Monday, 8 March 2010

In brief season: blood oranges

In season around now, blood oranges are the most elusive of citrus fruits. They appear briefly for a few weeks each year with unpredictable timing.

The fruit’s name comes from its garnet flesh and scarlet juices. It derives its colour from anthocyanin, a pigment more common in red fruits and flowers. Fuji and Red Delicious Apples, for example, owe their dark red skins to the pigment.

The most popular varieties are Tarocco (grown in Sicily), Sanguinello (Spain) and Moro (US). Blood oranges have a sweet taste with a hint of summer berries. They are best enjoyed eaten alone, freshly squeezed in juices and in desserts, bearing in mind that the colour dims when baked or heated.

Alternatively, a few segments add a rosy hue to a salad of grilled tuna, chicory or fennel, finely sliced purple onion and a strong vinaigrette or serve alongside warm cooked beetroot with a sherry-inspired dressing. For a simple finale plate try slices of blood oranges with Manchego and toasted almonds.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Baby leeks

In France, baby leeks are considered the poor man’s asparagus. Sweet, oniony and tender they can be braised in a pan in a little water then, while they are hot, dressed on a plate with a good vinaigrette and crumbled with sheep or goat’s cheese and cracked pepper.
Alternatively, soak 4 small leeks in cold water for 15 minutes, melt 2 tbsp butter on a heavy skillet then add the wet leeks – cook for 5 minutes then add a quarter cup of chicken broth and 1 tsp lemon zest. Braise leeks, covered, for 5 minutes, or until very tender, and season with salt and pepper.

The chef Jean-Christophe Novelli uses baby leeks in a quiche with poached salmon and blue cheese. They also work well in a frittata with sorrel, or mixed in with a soft-textured polenta topped with Parmesan cheese.

A Johnson Family Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2009, South Africa (£7.98; Asda) is a crisp and zesty white that knows its onions.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Britain's newest vegetable: the flower sprout

Britain has a new vegetable. Perfectly named to bridge two seasons – winter and spring - the flower sprout is a cross between a Brussel’s sprout and kale.

Cultivated by British growers in the Cotswolds, this new vegetable is coloured purple and green like kale but tastes more like sprouts. It is best eaten steamed or as part of a stir fry (

Purple sprouting broccoli is also in season now, bringing colour to plates and a sign that spring is just around the corner. Buy it in handfuls at farmers’ markets for best value and look for stalks that snap cleanly.

To make a tasty side dish of sprouting broccoli with garlic breadcrumbs heat a knob of butter and 1 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add 1 garlic clove, finely chopped, and after one minute 50g fresh breadcrumbs. Fry for three more minutes until crisp and golden. Cook the broccoli until just tender in salted water. Drain and serve scattered with the garlic breadcrumbs.

Perry - is it going pear-shaped?

Perry, or pear cider, slipped into decline more than 150 years ago when farmers replaced pear trees with shorter cider apple trees that stood up to the wind and didn’t take as long to reach maturity.

That said, in the name of artisan produce, there has been a renewed interest in proper perry pears and more trees are being planted. Perry pears are not eaters, they have a harsh acidic taste but produce a sparkling drink that ranges from “gin bright” to golden in colour with a fragrant hedgerow aroma and a happy balance between tannins and the sweetness of unfermented sugars on the palate.

The winner of CAMRA’s recent National Cider and Perry Championships 2009 is Broadoak Perry of Clutton, Somerset, which was picked from 20 perries from around the country and declared “a lovely, drinkable perry with a true pear aroma that starts with a medium sweet taste and is followed by a dry finish.”

Runners up were Seidr Dai, Painted Lady Perry, from Glamorgan and Gwatkin, Blakeney Red from Abbey Dore, Herefordshire. Gwatkin’s Yarlington Mill also won gold medal for best cider.

Banh mi - London's sandwich du jour

Tired of the same old sub, sandwich or panini? Currently budging over the burrito for London’s hottest ethnic street-food is the banh mi, a Vietnamese snack that’s arrived here via New York.

Not for the faint hearted, the banh mi (pronounced "bun mee") consists of a baguette made with 50 per cent rice flour to ensure that it's light and crispy, lined with homemade mayonnaise and pork liver pâté, then filled with Vietnamese salad of carrots and daikon (white radish), thin slices of cucumber, coriander and chilli, and finally, a generous helping of slow-cooked pork.

The bread and pate element are a legacy from the French occupation of Vietnam in the 19th and 20th centuries. Yet somehow the combination of sweet, salt and sour flavours hits the palate’s jackpot.

Try banh mi at Mo-Me market stall at Spitalfields, Caphe House on Bermondsey Street; Loong Kee Café on Kingsland Road, Shoreditch; Viet Baguette in Fitzrovia; Banzi in Surrey Quays; Café Bay in Denmark Hill, and the Banhmi11 stall in Broadway Market.