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Flavours of April

16 April 2010

The month of April offers a plethora of seasonal delights. Madalene Bonvini-Hamel from the British Larder website takes a look at the ingredients available and provides three spring recipes that will spice up any menu.

It's the middle of spring, the earth is warming up, the days are getting longer and the extra daylight hours are very welcome. It's time to clear out the winter clutter, get the feather duster out and have a general spring clean.

April is the month to enjoy the newly born lambs, the spring bulbs in bloom and the fresh growth in the hedgerows.

Driving through the countryside in the Cotswolds, the smell of wild garlic embraces you. It's another sign that spring has sprung and is in full swing.

The month of April offers a plethora of seasonal delights including crab, wild garlic, sorrel, rocket, lettuces, flowering rosemary, broccoli, cabbages, spring greens, cauliflower, lemon sole, halibut, spring onions, spring lamb, mint and new potatoes to name but a few.


Cockles are a bivalve and a member of the clam family living in sandy beaches of our coastline. They are small and it might feel like hard work retrieving the salty, sweet cockle flesh but they are delicious. Cockles served with vinegar and brown bread is synonymous with going to the seaside. They are equally delicious served in soups and sauces or eaten raw, steamed or boiled. As they live in the sandy beaches, cockles should be washed well in cold running fresh water to remove as much sand as possible.


Treasured by many cooks, this highly prized mushroom is perceived as a true seasonal delicacy. With their mild toxic properties, one should always cook morel mushrooms well. The distinctive honeycomb-like shape can harbour soil and other forest debris. Though they should be cleaned well, it's preferable not to soak them in water for too long, as they will become waterlogged and unpleasant to eat. With their natural earthy flavour they pair up beautifully with woodpigeon in the roasted woodpigeon breast with pickled morel mushrooms and watercress emulsion recipe.


Radishes are a root vegetable and are a member of the brassicaceae family. There are plenty of radish varieties available - the most commonly known are the fresh breakfast radish from the spring radish varieties and the daikon from the winter radish varieties. The whole plant is edible: both the leaves and the root can be shredded and served in salads. They are normally eaten raw but could also be pickled or stir-fried. With their distinctive peppery, crisp flesh, radishes add an interesting taste and texture to spring dishes.


John Dory is also known as St Pierre or by its binomial name of Zeus faber. It's an attractive flat fish with a large head and a distinctive large black spot on its side, said to be the thumbprint of St Peter. The flesh is slightly sweet when super fresh and complements the sweetness of the fresh cockles in the delicious recipe of pan-fried John Dory with cockles samphire and fish velouté. John Dory graces many chefs' menus served whole, baked, filleted, steamed, braised or pan-fried.


Watercress is another member of the brassicaceae family and has a distinctive peppery, tangy flavour. It's said to be one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed by humans. Watercress is a semi-aquatic plant with hollow stems, which makes them light and able to float in water, hence suitable for growing in waterlogged fields. It has many uses and is delicious eaten either raw or cooked.

Thanks to its distinctive peppery taste, it complements the richness of the pigeon in the roasted woodpigeon breast with pickled morel mushrooms and watercress emulsion recipe.

If you are lucky enough and look carefully, you might come across wild watercress growing in fields that suffer from standing water during the winter. If you harvest wild watercress in fields that have had grazing cattle, then it's best to cook it thoroughly.


They might be annoying this time of the year in the garden and freshly sown fields but woodpigeon eats incredibly well with its rich, dark meat. It's great to see that they are more regularly available and being sold at most farmers markets and quality butchers. Woodpigeon requires very little cooking and is well paired with other earthy flavours such as morel mushrooms and watercress.

Why not try something different and prepare the pigeon pastrami with fresh radishes and watercress on sourdough bread recipe? The curing spices of juniper berries, coriander seeds and pink peppercorns works wonders with the rich, dark meat of woodpigeon.


INGREDIENTS (Serves four)

For the steamed cockles

  • 1kg fresh cockles, washed
  • 2 banana shallots
  • 2 large sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 250ml dry white wine

For the fish velouté

  • 250ml fish stock
  • 20g unsalted butter
  • 1tbs olive oil
  • 1/2tsp coriander seeds, crushed
  • 2 banana shallots, peeled and finely sliced
  • 150ml cockle wine cooking liquid
  • 100ml double cream
  • Salt and freshly cracked white pepper

For the gnocchi

  • 250g Desiree potatoes, peeled
  • 70g "00" pasta flour
  • 1 medium free-range egg
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 10g semolina

For the pan-fried John Dory

  • 4 skinless fillets of John Dory
  • 1tbs olive oil
  • 20g cold unsalted butter
  • Coarse sea salt

For the sautéd samphire and capers

  • 100g Norfolk Marsh Samphire
  • 1tbs unsalted butter
  • Gnocchi, previously prepared
  • 2tsp small caper, drained
  • 200g picked cooked steamed cockle meat
  • 1tsp julienned flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ fresh lemon



Soak the cockles in fresh cold water overnight and then wash them under running cold water for 20 minutes to wash away all the sand. If there are any open cockles, discard them immediately.

Drain the washed cockles in a colander. Peel and finely slice the banana shallots and add these together with the whole sprigs of parsley to the cockles.

Heat a large saucepan over high heat and, as it approaches "smoking hot", add the cockles, sliced shallots and parsley. Shake the pan, add the wine and fit a tight fitting lid. Keep the pan on the heat and give it a gentle shake. Steam the cockles for two minutes.

Once all the shells have opened, remove the pan from the heat and immediately transfer the cockles to a fine sieve, lined with muslin, placed over a bowl to collect the cooking juices.

Pick the cockle meat from the shells and return to the passed cooking juices, then chill.

Fish velouté

Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan. Once the butter starts to foam, add the sliced shallots and crushed coriander seeds and sweat until transparent with no colour.

Add 150ml of the cockle wine cooking liquid and reduce the liquid by half.

Add the fish stock, bring the sauce to the boil and cook until reduced by half.

Add the cream, bring the sauce back to the boil and pass the velouté through a fine sieve into a small saucepan. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Chill and set aside until needed.


Preheat the oven to 100°C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into large equal-size chunks. Boil the potatoes in salted water until cooked, drain and transfer them to the lined baking tray.

Place the tray into the preheated oven and dry the potatoes out for 10 minutes. This is to remove any excess water. Push the dry, warm potatoes through a ricer into a large mixing bowl, add the egg, pasta flour and seasoning and mix it all together until the gnocchi dough forms.

Wrap the dough ball in clingflim and refrigerate for two hours.

Once rested, place the dough on a lightly floured work surface, divide into four equal pieces and roll each piece into 2cm thick sausages. Use a sharp knife and cut 2cm wide gnocchi pillows. Sprinkle the semolina over a baking tray and place the gnocchi pillows on the tray.

In a large saucepan, bring the salted water to a rapid boil, add the gnocchi all at once, cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and bring the water back to the boil.

Blanch the gnocchi for four minutes. Once they all float, they are ready to be transferred to ice water to chill them immediately.

Drain the gnocchi, toss them in a splash of olive oil and transfer them to a clean, dry tray. Keep refrigerated until needed.

Sautéd samphire, gnocchi, cockles and capers

Wash the samphire and remove any brown dried-out stalks.

Bring a large pan of salted water to a rapid boil and blanch the samphire for one minute, refresh and drain.

Melt the butter in a large non-stick frying pan. Once the butter starts to foam, add the gnocchi and sauté until golden brown all over - about four minutes. Add the drained samphire, cockles and capers, sauté for one minute and add seasoning, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and the parsley. It's ready to serve.

Pan-fried John Dory

While sautéing the gnocchi and samphire, heat some oil in a second large frying pan. Season the John Dory fillets with the salt and place the fillets presentation side down into the hot pan and add the knobs of cold butter. Pan-fry for one-and-a-half minutes before flipping the fish over, then continue cooking for a further one-and-a-half minutes. Drain the fish fillets on kitchen paper.

To serve

Bring the sauce back to the boil. On warm serving plates, spoon the samphire mixture, place a piece of pan-fried John Dory on top followed by more cockles and samphire. Froth the sauce using a hand-held blender and spoon the foaming sauce over the fish and serve immediately.


INGREDIENTS (Serve four)

For the pigeon pastrami

  • 1tbs coriander seeds
  • ½tsp black peppercorns
  • ½tsp white peppercorns
  • ½tsp juniper berries
  • 25g coarse sea salt
  • 25g dark muscavado sugar
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1tsp thyme leaves
  • 2 whole woodpigeons

For the smoking

  • 1tbs pink peppercorns
  • 200g rice
  • 2 large sprigs of thyme
  • 1tbs juniper berries

For the pickled red cabbage

  • 700g finely sliced red cabbage
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Pinch of crushed dried chilies
  • 6 cloves
  • 6 whole juniper berries
  • 2 in number black peppercorns
  • ½ tsp coarse sea salt
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 50ml balsamic vinegar
  • 50ml malt vinegar

To serve

  • 4 slices of sourdough bread
  • 200g drained pickled red cabbage
  • 4 cornichons, sliced
  • 4 caper berries, cut in half
  • Smoked woodpigeon breasts
  • Smoked woodpigeon legs
  • 4 breakfast radishes, finely sliced
  • Fresh watercress
  • Mustard cress


Pigeon pastrami

First cure the pigeon breast and legs. To do this make a curing spice mix by grinding together the curing spices, salt, garlic, thyme and sugar. Remove the pigeon breast and legs from the carcass. Rub the curing spice mix into the breast and legs. Vacuum-pack the breast and legs with the spice mix and leave to cure for eight hours.

Wash the cured pigeon legs and breast and pat dry using kitchen paper. Crush the pink peppercorns and cover the pigeon breast and legs.

Once you are ready to smoke the pigeon, make a smoker using a deep oven tray, metal cooling rack and tin foil. Line the baking tray with a layer of the foil, spread the dry rice, sprigs of thyme and juniper berries and position the cooling rack over the rice mixture. Place the pigeon breast and legs skin-side down on to the cooling rack. Place the tray over heat and start the smoking process. Cover the rack with foil and, once the rice starts to smoke, turn the heat off and leave the pigeon breast to smoke for six minutes and the legs for 12 minutes.

Pickled red cabbage

Using a pestle and mortar, finely grind the spices for the pickled cabbage, add the salt and garlic and grind until a smooth paste.

Transfer the finely sliced cabbage, ground spices and both vinegars to a bag, vacuum-pack tightly and refrigerate for 12 hours.

The cabbage pickle is now ready to be used.

To serve

Smoke the pigeon pastrami breast and legs. Drain the pickled cabbage. Toast the sourdough bread in a griddle pan.

Place the warm toasted bread on a serving plate, spoon on 50g of the pickled cabbage, slice the smoked pigeon breast and set out on top.

Complete with an arrangement of the sliced cornichons, radishes, watercress and mustard cress. Skewer one pigeon's leg with two halves of caper berries and serve it on the same plate.


(Serves four)

For the salt-baked Cheltenham beetroot

  • 4 elongated Cheltenham beetroots
  • 4tbs Fleur de Sel

For the spelt salad

  • 120g cooked spelt grains
  • 1tbs chopped chives
  • 1tbs chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1tsp sherry vinegar
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

For the pickled morel mushrooms

  • 100ml rapeseed oil
  • 2tsp sherry vinegar
  • 1 sprig of thyme, leaves only
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 200g morel mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

For the watercress emulsion

  • 50g picked watercress leaves
  • 50ml rapeseed oil
  • 1tsp Dijon mustard
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

For the roasted woodpigeon

  • 2 woodpigeons
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 10g unsalted butter
  • 10ml olive oil


Salt-baked Cheltenham beetroot

Preheat the oven to 160°C. Wash the beetroots, scrub the skin and remove the leaves, but leave a small piece of the leaf stalk attached to the beetroot. Cover the damp beetroot in the Fleur de Sel, lay them on a baking tray and place the tray in the preheated oven for one-and-a-half hours.

Let the beetroots cool and then dust off as much salt as possible. Cut them in half if they are small and quarters if they are larger. Brush the baked beetroots with oil and set aside until needed.

Spelt salad

Mix the cooked spelt grains with the herbs, oil and vinegar, season to taste and leave to develop flavours for 10 minutes.

Pickled morel mushrooms

Clean the morel mushrooms and cut them into rings. Heat 1tbs of oil in a medium non-stick frying pan and sauté the morel mushrooms with seasoning for two minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat then add the thyme leaves, sherry vinegar and the rest of the oil. Let the oil heat through with the heat of the pan then set aside for 20 minutes.

Watercress emulsion

Place all the ingredients, apart from the oil for the watercress emulsion, in a blender and blend until smooth. Add the oil slowly while blending to form an emulsion.

Roasted pigeon

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Heat the oil and butter in a non-stick frying pan, season the pigeons and colour them golden brown for one minute on each breast, then transfer the pigeons to a roasting tray and place them in the preheated oven for four minutes.

Let the pigeons rest for six minutes, remove the breast from the carcase and serve.

To serve

Place three pieces of the salt-baked beetroots on the plate and spoon the spelt salad in the centre. Drain the morel mushrooms and place them on the plate, drizzle the watercress emulsion and place one pigeon breast on top of the spelt salad. Garnish the plate with fresh rosemary flowers and sprigs of fresh watercress.

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Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

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