Although I’m partial to a steamed pudding or two in the colder months, I’m fully prepared to admit that spring is THE foodie season. You just need to look at what home grown fruit and vegetables are available right now to appreciate the abundance on our doorsteps over the course of the next few months – rhubarb, asparagus, Jersey Royal potatoes to name but a few. But one of my favourite things about spring time cooking is the amount of green stuff I can pile onto my plate. From approximately the middle of March onwards, we have a wide range of fresh, British green vegetables to enjoy, so here a few of my personal picks and how to get the best out of them…
I had to start with these, didn’t I? Just their name sums up the essence of this blog post. Similar to a cabbage in flavour but a Cos lettuce in appearance, local spring greens usually start to feature on supermarket shelves from April through to June, although I have seen them earlier this year. They make up one of my favourite vegetable memories from childhood – served on the side of a roast chicken with plenty of butter. Slightly sweeter than cabbage and with a lovely velvety texture, they can be used shredded in stir fries and soups, or as a simple side dish – steamed and seasoned. Just don’t forget that knob of butter.
Not only do they taste delicious (in my humble opinion) but they also have a whole heap of nutritional benefits. Being particularly high in vitamin C, they work well with any iron-rich foods as this helps your body absorb the iron more quickly. In this context, I always try to make a cauliflower cheese dish to go with roast beef – the perfect combination of a balanced meal that is super-indulgent too. To be honest, I love cauliflower cheese so much I would quite happily eat it as a main meal in its own right. Another suitably spring-orientated dish to enjoy would be a creamy cauliflower soup.
You probably see this on supermarkets shelves year-round, but it’s officially in season in the spring months. I mostly use it in salads as it provides a more interesting and sharper flavour dimension. It’s most famous incarnation is watercress soup, something I have never attempted to make myself but I’ve tasted some delicious ones a couple of times in the past and it really is spring in a bowl.
My favourite type of cabbage (and yes, I do have a favourite type of cabbage) as you can’t beat it for texture – served still slightly crunchy with plenty of butter and seasoning, it exudes a delicious nutty taste. Again, this can be served in a similar way to the spring greens and is particularly useful at giving an interesting dynamic to minestrone soup – thinly slice then add a few minutes before the soup is ready to be served.
Yes, you might be wondering why I’ve included these, a salad ingredient that’s available EVERYWHERE, ALL OF THE TIME. Well, like with watercress, locally-grown spring onion is in season this season, so why not hunt down some that hasn’t notched up a few air miles for a change? I’m not actually a massive fan of spring onion in green salads (I find it a bit too overpowering, preferring to use sliced red onion), but I love using it finely sliced in warm potato salad, mixed in with creamy mashed potato, or sliced up and used in crispy duck pancakes, as it traditional.
Other seasonal greens to look out for include purple-sprouting broccoli, sorrel, cucumber and spinach, so next time you’re doing a spot of meal-planning, think about what’s in season right now – you don’t have to travel to your nearest farmer’s market, just arm yourself with a bit of knowledge on your next trip to the supermarket.