James Wellock, managing director of fresh produce supplier Wellocks, welcomes the arrival of the asparagus season and unveils what other exciting ingredients are coming into season next month, while British Larder chef-patron Madalene Bonvini-Hamel creates some seasonal recipes
The asparagus season is under way and, for me, it brings home the importance of a 24-hour turnaround from field to kitchen so we can take full advantage of this fantastic product and keep it as fresh as possible.
May sees the start of local vegetables, and to compare these to a foreign product that is several days old is chalk and cheese. A bright green asparagus spear just screams ‘eat me', and even in a raw state is just wonderful. It's important to be prepared and ready for this season so we can take advantage of our local crops and support local growers because by mid-June it will be finished. As I mentioned last month, there is also white and purple local asparagus, so if you want something different, just ask your supplier. Or if you fancy going wild, French wild asparagus is also available at about £5 a bunch.
Baby vegetables will follow hot on the heels of asparagus, with beetroot, fennel, carrots, leeks and turnips all at their wonderful best.
Sticking with the wild theme, we have a fantastic array of mushrooms this month. Morels, St George, ceps, girolles, trompettes and mousseron will all be in season, and with such a wide choice the prices will reflect a large supply. There is, as with all fresh products, a caveat that the weather will be kind, so let's hope it's warm and wet where they grow.
We will still be relying on Europe for podding, but there's a great choice of garden peas, broad and Borlotti beans. There will also be some fantastic French yellow fine beans.
We will also be getting fresh almonds, another gem from France and an eagerly awaited product. As with the asparagus season, you have to be ready as it's a fine line: pick them too early, and there is not much almond inside, too late, and the shell is tough and bitter.
Salad leaf options are going crazy and you will be really spoilt for choice with baby leaves from France taking centre stage. On offer will be red and green mÁ¢che, red or yellow vein chard, pourpier sauvage, red and green mizuna, watercress, petit pois pousse and pousse epinard, plus the mixed mesclun and the most amazing arrouche rouge, which is just like red velvet. The sheer beauty and taste of all these leaves, coupled with the ease of use and the yield, make them a no-brainer and I see a real move away from the standard lollo, oakleaf and frisée.
May will also see some lovely herbs, with green and bronze fennel, hyssop, chocolate and pineapple mints, lovage and garlic chives.
Taking centre stage again will be soft fruits from France with the Gariguette and raspberry at their peak. A look at the weather will help to see if we will get local outdoor strawberries - fingers crossed for the last week of the month.
We will have stone fruits from Italy - apricots, white and yellow peaches and nectarines - but as to when you start to use them, again, depends on the sunshine for their ripeness.
So the theme for this month seems to be seasonal and the weather, and these really do go hand in hand through May as all chefs want their products as soon as possible. It is here that constant communication with suppliers is important, as their information is key to â¨getting the menu right.
Banana and passion fruit tart, banana and passion fruit sorbet
For the banana and passion fruit sorbet
160g caster sugar
130g banana purée (Boiron)
200g passion fruit purée (Boiron)
For the cream cheese pastry
175g plain flour
175g cold, unsalted butter, diced
175g full fat cream cheese
For the banana and passion fruit tart
200g cream cheese
Pulp from 2 fresh passion fruits
Zest and juice of one lemon
Seed of one vanilla pod
150g caster sugar plus extra for baking
3 large egg yolks
First prepare the sorbet. Make a stock syrup with the water and sugar, simmer for two minutes and leave to cool. Stir in the two pureés and pass through a fine sieve.
Churn the sorbet using an ice-cream machine. Once churned, keep frozen until needed.
For the pastry, place the flour, butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer and, using a dough hook, mix until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Do not overwork the dough; if the butter is still in large flecks, that's good.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and push it together (do not knead). Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a rectangle. Roll in one direction, fold the dough into three like an envelope, and roll again. Repeat the process four times, turning and rolling in the same direction each time. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for 20 minutes, repeat the process once more, and then chill the dough again.
Once the dough is ready to use, roll it out on a lightly floured work surface until it is 4mm thick.
Cut into eight 4cm x 12cm pieces.Brush each piece with one of the egg yolks. Chill for 20 minutes.
Make the filling in a small bowl. Mix the cream cheese, one tablespoon of fresh passion fruit pulp, lemon zest, vanilla seeds, 150g caster sugar and two yolks until creamy and smooth. Spread a tablespoon of the mix onto each chilled egg-washed piece of pastry.
Cut the bananas into slices, toss in the lemon juice, and arrange half a banana onto each pastry. Transfer the tart to a lined baking tray, dust with caster sugar and bake in a preheated oven at 180Â°C for 22 minutes until cooked and golden brown and the bottom of the pastry is crisp. Let them cool for 20 minutes.
To serve, place the tarts on serving plates, garnish with the remaining passion fruit pulp and a scoop of the sorbet.
Lemon sole, salted cod brandade, wild garlic salsa
For the potato 'pebbles'
2 large baking potatoes
For the lemon sole
200g salt cod, washed and cut
into even-sized pieces
1 large egg white
1tbs crème fraÁ®che
1tbs fresh wild garlic, finely cut
Zest of one lemon
Freshly cracked black pepper
4 whole lemon sole, skinned and
filleted - keep the fillets of each
fish together for assembly
For the wild garlic salsa
150g fresh wild garlic, stalks
removed, finely cut
1tbs Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, crushed
50g anchovies, drained and
50g flat leaf parsley, stalks removed, chopped
Zest of one lemon
50g banana shallots, finely diced
50g pine nuts, toasted and
Sea salt and freshly cracked
50ml olive oil
First bake the potatoes for the 'pebbles'. Wash and prick the potatoes all over using a metal skewer and bake in a preheated oven at 180Â°C for 2 hours. Once cooked, leave to cool. Once cooled, pull the baked potato open and spoon large chunks of cooked potato, resembling pebbles.
Set aside until needed.
For the lemon sole, blend the cod and egg in a food processor until smooth and then pass the pureé through a fine sieve into a bowl over ice - it's important to keep the mixture as cold as possible.
Fold the crème fraÁche, wild garlic, lemon zest and freshly cracked black pepper into the
mixture, taking care not to overwork it, then refrigerate for 20 minutes.
If you used salt cod there is no need to add salt, but if you used fresh cod, add salt to taste.
To assemble the sole, place two of the fillets from the same side of each fish flat onto cling film - the aim is to put the fish back together as if it were on the bone. Do the
same with the other three fish.
Divide the salt cod mixture between the four fish and then place the remaining fillets on top. This should now look like a whole sole.
Carefully press it together and wrap it tightly in cling film. Leave it to firm up and seal back together.
To prepare the wild garlic salsa, mix all the chopped ingredients together, season to taste, and then stir in the oil.
To cook the sole, preheat the oven to 180Â°C. Heat a large non-stick frying pan with a
tablespoon of oil and colour each fish in the hot pan for about three minutes on each side until golden brown. Transfer the fish to a lined baking tray and bake in the oven for a further 4-5 minutes.
While the fish cooks, deep-fry the potato 'pebbles' in oil at 160Â°C until crisp and golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and season with salt.
Once the fish is cooked, rest it for three minutes in a warm place.
Divide the potato between four warm plates, place the sole on top, garnish with the salsa and serve.