One tends to think that there is not much going on over winter other than potatoes and cabbage, but there are actually so many ways to get some greenery on the plate. I suppose the mild winter this year helped to keep the autumn crops going longer, and let the spring crops come in early. When I look back on the past month of cooking in my kitchen, I’m surprised at how colourful it is!
You may have read a year ago at this time that I’m a big fan of purple sprouting broccoli, and this year it came even sooner than expected. I think it always goes well with either combination of chilli and garlic or soy, ginger and sesame.
Though people tend to associate deli ingredients with summer dishes, it actually makes more sense to used preserved foods when there aren’t as many fresh crops available locally. Marinated artichokes are one of my favourites and they pair particularly well with hard, nutty cheeses. Where I would normally go for an asiago or pecorino, I decided to try a local, matured sheeps cheese called Spenwood instead. Stirred into pasta with sautéed winter kale, that was my dinner: sorted!
Even celery has its winter version – lighter in colour than the summer variety, but still crunchy and a good way to incorporate some raw food back into the diet after the winter (with its detoxifying properties, to boost). With British apples and pears still available, a good ol’ ploughman-style platter with a couple of cheeses and some tangy onion marmalade makes a nice lunch.
We didn’t have as much snow and frost as last winter, but I’m still feeling a bit pleased with myself that my parsley has survived the winter on the patio! (maybe we won the slug wars after all) With the last remaining celeriac in my veg box I made a celeriac and mushroom soup – literally just the two ingredients with a splash of milk and topped with fresh chopped parsley.
Salads are not usually on my radar at this time of year, but since I’m about to open a shop in which the sandwich bar is a core offering, I knew I’d have to find a way to get some greens. I was dreading having to resort to imported salad leaves which don’t often taste of much and have a very short shelf life. Then one day on Twitter, as modern-day networking seems to unfold, I came across a new producer called The Little Salad Company in Oxfordshire. I’m hoping to visit them soon to write a producer story and learn more about how they grow seasonal salad leaves all year round, without the use of hothouses or pesticides. At this time of year, the leaves are quite peppery and strong, with mustard and mizuna combined with beet leaves and land cress. Experimenting with some sandwich ideas for the shop, I used some home-made cream cheese (made by straining a local Greek-style live yoghurt) and a beetroot & thyme dressing from Olives et al to pair with the winter leaves. The result was so simple but satisfying. (As a bonus, this sandwich now works as the poster-child for my shop’s marketing material.)
Speaking of beetroot, it’s another way to bring some amazing colour and nutrients to the plate. I usually roast an entire lot of them in the oven and then use as needed for different dishes. There are so many flavour combinations that work with this purple veg: beetroot & thyme, beetroot & walnut, beetroot & mackerel, beetroot & goats cheese, and even beetroot & chocolate.
A crunchy pesto made with roasted beetroot, walnuts and rapeseed oil was a good topping for hot smoked mackerel, which made a filling winter salad when combined with what was left of the leaves from The Little Salad Co.
Ending on a sweet note, I made my first attempt at a beetroot and chocolate cake using a Nigella recipe, but modified it to incorporate as many local ingredients as possible. That included locally-milled flour, local eggs and rapeseed oil, chocolate powder blended by Mortimer Chocolate Co. and Laceys Farm cream for the ganache. I was a bit afraid that it would taste too ‘beetrooty’ (this is definitely a recipe where you don’t really want to lick the batter), so I thought of using cinnamon in the chocolate ganache to counter it. Well, it actually worked, and though I made it as a Valentine’s Day cake, it seemed to taste better after a day or two.
A recent reader of my blog commented that she enjoyed the “ingredient inspiration” and it made me realise that it’s no mistake that I don’t usually put recipes on my blog. I don’t often use them, or if I do, I feel that I have to ‘personalise’ them so that I can enjoy the process of creating. Enjoying seasonal and local food is about being inspired by good ingredients and then finding flavours that complement each other. It shouldn’t be too much about specific techniques or about running to the supermarket to tick off all the ingredients on a recipe list.
Hopefully you’ve found some ingredient inspiration in this post from the variety of colourful veg available not only on the winter table, but on the dessert trolley too!