In March, the weather starts to warm up (or so it should be doing), the time from now until about the middle of May is a tricky one for the shopper, grower, and greengrocer, winter vegetables are fading out whereas the spring veggies haven’t so far really got under way, however there is plenty of purple sprouting broccoli around so make use of it. The commencement of the purple sprouting broccoli season heralds a much wanted addition to the winter vegetable enjoyment.
Merely steamed or boiled, this lively cousin of broccoli can be used in the same way it is leafier and deeper in colour than Calabrese; it always adds vitality and crunch to vegetable dishes and it goes well with almost any fish or meat dish. Broccoli is a cruciferous plant, from the same genus as the cabbage, and is associated to the cauliflower; cruciferous foods are nowadays hailed as having a number of significant health benefits. Purple Sprouting Broccoli contains the phytochemical sulphoraphane, which is thought to help prevent cancer. Furthermore it could provide resistance against heart disease, osteoporosis, and diabetes. It is packed with vitamin C and is a good source of caretenoids, iron, folic acid, calcium, fibre, and vitamin A.
Did I mention that it tastes great just simply steamed and served with melted butter and a squeeze of lemon juice?
As with the British asparagus season, the Jersey Royals season and the first of the British Artichokes we always look forward to the first of the purple sprouting broccoli, in our opinion events like these are what makes British seasonal produce the finest in the world.
Even so we are seeing more and more spring vegetables in the markets and some supermarkets earlier than in the past (Climate Change?), so with excited expectation our thoughts are turning to lighter dishes as we see Chicory, Chives, Mint, Parsley, Radishes, Rosemary, Sorrel, Spring Greens, Thyme, and Watercress coming into their season, and Cornish Spring greens are also becoming more plentiful and are very tasty jam packed full of flavour and very sweet, the two biggest enemies of cabbage are water and overcooking, the one thing you don’t want to do is boil it to death in a large saucepan of water. Simply remove any damaged outer leaves, cut it in quarters, removing the tough white ‘core’ in the middle, and slice it finely then you can either stir-fry it in a wok with oil, a little water and soy sauce or tip it into a saucepan with about 3 cm boiling water and cook it fast for about 3 minutes, turning it over as you go. Drain it thoroughly, add a good chunk of butter, and season with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. A small to medium size cabbage will easily serve four persons.
In the spring month of March (yes it’s a spring month), Saint David’s day proclaims the month of March, and with St Patrick's Day on the 17th, now is the time to think what we can be doing with all those tasty expected spring veggies, Lincolnshire starts to harvest carrots, beetroot, purple sprouting broccoli and calabrese broccoli as do other regions of Britain, so make the most from the first bloom.
New season's artichokes from Italy, Cyprus, and Egypt are making their first appearance on the shelves, together with the first of the tomatoes with taste from Sicily and the black volcanic soil of Tenerife and Fuerteventura. Fast on their heels will be new potatoes from around the Mediterranean, asparagus from the Murcia and Valencia provinces in Spain, and strawberries from Huelva in Andalucia.
Leeks are good in early spring, and we like to use them, not only as vegetables to go together with poultry, meat and fish, but in soups, salads and tarts for first courses we like to lightly braise baby leeks as a lovely light side dish.
Don’t be afraid to buy them loose and covered with dirt the taste is much better than ones that have been washed and pre-packed.
Just cut off the top half of the green leaves and remove the root and any damaged outer leaves, cut vertically down the leek almost to the base and wash thoroughly between the leaves with cold running water slice the leeks thickly and wash again then cook in a little butter and oil. They also make superb soups and we think they are very good in egg and cheese dishes.
Tasty tender spring carrots, you can get a good sized carrot enough to make a salad for under 15p which makes it a brilliant student buy. Even organic ones which generally have much more flavour are affordable. Use them raw and freshly grated or just slice them, toss them in a pan with a little oil and melted butter, season them with salt, pepper and a pinch of ground cumin or coriander, add a couple of tablespoons of water, cover the pan with a lid or a piece of foil and let them cook very slowly in their own juices for about 20 minutes. They also make great soup and are a must for casseroles stews and stir-fries
The one (and only) awful feature about the appearance of spring is that our beloved native mussels are off the seasonal menu until September we still have the rope grown imported mussels but they are not quite the same so, fill up on these juicy morsels while you can native oysters are now becoming more difficult to find and will soon be out of season however the pacific or rock oyster will always be a good substitute (just about) as they offer smaller portions with a more subtle taste.
Fish And Shellfish At Their Best This Month Are:
Brill, Clams, Cockles, Cod, Conger Eel, Crab, Dabs, Dover Sole, Eel, Elvers, Haddock, Halibut, Hake, John Dory, Langoustine, Lemon Sole, Lobster, Mackerel, Monkfish, Plaice, Pollack, Scottish Wild Salmon is back in season, Sardines, Scallops, Sea Bream, Sea Trout, Skate, Squid, Turbot, Whitebait, and Winkles.
Vegetables At Their Best This Month Are:
Beetroot, Brussels Sprouts, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celeriac, Celery, Chicory, Horseradish, Jerusalem Artichoke, Kale, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Onions, Parsnips, Potatoes (new), Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Radishes, Rhubarb, Rocket, Salsify, Shallots, Spinach, Spring Greens, Swede and Turnips.
Fruit At Their Best This Month Are:
Apples, Forced Rhubarb, Pears
Meat, Poultry, and Game This Month;
Beef, Chicken, Duck, and Pork are all very good and we are eagerly waiting for the first of British Spring Lamb, make the most of Rabbit this month wild rabbit meat, which is leaner and tastier than the farmed kind, has a wonderful delicate, gamey taste, very different from splendidly flavoured hare. Local Rabbit dishes reveal the fact that rabbit is very flexible and works well with those flavours used in chicken dishes, such as mustard and cream, tomato and herbs, and believe it or not chilli, I have had some superb rabbit dishes in Mexico, Turkey, Venison and Wood Pigeon are still good.
The Latest Grocery News for March 2011
Bringing you the hottest news on products in the high street, markets, corner stores, supermarkets and other major items of interest about British food; here is our analysis of what we think is of interest.
Following on from channel 4’s fish fight campaign sales of sustainable fish species such as Atlantic Pollock or Coley have risen. Sainsbury's say sales of Pollack have jumped 167 per cent and Waitrose state an increase of 163 per cent on Dover sole. The campaign has even encouraged Waitrose to start new fish selections like Sprats and Welsh flounder.
Asda and Tesco's have been criticised for rejecting home produced pork and chicken in support of cheap imports. An NFU Scotland investigation found that Practically all' Asda's bacon is imported, as are their gammon and bacon joints, while its value range of pork chops is a mix of French and German. A recent 3 for £10 offer in Tesco was on Dutch chicken and pork and no British bacon appeared to be had. In contrast Morrisons was found to continue to demonstrate a substantial allegiance to Scottish and British produce.
Sainsbury's is gearing up for a major push on regional foods. New signage, such as local images and claims about the products and number of farms involved, has been rolled out to stores in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales this month, with plans for Devon and Cornwall to follow in the next few months. Sainsbury's currently sells about 3,000 regional lines.
Tesco has started a new website about the local foods it sells in an attempt to boost online sales of locally sourced products. The site will display all Tesco’s suppliers within 50 miles of your nearest store and gives you the choice to change this to either 30 or 100 miles. The site what's more permits you to propose a supplier as well as letting producers put themselves forward as probable suppliers. Click here to visit the site.
A group of 40 Yorkshire based farmers are launching the first ever regional frozen pea brand, Yorkshire Peas
Blueberries have overtaken raspberries as the UK's second favourite fresh berry. Strawberries remain the UK's best-selling fresh berries, but shoppers bought 11.4 per cent more blueberries last year than previous while volume sales of raspberries fell 12.9 per cent.
The British Beekeeper's Association fear we may lose all our bees within a decade if we are not careful. Honey bees are essential for the pollination of nuts and berries and play varying roles in pollinating apples, onions, broccoli, cabbage, sprouts, courgettes, peppers, aubergines, cucumbers, tomatoes, and broad beans.
US cereal maker Kellogg has said that it will support the development of sustainable palm oil by purchasing GreenPalm certificates to offset all of its palm oil use.
Last but not least elevated worldwide wheat costs are a massive expenditure for farmers using wheat-based grain to feed their animals. If the meats on the shelves are a few pennies more please don't be tempted to switch to a low-priced imported substitute. Join in supporting our farming industry and buy British!
Seasonal foods at their best to look out for in the supermarkets this month:
Vegetables: Beetroot, Brussels Sprouts, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celeriac, Celery, Chicory, Horseradish, Jerusalem Artichoke, Kale, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Onions, Parsnips, Potatoes (Maincrop), Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Radishes, Rhubarb, Rocket, Salsify, Shallots, Spinach, Swede and Turnips
Fruit: Apples and Pears
Herbs: Chives, Coriander, Mushrooms (Cultivated), and Parsley (Curly)
Meat: Beef, Chicken, Guinea Fowl, Hare, Mallard, Partridge, Pork, Rabbit, Turkey, Venison, and Wood Pigeon
Fish: Brill, Clams, Cockles, Conger Eel, Crab, Dab, Dover Sole, Eel, Haddock, Halibut, Hake, John Dory, Langoustine, Lemon Sole, Lobster, Mackerel, Mussels, Oysters, Salmon, Scallops, Shrimp, Skate, Turbot, Whitebait and Winkles
Dates for Your Diary:
Spring 2011 - Pimlico Food Festival at Tachbrook Street Market
23rd April to 21st June 2011 - British Asparagus Festival, The town of Evesham is launching the world’s, first-ever Asparapancake Race as a prelude to the British Asparagus Festival which runs from 23rd April to 21st June. Evesham will host the race at 11am on Shrove Tuesday and participants, including Gus the Asparagus Man, will all be sporting green in tribute to this special vegetable. Local celebrity chef, Felice Tocchini, will be cooking up the pancakes for the race which will incorporate – you’ve guessed it - asparagus.
12 - 13 March, World of Women Festival, Southbank centre, London
Listen to Fatima Ali and Harriet Boatemaa, two cocoa farmers from Kuapa Kokoo co-operative in Ghana (which owns Divine Chocolate); speak at the World of Women Festival (WOW) at the Southbank Centre in London. Fatima Ali at 29 is the youngest person ever to be voted onto Kuapa Kokoo’s National Executive, while Harriet Boatemaa, at 27, has aspirations to be the co-operative President so she can inspire other young people to stay in villages and farm rather than migrate to the city in search of non-existent jobs.
18 – 27 March, Dine on Deeside, towns and village across Deeside.
This is a new foodie event which celebrates passion for regional cuisine. Royal Deeside and the Cairngorms produce is some of the finest quality in the UK and chefs from towns and villages across this beautiful area (including Ballater, Braemar, Banchory and Aboyne) will be serving up seasonal spring menus of everything from rustic bistro to fine dining. Special menus in cafes, restaurants, hotels, and bars will be on offer in price bands – - up to £10; £11 to £20; £21 to £30 and over £30
18 – 20 March, Cheese and Wine Festival, the Southbank Centre, London
This gastronomic delight of an event is now in its third year and is going from strength to strength. The weekend will host a whole array of cheese and wine specialists giving talks and demonstrations including Patricia Michelson founder of La Fromagerie, the Guardian’s wine writer Fiona Beckett, French Chef and Baker Richard Bertinet, renowned restaurateurs’ such as Henry Harris from Racine, Luisa Welch and John Quilter; and specialist premium suppliers such as Vintage Roots, Casa Leal and Auswineonline. Don’t miss it!
Tachbrook Street Market Address: Tachbrook Street, SW1
Trading hours: Monday to Saturday: 8am to 6pm
Nearest tube: Victoria or Pimlico
Bus: 2, 24, 36, 185, 436
Open every day except Sunday, the number of stalls in this ancient street market increases as the week moves forwards, the market offers a wide array of goods from home furnishings and gardening equipment, to fruit and veg, fresh meat, fish, shellfish and bread and cakes, the market is home to an array of events counting late night shopping, gourmet lunchtime offers, ‘Fashion Thursdays’.
Managed by Westminster Artisans Ltd on behalf of Westminster Council it is set to be a community hub thanks to its lively diverse array of stalls with scrumptious international hot food the paella is superb, fresh food, chocolate, cheese, olive oil, bread, funky fashion, and lots more. Discover different stalls on different days.
On Sonny’s Stall on Tachbrook Street Market
Sonny’s stall this week again was a picture it is great to see such fresh produce full of lively colours, especially the Rhubarb it really looked vibrant and cooked up a treat when we made one of our favourite puddings so what else was on offer?
Well there were Apples English Braeburns and Bramleys, Artichokes, Beets, English Broccoli, Butternut Squash, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Courgettes, English King Edward Potatoes, Fennel, Field Mushrooms, Leeks, Mache (Lambs Lettuce), Parsnips, Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Radish, Watercress, you can plainly see that all of what was available was in first-rate condition.
Our Local Butchers have been getting in
Beef, lamb, and pork is good this month and our local butcher Freemans has some ox-tails and beef brisket in that is just so tasty his fore-rib of beef looked just about perfectly hung and at under £14 per kilo is probably the cheapest in London you really must give the classically trained butcher a go and just to see a real traditional butcher shop is a treat.
His special offer this week was corn-fed chicken leg portions at half price and very tasty they were too.
Our Local Fishmonger Jon Norris on Tachbrook Street Market
Once again Jon has brought to market a fantastic array of fish and shellfish including some plump tasty razor clams (see below)
Every time we go to his stall we see more and more people queuing up for his wares and this week was no exception especially as he had plainly been taking advantage of all that fishing in British waters can produce.
He put on good show as usual with Cornish Brill, Clams including Razor Clams, Cod fillets, Cod steaks, Crab, Haddock, Cornish Hake, Halibut, John Dory, Lemon Sole, Megrim Sole, Dover Sole, Gilthead Bream, Cornish Gurnard, grey Mullet, Lobster, Scottish Mackerel, rope grown Mussels from the Shetland Isles, Monkfish, Cornish Octopus, there was Plaice from Scotland so plump and sweet, Prawns in the shell, there were Native Oysters, Rock Oysters, Scallops from the Isle of Man, wild Sea Bass, Skate, Sprats, Squid, Turbot, and Cornish Whiting.
And remember almost all Jon’s fish is sourced from around the Cornish, Devon and Scottish coasts and his prices are so reasonable you have got to give this gifted and extraordinary fishmonger a try, you won’t be sorry, I promise.
For the most part people couldn’t describe a razor clam, as they can be tricky to find, but like the name suggests they are shaped like an old-fashioned cut-throat razor and when we were small and went to Wales on holiday I can remember my father warning us to be careful not to cut ourselves on the razor sharp shells of this strange looking creature.
This extraordinary mollusc lives nestled in the sand and is collected by hand. The razor clam can reach 25 cm (10 inches) in length and is usually six times longer than it is wide, the Atlantic razor clam is sharp enough to cut skin, while other variety have an oval shape.
They are extremely easy to cook and have a superbly rich flavour the only way I can describe it is as a fusion of cockles and scallops that’s sweet and salty all at once, which means with a little seasoning of some lemon juice and maybe a splash of Tabasco they are simply superb.
Buying, Most likely to be found January and early summer, I mainly see them on the stall of my local fishmonger Jon Norris and the one place I see them all year round although infrequently is in oriental supermarkets.
They will usually be sold in bunches of half a dozen or so, and must be alive, this is easy to check Many of the clams will have extended themselves beyond the reach of their shells and will retract when picked up and they should smell of the seaside but not be pungently fishy.
Storing, It is always best to use bivalves the day you purchase them but if you need to keep them, wrap razor clams in a damp tea towel and leave them in the fridge. It is an error to soak all clams and cockles overnight as you can drown them.
Preparing and Cooking, It's best to give them a quick wash first under cold running water then lay them on a baking or roasting tray and give them a very quick go under a hot grill for a minute or so This should jolt open the shells as soon as they open remove them from under the grill.
As soon as they are cool enough to handle, take out the long, white, meaty clam. The digger (the dark bit at one end) needs to be cut off, as it is always gritty. You might also slice the clam open lengthways to check for sand.
Once they are clean, the clams can to go back under the grill, back in their shells and with another two minutes of cooking and they should be ready.
- As I said before, razor clams love a simple seasoning a classic recipe, popular in France and Spain, is to serve them plainly grilled, in the shells, with sizzling garlic butter spooned over at the last minute.
- Salsa Verde or Aioli set off all clams beautifully.
- If you don’t feel like grilling the clams, try steaming them open in a covered pan just add a bunch of razors, a tablespoon of olive oil and about half a glass of dry white wine or cider for tender clams in a mariniere style sauce within two minutes.
- Cooking in water seasoned with salt and pepper takes about 10 minutes for 30 or so razor clams (enough for 2 people).
- Cook in boiling water, and then finish in a frying pan with cream, garlic, and chives and serve with tagliatelle or rice.
Jon’s tips to buying fish and shellfish;
Fresh Whole Fish
- The eyes should be clear and convex, not sunken
- The flesh should be firm and resilient to finger pressure
- The fish should smell freshly and lightly of the sea
- Don’t buy fish with a strong ‘fishy’ or sulphurous odour, or that smells of ammonia.
- Oily fish like herring, mackerel, and salmon should have a light, fresh oil smell, like linseed oil. If they smell of rancid oil, don’t buy.
- The surface of the fillet should be moist, with no signs of discolouration.
- The texture should be firm, with no mushiness. Some separation of the muscle flakes (caused by the filleting process) is completely normal, but it shouldn’t be excessive.
- As with whole fish, the smell should be fresh and light, with no ‘off’ odours.
- Live bi-valves (including mussels, clams and oysters)
- The general rule of not buying bi-valves during any month spelled without an ‘r’ (i.e. May to August) still holds true, as this is the spawning season and quality will be poorer. When raw, the shells should be closed tight. Any slightly open shells that don’t close up in response to a few light taps should be discarded. When cooked, the shells should open – discard any that don’t.
In The Garden
Nothing happening on our little balcony garden at the moment, although we are still cutting Parsley, Thyme, Rosemary and Sage, it will soon be time to have a good clean down and sow our salads, radish and spring onion seeds outside and tomato seeds inside.
Recipe for March
Rhubarb Sponge Pudding
Perfect for a Sunday lunch served with rich, smooth, velvety custard or thick Jersey cream, Maureen can’t remember when she first made this it was probably at home in Longridge when she was small, Maureen says “ I have been making for a long time and John calls it real comfort food and always asks for it when the new season rhubarb appears”.
Serves / Makes: 4 servings, Prep-Time: 15 minutes, Cook-Time: 45 minutes
You Will Need
- 100 grams soft butter
- 100 grams caster sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 100 grams self-raising flour, sifted
- 500 grams ripe rhubarb stalks
- 100 grams, extra caster sugar
- Heat the oven to 180°C/ 360°F/gas mark 4.
- Beat the butter and caster sugar in a bowl until light and creamy add the eggs one at a time, beating well. Gently fold in the sifted flour until you have a batter of dropping consistency.
- Cut the rhubarb stalks into 2cm lengths; discarding any, leaves arrange loosely in a buttered one-litre pie or baking dish and scatter with the 100 grams of extra caster sugar.
- Spoon the batter mixture on top of the fruit in clumps then smooth out the clumps to cover the rhubarb bake for 45 minutes, or until the topping is golden.
- Serve with rich cream or with velvety smooth custard and enjoy
The outlandishly coloured vegetable that thinks it's a fruit. Rhubarb makes deliciously comforting puddings but its sharpness works extremely well with meat and oily fish dishes (the duck recipe below is a resounding success). Forced rhubarb (grown in the dark) has yellowish leaves and usually appears in January. The field-grown variety replaces it around April and is less tender but often more flavourful. Rhubarb was used as a medicine in ancient China. It was brought to Europe by Marco Polo and has been eaten as a food since the eighteenth century. Rhubarb is a good source of fibre and contains moderate levels of vitamin C and calcium. Studies have linked the fibre from rhubarb in the diet with reduced cholesterol levels. When buying choose crisp, firm, plump stalks with good colour. When kept in the fridge, fresh rhubarb will stay in reasonable condition for 1-2 weeks. Raw and cooked rhubarb freeze well. To prepare, wash and trim both ends of the stalks, and discard the poisonous leaves. Rhubarb, in particular the later field-grown variety, is very tart and requires considerable sweetening.
As with other relatively acidic foods it is recommended that it’s not cooked using aluminium pots