Seasonal eating in April
Tara Vorhes, Flickr, Getty Images
Now the sun's out, the days are longer after the turning back of the clocks and Easter is on the way, it really feels as if winter is far, far away. I've got the salad bowls out (and also developed a fascination to all things lentil-based - such a fantastic foundation for both cold salads and hot dishes - my most recent efforts have seen braised puy lentils tossed with cubes of roasted potato, parsley, shaved fennel, roasted pepper, olive oil and lemon juice) and most dinners now comprise gorgeous bread charred on the griddle pan, plates of cured meats, pickled vegetables and fresh salads dressed with plenty of aromatic herbs. It's nearly summer, and nobody will tell me otherwise, even it means I'm freezing outside the pub on a Saturday night at 11 o'clock in a T-shirt!
The asparagus season seems to come earlier and earlier each year but our British stuff is well worth the wait. Firstly, it's cheaper than the imports and more importantly - it tastes a squillion times better. Make the ultimate soldiers for a boiled egg - blanch asparagus spears quickly in salted water, wrap them in some thin continental ham and whack on the griddle before serving alongside your golden-yolked egg. They're an ideal barbecue dish, their sweetness accentuated by the barbecue's smoke - pile them high and drizzle over some balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and then sprinkle with toasted walnut pieces and some good, hard cheese like Parmesan for the perfect summery salad.
Easter lunch wouldn't be quite the same without a hunk of beautiful lamb. I tend to buy shoulder now as opposed to leg - although a butterflied leg is just the job for the barbecue. Marinade yours in a blitz of garlic, chillies, cumin and coriander seeds, fresh mint or rosemary, olive oil and lemon that you've rubbed into it (make a few slashes for good measure). Roast it for a little while in the oven for good measure, then slap it over some hot coals to get a good char to it. Serve cut into slivers like a posh kebab - add to this some finely shredded red cabbage, pickled chillies, tomato and cucumber with some garlicky yoghurt drizzled over the top, all stuffed in a flatbread. Or slow roast your joint of choice and serve it with my fave potatoes to go with lamb - parboil them whole, cut into cubes and toss with a mixture of loads of lemon juice with olive oil and rosemary. Roast in a hot oven - like posh Greek-inspired chips - and sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper.
The Rolls-Royce of the potato world, Jerseys are still harvested using traditional methods to stop the skin being damaged. My sister laughs at the fact that I peel most new potatoes - but trust me, it makes loads of difference - but the Jersey Royal? Never. And to suggest doing anything other than simply boiling with minted water, draining, tossing with melted butter and giving them a good dose of salt would be criminal. Well, ok then - call me a criminal. I actually love them dunked straight into mayonnaise. OTT but who's counting?
A brilliant vegetable that can hold its own against a savoy or white cabbage any day of the week. Spring greens are ultra-fashionable now and are best treated simply. I get a splash of water (about a centimetre) in a pan on the boil, salt it and lob in the greens to quickly wilt them down. Their fresh irony notes lend themselves well to all manner of rich meat dishes -particularly duck. You can also try them soul food-style - cook a ham hock in water and reserve ham hock and stock. Shred the meat from the hock and return to the stock with the greens to cook through. Drain, toss with a little butter and serve.
Robin MacDougall, Photographer's Choice, Getty Images
A mistreated veg if ever there was one, spinach doesn't have to be the uninspiring creature it is when served alone. Ok - so it's really, really good for you and the baby leaves are easily chucked into most salads but wilted down it lends itself to plenty of naughty treats - dress it with olive oil, a squeeze of fresh orange, pine nuts and sultanas for an interesting Med-inspired side; try cooking it with LOADS of cream and chuck in LOADS of parmesan for gorgeous, decadent steak-accompanying creamed spinach; or go classic pizza style and blanch it off before whacking it onto a pizza base with tomato sauce, mozzarella - crack an egg in the middle, sprinkle over some parmesan and slap it in the oven.
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