cook with the seasons
learning to cook seasonally is one of the best things you can do for yourself, and the planet! Clare Knivett’s monthly column showcases the best ingredients and what to do with them.
Today you can access many ingredients year round, they are simply put on a plane and flown to the desired end destination to ensure no waiting need occur before creating that favourite plum crumble or strawberry tart. Sadly, however, with this convenience, I think we lose a serious slice of magic and taste, for that matter. (We all know, too well, how disappointing a bland, rock-hard nectarine can be or a sad, colourless tomato). Absence, we are told, makes the heart grow fonder and it is this which I believe is the season’s secret weapon. With every month that passes one ingredient fades and another flourishes. The anticipation for the next fruit or vegetable to come into season, ripen on the tree or stick its head out of the ground, at its best for a limited window of time, is what makes it truly precious and, in my mind, worth celebrating. Eating and cooking seasonally is exactly that, celebrating your ever changing environment and creating plates of food rich in colour, nutrients, texture and flavour from what’s available locally to you. I hope to inspire you to take notice of what is at it’s best every month and give you a great excuse to try it out for yourself.
MARCH- PURPLE SPROUTING BROCCOLI
Ingredient: Purple Sprouting Broccoli or Purple Broccolini
Where to find it: Local Grocers
How to cook it: Steam, Boil or Roast
What to eat it with: PSB is a delicious, hardy, dark green brassica with punchy purple florets. It can stand up to some strong flavours often paired with garlic, chilli and anchovy-type dressings. I like to marinate mine in heady North African spicy sauce, Chermoula and roast it to create charred edges before dunking in soft, creamy, cooling hummus. If you want to get to know this veg before you play with it simply steam or boil it until tender, toss in butter, season and enjoy with creamy mashed potato and roasted chicken or steam and toss through chopped herbs, salty feta, a drizzle of good olive oil, red wine vinegar and other greens, lentils or new potatoes. Aside from working well with spices and salty elements, creamy, buttery and cheesey accompaniments are also great partners. Florets can be blanched and added to pizza toppings, savoury tarts or quiches.
No doubt the last few months have seen many of your instagram feeds flooded with stunning, often geometric, images of arresting, neon pink rhubarb. That tart, luminous vegetable which can be quite polarizing for people. Known as forced rhubarb, this winter offering is simply regular rhubarb drawn up using darkness, which ‘forces’ it to search for light but as Spring begins the field variety replaces it with its more earthy green and darker red hues. Available from April until September in the UK, field rhubarb is often chunkier then forced as it’s not stretching for the light and as a result is more dense and flavourful. Pickled, roasted, baked or stewed, there are many ways to prepare it. Often coupled with ginger and served with custard, it definitely benefits from some balancing sweetness which could come in the form of stem ginger syrup, vanilla sugar, orange juice and the like. The key is not to over cook it, so it retains its shape and texture without turning to mush...unless you like mush, of course! Try placing 300g chopped into 2cm chunks in a frying pan and cover with 50g of caster sugar, cook for just a little longer than it takes for the sugar to dissolve, shaking the pan occasionally and gently, rather than stirring it, to achieve that allusive point of doneness!
Where to find it: Green Grocer or Local Supermarket
How to cook it: Pickled, roasted, baked or stewed
What to eat it with: Rhubarb works brilliantly with anything creamy...so eton mess replacing the strawberries with rhubarb, custard tarts and brulees, yoghurt and so on. It makes a great compote with lemongrass or vanilla or in crumbles with other sweeter fruit like pear or apple and of course in cakes like my recipe below. It is also great with sharper flavours, vinegars, pickled on its own or with the addition of ginger.
In the UK asparagus is taken quite seriously and has quite specific seasonal dates. Although it can and does grow outside of these times it officially commences on St George’s day ( England’s patron saint ) on the 23rd April and drawers to a close on midsummer’s day on the 21st June. Asparagus is quite a complex vegetable which takes several years to establish good size and strength before a harvest can be enjoyed, this precious veg is very sensitive to its environment, heat and light and is labour intensive to farm which all contribute to it’s elevated price tag compared to other greens. Grown in vast quantities in Peru and China it’s easy to access Asparagus year-round these days so check your food labels, try to buy locally and seasonally for the freshest, field to fork quality that can not be beaten!
Where to find it: Grocery stores and Farmers Markets
How to cook it: Steam, boil, roast, grill
What to eat it with: Asparagus does very well with very little. Often steamed and finished with butter or oil and seasoning or alongside many egg based sauces or simply eggs themselves. Classically served alongside hollandaise or wrapped in prosciutto and dipped in soft boiled eggs. Charred on the grill or BBQ and served with sliced steak or steamed alongside white fish and beurre blanc.
Clare Knivett is a Food Writer and Restaurant Consultant living in the heart of the Malvern Hills in the UK. As former Food Editor for Jamie Oliver’s international Jamie magazine, Clare has eaten, tested and created her fair share of food over the years. Since her first job in a Sri Lankan restaurant kitchen at the age of 15 where her eyes were opened to unusual ingredients and incredible flavours, Clare has been working and travelling her way around the globe in search of new foods and cultures. Before that defining first job she could be found pulling potatoes on her grandfathers allotment or making honey cakes with her grandmother, a time where she fell in love with the seasons and the smell of tomatoes growing in greenhouses. She has lived in London, Bristol and Cornwall, France and Mozimbique, travelled around Europe, India, Sri Lanka and South America but now finds herself back in her home town on a mission to engage people with the amazing wild food, artisans, produce and natural beauty that are right on her doorstep.