Sunday, 1 November 2009


Now is the time to be eating pomegranates, a so-called superfood with a leathery skin and fragrant sweetsharp juice that has been used in Central Asian and Middle Eastern kitchens for centuries.

There are about 800 juicy seeds in an average fruit which is high in vitamin C, antioxidants and iron.

A generous sprinkling of the ruby-red pomegranate seeds adds a festive flavour to a whole range of dishes from starters to desserts. Try the fruit capsules with a warm duck breast salad or Shaun Hill, co-owner of the Walnut Tree Inn, near Abergavenny, Wales serves a winter salad with pomegranate, pine nuts and chicken livers.

As well as adding a fruity kick to muesli or hoummous, pomegranate seeds go well with other Middle Eastern ingredients such as honeyed almonds, dates, rose water and lemon juice. Crushed with ice they make a refreshing and good-looking base for a number of aperitifs - Jamie Oliver whizzes up a pomegranate and gin cocktail shot in his early tome Jamie’s Kitchen. For a seasonal toast, try floating fresh pomegranate seeds in champagne, sparkling cider or ginger ale


Leeks have been lurking for centuries in our regional dishes such as cock-a-leekie (made by simmering beef with a capon, leeks and prunes), Welsh mutton pie and Cornish leek pie.

Small and medium sized leeks are best for cooking as they tend to be sweeter and more tender than chunkier ones. To clean, remove the outer leaves, the tough green tops and stringy root. Cut along the length of the stalk, halfway through, and put into a bowl of water; swill around a bit so that any dirt will be washed out of the leafy layers.

Try shallow frying leeks with a pinch of thyme or tarragon, some shredded spinach, and grated carrots or beetroot. Lightly blanched leeks can be baked with ham in a cheesy sauce or added to salads and pair well with seafood.

The Walnut Tree Inn, near Abergavenny, voted best regional restaurant in Wales according to Hardens 2009 restaurant guide, serves poached leeks cold in a mustard dressing with shavings of parmesan and black truffle. Chef Shaun Hill recommends an unoaked Louis Jadot Nuits-St.-Georges pinot noir for its jammy farmyard flavours.

A simple leek and potato soup is a good match for a glass of rose. Eyes peeled then for ex-footballer and winemaker David Ginola’s soon-to-be released Coste Brulade, a rosé from his Provencal vineyard, which won a silver award at this year’s International Wine Challenge.

Quince upon a time

Forgotten member of the apple and pear family, the quince is an ancient fruit native to the warmer climes of southwest Asia.

Quince trees are now relatively rare in Britain but Norton Priory, in Cheshire, oversees the national collection, protecting more than 20 varieties.

Although the trees are aromatic, the fruit is bitter and hard when eaten raw. When cooked, however, quinces release a sweet, fragrant flavour. They also contain pectin, which make them ideal for jams and jellies.

Norton Priory hosts a quince festival this weekend with tours, tastings and recipe demonstrations ( Like Spanish membrillo, the jelly is best eaten with cold meats and Manchego cheese or used in fruit tarts with apples. Quinces poached with sugar and lemon juice are a good match for Greek yoghurt and honey or a soft goat’s cheese.

Bramley and Gage produce a quince liqueur (£11.64;, that won “best drink” in the Taste of the West awards last year. This home-grown version of a dessert wine has aromas of dates and figs and uses the pear-like “vranga” variety grown at Clay Barn Farm in Essex.


Gusty early November is the perfect time to go gathering nuts. Rule number one for nutty foragers is not to confuse edible chestnuts with conkers. A wild sweet chestnut is one third of the size of most conkers with a pointed end.

Chestnuts differ from other nuts in that they have a high starch and water content, but low protein and fat levels, so they can be dried and ground into a meal for breads, batters, cakes and stews.

The majority of chestnuts available in supermarkets are from Europe rather than Britain, so look for home-grown chestnuts at farmers’ markets.

If you don’t have a toasty open fire, remove the prickly green husks, make a small incision in the chestnuts (so they don’t explode) and “roast” them in a dry frying pan for about 10-15 minutes. Make that two minutes if you’ve got a George Foreman-style grill contraption.

Use fresh chestnuts in risotto, mash or stir fried with Brussels sprouts and pancetta. They work well roasted alongside game and root vegetables, as a stuffing for turkey and pork or to give a savoury-sweet autumnal stamp to a chocolate torte topped with spiced pears.

Core values - Britain's best cider

With the cider harvest in full swing, CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, is celebrating National Cider and Perry Month with farm-gate tastings and orchard events nationwide (

Unlike chilled and fizzy, artificially produced ciders, real cider and perry, which are produced naturally from apples or pears and are neither carbonated nor pasteurised, are becoming harder to find in pubs. As a result, CAMRA is introducing a new window sticker initiative to make it easier for punters to recognise a genuine cider bar.

Setting the standard is the winner of this year’s CAMRA National Cider Pub of the Year, the Orchard Inn in Bristol. The judges described it as like visiting a daily “mini cider festival”.

The runners up were the Arkwright Arms, in Derbyshire, Penrhyn Arms, in Gwynedd, and the Stand Up Inn, in West Sussex.

For a truly mellow tipple, or three, try Rosie’s Triple D Cider, from Llandegla, in Denbighshire, Seidr Dai Painted Lady Perry, made in Cardiff and Gwatkin Blakeney Red, from Abbey Dore, Herefordshire.

Tuck in to parsnips

Root vegetables are in season and parsnips are plentiful, relatively cheap and full of flavour. They also have a natural sweetness that combines well with beef when roasted together. Avoid huge ones that tend to have a woody core.

Abel and Cole’s golden parsnip and parmesan gratin feeds 4-6 people and makes a handsome supper served with cold ham.

Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6. Butter a gratin dish. Peel 500g parsnips and slice as thinly as possible into rounds. Boil for 5 minutes or steam for 5-10 minutes until soft. Layer roughly in the gratin dish.

Mix together 175ml double cream, 2 cloves crushed garlic, 2 sprigs of thyme, 1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard and a good grating of nutmeg. Season well. Pour over the parsnips and press down so the liquid oozes through the vegetables. Dot the top with butter and cook in the oven for 35 minutes.

Remove from oven and cap generously with Parmesan. Return to oven for 10 minutes, until golden and bubbly.

Celeriac - roots and shoots

Celeriac is in season now and is one of those vegetables that bridge the gap between late summer and winter. The delicate nutty flavour of celeriac works well shredded raw in salads or cooked until soft and creamy in soups and casseroles or with mashed potato.

This seasonal soup combines the subtle flavour of celeriac with the freshness of pears.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large saucepan, add 4 shallots, 2 finely chopped garlic cloves and finely chopped square-inch chunk of ginger and cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes until softened but not coloured.

Add about 800g celeriac, peeled and roughly chopped, 4 ripe pears, peeled, cored and roughly chopped and 1 litre of stock, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the celeriac has softened enough to mash easily.

Blend the soup until super smooth. A small knob of butter gives it a silky finish. Season and serve sprinkled with parsley.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Apples: core strengths

Apples are, arguably, the most English of seasonal fruits. They have been ripening on trees for weeks now but September signals the true start of the apple season.

More than 2,000 varieties have been grown here over the years, many with names that pinpoint their origin such as Keswick Codlin, Kentish Fillbasket and Beauty of Bath. Others bear hints for the palate in their names such as the Pitmaster’s Pineapple, D’Arcy Spice and Blenheim Orange.

Sadly there has been a drastic decline in both the diversity of varieties grown and the number of orchards in the country in recent years. Kent, for instance, has lost 85 per cent of its orchards in the past 50 years.

Farm shops and farmers’ markets offer an excellent choice of locally-grown apples and eyes peeled for English apples in British supermarkets. If you have space in your garden, the Apple Source Book (Hodder & Stoughton, 2007) tells you everything you need to know to plant an apple tree.

A rosehip operation

The bright red seeded berries of the wild rose are known as “hips”. They are found all over the UK, particularly in hedgerows skirting woodland and along footpaths.

Only the thin fleshy covering of rosehips is edible and they are used, most commonly, to make a subtly flavoured syrup that is delicious with ice cream, pannacotta, rice pudding and pancakes. Do not eat rosehips whole, the “itching powder” seeds inside are an irritant.

To make 2 litres of rosehip syrup, you’ll need a jelly bag (available from good cook shops). Boil 1kg of crushed freshly picked rosehips in 1.75 litres of boiling water and allow to stand for 15 minutes.

Pour the rosehip mixture through a jelly bag then repeat the process from the start using the pulp and 900ml boiling water. In a clean pan, reduce the juice, lower heat and stir in 450g caster sugar, boil for 5 minutes then pour into sterilised jars.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Tomato catch up

Homegrown tomatoes are coming into their own now and should have an aroma, taste and even (mis)shape that are more enticing than the uniform packaged varieties available in supermarkets.

Heritage or heirloom tomatoes are making a comeback among allotmenteers and chefs. These are basically old non-hybrid varieties with different flavours, rainbow colours and strange names such as Hillbilly Potato and Green Sausage tomatoes. Search farmers’ markets for the best crops.

In the kitchen, the tomato is such a versatile ingredient. Pizza and pasta aside, big beefy toms can be hollowed out and stuffed with cooked quinoa, feta cubes, toasted pine nuts and parsley then oven roasted; cherry tomatoes make a sweet partner to fish when roasted with a few capers, grated lemon zest and olive oil, and chopped vine tomatoes need no more than finely diced red onions, sea salt, vinegar and oil for a delicious side salad.

To maximise flavour, eat tomatoes at room temperature or even warm but never chilled from the fridge.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Engage with greengages

There are plums and then there are greengages. Bright green and round with greenish-yellow or golden flesh, they have a beautiful sweet scent when ripe and can be used instead of plums for desserts and preserves.

The blogger Pim Techamuanvivit ( has a recipe for greengage and vanilla jam made with 2lb (about 1kg) greengages, 1lb (about 500g) sugar, 2 vanilla pods and the juice of 1 lemon. When cooked down into compote or jam, the fragrant flavour of the greengages intensifies. There’s also a enough acidity to balance the sweetness and plenty of natural pectin in the skin so there’s no need to add extra.

Another blogger, Princess and the Recipe (, has adapted Pim’s recipe to make greengage sorbet, substituting lime for lemon and leaving out the vanilla beans. She cools the stewed greengages before they reach a jammy setting point, pushes them through a sieve to get rid of the skins, pops the sieved liquid in the fridge, then churns it in an ice-cream maker.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Sweet as... sweetcorn

The season is short but sweet for sweetcorn, running from now through most of September. A golden buttered corn on the cob is a seasonal delight. It has been cultivated in the south for years but with warmer summers has begun to appear further north, too.

When buying, choose creamy yellow kernels because they will be the sweetest. Eat fresh, as once the cob is cut the sugar starts to turn to starch and loses its sweetness.

Try putting whole cobs in their pale green husks in a roasting tin and roast in the oven preheated to 180C (Gas 4), or on the rack over a hot barbecue for about 30 minutes, turning once. Pull back the husks, add a knob of butter and freshly ground black pepper.

Also in season, baby corn is a specialised vegetable harvested before the kernels develop. The sweet, nutty cobs no bigger than a finger can be cooked whole or cut in chunks and are great in stir fries cooked with sesame oil and soy sauce.

Food for free - blackberries

Blackberries are such a good free source of antioxidants and vitamin C that during World War One children were encouraged to collect them for the production of juice that was sent to soldiers on the frontline.

Ready for gathering now, blackberries can be eaten fresh, used for puddings and pies, or preserved into jelly or “pippy” jam.

They team up particularly well with the first of the cooking apples, are a good match for rich or gamey meat such as venison, lamb or pheasant, and add a seasonal flourish muddled into a cold martini for a late summer cocktail.

For a simple blackberry and oat sundae (serves 2), whisk 150g Greek yoghurt, 3 tbsp crème fraîche and a few drops of vanilla extract together until thoroughly mixed.

Alternately layer lightly crushed blackberries with the yoghurt mixture and handfuls of granola to fill two sundae dishes. For best results chill for an hour.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Plum season

Plums are in season now and this year's combination of a very cold winter and warm spring means bumper crops. Pershore, in Worcestershire, celebrates with a month-long festival featuring plum sausages and other recipes from the festival's Plum Cook Book (

Rosie Lovell of Brixton's retro-feel deli has a recipe for Plum Clafoutis in her new book Spooning With Rosie (£18.99, Fourth Estate).

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Stone and chop 450g of Victoria plums into 2.5cm pieces. Butter a baking dish and scatter the fruit into this. Beat two medium free-range eggs in a bowl and add 50g plain flour so that it forms a smooth paste. Gradually add 75ml double cream and 150ml milk and 50g caster sugar so that it becomes a creamy batter. Add 1 tbsp Calvados before pouring the mix over the fruit. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes. Serves 4.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

New: pink gooseberries and long-stem broccoli

Gooseberries are not everyone’s favourite fruit. But a new, less tart variety Pink Gooseberry, grown, by Charles Gaskaine, at his farm in Faversham, Kent, has gone on sale recently in Marks & Spencer stores.

It is naturally much sweeter than the green cooking variety and has fewer spines so it can be eaten raw straight from the punnet or added to fruit salads, cereals and fruit compotes.

Sweet, long-stemmed broccoli is another twist on standard seasonal fare marketed with a view to capturing consumers’ palates and imaginations.

Grown in Lincolnshire, where its young shoots are hand-picked after just ten days of growth, bellaverde broccoli resembles the Italian cime de rapa.

TV chef Gino D’Acampo suggests eating it in a spaghetti dish with grated courgettes, crushed walnuts, lemon zest and chilli flakes or served warm with fresh mint, goat’s cheese and toasted pine nuts dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Both dishes go well with a 2008 Pinot Grigio delle Venezie, Cavit, Italy (Co-op £4.99) - a lively white with a citrus finish.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Raving about raspberries

Although there are many varieties of raspberries, from amber red to yellow and white, they all have the same delicate tart-sweet flavour. Raspberries have a long season, from now until November, and some of the tastiest fruits come from Scotland, where they have cooler summers.

Naturally raspberries are delicious on their own, eaten just when they’ve softened and leave a stain on your fingertips. They make an instantly delicious topping for desserts from lemon meringue pie to cheesecake or embedded in an almond tart or at the heart of a summer pudding or jelly. Match fruity puds with a lightly sparkling Gancia Astia, Piedmonte, Italy (£5.79, Waitrose).

Try fresh raspberries with duck, grilled and sliced in a warm salad, dressed with olive oil and raspberry vinegar. The latter (vinaigre de framboise) is a French favourite served with foie gras and other fatty meats, while in Britain it was used as a cure for sore throats from the 17th century until World War Two.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Starwberry yields forever

Ripe strawberries, like sunny days at Wimbledon, never fail to induce summery vibes. The warm spring means it should be a bumper crop and the Prime Minister’s wife, Sarah Brown, shared her excitement last week on Twitter about tiny strawberries in her garden.

Strawberry plants have short lives and rarely remain productive for more than a few years so new varieties are introduced often. They have names to match such beautiful fruit: Symphony, Florence and Eve’s Delight, for example.

Long-cropping Elsanta is the most common British strawberry variety; Ava is a premium Scottish strawberry first grown in 2005, the same year that Sonata, a large, firm variety was launched. English Rose is another newcomer noted for its zesty flavour and Marie de Bois is similar to a wild strawberry.

To enhance the flavour of strawberries allow them to bask a while in the sunshine and go soft. Wash and hull some strawberries then mush them up with sugar, double cream, a nip of Cointreau, if you like, and orange zest. Dig in. Match with a fruity-sweet Sauternes Chateau Sudiraut 2005 (£9.95, Waitrose).

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Elderflower power

Creamy clusters of elderflower are perfuming hedgerows and lanes all over the country at the moment with their delicate fragrance of Muscat grapes. Collect them just-bloomed, wash carefully, pat dry and use in a recipe immediately.

Traditionally elderflowers, like many other flowers (primroses, cowslips and lime blossom, for example) were infused into vinegars, cordials and wine. Today they are mainly used in desserts and refreshing summer drinks. Add a single stem to stewed rhubarb or any fruit to give a compote, jam or fool a fragrant flavour. Alternatively, make an elderflower and gooseberry sorbet, elderflower fritters or a syrup to add to summer fruit salads.

For elderflower cordial dissolve 450g (1 lb) sugar with 900ml (1.5 pints) water, the zest of 1 lemon and the juice of 2. Boil for 2 minutes. Add 12 elderflower heads. Stir, cover, leave until cold. Strain into a bottle. Chill. Serve diluted with sparkling spring water. It also adds a spritz to cocktails, and is great stirred in to custard or drizzled over vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Edamame - soy British

Next month British-grown edamame beans will go on sale at 100 branches of the supermarket Asda.

Joe Cottingham, UK Young Grower of the Year 2008, has been growing a crop of these fresh green soya beans on a farm in Kent. This protein-packed bean is said to contain all nine essential amino acids and is usually imported frozen from the Far East.

Made popular in this country by Japanese restaurants, from Nobu to YO!Sushi, edamame are usually eaten as a starter or a side-dish, boiled in the pod and doused in a naturally brewed soy sauce or sprinkled with salt.
For a delicious summer salad, cook 300g of shelled edamame in boiling salted water until tender. Drain and cool under running water, then pat dry. Transfer the edamame to a bowl and add the 250g crab, 1 chopped avocado, 2 finely sliced shallots, 4 finely sliced radishes, 2 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp lime juice. Season, mix up and serve.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Broad beans feast

Broad beans are at their best at the beginning of summer, as they become tough and bitter towards the end of the season.

All the podding and shelling is worth it to retreive the smooth-skinned pale green beans inside their fur lined pods.

The beans have a nutty, chalky flavour and are best steamed or boiled until tender when they can be easily popped out of their skins.

To make a warm broad bean, streaky bacon and goat’s cheese salad, fry some chopped onion in a good knob of butter until golden, add some diced streaky bacon – cook until crisp. Add the cooked broad beans, some chopped flat-leaf parsley and a capful of red wine vinegar. Toss gently, scatter with goat’s cheese and season to taste.

The first crops of beans and peas need virginal, unoaked wines such as a citrussy Soave classico or try Spain’s version of Sauvignon Blanc, a grassy and crisp Palacio de Bornos Verdejo 2007, Rueda (£6.99, Waitrose).

Monday, 25 May 2009

Marsh Samphire

In season from now until September, marsh samphire is a sea plant that grows wild mainly along the coast of East Anglia and Humberside on muddy, salty flats washed by the tides.

These emerald green knobbly stems are a prized delicacy, sometimes known as sea fennel or poor man’s asparagus that can be found at fishmongers and farmers’ markets during summer.

Traditionally samphire is pickled in vinegar but the succulent stalks are delicious lightly steamed and eaten fresh with garlic and lemon butter or with white and oily fish. Samphire is naturally salty so wash well in cold water before use.

Galton Blackiston, the Michelin-starred head chef at Morston Hall in Norfolk, has a recipe for local new potatoes with bacon, samphire and soya beans in his new book Summertime (£18.99, Virgin Books). The bacon lardons are fried with shallots and garlic and mixed in a bowl with the other cooked ingredients and a large knob of unsalted butter. Serve with an easy-going red to match the saltiness, such as a ripe fruity 2008 Recchia Bardolino, Italy for around a fiver from Waitrose.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Grape exceptions - English wine

English Wine Week runs until May 31 with events and tastings in vineyards around the country (

Most English vineyards focus on white and sparkling wines. The chalky soil of the South-East allows classic grape varieties used in Champagne, such as chardonnay and pinot noir, to flourish, and some of the bubbly has bagged international awards.

The latest fizz on the podium is a white pinot brut from Camel Valley vineyard in Cornwall, which was runner-up to Champagne Bollinger in a global sparkling wine competition in Italy at the end of 2008. The Lindo family make it from red grapes, using all their flavour with none of the colour (

To celebrate English Wine Week, Marks & Spencer is promoting three new English wines from the Chapel Down winery in Kent, including a light and fruity English Rosé 2008 (£9.99) made from a blend of the rondo, shonberger, pinot noir, bacchus and huxelrebe grape varieties and a fresh and crisp 100 per cent White Bacchus 2008 (£9.99).

St George's mushrooms - patriotic fungi

Wild mushrooms are not confined to the cold, damp days of autumn. A spring flush of fungi is happening around now, which includes the St George’s mushroom whose season is supposed to start on the patron saint of England’s day (April 23), the morel and the first wild oyster mushrooms.

St George’s mushrooms have a firm texture, a moreish mealy smell and an earthy, wood smoke flavour. The French call them le vrai mouserron, “the true mushroom”. They grow in a wide variety of habitats, from woodland to pasture, but are often found on chalk grassland. Forage for them or try upmarket food halls such as those at John Lewis and Harvey Nichols.

The less fuss the better when cooking fungi. Wash, shake and put in the frying pan with a little butter, some wet garlic, fresh herbs and a pinch of sea salt to bring out their full flavour. Serve on sourdough toast, partner with asparagus in an omelette or chicken in a casserole.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Wonders of watercress

National Watercress Week (until May 24) celebrates a truly British and seasonal arrival, up there with the likes of asparagus.

These sprigs of shiny round leaves on thick peppery stalks grown in mineral-rich spring water beds are great in salads, sandwiches, chopped in sauces or soups or used as a garnish for fish dishes.

This week around Arlesford, in Hampshire, there will be free farm tours and special menus at pubs and restaurants. (

For an ultra healthy start to the day try a Champneys’ watercress, apple and kiwi fresh juice or a Virgin Mary made with a blend of watercress (100g pack), 150ml freshly squeezed orange juice, 400ml good quality tomato juice seasoned with tabasco sauce to taste.

For a simple watercress soup, soften a chopped onion and a chopped potato in butter. Add 2 chopped bunches of watercress with 4 parsley stalks, and a light stock. Season. Simmer until tender. Puree. Thin with milk. Reheat or chill.

To make a watercress pesto, fill your blender with a bunch of watercress, a handful of basil leaves, a clove of garlic, a handful of toasted pine nuts, 5 tablespoons of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and generous shavings of parmesan. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, whizz everything together, then stir into a bowl of pasta.

Ravishing radish

Easily cultivated at home, the small cherry-red and pert pink French Breakfast radishes that Brits are familiar with take about a month to grow in the garden, but their paler carrot-shaped relation, the mooli, a Japanese favourite, can take a whole season to grow.

Radishes fall all too easily into that category of common veg box leftovers, which is a shame because they can really add a mustard-flavoured zip to a salad or stir fry and need to be used swiftly before they shrivel. Store them briefly in iced water to enhance their crunchy texture.

Try them sautéed in butter with garlic or sliced in a salad with cucumber and fennel turning up their peppery heat with a hint of chilli, cumin, coriander and a squeeze of lime. Radishes can be added to a super healthy coleslaw along with sunflower seeds and apple, sliced thinly in a goat’s cheese sandwich, or even coated in oil and paprika and baked in the oven as chips.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Pea shoots and scores

The highly esteemed chef Mark Hix has put his face to the pea shoots campaign this year claiming that the tender leaves of the traditional garden pea plant harvested after just two weeks are his first choice in the salad department.

Hix takes a leaf out of Chinese cookbooks and stir-fries pea shoots with butter, rapeseed oil and wild garlic flowers then serves them with scallops or poached sea trout. He also makes a cool minted pea salad with Little Wallop goat’s cheese and a cider vinegar dressing and a flavoursome chilled pea shoot and spring leek soup.

Pea shoots have crunchy stems and delicate leaves, like watercress, and taste of freshly shucked peas. Use them to make a pesto with lightly toasted walnuts, feta and pea shoot fritters or even in a super summery strawberry and cucumber salad with a honey and balsamic reduction.

Drinks wise, a Crossroads Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Marlborough (Wine Rack, £8.99) bursts with crunchy green fruits and is ideal with warm salad and fish dishes.

For more recipes visit

Saturday, 25 April 2009

New season asparagus - bundles of joy

The first English asparagus is in the shops now – thick stalked spears from the Wye Valley and there’ll be plenty more to come over the next eight weeks.

Whichever way you choose to cook asparagus - boiled, griddled (a combination of the two), steamed or oven roasted – don’t overdo it. The best spears are those that have only been a couple of hours out of the ground. They have an unbeatable, intense grassy flavour.

Serve asparagus with a fresh squeeze of lemon juice and butter; evoo – twitter speak for extra virgin olive oil -, balsamic vinegar and shaved parmesan cheese; with a Hollandaise to dip; blanketed in Parma ham; in a frittata with tarragon, or on a bed of cooked ham topped with a poached duck’s egg.

Asparagus festivals are held across the country from Essex to Yorkshire – see for more details. Tomorrow sees the Great English Asparagus Run, starting at the Bell Tower in Evesham.

Watch a video on How to Cook Asparagus at

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Pollock is now a fish called Colin

Sainsbury’s has renamed the fish pollack as “colin” - the French word for pollack - to save customers blushes when they ask for it.

Pollack is a cheaper, sustainable alternative to cod or haddock. Two of the most popular varieties in the UK are Alaskan Pollack (often spelt with an “o”, confusingly) whose fillets deliver a bone-free whitefish with a consistent snow-white color. They are lean with a tender texture and excellent flaking qualities. While Atlantic Pollack, a different species, is greyer and more oily, and has a "fishier" flavour. Both types are used for fish and chips and fish fingers.

A traditional ditty went “Pollack for puss, coley for the cat” but pollack works perfectly well in a fish pie, pan roasted with chorizo and butter beans, served with a fresh parsley sauce, or cooked Sicilian style with raisin and shallots. Try a Les Champs Bordelais Sauvingon Blanc 2007, Bordeaux (£5.98; Asda) for its fish-friendly citrus tang.

For more information on the fishing industry and fuss-free recipes check out Mitch Tonks’ new book Fish: The Complete Fish & Seafood Companion (£25; Pavilion) or visit the Marine Stewardship Council’s website (

Monday, 13 April 2009

Strengths of spinach

Popeye’s secret weapon, iron-rich spinach is available all year round, but the best stuff grows in the spring time.

A big handful of washed spinach is simple to cook, with or without butter or oil in a pan. It is a light vegetable with a high water content and so reduces to around a quarter of its size when cooked. As long as the stems are not stick-like, keep them for an added bite.

Alternatively, tender spinach leaves can be blanched and chopped before being reheated with spring onions sautéed in olive oil and mixed with crème fraiche or fried paneer. It’s an ingredient friendly leaf that pairs up smoothly with nutmeg, garlic and olive oil as well as most fish, smoked haddock in particular, and with cheese, especially feta and ricotta. It works well wilted into pasta dishes with bacon and chilli, in a crab frittata or in an English muffin with smoked salmon and a poached egg.

For an ultra-healthy salad, try raw baby-leaf raw spinach simply dressed with olive oil and lemon juice and scattered with toasted pine nuts, raisins and sunflower seeds.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Spring lamb for Easter

Signs are beginning to appear in butchers’ windows in the south for the first of this year’s spring lamb. British raised lamb is only available fresh from about now until November.

New season’s lamb is traditionally associated with Easter and, if it’s had a spell hanging, has a tender texture, rosy pink hue and white crumbly fat. At this time of year, it is likely to have been reared indoors on its mother’s milk and supplementary feed with possibly some grazing on lowland grasses. By late May onwards if the animal is fed on lush pastures it will develop a deeper, juicy-sweet flavour that is enhanced by grilling.

It is said that the accompaniment to roast or grilled lamb should be based on the lamb’s natural diet. Hence young lamb goes well with baby spinach, watercress and mint, which are all plants that grow at a low level around streams. However, fennel, marinated artichoke hearts and roasted cherry tomatoes work well, too.

A bottle of Santa Julia Fuzion shiraz malbec (£4.49; Somerfield), from Argentina, is a good-value match for roast lamb with its dark fruits’ fragrance and peppery notes.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Hot cross buns

Hot cross buns are small festive breads traditonally eaten towards the end of the Lent fast on Good Friday in Britain. Made from white flour with spices, sugar, dried fruit and dairy produce, these were special treats when most people lived on coarse wholemeal breads.

A good hot cross bun should be round, 7 – 10cm in diameter, well-risen (not squarish and squashed) and highly glazed, with a cross on top (this is usually made with flour and water paste, although strips of marzipan or cutting a cross are alternatives). The crumb should be fairly pale, not too soft or sticky, and have a light flavour of sweet spices and/or candied peel and dried fruit.
Eat warm or split, toasted with butter for breakfast, tea or a snack, and make bread-and butter pudding with leftovers.

The rhyme “one a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns” recalls the habit of selling them warm from bakeries like the Chelsea Bun House in the 18th century. Avoid the cheap packs from supermarkets made using the Chorleywood industrial baking process.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Jersey Royals connections

These delicious British potatoes are one of the keynotes of the seasonal food calendar and in a good year they’ll be available in time for Easter lunch.

Despite so many rival mini new spuds on the market, from “Charlotte” to “Pearl”, it’s hard to beat the first plate of pukka Jerseys topped with parsley or snipped chives, flakes of sea salt and lashings of butter.

JRs are grown using the local vraic seaweed as fertiliser and handpicked from the Channel Island soil. They have a firm texture, a papery skin that you can be rubbed away with your thumb, and an earthy flavour. Their firmness makes them great for both cooking and salads.

Jersey Royals are the only fresh British product to have PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status awarded by the EU. This guarantees the origin and quality of these potatoes.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Remembering rosemary

A spiky evergreen bush, rosemary is a member of the mint family. It has a pungent, pine-like taste with lemon and camphor undertones that add flavour to meats, potatoes and breads and is a common ingredient in marinades and soups.

Rosemary is at its best palled up with garlic on roast spring lamb or chicken, on blistering hot focaccia bread with a splash of olive oil or in slow-cooked tomato sauces. It also works well with rabbit, mustard, honey and oranges.

To use sprigs of fresh rosemary in cooking, strip the leaves from the woody stalk by holding the tip and pulling down on the leaves in the opposite direction they are growing. Chop the tough leaves finely before adding to other ingredients, ideally at the start of cooking to allow it plenty of time to break down.

Dried rosemary loses some of the aromatic perfumed flavour of the fresh stuff but is handy to have to hand in the kitchen. Simply hang a bundle of freshly clipped sprigs upside down in a cupboard for about four to five weeks then transfer the leaves to an airtight container.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Go wild for garlic

Wild garlic, also known as ramsons, thrives in damp woods and beside semi-shaded hedgerows. It is recognisable by its garlic-like smell and long lush leaves, similar to those of Lily of the Valley.

Now is the time to pick leaves while they are young and tender. The torn leaves have a mild oniony flavour and can be eaten in salads or cooked in soups and sauces. The white flowers make a pretty garnish for salads and can be deep fried in a tempura batter. The bulbs are tiny but edible.

Alex Venables, chef at the award-winning Tollgate Inn, in Holt, near Bath, is a fan and uses wild garlic in a range of dishes including omelettes and bubble and squeak. For recipes other than salads it is best to blanch the wild garlic: put it into hot boiling water for about 20 seconds then refresh it in ice cold water. Now it’s ready to chop up and use.

To make a wild garlic pesto put a handful of blanched leaves into a blender with walnuts, a healthy slug of olive oil and some crumbled Keen’s farmhouse cheddar, season, blitz and serve with pasta or baked trout.

Mutton dressed as lamb

Spring lamb is just around the corner but in the current spirit of cheaper cuts and “stick with what your grandma ate” philosophy mutton has been enjoying a renaissance.

Mutton means meat from a sheep more than two years old, but it could be as mature as four to five years. Carcasses should be hung for three weeks and the meat, which is gamey red, is best boiled or braised slowly in the oven until tender.

When the Prince of Wales began a campaign, in 2004, to revive mutton – once Britain’s traditional meat before it was usurped by roast beef in the 18th century – he shared some morsels with food industry guests from his own rare breed Hebridean flock at Highgrove. The meat was marinaded for hours in red wine and slow cooked then served with pearl barley and mixed vegetables.

Try mutton in a broth or biryani, or a leg of Herdwick mutton from Cumbria roasted very slowly and served with black pudding and root vegetables. For more recipe ideas and regular masterclasses visit

Where to buy: Graig Farm Organics (01597 851655;, sells; Farmer Sharp (01229 588299; is at Borough Market; Ardalanish Organic Farm (, (buy through Loch Fyne, 01499 600264;

Monday, 23 March 2009

Ready, steady mango

Obviously mangoes don’t grow on trees in Blighty but it is the right time of year to keep eyes peeled for stacks of mango boxes outside Asian and Middle Eastern grocers.

The prized contents are usually Alphonso mangoes from India. These mangoes are smaller, thinner-skinned and more golden than the hard green specimens found in supermarkets. They have a pointed end, an intoxicating fragrance and a pure nectar flavour.

Much of a mango’s flavour is in the aroma that’s released into the mouth when biting the flesh off the washed skin.

Knead the fruit without splitting the skin, chill it in the fridge and then cut a hole in the skin and squash the pulp straight into your mouth.

TV chef Anjum Anand uses the pulp of alphonso mangoes to make a lassi yoghurt drink and a velvety mousse cutting the fruit’s natural sweetness with a squeeze of lime juice.
The flesh can be puréed and frozen to use in sorbet and ice cream.

Look out for the Kesar variety towards the end of April for a beautifully sweet, juicy and aromatic thin-skinned mango from India and Pakistan.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Sussex produces 98% local menu

It is no mean task to create a decent menu from 100 per cent local produce in this country.

Sussex is leading the way with its Celebration of Sussex menu - the brainchild of Martin Hadden, head chef at Historic Sussex Hotels, who claims to use 98 per cent fodder from the county.

Hadden’s dinner starts with Selsey lobster canapés and a brown crab egg custard tart with white crab meat Hollandaise and spring salad leaves, followed by roast best end of lamb with a spinach mousse, and half a dozen Sussex cheeses.

Drinks include a pinot gris 2008 and pinot noir 2006 from Bookers Vineyard, in Bolney, and a mead from Lurgashall Winery.

The honeyed mead is a sweet match for the tangy Sussex Pond pudding, which is traditionally slow cooked for eight hours, allowing enough time for the entire lemon inside to collapse and infuse the syrup which spills out – like a pond – when the casing is broken with a diner’s spoon.

Although there are growers of pak choi and edamame (soya beans) and makers of halloumi in Sussex there are no locally-produced lemons – the menu’s alien 2 per cent.

Photo via Flickr.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Calcots - Catalan's spring onions

It’s still a bit early in the year to find young, tender spring onions grown in Britain but calcots, from Tarragona, in north-east Spain, are in season now.

At annual festivals, known as calçotadas, calçots, which look like a cross between a scallion and a leek, are roasted on a grate over coals and vine trimmings until they are charred on the outside but soft on the inside.

The vegetables are then wrapped fish-and-chips style in newspaper to steam and finish cooking them and served on a terracotta roof tile ready to be peeled at the table and eaten dipped in a pungent red romesco sauce, made with tomatoes, garlic, ground almonds and peppers. It’s a great sauce to use with leeks or roasted sweet red onions. Try them at London’s recently re-opened Fino restaurant.

Calcots, or at least the ones from Valls, have EU protected status and are best eaten with red wine or cava. A Muriel Rioja Reserva 2003 (£9.99; The Co-operative) has a rounded mellowness that suits roasted vegetables.

Sorrel, I haven't a clue...

Sorrel is part of the lettuce family and grows abundantly in the countryside from early spring. It is also available in selected supermarkets and farm shops. Its arrow-shaped leaves resemble a paler looking type of baby spinach and have an astringent lemony flavour that comes from the high content of oxalic acid.

Because of its acidity sorrel is often combined with other mellowing ingredients. It is ideal in soups, sauces or salads with avocado and cucumber, goat’s cheese and beetroot or chopped like a herb and added to stuffing.

Like spinach and watercress it cooks down to minimal quantities and works particularly well with fish, chicken and egg dishes. Try shredded sorrel cooked in butter on sourdough toast with a poached egg, or oily fish such as poached sea trout or grilled mackerel with a sorrel sauce (made with fish stock, cream and vermouth).

The citrus notes, not unlike lemon verbena, mean that sorrel can even be added to fruit salads, jellies and custard.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Limes light up dishes

If oranges and lemons tend to hog the limelight then it’s not because limes lack bite. The lime has a stronger more sour taste than lemon and is a dynamic little culinary catalyst.

It is mainly used for its juice in Asian curries or, along with its zest, as a marinade or salsa for fish and chicken. In ceviches it effectively “cooks” the raw seafood.

Use the juice to make a refreshing sorbet with mint and a splash of vodka, or to liven up icing on a cupcake. Lime juice muddled with brown sugar syrup, rum, soda and spearmint makes a mojito or, for a more crude cocktail, stick a wedge in the top of an ice cold bottle of Mexican beer.
The sourness in limes provides a great foil to sweet dishes: for example, in Florida’s famous Key lime pie where it partners crushed Digestive biscuits and condensed milk, or in a sponge pudding topped with lime curd and mascarpone.

Choose limes that are firm and heavy for their size, and have a glossy, deep green skin – the colour indicates that they are at the peak of their zingy tartness.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

In praise of parsley

Parsley is probably the world’s most popular herb. It derives its name from the Greek word meaning "rock celery" and, indeed, carries a hint of celery in its taste as well as dill and mineral flavours and a slight sweetness. In the kitchen it is first and foremost a garnish but it is also highly nutritious.

The two most popular types of parsley are curly parsley and Italian flat-leaf parsley. The Italian saw-toothed leaf has a more fragrant and less bitter taste than the crispy, tightly bunched curly variety. There is also a third type of parsley known as parsnip-rooted (or Hamburg) that is cultivated for its roots, which resemble salsify and burdock.

Combine chopped parsley with bulgur wheat, finely sliced green onions (scallions), mint leaves, lemon juice and olive oil to make the Middle Eastern classic dish, tabbouleh.

Use parsley, combined with garlic, orange and lemon zest, to make herby sauces such as salsa verde or gremolata as a marinade or dip for chicken, lamb and beef or to finish grilled fish dishes.
Serve a bright salad of fennel, blood orange, vine tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and parsley leaves.

Good old parsley sauce is a “comfort blanket” made for gammon and salmon fishcakes and there’s just as much flavour in the stalk as in the leaf.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Go bananas

There are more than 300 different types of edible banana, but almost all of the commercially grown ones belong to just one type, the Cavendish variety, according to the new Rough Guide to Food (£12.99). This monoculture deprives us of speciality bananas such as the Red Makabu and the tiny Lady Finger and makes bananas more vulnerable to disease, since whole regions are planted with genetically identical stock.

Although bananas are inescapably heavy on food miles, they remain the most iconic food of the Fairtrade movement. They might lack the colour and juice of other winter fruits such as oranges and pomegranate but they have a versatility and comfort factor second to none and are packed with potassium, fibre and the serotonin related B6.

Bananas are a key ingredient for breakfast smoothies or comforting old-school dishes such as banana custard made with fresh vanilla and cardamom pods; banana bread baked with crushed pecans and topped with a lemon syrup; flambé bananas with rum or deep-fried banana and sesame fritters.

Tip: you can freeze ripe bananas to use in cooking at a later date – they will go black in the freezer but taste just fine.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

It's OK to okra

If you've had your fill of cabbage this winter but are still seeking greens then scoop up a bagful of okra next time you're shopping. The only reason we don't eat more of this shapely vegetable, also known as ladies' fingers, is because most of us are uncertain how to cook it or have experienced it overcooked when it becomes slimy and tasteless.

Trim and slice the okra and add to a splash of vegetable oil in a heavy-based frying pan with a tight-fitting lid. The trick is to get the okra to sweat without burning it; flick in a bit of water, shake the pan and cook until tender.

Add to ratatouille, a Thai Monkfish curry or fry with chickpea flour, chilli and chaat masala. Okra is the key thickening ingredient to gumbo, a gelatinous stew from Louisiana made with meat or seafood and Cajun spices.
When shopping look for bright green pods that are soft to touch.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Jme - get it?

The Jamie Oliver juggernaut rolls on. The first of his new chain of Recipease (get it?) food and kitchen shops has just opened near London’s Clapham Junction.

Beyond the girly pink shop-front fascia, piles of Jamie Magazine, Habitat-style “Jme” (get it?) kitchen paraphernalia and £12 trays of ginger and orange Belgian chocolate brownies there is an open kitchen where punters can drop in and cook up their supper to take home. It’s mostly simple homely fare on the menu such as fish pie, mega mozzarella meatballs and rogan josh and there are knife skills classes (

It’s not a new idea. The Kitchen in Parsons Green has been helping budding Jamies to prepare a week’s worth of meals in one session for more than a year now. With an emphasis on seasonal ingredients, home cooks can try their hand at the likes of sweet and sour Gloucester old spot pork belly with runner beans, organic salmon and smoked haddock fishcakes, free-range Thai green chicken curry and winter fruit crumble (

The bonus about both places: no washing up after cooking.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Champagne popping rhubarb

This weekend, a food festival in Wakefield celebrates the candle-lit world of champagne rhubarb with a snap, crackle and pop.

Each winter, a small community of farms in Yorkshire’s "Rhubarb Triangle", transfers acres of rhubarb plants by hand into long, dark nursery sheds to be "forced". They grow at an accelerated rate in the light-free hothouses, which are so completely silent you can hear the "pop" as the buds of new stalks burst open. From mid-February workers harvest armfuls of stalks by candlelight to preserve the younger stems that are still growing.

The harvested stalks are tender, sweet, and a distinctive bright pink in colour with tiny curled yellow leaves that make forced rhubarb instantly recognisable. Known as champagne rhubarb it is a seasonal delicacy and is dearer than its more fibrous and bitter outdoor equivalent.

Chefs have long championed rhubarb as a versatile ingredient that works as well with savoury dishes as it does as humble crumble filling. Its sharp-yet-sweetness makes it an ideal companion for high-fat meats such as duck and oily fish.

For more information on rhubarb walks and candlelit tours visit

Friday, 20 February 2009

Seville oranges

In the depths of winter, citrus fruit from the northern hemisphere is at its best adding colour, vitamins and energy to the kitchen.

Bitter Seville oranges are a seasonal treat most commonly used for making marmalade. This is partly because their high acidity makes an ideal setting power for preserves. But the fragrant zest and sharp juice of these tough-skinned non-eaters also works well instead of lemons in many recipes.

Add a squeeze to make a tangy salad dressing with grilled chicken and crushed walnuts or a classic sauce blended with port to mitigate the richness of roast duck.

Or try it as an alternative to lime juice in ceviche, South American-style super fresh seafood marinated in citrus juices. Queen scallops bask beautifully in Seville orange juice, shaved onions, coriander, chilli and salt. Savour them with an Argentinian Susana Balbo Crios Torrontes 2007 Cafayate Salta (£8.75;, a honeyed white with crisp acidity and a creamy finish.

The organisers of the rather grandly named The World’s Original Marmalade Festival held earlier this month at Dalemain House, in Cumbria ( have compiled their own Recipes with a Citrus Twist book that features 80 zesty dishes made with Seville oranges, lemons, or limes. Try a slice of almond and orange cake drizzled with marmalade syrup served with a Croix Milhas Rivesaltes Ambre, Roussillon, France (£7.99, Tesco). The dessert wine’s spicy notes of caramelised oranges add depth to the cake’s flavours.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Purple patch for sprouting broccoli

The poetically named purple sprouting broccoli and its trendy acronym psb are not an invention of the pr industry to boost the flagging brassica family.

A rare yield from the late winter garden this seasonal super-veg packed with iron, calcium and vitamins A and C has been available to buy for about 30 years in Britain.

Psb is particularly good when young and tender. Look for stems that are snappy not bendy. Ultra fresh stalks can be washed and dipped in hoummous.

Simply steamed or boiled for a few minutes and served with lemon juice and butter, psb goes well with most white fish and meat. Try it for brunch with a plate of Iberian ham and soft boiled duck's eggs or mixed in a classic Southern Italian pasta dish with chilli, garlic, anchovies and a splash of the best olive oil money can buy. The slender spears are ideal for a stir fry cooked with ginger and sesame oil and added to quinoa or Thai curry style with rice noodles.

Dates in your food diary

A Middle Eastern staple, glossy dates in a box stuck to a stem and dusted in sugar are a classic Christmas extra.

The fruit of a date palm or Tree of Life, dates keep well for several months (which is just as well in many cases). Fresh and dried dates can look very similar and are both sweet and rich with a chewy, sticky texture.

Of the 350 or so varieties the Medjool date is known as the “king of dates” and was once reserved for Moroccan royalty and their guests. Medjool dates are deep amber-brown and have a slightly crinkly skin. They taste of toffee, wild honey and a hint of cinnamon.
Like many delicacies, Medjools are pricey because their cultivation is a complex and labour-intensive process.

Stuff them with walnuts for a snack or chop them into a bright winter salad with endive and orange segments; add dates to roasted butternut squash with cinnamon and toasted almonds, or make an apple, date and ginger chutney to go with a festive cheeseboard. The Leon cookbook has a recipe for a date and banana smoothie made with Greek yoghurt and string bark honey.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Return of the turnips

It’s been a long, slow journey for the turnip from cattle fodder to gourmet ingredient. This versatile, good value vegetable is still nowhere near as popular as fellow roots squash, pumpkin and parsnips but chefs are on the look out for different varieties of small, young turnips of the sort cultivated in France.

These are usually globe shaped with a creamy complexion and a hint of purple. They have a sweet but mustardy flavour that intensifies with cooking. Mature turnips are available now as opposed to the baby ones of early summer.

Try cooking them whole like roast potatoes, pan-fried and served with duck or lamb, or caramelised in honey and butter. Alternatively use them as the main root ingredient in a dish of Gordon Brown’s thrifty favourite: rumbledethumps.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Chocolate for a chilli day

Like tea and sausages, chocolate is one of the most prolific artisan products available at any food fair or deli. To sift out the quality from the Quality Streets and promote a greater awareness between fine chocolate and mass-produced confectionery the grandly named Academy of Chocolate was set up in 2005 by five of Britain’s leading chocolate professionals.

The academy’s annual awards have just been announced and the winner of the “Golden Bean” is… Amedei No.9, an Italian chocolate bar made with 75 per cent cocoa solids. This Super Tuscan of the chocolate world blends and refines beans from nine cocoa plantations to make a strong and balanced dark chocolate with expressive flavours ranging from cherry and molasses to blueberry and coffee.

On the homefront, William Curley scooped six gold awards, including the best UK chocolatier, for the delicately crafted chocs he sells from his shop in Richmond, in south-west London. Curley excelled in the filled chocolate category with praise for his toasted sesame, Japanese black vinegar and rosemary and olive oil chocolates.

Other winners included Amano from Utah, French chocolate houses Valrhona and Pralus, London based Paul Wayne Gregory and Sir Hans Sloane, and regional companies Chococo, in Swanage, and Co Couture, in Northern Ireland.

The cold snap is a perfect excuse to drink hot chocolate.

It was the Aztecs who first made cocoa beans into a bitter-tasting hot drink flavoured with chilli, and the Spaniards who sweetened it with sugar and vanilla.

When cocoa butter is removed from chocolate liquor it creates a fine, bitter-tasting cocoa powder. These days, there are no excuses for not buying Fair Trade cocoa powder with plenty of options available from Divine to Green & Black’s Organic.

For a taste of the original Aztec-style drinking chocolate, try Hotel Chocolat’s Aztec Chilli Liquid Chocolat flavour (just add milk to the flakes) or the Chocolate Society’s Valrhona dark drinking chocolate with chilli ( Both have a mouth-warming kick absent from the average cup of cocoa.

There are more flavours on offer at Hotel Chocolat’s in-store Concept Café on High Street Kensington in London. Hot liquid chocolate is served in jugs with china cups and long handled spoons. Choose from six flavours including wintry praline with a tingle of cinnamon and seasonal Valencia oranges (