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The Caterer

What's in season – May/June

07 May 2014
What's in season – May/June

James Wellock, managing director of fresh produce supplier Wellocks, welcomes the arrival of local berries, which come to the fore next month, while British Larder chef-patron Madalene Bonvini-Hamel shares some of her favourite seasonal recipes

It's a great time of year for local produce as the soil now has some warmth and, as is normal for mid to late spring, we are getting showers.

Even into June, there will still be the last push on local asparagus, but it finishes as abruptly as it starts, so it pays to plan ahead. Luckily, you are spoilt for choice on the vegetable front.

The standard English cauliflower and broccoli will be fantastic as the local summer crop kicks in. This has been disregarded over the last decade, with many growers moving into different crops. However, there is, I feel, a move back to these staples, which are being cooked in different ways. I recently tried barbecued cauliflower florets, which were stupendous. On top of this, growers are working hard to grade sizes as the penny is finally dropping that a baby cauliflower can make as much as a standard-sized one and needs less time to grow and also less land. It comes back to the old adage that all crop is good - not just the supermarket spec - and this is how we will all help to reduce costs.

All the root vegetables are at their best as they are so sweet. Whenever I walk through the warehouse there has to be a carrot at hand, but I also enjoy seeing the beetroot selection coming in bunches - in all sizes - along with leeks and white turnips.

There is something about summer and local watercress. The fresh water and sunshine will give it a fantastic dark green appearance and really accentuate the peppery flavour.

Salad choices are numerous, with fantastic baby leaves and heritage tomatoes available in every shape size and colour.

First in the fruit selection are the French Provence apricots, which I feel have a massive edge over the other European countries with their juice, colour, texture and flavour.

Come June, stoned fruit will be in abundance with yellow and white peaches coming to the fore. I love Paraguay peaches (the 
flat ones that you really need a bib to eat) and nectarines.

Cherries from all parts will be fantastic. However, the French Avignon, a massive crunchy dark red one, will probably steal the show, along with Custard cherries.

Finally, as usual I've saved the best until last. In the UK we'll have fantastic berry choices with strawberries, blackberries and blueberries all being locally grown. As the temperature increases you can see the product become available from the South coast working its way up to Scotland, and, in some instances, the crops can be a month apart. However, it is for this reason that I will always back the Scottish soft fruit. Although it is pretty much the same plant all the growers are using, the fruit takes much longer to ripen - 70 days or more, compared with around 45 days in the south of England. This means the fruit can take on more goodness from its surroundings. The soil quality is outstanding and this, along with spring water and no pollution, adds up to better tasting fruit.

To complete the berry offer, there will also be Tulameen raspberries from France, which are amazing. Don't forget the cream!

Asparagus mousse, buttermilk and asparagus fritters

For the asparagus mousse 250ml single cream
150g asparagus, finely sliced
50g large leaf spinach
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
3g agar

For the buttermilk and asparagus fritters 50g plain wholemeal flour
50g plain white flour
1tsp baking powder
2 eggs, separated
100ml buttermilk
100g asparagus spears, thinly sliced
1tbs chopped oregano
1tsp chopped spring onions
Rapeseed oil, for cooking

For the salad 2 baby Gem lettuces
1tbs olive oil
50ml classic French vinaigrette
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
40 asparagus spears (5 per portion), blanched or steamed

For the asparagus mousse, prepare eight 5 x 4cm metal rings by covering the outside of each one with foil, then place them on a tray in the fridge. Put the cream, spinach and asparagus into a small saucepan with salt and pepper and bring to the boil over a medium heat for one minute.

Pour the hot cream into a blender and add the agar and blend for 30 seconds, then return the mixture to the pan, bring to the boil over a high heat and boil for 30 seconds. Immediately pour the mixture into the prepared rings, dividing evenly. Leave to set at room temperature for 5 minutes and then transfer to the fridge to chill
and set for a minimum of 1 hour.

For the fritters, mix the flours and baking powder in a bowl, then stir in the egg yolks, buttermilk, sliced asparagus, herbs, spring onions and salt and pepper. Do not over-mix; a few lumps will be fine. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form, then fold into the batter and leave to rest for 10 minutes. If the batter is too thick, add a bit more buttermilk.

You are looking for a thick dropping consistency. This batter can be made up to 6 hours in advance, but should be used on the same day it is made. If making it in advance, cover and refrigerate it until you are ready to use it.

For the salad, heat a griddle pan, cut the Gem lettuces into quarters, wash and drain. Toss in the olive oil and season. Char the lettuces until golden brown, then toss them immediately with the vinaigrette while still warm, and set aside while completing the dish.

When you are ready to serve, cook the fritters in 2-3 batches. Heat 1tbs rapeseed oil in a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Drop teaspoonfuls of the batter into the pan (cook 6-8 fritters at a time), cook the fritters for 2 minutes on one side, flip them over and cook for a further minute or so until cooked (turn the heat down if they start to colour too much). Drain on kitchen paper and keep the fritters warm while the rest are cooked. Repeat with the remaining batter, adding a little more oil to the pan, if necessary.

To serve the salad, mix the blanched asparagus with salt and pepper and a dash of the vinaigrette. Turn the mousses out onto serving plates, arrange the asparagus spears, break the charred Gem lettuce into smaller pieces and divide between the plates. Place the warm, freshly cooked fritters on the plates and serve immediately.

New season lamb cutlets, oak-smoked leg of lamb, charred broccoli

Serves 12

For the oak-smoked leg of lamb 1.5kg leg of lamb, bone removed, rolled and tied
with string
2 litres water
275g soft dark brown sugar
300g table salt
2tsp black peppercorns
1tbs juniper berries
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
½ tsp cloves
2 garlic cloves
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs of thyme
100g curing salt

For the lamb cutlets 2 racks of lamb (score the fat and French trim the bones)
Freshly cracked black pepper
For the charred broccoli
1 head of broccoli, broken into florets, with the stalks shaped as even-sized barrels
2tbs olive oil
50ml classic French vinaigrette
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
300g white Chantenay carrots, cooked in salted water
80g green olives, sliced
36 asparagus spears, blanched

First, to brine the leg of lamb, prepare the brine.

Place the water into a large saucepan, and add the table salt and sugar. Toast the spices in a warm pan then crush using a pestle and mortar.

Add this to the water with the bay leaves and thyme, bring to a gentle simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and stir in the curing salt. Pour into a large container and leave to cool completely. Submerge the lamb in the brine and leave for 3 days.

Prepare for cold smoking using oak - drain the brined leg of lamb and cold smoke at 38°C for 12 hours. Once smoked, place the leg of lamb into a large vacuum pouch, seal on hard vacuum and cook in a preheated water bath at 83°C for 12 hours. Once cooked, remove the lamb from the bag and wrap tightly in cling film to form an even diameter-shaped barrel, then chill over ice.

Let it chill and set for a minimum of 6 hours.

To cook the rack of lamb, heat a large pan over a medium heat and place the seasoned racks of lamb, fat side down, onto buttered paper in the pan. Render the fat until it's crispy and golden brown all over (this takes about 15-20 minutes), and once rendered, place the pan with the lamb in a preheated oven at 180°C for 6 minutes, remove from the oven and place in a warm spot on a cooling rack to rest for 20 minutes.

Heat a griddle pan, toss the broccoli stalks in a dash of oil and seasoning, griddle the stalks until bar marks appear then cook them in the oven for 5 minutes. Remove and cut the stalks into 3mm thick slices, griddle the broccoli florets (also tossed in oil and seasoning) until golden brown.

Toss the warm broccoli florets and stalk slices in the vinaigrette, add the warm cooked and drained Chantenay carrots and asparagus spears and sliced olives. Keep this mixture warm.

Cut the smoked lamb into 3mm thick slices, place on a roasting tray in a hot oven at 180°C for about two minutes to heat it through, place the warm slice of smoked lamb on warm plates, divide the broccoli mix between the plates, carve the lamb cutlets and place one cutlet on each plate. Serve with lamb sauce.

Recipes by Madalene Bonvini-Hamel

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