Seasonal veg facts & recipes …
By Ruth Quinlan, a chef who is introducing new flavours and inspiration to Hornbeam Cafe.
May: Spring Greens
Are young cabbages (a cultivar of brassica oleracea, similar to kale) which have failed to form a heart. In general, loose-leaved plants accumulate more vitamins C and A and antioxidant carotenoids than heading varieties, whose inner leaves never see the light of day.Spring greens are particularly rich in vitamin c, folic acid and dietary fibre.) Added fat significantly improves our absorption of fat soluble nutrients such as the vitamin A precursor in brassicas. Loss of nutritional benefits can be minimised by rapid and brief cooking. According to food scientist Harold McGee, “to maximise the retention of vitamins and minerals, cook small batches of vegetables in the microwave in a minimal amount of added water”. Cooking destroys some of the nutrients in food but makes many nutrients more easily absorbed. It’s a good idea to include both raw and cooked fruit and vegetables in our daily diet.
- butter, salt and pepper
- chilli and garlic and spice
- most nuts and seeds, especially toasted/roasted ones
- salty flavours: anchovy, soy, parmesan…
David’s salad:shredded greens with soy sauce, honey, toasted sesame seeds and oil. This is a great, more-ish salad. Take out some of the thicker ‘ribs’ before tightly furling the leaves like cigars and slicing across as finely as you can. Be generous with the seeds!
Stir-fried: A hot version of the above salad could be served as a light meal with steamed rice, at a pinch. Better still, go for the full stir fry and add greens to the wok after other veg are nearly done. Finish off with a spoonful of tahini/peanut butter thinned with at least twice as much water
boiled/steamed:Briefly cooked shredded greens in very little water – so they retain some bite Thoroughly strain, then season and butter and serve immediately.
Medieval instructions: “take a large quantity of the worts and shred them and put butter thereto and seethe them and serve forth and let nothing else come nigh them”
greens with mustard seeds for 2: finely shred 400g cabbage, soak in water 15 mins with salt then drain. Heat 4 tbsp oil in a deep pan. Add mustard seeds. When they crackle add 1 chopped green chilli, a chopped 5mm square piece of fresh ginger, 10 curry leaves. Saute for 1 minute, mixing well. Add a large pinch of sugar and salt to taste. Cook further until you have the consistency you like.
Greens with spices and tomato for 4: shred 450g greens finely. Finely chop 2 onions, a fingertip sized piece of ginger and a green chili. Fry these in 3 tbsps oil until browned (half an hour) add 1/8 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp coriander powder, ½ tsp chilli powder (if you like the heat). Add cabbage. Mix well, cover and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Add 3 tbsp tinned, drained, chopped tomatoes, salt (and a little sugar if your tomatoes taste sharp) and cook until done.
- D Hartley – Food in England
- H McGee – Food and Cooking
- C Panjabi – 50 great curries of India
Rhubarb is a vegetable native to Siberia. The leaves are poisonous due to their very high levels of corrosive oxalates; it’s the stalks that we eat. They are intensely sour. Counterracted with sufficient sugar, their fascinating flavour emerges: cooking apples, tomato plants and strawberries. It became popular in early 19th Century England as the first fruit-like produce to appear in early Spring. It is used as a cathartic in Chinese medicine. In Iran and Afghanistan it is used as a vegetable in stews, with spinach. And in Poland, with potatoes. The name comes from a combination of the Greek rha (rhubarb and the Volga river) and barbarum (foreign). Forcing stalk growth to produce pinker, sweeter, tenderer stalks faster, and availability of cheaper sugar resulted in a rhubarb boom which peaked between the wars. Different varieties vary in colour between green and red. Acidity is notably due to oxalic acid which is present in quantities double or triple levels in spinach. The colour of red stalks is best preserved by minimising both the cooking time and the quantity of added liquid which dilutes the pigments.
Obviously there is rhubarb crumble and rhubarb and custard but also:
Raw rhubarb with cucumber and rocket (Paula Wolfert):
thinly slice cucumber and rhubarb, toss with a little salt and and leave to stand. Mix in rocket, lemon juice and a little mint.
Would be good with some fatty food eg generously oiled roast root veg.
Cook short lengths in a pan gently, with a couple spoonfuls water only, sugar (about ¼ the weight of rhubarb, depending on taste) and sparing flavourings – combinations or singles from the list above (or in the oven without water, and with the flavourings slightly crushed) serve with custard, cream or almond cream (below)
Rhubarb and dried apricot fruit salad:
Marinate raw sliced rhubarb with rosemary and honey for a couple of days. Mix with sliced dried apricots. Serve with almond cream, made by blending 1 tbsp skinned whole almonds per person to a fine powder-paste, then dripping in a little water and blending until the desired consistency is achieved.
- H McGee Food and Cooking
- N Segnit The Flavour Thesauraus
- P Wolfert The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen
March: purple sprouting broccoli
From wild cabbages, more than a dozen major crops of very different kinds have developed: some leaves, some flowers, some stems. Then there are dozens of relatives including radishes, rocket, horseradish and watercress. The original weedy natives of the Mediterranean and Central Asia had evolved thick succulent leaves and waxy stalks in that salty, sunny habitat, which make it hardy. Cabbage was domesticated around two and a half thousand years ago, and became an important Eastern European staple because of its tolerance of cold.
Purple sprouting broccoli is a member of the cabbage family cultivated for its tightly bunched clusters of small flower buds. Until comparatively recently this was the main variety of broccoli grown in England. It was introduced from Italy (broccoli means little shoots) in the late 17th century.
As for that lovely purple, antioxidant anthocyanins are responsible. Antioxidants fine tune our system for disposing of foreign chemicals, hence are thought to be anti-cancerous. The colour disappears on cooking because the pigments readily bleed into surrounding tissues, and are diluted into invisibility when cooked cells break open.
Once picked, the sugars in broccoli start to convert to tough lignin fibres in the outer part of the stem, and can easily be removed with a peeler. Otherwise, eat your broccoli as soon as you can.
It is delicious and tender and needs very little cooking. The flavour is milder if boiled or steamed than if fried/roasted. Think sweet and mild with a delightfully yielding texture. It might be a cabbage cousin but it has none of the unpleasant bitter or flabby dishwater flavour of overcooked sprouts or cabbage.
All varieties of broccoli have a predilection for salty ingredients, hence popular pairings with blue or hard cheeses, salted anchovies and bacon. Chilli and garlic is another great accompaniment and crunchy peanut butter was made for broccoli:
Gado gado salad: for odds and ends of vegetables
- Roast 200g skinned peanuts at 190′C 6-8 mins.
- Cool then grind ’til smooth.
- Add 50ml soy sauce, 2tbsp brown sugar, juice of half lime, chilli to taste and 2 crushed fried garlic cloves (fried with 2-3 chopped shallots or a small onion.
- Whiz ’til smooth. Add 400ml coconut milk. Whiz again.
- Use to dress a combination of raw and cooked vegetables eg cooked spuds, raw matchsticks of carrot, raw florets of cauliflower and steamed greens
- stir fry small shoots with finely chopped garlic and ginger
- add oyster sauce, and
- serve with egg noodles
- lots of broccoli steamed and tossed in olive oil, salt, chili and lemon juice
- served on good toast, rubbed with a garlic clove and maybe a poached egg on top.
Or as above but tossed around pasta (finely chop the garlic clove and mix well)- chopped anchovy and grated parmesan are great additions.
Or simply steamed and served with lemon and butter, black pepper and salt or hollandaise sauce.
- McGee – food and cooking
- Segnit– the flavour thesaurus
Parsnip is earthy and sweet with gently distinct flavours of parsley, nutmeg and pine and a soft, fudgy texture when cooked. It is versatile, working in both sweet and savoury dishes.
It goes with:
- aniseed (eg fennel/fennel seeds/tarragon)
- salty foods eg parmesan and stilton
- watercress (you get a good balance of crisp, clean pepperiness and soft sweet spiciness)
- peas (they have some similar flavour molecules in common)
Pastinaca sativa is from the umbellifer family (having umbrella-shaped flower heads, like fennel, parsley, carrots cumin etc), is native to Eurasia and grows wild all over South-East England, especially on chalky/limestone wasteland. If you spot its yellow flowers, mark it and you can dig up the roots once the foliage has died back and the root has softened in the frost. Parsnips can be domesticated within a decade by simply moving wild roots to richer soil and selecting seeds from the larger examples.
They accumulate more starch than carrots and convert it to sugars when exposed to cold temperatures, which is why winter roots are sweeter than autumn roots. The parsnip is richer in vitamins and minerals than the carrot, being particularly rich in potassium. They were known to Greeks and Romans, though the Romans didn’t seem to distinguish them from carrots. It was an important staple until the introduction of the potato. The version we know today was developed in the Middle Ages. Before sugar became cheap they were used to make cakes and jams in Britain. During WW2 they were eaten as mock bananas. Try roasting them with a bit of rum, brown sugar and clove.
Parsnip and primrose pie
Boil and drain about 1.5 kg parsnips and press them through a sieve. To about a pint of this add a tablespoon of honey, a couple of pinches of nutmeg and ginger. Beat in the rind and juice of 2 lemons and one egg yolk. Line a flan tin with thin pastry and fill with the mixture. Make a lattice with any cut trimmings and bake until golden brown (start with half hour at 190′C). If using egg, beat the white, sweeten it and pile around the edge of the flan. Return to the cooling oven to set. Serve cold, garnished with primroses. A very pretty country dish.
Scrub parsnips (peel if you have time and want a more absorbent and therefore crispy skin) and chop into any size you like. Bring to the boil and boil 2 – 5 mins depending on size. Drain well, then roast in a hot oven in oil for 30 mins, shaking pan occasionally to move them around. They don’t want to be tightly packed. It’ll mean they sweat, instead of crisping.
Soup for 4
Gently fry 2 medium chopped onions ’til golden-brown (see variations for additions at this stage) After a minute add 3-4 scrubbed, chopped parsnips (or mixture of parsnip and potato) and then stock or water to cover and salt and pepper. Simmer ’til tender.
Variations: add either a handful of finely chopped parsley stalks/1 tsp caraway/ 2 tsp curry powder (or your own combination of favoured ground curry spices. You can also add nothing at this stage but stir in a couple of spoonfuls of chopped or crumbled stilton or cream just before serving.
Boil, drain and mash parsnips with a little flour, a pinch of nutmeg, a lump of butter, pepper and salt and form into small, flat cakes an inch high. Leave to stand and cool, so they hold together better. When cool (optional: dip these into beaten egg and then breadcrumbs and) fry in oil, lard or dripping, til brown. Good with harissa (on the side or mixed in) or parmesan (grated/shaved and mixed in or added on top) and some crunchy bitterish salad leaves.
One of the oldest English wines – requires a wine cask. Scrub, chop and boil 2kg parsnips gently in 4l for about 25 minutes (with a little whole spice if liked), Strain and add 1.5kg demerara sugar to the liquid. When the liquid is lukewarm, float on it a slice of toast spread with 1 tbsp fresh yeast. Let it ferment 36 hours (time depends on weather). Then turn it into a cask which it should fill. As soon as fermentation ceases, bung securely and leave for 6 months unmoved. Transfer to bottles, during a frost. Store 12 months before using. Improves up to 10 years.
- McGee Food and Cooking
- Hartley Food in England
- Segnit The Flavour Thesauraus