As the days slowly lengthen, out options for produce present another exciting month. James Wellock highlights the must-have ingredients for your February menu, and Madalene Bonvini-Hamel of the award-winning British Larder shares her seasonal recipes.
February heralds the start of the foraging season. Foraging is becoming so important: not only is foraging going to add that extra dimension to your dishes, but nutritionally it ticks all the boxes.
Foraged food is free from pesticides as it is not farmed or forced, and it retains its optimum nutrient content, greatly outweighing a cultivated crop. It will choose the best possible place to grow, and will therefore be at its best. To start with, we have two gems: wild leeks and garlic, and for those who don't mind donning their wellies, they are of course free, which makes them even more appealing.
Italian produce is also bursting through the door of the new season. Included in an amazing tomato selection is the green Camone, which comes in baby and normal sizes. It has a ribbed side, which isn't very enticing to look at, but it is beautiful to eat. There will also be cherry tomatoes on the vine, midi and large San Marzanos.
Citrus fruits are getting better and better this month. Blood oranges are in their prime - the colour should now be bright red - and we will have leafy clementines and oranges from Italy, too.
Just about squeezing into February are a couple of my favourites from France that really get the tastebuds going - the gariguette strawberry and the heritage tomato mix. There will be more of these gems next month when they start to hit the heights.
But back at home means back to basics, although this doesn't mean boring. Baby â¨vegetables are usually considered to be too expensive, but not if you play your cards right. For less than £1.20 per kilo you can have baby red and brown onions, baby Chantenay carrots, small grade golden, red and candy beetroots, bay parsnips and Albert Bartlett Anya potatoes, which are very similar to a Pink Fir with a fantastic nutty flavour.
So that's enough babies to fill a vegetable crèche - all from the UK, all cheap and all with amazing flavour.
I promise this is the last time I am going to mention cabbage, but we are blessed with the January King. This is surely the best-tasting and looking cabbage of all, with its spectacular red veins, but sadly it is the most underused. Everyone seems to automatically opt for â¨Savoy, red and white, but please give January King a try.
After we have travelled across Europe, it is only fitting that we end in God's country, â¨Yorkshire, with its famous forced rhubarb and, as I touched upon last month, it is going to be a bumper crop. So if there is one product to have firmly seated on your menu, make it this. And, finally, can we start a campaign for proper, freshly made custard?
Warm peppered pig, charred pak choi and sprouting broccoli salad (Serves 4)
For the peppered pig
1kg pork shoulder, brined for
2 hours. Optional: cold oak smoke for 12 hours
1tsp black peppercorns, crushed
10 fresh peppercorns
2 Thai chillies, sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
30ml sesame oil
70g soft dark brown sugar
30ml dark soy sauce
30ml rice wine vinegar
200ml fresh apple juice
200ml cold water
For the roasted Thai aubergines
4 Thai aubergines
1tbs sesame oil
1tsp rice wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
For the charred pak choi and sprouting broccoli salad
6 small heads of pak choi
12 spears of purple sprouting broccoli, blanched and chilled
1tbs sesame oil
200g bean shoots
1/2 bunch fresh coriander, washed
First prepare the peppered pig. Pound the fresh and dried peppercorns with the garlic and chillies in a pestle and mortar until fine, and then mix with the rest of the ingredients apart from the pork.
The smoked pork (the smoking is optional) adds an extra intense depth of flavour. Rub the marinade over the meat, place in a deep roasting tray and pour the rest of the marinade over. Cover with foil and chill for at least 2 hours or up to 12. Preheat the oven to 140Â°C and roast the pork for 4 hours, turning it twice.
Pierce holes in the aubergines using a cocktail stick, place on a large sheet of foil on a tray, pour over the oil, rice wine vinegar and mirin, and season. Place in the oven for the last hour of the pork's cooking time. When the pork and aubergines are cooked, remove from the oven and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
For the salad, heat a wok over a high heat, add the sesame oil and fry the pak choi and broccoli with the seasoning until charred. Spoon over the marinade from the pork and transfer to serving bowls.
Shred the pork and arrange on the plate with the remainder of the ingredients, including the roasted Thai aubergines. Serve warm.
Five spice-glazed wild duck, Chinese pancakes, rhubarb ketchup (Serves 4-6 as a starter)
For the honey-glazed five spice mallard 1 Mallard duck, oven ready
2 star anise
10 juniper berries
1tsp coriander seeds
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
50ml clear runny honey
25g soft dark brown sugar
25ml soy sauce
For the rhubarb ketchup 1kg rhubarb, sliced
480g onion, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, crushed
25g fresh ginger, finely shredded
2 red chillies, seeds removed,
3tsp coriander seeds, crushed
240ml cider vinegar
240g soft dark brown sugar
100ml port wine
For the Chinese pancakes 150g plain flour
100ml boiling water
1tsp groundnut oil
First prepare the duck. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, dip the duck in the boiling water for 1 minute, remove, and drain on a cooling rack. Leave in the fridge to cool and dry for 2 hours.
To prepare the marinade, pound the dry spices in a pestle and mortar until fine. Mix the spices with the honey, sugar and soy sauce, and add salt and pepper to taste.
Brush the marinade all over the duck, and then leave it in the fridge, uncovered, for 30 minutes to dry. Repeat the process three more times and then leave the duck overnight in the fridge, uncovered. Keep the remaining marinade for roasting the following day.
To prepare the rhubarb ketchup, place all the ingredients in a large saucepan over a medium heat, bring to the simmer, and stir regularly to prevent it from catching.
Turn the heat down low and cook the ketchup for about 30 minutes. Season to taste and cool at room temperature for 2 hours before refrigerating until needed.
For the pancakes, mix the flour and boiling water to form a dough. Knead for 2 minutes (or 5 minutes if you double the recipe) until smooth, cover and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
Roll the dough out to about 3mm thick. Using a 5cm pastry cutter, cut out rounds, and brush them with the groundnut oil. Sandwich the rounds together in pairs, with the oiled sides together. Place on a tray and cover with cling film.
Heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Roll out each paired round until paper thin, place in the hot pan and cook for 1 minute on each side until brown spots form and the pancakes blow up with steam. Remove the pancakes from the pan and separate them back into single rounds. Stack them
on top of each other, with parchment in between. Cook all the pancakes, and then place them in a steamer basket.
Preheat the oven to 160Â°C, remove the duck from the fridge and brush once more with the marinade. Roast in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, brushing with marinade once during the roasting process.
Let the duck rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, place the steamer basket over a pan of boiling water and steam the pancakes for 5 minutes.
Serve the duck with the steamed pancakes, rhubarb ketchup and a julienne of cucumber and salad onions.