It certainly felt like spring was on it’s way in London today! The conservatory was warm and I didn’t wince as my bare feet walked on the tiled floor. The sun was shining bright and I regretted wearing my wooly jumper with a long sleeved top underneath. All good signs that winter is on the way out and spring is on the way in, and so too are some great new foods making it onto my dinner plate. In a British March we are delighted with purple sprouting broccoli, wild garlic, nettles, spring onions and seakale. From the waters we can welcome elvers and scallops.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Considered to be quite posh the purple sprouting broccoli with it’s long slender stems and a neat curly head, boasts a delicate flavour which benefits from being just lightly steamed or blanched and can even be eaten quite happily raw. Broccoli is renowned for all of it’s nourishing goodness being high in vitamin C, antioxidants and fiber. Be careful cooking it though, as cooking destroys it’s valuable properties, particularly so if you boil it.
Wild Garlic & Nettles
Now here are a couple for you foraging fans, wild garlic and nettles. Simon Rogan must be having a field day right now with all of this wild free food sitting in abundance. Please don’t be put off by the strong smell that wild garlic gives off, it’s taste is really far milder. Wild garlic can be found in woodland areas and produces pretty white flowers April through June. The youngest leaves can also be used in soups, stews and stocks or wrapped around lamb or cheese to a fragrant infusion. Well this is all very well and good if you live in the countryside your townie mind might be thinking, fear not, as there are plenty of nettles to be found in the city and towns too. Look for them in waste lands, river banks and nature parks. Pick the young palest green ones using rubber gloves and use your pickings to create some great alternatives to your usual fare. Wilt down the leaves having removed the stalks and eat it like spinach, or add the cooked chopped leaves to some pasta, use it in stock, soups and even beer! Nettles have many wonderful healing properties containing histamines and purifying qualities as well as being known for lowering high blood pressure and having a toning effect on the body.
Spring onions are back! and are actually available as British outdoor seasonals throughout the year until the autumn when the first frosts arrive. They are essentially young onions, harvested just eight weeks after planting and can be grown successionally. A great splash of green and taste dimension to any salad or try lightly cooking them in a stir fry.
If you ever see this lovely green/purple leaf on sale anywhere, make sure you grab some! It’s a pretty rare breed these days after wild seakale which grows on sand and shingle beaches was harvested almost to the point of extinction and is now protected. Commercially grown seakale is expensive and time consuming to produce. It has to be forced in much the same way that forced rhubarb is grown. Check out my previous blog post on this if you missed it. If you do manage to get your hands on some the leaf and stalk can be eaten and has a very delicate and nutty flavour. Treat it in a similar way to asparagus. Do let me know if you manage to find some or have ever had the pleasure of eating it!
Elvers which you may have been wondering what they were, are young eels. They travel all the way from the Sargasso Sea across the Atlantic ocean before swimming into British rivers in the South West. Elver catching used to be big business, with most of the catches going to the Asian markets and some European destinations such as France. However over exploitation and climate change has seen far less of these fish fry entering our waterways, that was until last year. In 2013 there were claims of massive increases in catch in the river Severn, perhaps due to a shift in water currents. The price of these little glass worm like creatures has fallen dramatically from £4 for a 20 gram portion to just £1.70! So if you have never seen these on a British menu before you just might again and this year could be your chance to try them!
Scallops are probably one of the few shellfish I actually really enjoy, in particular Queenies, which are smaller than King scallops and a different variety. Nothing to do with sex, as scallops are hermaphrodites. Scallops are best enjoyed during the cold seasons when they are not spawning which happens April through September. Personally I would opt for hand dived scallops which tend to be higher in quality and have a benign effect on the environment unlike commercially caught scallops which, through the process of dredging is massively destructive to the seabed and can also damage the scallop. Check out this interesting debate regarding scallop dredging. When cooking scallops they need very little time, just pan fry quickly on both sides. Some folks like to pair them with bacon but I love them on their own pan fried in organic butter.
I hope you enjoy some of this months seasonal delights. Do post your comments of what seasonal British food you are eating this month and what you made.