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What's in season: April

19 March 2014 by
What's in season: April

James Wellock, managing director of fresh produce supplier Wellocks, looks at the glorious ingredients coming into season in the coming weeks, while British Larder chef-patron Madalene Bonvini-Hamel suggests some seasonal recipes

The month of April sees the ingredients I mentioned last month coming to full fruition, and what were deemed to be too expensive when they first came onto the market really come into the realms of possibility for all kitchens this month.

While we are on the foraging theme, many ingredients will be in abundance - sea beet and purslane, wild garlic, wild leeks, chickweed, hedge garlic, nettles and ground elder. All these have one thing in common: they need authentic spring weather - wet and warm - so it could be a memorable walk!

Getting back to mushrooms and my favourite of all, the morel, will by now have halved in price (still about £40 per kilo). Morels will also be joined by lovely mousserons, so you will be spoilt for choice.

Wye Valley growers have pushed the boundaries over the last few years and will be well in to their asparagus crop. Blueberries - also from the Wye Valley - will be plentiful by April, and last year's were the best I have ever tasted.

I am, however, still slightly dubious about the asparagus as it is grown under polytunnels and I believe that the real-tasting asparagus is the crop that is open to the elements and so has an oomph, and a strong, sulphurous sweetness. This outdoor crop, though, is dependent on the weather so let's hope that this year we have a warmer start to spring. You will also have choices as to whether to use white and purple asparagus and which country to buy it from.

Jersey Royals will be tumbling in price, and during the past two years (since supplier Albert Bartlett has invested heavily in a packing station) the product has been reinvigorated. It really all comes down to the basics - freshness is best and this is what the company really achieves.

The Norfolk Coast has been a real winner with some artisan growers popping up, while the climate has helped to provide earlier crops, giving us Oriental vegetables, green and white pak choi, kai choi, choi sum, tat soi and tong ho all around £6.50 for two kilos.

The now staple micro herbs will be growing faster and therefore the mixed micro salad will be back as they grow slightly too large. Recent developments have seen the range added to with micro vegetables including fennel, radish, onions, leeks and carrots.

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

A trip to Brittany last year to see the Gariguette strawberry being grown and harvested really has left a mark on me. They were already a favourite, but after seeing the love and care that goes into them I cannot help championing them. Again, the price will have fallen and you will have an even cheaper option from Spain, but the sheer fragrance and flavour punch make these a no-brainer as far as I'm concerned.

The French raspberry - or as we call them the roseberry - is also a winner as it's twice the size of the cheaper Spanish version, but the sheer indulgence of flavour sets it apart.

Another favourite of mine - and one we would sell as the norm but for the reluctance of bar staff and chefs to move on to them because of the shape and size not being perfect - is the Sicilian leafy lemon. They will be here and reasonably priced compared with the standard Spanish lemon, but if you want to make a real difference to fish - or your gin and tonic - you cannot beat these. The other factor is the leaf, which too many people simply discard, when in fact just simply crushing it in your hand reveals amazing sherbet lemon and a lovely oil on your palm which you can surely use?

Recent visits to growers all over Europe have revealed a massive push forward in the development and re-emergence of old varieties of tomatoes. The heritage mix has gained massive popularity over the last couple of years, but this year we are going to see even more varieties added to the mix. It looks like a competition between France, Spain and the Netherlands to expand this area so get ready for more shapes, colours, textures and flavours to choose from.

Sea bass, port and blood orange-braised squid, toasted oat gnocchi

By Madalene Bonvini-Hamel

Ingredients

Serves 4

For the port and blood orange-braised squid

  • 1tbs sunflower oil
  • 2 banana shallots, finely sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • ¼ bulb of fennel, finely sliced
  • 1tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 star anise
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 400g baby squid, cleaned, sliced into ½ cm rings, keep the tentacles whole
  • 250ml port wine
  • 100ml blood orange juice
  • 400ml fish stock

For the toasted oat gnocchi

  • 40g rolled jumbo oats
  • 1tsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 350g freshly prepared dry mashed potato
  • 85g '00' flour
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

For the pan-fried sea bass and sautéd chicory, fennel and parsley

  • 4 x 80-100g sea bass portions, scaled and pin bones removed, with skin scored
  • 2tbs sunflower oil
  • 2tsp unsalted butter
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 chicory head, ½ cm thick slices
  • 1 fennel, sliced
  • 100g parsley leaves, deep-fried until crispy, drained and seasoned
  • Segments from 2 blood oranges

Method

First prepare the braised squid. Heat a medium, flat-based, oven-resistant saucepan with a fitting lid over a medium heat with the oil. Sauté the shallots, garlic, fennel, coriander seeds and star anise with seasoning until golden brown - about 3-5 minutes. Increase the heat and add the squid, then cook for a further 2 minutes.

Add ¼ of the port and all the orange juice. Cook until it is nearly all evaporated and thick and syrupy, then add the rest of the port and reduce by half. Add the stock, bring to a gentle simmer, place a cartouche on the surface and place a lid on top. Transfer the pan to a pre-heated oven at 150°C for one hour, until the squid is tender. Drain the squid and reduce the sauce until it is thick and glossy.

For the gnocchi, mix the melted butter, oats and seasoning, spread on a tray and toast in the oven at 180°C for 5 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool.

Mix half of the cooled toasted oats with the mashed potato, flour and butter to make the gnocchi dough. Roll the dough into long ribbons and cut into shapes. Blanch the gnocchi in a pan of seasoned simmering water for 3-4 minutes or until they start to float, then drain using a slotted spoon.

Once ready to serve, heat two large non-stick frying pans - one for the fish and the other for the gnocchi and garnish. Pan-fry the lightly seasoned sea bass skin-side down in the one pan with one tablespoon of the oil. Once the skin is golden brown and crispy - about 3 minutes - add one teaspoon of butter and cook for 1 minute, turn the fish over for 30 seconds and then drain on kitchen paper. Season the skin with sea salt and scatter over the remaining toasted oats.

In the second pan, over a medium heat, sauté the gnocchi in the remaining butter until golden brown - about 3-4 minutes - then add the shredded chicory and fennel, sauté for 30 seconds, season to taste and add the braised squid and blood orange segments. Add a good amount of the deep-fried parsley and divide the mix between four serving plates. Place the sea bass on top, drizzle over the reduced sauce, and garnish with the remaining deep-fried parsley.

Blood orange trifle

By Madalene Bonvini-Hamel

Serves 6-8 (depending on size of glasses)

Ingredients

For the blood orange jelly and foam

  • 750ml blood orange juice
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 3 gelatine leaves, bloomed

For the sherry soaked cake

  • 125g caster sugar
  • 3 large free range eggs
  • 1tbs hot water
  • 125g sifted plain flour
  • 2tbs dry sherry

For the crème anglaise

  • 300ml full fat milk
  • 7 large free-range egg yolks
  • 60g caster sugar
  • Seeds of one vanilla pod
  • 100ml whipping cream

To serve

  • 3 blood oranges, segmented
  • 1tbs chopped toasted green pistachios
  • 1tbs chopped honeycomb crumbs
  • 1tsp dehydrated blood orange rind (spread the rind on a tray and dehydrate at 52°C for 2-3 hours)

Method

To prepare the jelly and foam, heat 300ml of the blood orange juice over a low heat to dissolve the sugar, add the soaked and drained gelatine, dissolve and whisk in the rest of the juice. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve and divide into two equal measures. Pour one half into 6 chilled dessert glasses. Refrigerate until set (about 3 hours). Pour the remaining mixture into a siphon bottle and charge with two gas pellets, shake vigorously and chill over ice. Keep refrigerated until needed.

While the jelly is setting bake the cake. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a large baking sheet with parchment. Whisk the eggs and sugar with the hot water using a balloon whisk, then in a mixer for 10 minutes until thick and creamy. Fold in the sifted flour, then spread the mix evenly on the baking tray. Bake for 8 minutes, then leave to cool. Once cooled, cut the cake using a round pastry cutter that fits snugly into the glasses. Cut one piece of cake for each glass, sprinkle over the sherry and cover with cling film. Set aside until needed.

For the crème anglaise, place all the ingredients apart from the cream into a thermomix, insert the butterfly whisk and set the timer for 10 minutes at 80°C, speed 3. Add the cream, pass the mix through a fine sieve and pour into a squeezy bottle, then chill over ice.

To assemble, place the soaked cake on top of the set jelly, then layer the blood orange segments, followed by the chilled crème anglaise and finally, when ready to serve, shake the siphon bottle vigorously and squirt the blood orange foam on top. Garnish with a sprinkle of pistachio, honeycomb and dehydrated orange zest.

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