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Seasonal recipes: spring into action

12 March 2010
Seasonal recipes: spring into action

March is the time when cauliflower, rhubarb, sorrel and broccoli are at their best. Madalene Bonvini-Hamel suggests ways to make the most of these seasonal delights.

It's the beginning of spring and time for Mother Nature to kickstart growth for the forthcoming seasons. Around now the gardening bug usually starts to bite, reminding us that it's time to start planting the fruit and vegetable patch.

March's seasonal delights include rhubarb, cauliflower, broccoli, purple sprouting broccoli, turnips, sorrel, hare, oysters, swede, salad onions, lemon sole, trout, fresh horseradish roots, leeks and Jerusalem artichokes.

RHUBARB

The first stems of outdoor rhubarb usually appear in March; however, the indoor forced rhubarb, with its bright pink tender stems, is a favourite among most chefs. Rhubarb is classed as a herb and forms part of the sorrel family. Its sharp taste goes perfectly with rich meats such as duck and hare, but it is better known for its use in desserts, such as pistachio and walnut baklava with rhubarb and rose delight (see page 30).

BRASSICAS

With its long history, the brassica group provides more types of vegetables than any other. It includes plants whose leaves, flowers, stems and roots can all be cooked and eaten. Some of the most common brassicas include broccoli, purple sprouting broccoli and cauliflower. The brassica family also includes swede, kohlrabi, mustard, pak choi, kale and mustard cress.

Both standard broccoli and the purple sprouting variety are now supreme. There is no waste with either of these varieties: the stalks, leaves and flowers are all edible and equally delicious. The pickled broccoli and chestnut mushroom salad on page 32 is perfect served hot or cold.

Cauliflower is one of my favourites, with its creamy white flowers set off perfectly by the bright green leaves. The attraction of this vegetable is not only its appearance but also its natural sweetness when it is at its freshest. The tight small heads tend to be sweeter and more pungent in taste. The recipe for cauliflower soup with Morbier air profiteroles and watercress oil (opposite) makes the most of this beautifully constructed vegetable.

SORREL

With its eye-watering sour tang, sorrel has a love/hate effect on most people. I have fond memories of cooking sorrel omelettes in the 1990s. The pungent, distinctive taste of sorrel leans best towards sauces to accompany fish and shellfish such as the recipe for oyster beignets with a sorrel velouté (see page 28).

CAULIFLOWER SOUP WITH MORBIER AIR PROFITEROLES AND WATERCRESS OIL

INGREDIENTS (Serves 8)

For the cauliflower soup

  • 650g cauliflower
  • 750ml vegetable or white chicken stock
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 200ml double cream
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

For the profiteroles

  • 80g unsalted butter
  • 120g plain flour
  • 150ml cold water
  • 3 whole medium free range eggs
  • 1tsp table salt

For the Morbier air

  • 150g Morbier cheese, rind removed
  • 100ml water
  • 100ml double cream
  • 1 leaf of gelatine, soaked

For the watercress oil

  • 20g watercress leaves
  • 20g olive oil
  • 20g sunflower oil
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

    METHOD

Cauliflower soup

Remove and discard the green outer leaves from the cauliflower, and finely chop the rest.

Heat a large saucepan with the unsalted butter. As soon as it starts to foam, add the cauliflower and season with salt and pepper. Sauté the cauliflower and stir continuously. When it starts to take on colour, add the stock of your choice, cover the saucepan with a lid and bring the soup to the boil.

Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook the soup for 12 minutes. Add the cream, bring the soup back to simmer and cook for 3 minutes. Blend the soup until smooth, taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.

The soup is now ready to serve. If you are not serving the soup immediately then chill and reheat once you are ready to serve.

Profiteroles

Preheat the oven to 220°C, line two baking trays with either parchment paper or silpats and have a jug with 100ml of cold water ready.

I have been making choux pastry in a Themomix for about a year and would never return to the conventional way. The Thermomix saves time on washing up and a lot of stirring. You could however follow the conventional way if you do not have a Thermomix; the ingredients remain exactly the same.

Weigh the salt, water and butter directly into the Thermomix bowl, place the cap in the hole and set the timer for 5 minutes at 100°C, speed 1. Add the flour, return the lid and remove the cap, and blend the mixture at speed 4 for two minutes. Remove the lid and leave the mixture to cool for 5 minutes.

Return the lid and secure, turn the dial to speed 5, add the eggs one at a time directly onto the running blades, and mix the eggs into the flour mixture for 5 minutes. The choux pastry will be glossy and ready to use.

Transfer the pastry to a piping bag with a plain nozzle and pipe 2cm-wide teardrop shapes onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat. Leave a large enough gap between the mixture to allow each profiterole to puff.

Place the tray in the preheated oven on the middle shelf, quickly pour the cold water on the bottom of the oven floor and close the door. The water will create steam and the buns will form a crispy outer shell and a large air cavity will be created on the inside.

Bake the profiteroles for 5 minutes at 220°C, then turn the heat down to 180°C for a further 20 minutes.

Once the profiteroles are cooked and are light and crispy, transfer them to a cooling rack and leave them to cool completely.

Keep the profiteroles in an airtight container in a dark, cool and well-ventilated space; they will remain crispy for up to three days.

Morbier air

Just a little warning that this cheese sauce does not look great when cooking but once blended it will look creamy, smooth and appealing.

Soak the gelatine in cold water. Chop the Morbier cheese into small pieces, place the cheese, water and cream in a small saucepan and gently heat. Once the cheese mixture reaches 80°C, transfer it to a blender. Squeeze the excess water from the gelatine and add the soaked gelatine to the warm cheese sauce. Blend the cheese until smooth.

Thermomix users: Place the chopped cheese, water and cream in the Thermomix bowl. Set the timer for 6 minutes at 80°C, speed 3. Once the cheese has melted and starts to bubble, turn the heat off, squeeze the soaked gelatine to remove the excess water and add the gelatine to the cheese sauce. Turn the speed dial to 10 to purée the cheese sauce until smooth, which should take about 20 seconds.

Pass the cheese sauce through a fine sieve and pour it into a cream whipper. Fit the needle attachment to the cream whipper's lid and seal the whipper with the lid. Charge the whipper with two gas pellets, shake it vigorously and refrigerate to let the cheese set.

Remove the cream whipper from the fridge about 30 minutes before it is required.

To serve

Remove the Morbier air from the fridge and loosen the mixture by shaking the cream whipper vigorously and dipping it under hot running water if necessary.

Bring the cauliflower soup to the boil, taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. If the soup is slightly thick, add a bit of stock or water to let it down to the required consistency.

Fill the profiteroles with the Morbier air. Ladle the soup into the serving bowls, drizzle over the watercress oil (having mixed together the watercress oil ingredients) and shave the toasted hazelnuts over the soup to garnish. Serve immediately, with the Morbier air profiteroles garnished with the watercress leaves.

OYSTER BEIGNETS WITH A SORREL VELOUTÈ

INGREDIENTS (Serves 8)

For the sorrel velouté

  • 100g sorrel, stalks removed and washed
  • 2 banana shallots, finely diced
  • 10ml olive oil
  • 100ml vermouth
  • 200ml fish stock
  • 100ml double cream
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Salt and freshly cracked pepper

For the oyster beignets

  • 8 rock oysters
  • 20g cornflour
  • 75g self-raising flour
  • 125ml sparkling water
  • 1 free range egg yolk
  • 2 free range egg whites
  • Salt
  • Sunflower oil for deep-frying

For the pickled cucumber

  • ½ cucumber
  • 30ml cider vinegar
  • Pinch of salt and sugar

    METHOD

Sorrel velouté

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and sweat the diced shallots with seasoning until they turn transparent. Deglaze the pan with the vermouth and reduce by half.

Add the stock and bring to the boil and again reduce by half. Add the cream, bring the velouté back to the boil, adjust the seasoning if needed and add the lemon juice to taste.

Pour the velouté into a blender, add the sorrel and blend until smooth. Pour into a cream whipper. Secure the lid and charge with two gas charges. Shake the cream whipper vigorously and chill.

Pickled cucumber

Wash and peel the cucumber, cut it in half and remove the seeds. Finely dice the cucumber in 2-3mm brunoise, add the vinegar sugar and salt and leave to macerate for 10 minutes. Drain the cucumber on kitchen paper.

Oyster beignets

Mix the flour, cornflour, salt, egg yolk and sparkling water into a smooth paste. Whip the egg whites until fluffy and stop just before the soft peak stage . Fold the egg whites into the beignet batter and leave to settle for five minutes.

Shuck the oysters, wash the shells and oysters in cold water, rinse and drain them on kitchen paper.

Heat the oil to 160ºC. Once it reaches the correct temperature, dip the oysters in the batter and fry them for about one minute until golden brown all over. Cooking time will be dependent on the size of the oyster. Drain the oysters on kitchen paper and season immediately with salt and serve.

To serve

Spoon the drained pickled cucumber into the shells. Shake the cream whipper vigorously and squirt the sauce into a small bowl and then spoon the foaming sauce over the cucumber. Place a crispy golden oyster beignet in each shell and garnish with edible dried wild flowers and coriander cress.

PISTACHIO AND WALNUT BAKLAVA WITH RHUBARB AND ROSE DELIGHT

INGREDIENTS (Serves 24)

For the pistachio and walnut baklava

  • 300g pistachios
  • 300g walnuts
  • 2tsp ground cinnamon
  • 300g soft brown sugar
  • 16 sheets of filo pastry (40cm x 30cm)
  • 150g unsalted butter, melted

For the rhubarb and rose delight

  • 225g caster sugar
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 225g rhubarb
  • 300ml water
  • 4 leaves of gelatine
  • 25g cornflour dissolved in 50ml cold water
  • 2tbs rose water

For the rhubarb and apple purée

  • 125g of the cooked rhubarb purée
  • 125g russet apples, peeled and chopped
  • 100ml water

For the syrup

  • 750g caster sugar
  • 750ml water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Juice and zest of one lime and one lemon
  • 45g honey
  • 1tsp whole cloves

    METHOD

For the rhubarb and rose delight

Wash the rhubarb and chop into small pieces. Place the rhubarb, lemon juice, sugar and water in a medium saucepan and over a low heat, dissolve the sugar.

Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Leave the rhubarb juice to infuse for 10 minutes. Pass the rhubarb through a sieve and keep the pulp for the rhubarb and apple purée.

Line a 22cm x 15cm tray with cling film and set aside. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water. Once they have bloomed, squeeze to remove any excess water. Pour 450ml of the rhubarb juice into a medium non-stick saucepan, add the prepared gelatine leaves and the dissolved cornflour water, and bring the juice to a rolling boil for 12-14 minutes, approximately 112ºC. Stir continuously to prevent the mixture from catching and burning. Once the mixture reaches the desired temperature, remove from the heat and stir in the rose water. Pour the mixture into the prepared tray and leave to cool at room temperature for about 12 hours.

Once the jellies are set, cut them into desired shapes and roll them in a mixture of one part cornflour and two parts icing sugar. Keep the jellies in an airtight container in a cool, well-ventilated room; do not refrigerate.

For the rhubarb and apple purée

Place the chopped apples and water into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Cook for five minutes until the apples are soft.

Blend the rhubarb purée, cooked apples and water until smooth, then pass the purée through a fine sieve, and chill.

For the pistachio and walnut baklava

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Place the nuts, cinnamon and sugar into a food processor and pulse blitz until they are a coarse crumb texture.

Melt the butter and cut the filo pastry sheets in half to measure 20cm x 30cm. Start assembling the baklava in a tray measuring 3.5cm x 32cm x 22cm. Brush each sheet with the melted butter and lay 10 sheets with butter at the base of the tray. Spread half of the nuts and sugar mixture over the filo. Cover with another 10 filo sheets brushed with melted butter for the next layer. Press down and place the remainder of the nut and sugar mixture on top. Finish the baklava by adding another 12 layers of filo pastry, each sheet brushed with melted butter.

Using a sharp paring knife and a ruler to measure, cut through the first 12 layers, and divide into 24 pieces, measuring 2.5cm x 10cm. Bake the baklava for 45 minutes.

For the syrup

Bring all the ingredients for the syrup to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes until it reaches a coating syrup consistency. Pass the syrup through a fine sieve.

Once the baklava is cooked remove from the oven and leave to rest for five minutes then cut all the way through to the base of the tray. Then ladle the hot syrup over the hot baklava. As it will take time to absorb the syrup, keep adding a ladle at a time. Leave the baklava to cool and rest over night, for a minimum of 12 hours.

To serve

Place a piece of baklava onto a serving plate, spoon two teardrops of the rhubarb and apple sauce onto the plate, cut the rhubarb and rose delights into desired shapes and dust them in a mixture of cornflour and icing sugar. Arrange them on the plate, and garnish with chopped pistachios and tiny sprigs of coriander cress.

PICKLED BROCCOLI AND CHESTNUT MUSHROOM SALAD

INGREDIENTS
(Serves 10)

  • 2 heads of broccoli
  • 100g round shallots, peeled and sliced
  • 3tbs olive oil
  • 1 chilli, de-seeded and julienned
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 50g white wine vinegar
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 15 chestnut mushrooms, cut into quarters
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • Poppy seeds for garnishing

    METHOD

Remove the broccoli florets from the stalks and cut them all to the same size. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a rapid boil and blanch the florets until tender, then refresh in ice-cold water, drain and set aside.

Peel the stalks and use a mandolin to finely slice into rounds of wafer-thin discs.

Peel and finely slice the shallots. Heat a large non-stick frying pan with 1tbs of olive oil and sauté until golden.

Add the julienned chilli, reduce the heat and sauté for a further three minutes. Add the sugar, vinegar and lemon zest, let the sugar dissolve and bring to the boil.

Once the vinegar starts to boil, remove the pan from the heat and add the broccoli stalk discs, then stir and set aside to cool and infuse.

While the broccoli pickle cools, sauté the chestnut mushroom quarters in the remaining oil with seasoning until golden brown. Once they are cooked add the lemon juice.

Mix the sautéed mushrooms, drained blanched broccoli and pickled broccoli stalks together.

Arrange the salad in your chosen bowl or on individual plates and sprinkle with poppy seeds as a garnish. The salad is now ready to be served, either slightly warm or chilled.

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