dipping. The important thing to remember when cooking asparagus is that the stalks take just a minute or two to cook and should be devoured just as quickly.

Asparagus has a distinctive but delicate stand-alone flavour that doesn’t need any complication; this is a vegetable to cook simply. It is best eaten as fresh as possible, so buy as local as you can. If the cut ends look dry, trim them off and keep your stalks fresh by standing them in a cup of water in the fridge.

If the asparagus is on the sturdy side, peel the thickest ends to remove any tough skin. Then cut off the bottom 2–3 cm of the stalk and take a bite where you cut at the base of the spear to test the texture… now decide whether to cut off any more. The woody part can be added to soup or stock. Usually, chefs suggest that you bend the stalk to see where it snaps, only keeping the very tender tops. I don’t, because this method wastes a great deal of asparagus that I’d rather have on my plate!

Rhubarb

January to June: Just as winter plumbs its darkest depths and snowdrops indicate the faintest hope of spring, rhubarb appears on the greengrocers’ shelves, blushing pink and cheeky. Bright pink forced rhubarb is brought into existence early in warmed barns, mostly by Yorkshire farmers who pick their produce, romantically, by candlelight. Outdoor-grown rhubarb arrives much later in the season – as the sun starts to warm the fields in April and May – and I love its green and deep red hues and strong sour flavour, perfect in crumbles and pies.

Rhubarb’s tartness goes well in sweet desserts, but, in most countries, it is used as a vegetable in spicy stews. Normally I use every part of a fruit or vegetable in cooking, but rhubarb leaves are inedible, so save them for the compost. If you have a glut of rhubarb, it’s good to know that the raw stalks freeze well.

New potatoes

March/April to July: New potatoes are a gift from the gods. The Inca gods of Peru, in fact. Potatoes were first cultivated 8,000 years ago around Lake Titicaca. These days, we’ve got about 80 varieties growing in the UK alone. New potatoes, the earliest to harvest in the year, are so delicious that all they need is a quick boil for 10 minutes or so, until tender, then an anointing with a dash of extra virgin oil or a knob of butter and a sprig of mint. They also roast well, making a nice alternative to the common roastie and with less waste (and prep work), too. Don’t peel new potatoes; all the goodness is in or just under the skin.

The trick with buying a good new potato is to find them fresh and dirty; they will be full of flavour with a flaky skin. They keep much better when cloaked in dirt, protecting them both from the light and from easy bruising. Store them in a cool, dark place in a kitchen cupboard, vegetable rack or larder, with the soil still on them.

Broccoli

May/June to November: I can’t get enough of broccoli. Put a serving of purple-sprouting (the brassica from which all modern types of broccoli originated) and a fine fillet steak, cooked to perfection, in front of me… and I will choose the vegetable every time. Roast it, eat it raw or blanch it in bubbling hot water. Serve dressed with good olive oil and some salt and dine like a king. That’s not to say I don’t love our domesticated green variety of broccoli just as much; you get a lot more veg for your money and it’s almost as nutritious. Treat it the same; cook it fast. Broccoli is of course very good for us – really high in vitamin C – and it also contains immune-boosting nutrients.

Buy broccoli heads or stems that are firm and green and not wrapped in cellophane so you can gauge their freshness. Keep them in a clean plastic bag in the fridge, as the broccoli will keep for longer. If the top yellows slightly, don’t worry, it’s still fine to eat. People often waste the stalk, but don’t make the same mistake! I like to peel it and eat the core as a treat while cooking, but have added it to my dishes here and suggest you do the same.

Spring onions

March to June: Mild enough to eat raw but pungent enough to stand up to being cooked, these slim alliums are hugely versatile. Supermarkets stack them on the shelves all year round… and theirs taste bland all year round, too. Instead, dig out your local box scheme, grow your own, or just find a farmers’ market. You might find bulbous Italian varieties, or purple-headed onions that look so pretty. Look for the large Catalan variety called calçots, traditionally served char-grilled with romesco sauce. I like spring onions best when they have long green tops, uncut, like a punky hairstyle. Bafflingly, people often throw away the green tops. I find their vivid green colour a must in a tabbouleh or a broth. They’re delicious wilted and can replace any green in a dish as they’re so mild, with just an oniony tang. To preserve the tops, make a salsa verde with them instead of using herbs alone. It will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for more than a week.

When buying spring onions, look for crisp tops and a firm bulb. Don’t worry if the outside is dirty. Give them a good wash and peel off the outer layer, if necessary. Store them in the fridge in a clean plastic bag to help stop them from drying out.

Watercress

March/April to October: Watercress is perhaps the most nutritious green out there. It has been described as a superfood for its cancer-fighting properties and vast array of nutrients and vitamins. But best of all, its mustardy-hot leaves have a damn good spicy flavour. Stuff them in a bun with a burger or a grilled portobello mushroom and some gherkins, or into the classic beef and horseradish sarnie, or whizz them up into a delicious peppy pesto.

Watercress grows well in the wild and is one of the oldest known vegetables to be eaten by humans. It’s now cultivated in large beds. Buy watercress with thick, succulent stalks as it is good both raw and cooked and the stalks have a great, strong flavour. Watercress doesn’t last for long, so look for bouncy, fresh green leaves with no sign of the bruising that might shorten its life. Every bit is edible, so don’t discard a thing. Keep watercress in the fridge, either wrapped in a damp tea towel, or sitting in a cup of water like a superfood posy.

Radishes

April to September: Radishes grow fast: just three weeks in the soil produces a root big enough to warrant the chop. I love the spicy, peppery varieties that burn your mouth like a hot mustard leaf. But there are many: long French breakfast and – these days becoming easier to find – bulbous purple, red and white globes. Grow them in pots about your house or on your windowsill. Snack on them like crisps, fresh from the soil. It’s all about the crunch. Just don’t waste the leaves. They are nutritious and add a peppery twist to salads, or can replace spinach or watercress in soups and stews. The root can be eaten raw with local honey and vinegar, on toast with butter and salt, or it can be pickled and served with fish.

The leaves deteriorate quickly, so are a good indication of how fresh your radish is in the shop or at the market. Look for perky crisp leaves and a firm root. Store them in the fridge, removing the leaves and keeping them chilled separately in a tub or clean plastic bag. Soak the roots in ice-cold water before serving, to make sure they are ultra-crisp.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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