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What’s in season: April

What’s in season: April

Fresh food produce supplier James Wellock can’t wait for the arrival of April and all the ingredients it brings. Meanwhile, the British Larder’s Madalene Bonvini-Hamel rustles up some seasonal recipes

April is nearly here, and it’s time to bid farewell to Yorkshire rhubarb, which we have been enjoying since January. But as we say goodbye, we can welcome the outdoor asparagus. There is nothing better than visiting a farm and, as the sun rises and casts a misty haze over the field, seeing the spears start to pierce the soil. It’s a sure sign that spring is here.

There has certainly been a resurgence in asparagus over the past few years, with chefs really buying into the fact that the locally grown vegetable is totally different to the product we get all year round from South America. Because of support for the local growers, they now have the confidence to invest in this crop.

I’ve seen this happening across the country, as they not only increase their acreage but also invest and improve techniques to ensure the best quality and packing. But we mustn’t forget that this is a natural product, and they don’t just shoot up in perfectly straight spears; there will be bent ones as soon as the wind blows, thinner ones, extra thick ones – every shape and size. Don’t neglect the odd shapes; they’re all useful and you can help yourself as well as the grower by choosing them – they all have a place on the menu.

After 25 March, the season of white asparagus from the Poupard family will start, which I believe to be the best there is. It’s grown in sand with a high lime content and no chemicals, which produces the best asparagus with no bitterness, a clean flavour and crunchy texture.

You can even eat it raw when it’s shaved. Flavour and texture are the key differences achieved with local asparagus, which is reliant on a 24-hour soil-to-fork turnaround. This is also true of foraged items, such as wild plants and fungi, which have the added benefit that they choose where they grow – which will be in the place with optimal nutrient levels and, because it’s natural, no pesticides. On offer in April will be wild garlic, wild leeks, sea beet, sea purslane, chickweed, hedge garlic, nettles and ground elder.

It’s a good time for some varieties of April is nearly here, and it’s time to bid farewell to Yorkshire rhubarb, which we have been enjoying since January. But as we say goodbye, we can welcome the outdoor asparagus. There is nothing better than visiting a farm and, as the sun rises and casts a misty haze over the field, seeing the spears start to pierce the soil. It’s a sure sign that spring is here.

There has certainly been a resurgence in asparagus over the past few years, with chefs really buying into the fact that the locally grown vegetable is totally different to the product we get all year round from South America. Because of support for the local growers, they now have the confidence to invest in this crop.

I’ve seen this happening across the country, as they not only increase their acreage but also invest and improve techniques to ensure the best quality and packing.

But we mustn’t forget that this is a natural product, and they don’t just shoot up in perfectly straight spears; there will be bent ones as soon as the wind blows, thinner ones, extra thick ones – every shape and size. Don’t neglect the odd shapes; they’re all useful and you can help yourself as well as the grower by choosing them – they all have a place on the menu.

After 25 March, the season of white asparagus from the Poupard family will start, which I believe to be the best there is. It’s grown in sand with a high lime content and no chemicals, which produces the best asparagus with no bitterness, a clean flavour and crunchy texture. You can even eat it raw when it’s shaved.

Flavour and texture are the key differences achieved with local asparagus, which is reliant on a 24-hour soil-to-fork turnaround. This is also true of foraged items, such as wild plants and fungi, which have the added benefit that they choose where they grow – which will be in the place with optimal nutrient levels and, because it’s natural, no pesticides.

On offer in April will be wild garlic, wild leeks, sea beet, sea purslane, chickweed, hedge garlic, nettles and ground elder. It’s a good time for some varieties  of

  • Mustard
  • Red frill mustard
  • Watercress
  • Salsola
  • Arroche
  • Purslane
  • Mini mesclun
  • Mini coriander

I love the way that these leaves are grown. The climate, coupled with the amazing soil, results in consistency of product and, what’s more, the leaves grow in 17-26 days – faster than weeds, so there’s no need to spray them with weedkiller.

To go with your salad, there are many tomatoes to choose from. We’re moving away from the tasteless Spanish winter tomatoes, and we will have Italian Datterino (these are so sweet), San Marzanos and the beautiful Heritage mix from Brittany, which is really taking hold as a favourite with many different shapes, sizes and flavours. The Coeur de Boeuf, with its ribbed edges, looks gorgeous on the plate with its big red juicy flesh, and it’s also great in a burger.

We will also have an abundance of edible flowers, with bright yellow cabbage, rocket and viola joined by beautiful white, cream and purple bean blossom.

April is when berries once again start to taste like they should. My favourite is the French Tulameen raspberry, which is twice the size of its Spanish competitor and probably twice as expensive, but it also packs a punch with its flavour and juice. The French Gariguette will also be ready now – you only have to put your nose to these to know they are going to taste amazing.

Back home, the Wye Valley blueberry is starting to come into season. This is a great example of UK growers pushing the boundaries – you can see that they’re innovating with the quality of their flavour and juice.

Another product tumbling in price will be Jersey Royal new potatoes. As they move to an outdoor crop, the flavour changes slightly and you start to get a hint of the seaweed that the farmers use to fertilise the soil.

Confit duck leg, parsnip cakes, kale crisp 

Serves 8

For the confit duck leg

2tbs coarse sea salt

8 duck legs (including thigh joints)

¼ tsp black peppercorns

¼ tsp coriander seeds

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 bay leaves

2 large sprigs of thyme

1kg duck fat or goose fat (you need enough to totally submerge the duck legs)

For the parsnip cakes

4 medium parsnips, peeled

1 banana shallot

1 garlic clove, crushed

1tbs rapeseed oil

50g green kale, stalk removed and finely shredded

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

For the kale crisp

50g green kale, stalk removed

To serve

400g smooth parsnip purée

For the confit duck, rub the salt into the duck legs. Place the legs in a container with a tightfitting lid, then add the peppercorns, coriander seeds, garlic, bay and thyme, and mix. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 6 hours and a maximum of 12 hours.

When you are ready to cook the duck legs, pat the legs dry with kitchen paper and remove as much of the aromatics as possible (do not wash the legs).

Preheat the oven to 150°C. Place the duck legs in a heavy-based ovenproof saucepan or casserole dish with a tight-fitting lid. In another pan, melt the duck fat over a low heat, and then pour the warm melted fat over the legs, making sure they are completely submerged in the fat. Place a cartouche (a circle of buttered greaseproof paper) on top, followed by the lid.

Cook in the oven for about 2½ hours. To check if the duck legs are cooked, wiggle a bone, and if it feels loose, they’re ready; if there is some resistance, cook for a further 20 minutes or so until tender.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 30 minutes, and then carefully remove the legs from the fat and drain. Set aside until you are ready to crisp up the skin.

In the meantime, make the parsnip cakes. Cut two parsnips into even-sized chunks, place in a small saucepan, cover with cold water, add salt, and boil until completely cooked. Drain the cooked parsnips and push them through a ricer. Leave to cool for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, coarsely grate the remaining parsnips, finely chop the shallot and crush the garlic. In a medium non-stick frying pan over a medium heat, sweat the grated parsnip, garlic and shallot in the oil, with seasoning, for 5-7 minutes until the parsnips are softened but not coloured. Add the shredded kale and continue cooking for a further 2 minutes. Now mix the mashed parsnips and the sweated parsnip mixture. Divide the mixture into 8 even-sized cakes and refrigerate to set for 1 hour before serving.

For the kale crisps, heat the deep-fat fryer with oil to 180°C and deep-fry the kale for 30 seconds or until crisp. Remove from the oil with a spider and drain on kitchen paper immediately. Season with salt and leave to cool and crisp up. When you are ready to serve, crisp up the skin of the duck legs. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with parchment paper. Place a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat until warm, then place the duck legs skin-side down in the pan and cook for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to the prepared baking tray, then cook in the oven for 20 minutes or until crisp and golden brown.

To brown the parsnip cakes, heat a non-stick frying pan with 1tbs rapeseed oil and cook the cakes until golden brown – about 4 minutes on each side – ensuring they are hot all the way through. Heat the parsnip purée until piping hot.

To serve, spoon the parsnip purée onto warm serving plates, place a cake on each and place the confit duck leg on each plate. Scatter the kale crisp over and serve.

Ruby red grapefruit junket, sugared pistachios

Serves 12

For the ruby red grapefruit junket

1 litre full fat milk

200ml ruby red grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed and passed through a sieve

150g caster sugar

2tsp vegetable rennet

For the ruby red mousse

500ml ruby red grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed and passed through a sieve

80g caster sugar

3 leaves gelatine, bloomed

For the sugared pistachios

120g green, shelled pistachios

1tbs cold water

2tbs caster sugar

To serve

24 ruby red grapefruit segments

For the junket, heat the milk and grapefruit juice in a medium saucepan to 37°C, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Stir in the rennet and immediately pour into 12 small serving dishes or glasses (100ml per glass). Don’t move the glasses until it’s set – about 1 hour – then move them to the fridge if needed.

For the mousse, heat the ruby red grapefruit juice in a medium pan until it starts to boil, remove from the heat and stir in the sugar and bloomed gelatine until dissolved. Pass the liquid through a fine sieve and pour into a cream whipper. Secure the lid and charge with two gas pellets, shake vigorously, and chill over ice.

For the sugared pistachios, heat the oven to 180°C. Scatter the nuts on an oven tray and sprinkle over the water. Toss the nuts to dampen them, then add the sugar and shake to coat. Bake the nuts in the preheated oven for 8 minutes, stirring once during baking time.

They are ready when they are lightly toasted and the sugar has dried and stuck to the nuts. Leave to cool for 10 minutes. To serve, shake the cream whipper vigorously.

Place two ruby red grapefruit segments on top of each junket glass, squirt the ruby red mousse on top and scatter over the baked sugared pistachios. Serve immediately.

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