Uncertain weather will no doubt affect your larder in February, but there are still some ingredients you can bank on, says fresh produce supplier James Wellock. Meanwhile, the British Larder’s Madalene Bonvini-Hamel suggests some recipes to inspire you
February is the month of anticipation, and it all depends on the weather. A mild month will bring us some real delights, whereas a cold one will leave us stuck with the winter basics. So how do you plan your menu? Here are some certainties to go for.
It’s full steam ahead now for forced Yorkshire rhubarb, but don’t forget the three grades – make sure you are getting the right one for your dish!
Cabbages are a real staple and the star of these GP busters is the January King. However, don’t write off sprouts just because we normally associate them with Christmas. They are still great quality, the new varieties are much sweeter in flavour and I think sprouts add a deeper flavour and colour than cabbage. Sprout tops are also still available and they look just like baby cabbage leaves.
It’s beetroots galore at this time of year: red, candy, golden, crapaudine and white. Again, don’t forget to order the size you want as all types are available, from ping pong ball through to tennis ball.
There’s no need to be ordering plastic punnets of French baby vegetables at extortionate prices – the locals will be paying around £1.80 per kg for baby vegetables maximum. While on this theme, why not box clever with baby red and brown onions, baby parsnips and Chantenay carrots?
Hopefully, you foragers will be able to get your wellies on and go and pick some wild leeks. I love getting down to the river bank, pulling them up and eating them raw. They have an outrageous flavour and are further proof that fresh is best. There should also be wild garlic – if not from our woods then from France, although it will be pricey.
Tomatoes are mainly associated with the summer and hot weather, but one of my favourites is the Sicilian green camone. It looks under-ripe and inedible, but once
you bite into it, the flavour just floods into your mouth, making these a real must for any winter salad. There will also be Sicilian cherry vine, midi plum vine and San Marzano tomatoes available.
Italy will have stunning agretti or monk’s beard, cipolle onions and fennel, and we are in radicchio heaven with Tardivo and Treviso. Italian peppers, for me, have something special about them, even though they don’t look as perfect as the Dutch variety. The Italian type not only has a better flavour, it also has more juice and texture and the rustic look just makes me want to eat them; they look natural.
Over to France, and the wet garlic aroma from bunches of both green and purple always gets me going. It throws me back to the past, when things were just picked and then used: there was no carting produce off to a factory to be packaged – it was just picked, sold and eaten.
If we are very lucky, there will be the first green and white asparagus. You can expect to pay around £15.20 per kg, but boy, it’s good!
To finish off the month, there is always the drama of who has the first morel mushrooms. This really is a favourite moment in the calendar for me. I just love to grab a handful, feel the texture on my skin, then raise them to my nose to get the distinctive fragrance – it’s like smelling a fine wine. You just know it’s right and spring is edging ever closer.
Partridge noodle soup
For the partridge consommé
1.2kg raw partridge bones
1tbs rapeseed oil
1 large onion, peeled and cut into 6 wedges
1 carrot, cut into 3 chunks
1 large leek, white part only, washed and cut into 3 pieces
2 sticks of celery, each cut into 3 shorter lengths
2 cloves of garlic, lightly crushed
¼ tsp sea salt
2 bay leaves
2 large sprigs of fresh thyme
1tsp coriander seeds
5 black peppercorns
3 litres of cold water
16 ice cubes
100g skinless and boneless chicken breast meat, diced
6 egg whites
1tbs tomato purée
1 raw beetroot, peeled and roughly diced
For the partridge dumplings and noodles
1 whole partridge
200g Cumberland sausage meat
50g prunes, soaked in 25ml Cognac/brandy
1tsp mixed fresh herbs (chives, chervil, parsley and tarragon), chopped
200g fresh or dried spaghetti
80g kale, shredded
First prepare the consommé. Preheat the oven to 230ºC. Place the bones or carcasses in a roasting tin and roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until deep golden brown but not burnt. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Heat the rapeseed oil in a large stock pot, add the onion, carrot, leek, celery, garlic and salt, and sauté over a high heat for 6-8 minutes or until golden brown. Add the roasted bones, the bay leaves, thyme sprigs, coriander seeds and peppercorns, then add the water, cover and bring to the boil over a high heat. Once the mixture is boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer, remove the lid and skim off any scum. Simmer for five minutes, then add eight ice cubes – this will shock the stock and the fat particles will float to the surface where you can then easily skim them off.
Once all the fat is removed, cover the pan and bring the mixture back to the boil over a high heat. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, remove the lid and skim off any scum. Simmer the stock very gently for about 90 minutes or until it becomes a rich, clear, light golden brown colour and is well flavoured. Skim off any scum occasionally but do not boil the stock too fast as this will make it cloudy.
Remove from the heat and leave to cool at room temperature for one hour to enable the flavours to infuse further. Pass the stock through a fine sieve lined with muslin.
To clarify the stock, place the diced chicken breast meat, egg whites, tomato purée, beetroot and seasoning in a blender, blend until smooth and then mix in the rest of the ice cubes.
Pour the cooled stock into a large clean saucepan. Pour the puréed chicken mix into the stock, whisk and then bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Whisk regularly to prevent the egg sticking to the bottom. Simmer for 15 minutes. The chicken mixture will form a cushion on the surface and all the fat particles will stick to the chicken and egg protein. Once the stock is clear, gently pass the consommé through a fine sieve lined with muslin and discard the solid chicken-egg mixture.
For the partridge dumplings, roast the seasoned partridge in a preheated oven at 180ºC for 30 minutes. Leave to cool, and then flake the roasted partridge meat, removing any bones, shot or skin. Let the meat cool completely. Once cooled, mix the flaked partridge meat with the sausage meat, chopped soaked prunes, and herbs and season. Divide the mixture into small teaspoon-size dumplings or balls, place on a roasting tray and cook in a preheated oven at 180ºC for 8-10 minutes until cooked through.
While the dumplings are cooking, cook the spaghetti in salted, boiling water until al dente. Blanch the kale for one minute in boiling salted water. Bring the consommé back to the boil, and taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
To serve, divide the cooked, drained spag¬hetti between warm serving bowls, add the kale and partridge dumplings, ladle the hot consommé over, add a few drops of truffle oil and serve.
Pan-fried halibut, salsify and buttered spinach
For the salsify
¼ tsp vitamin C powder
½ tsp rapeseed oil
1tsp chives, chopped
For the halibut
4 x 150g halibut fillets, skinless and pin boned
1tbs rapeseed oil
1tbs unsalted butter
For the buttered spinach
2tbs unsalted butter
200g large leaf spinach, prepared and washed
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
First prepare the salsify. Squeeze half the lemon into cold water, peel the salsify and dunk it straight into the lemon water. Once all the salsify is prepared, drain it and then place in a large saucepan. Cover with fresh, cold water, add the juice from the other half of the lemon, and place the carcass of the squeezed lemon in the water. Add the vitamin C powder and salt.
Cover the saucepan with a cartouche, place it over a medium heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Once simmering, cook the salsify for about 10-15 minutes until cooked and tender to the knife-point. Keep warm.
To cook the halibut, heat a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and add the oil. Season the halibut with salt only and place it presentation side down in the warm pan. Cook for six minutes until golden brown, then flip the fish over and continue cooking for a further three minutes on the reverse side.
Add the butter and squeeze the lemon over the fish in the last minute of the cooking time. Spoon the melted butter over the fish to glaze. Let the fish rest in the pan for 2 minutes while plating.
While cooking the halibut, heat another non-stick frying pan over a high heat and add the butter and spinach with the seasoning. Wilt the spinach in the hot pan – this takes about two minutes – and then drain in a colander or on kitchen paper, adjusting the seasoning if needed.
Drain the salsify, cut in your chosen shapes, and toss in the oil and chives.
To serve, place the spinach on warm plates, then the salsify and then the halibut. Spoon the pan juices over the halibut to glaze and then serve.