As winter gives way to spring it's a good time to adjust your menus to make sure you're using produce at its very best. Madalene Bonvini-Hamel of the British Larder explains what to look out for this month
After a touch of snow the temperature has changed quickly to make for a more pleasant and milder start to early spring. With Mother's Day in the middle of the month it's a good opportunity to fill restaurants with happy diners.
The season is slowly changing, with fragrant forced rhubarb changing over to the more earthy taste of outdoor rhubarb. Blood oranges are coming to an end shortly so make the most of them while you can. March is a lean month for new seasonal ingredients - however, expect sorrel and spinach to make their appearances towards the end of the month.
Oysters, salmon and mussels are plentiful; sea trout should become more regularly available during March.
The store cupboard is packed with plenty of standbys, so use pulses such as haricot beans, butter beans, dried borlotti beans and lentils. Pickles and preserves such as stem ginger bring a little extra colour and spice to the early spring menus.
Celeriac is a large, knobbly root vegetable that grows as the base of the stem of certain types of celery.
With its knobbly exterior and smooth, silky white interior, celeriac has a distinctive nutty celery taste and has an unexpectedly low starch content. It can be eaten raw - in classic recipes such as celeriac remoulade - or cooked as mash or purée and roasted it makes a great accompaniment to the traditional Sunday roast. It discolours easily after peeling unless rubbed with a lemon.
Ginger is from the same family as galangal, cardamom and turmeric. The root can be dried and ground into a spiced ginger powder or alternatively it can be used fresh or preserved in sweet syrup, creating a product called stem ginger. It requires peeling before use and stores well in a cold room for up to three months. Ginger is said to be good for the digestive system so drinking ginger tea after a heavy meal is beneficial.
Also known as navy bean or pea bean, the haricot bean is a small, oval, creamy coloured bean that's used in the production of baked beans. It holds its shape well once cooked, unlike some bean varieties which collapse. Haricot beans are rich in soluble fibre, which helps to reduce bad cholesterol and is also rich in potassium, iron and magnesium. Soak dried haricot beans in five times the volume of cold water for a minimum of 12 hours replacing the water at least twice during the soaking process. Cook them in plenty of cold water without salt as this will make the skin tough, starting at a low heat so that the water is not boiling too fast, add salt towards the last five minutes of cooking time.
Forced rhubarb with its pink, tender stems is still considered as the chef's first choice, especially Yorkshire forced rhubarb. Outdoor rhubarb, with its thicker stems and large leaves, earthy and gutsy taste, will start to come on to the market during March. The stems are slightly thicker and the skin is stringier than the pretty tender-stem forced rhubarb available from mid January until the end of March, but although it may require peeling the taste is still superb.
Rhubarb is easy to grow; low maintenance and every kitchen garden should have a crown or two. The leaves are toxic and should be removed before cooking. The natural tartness of rhubarb makes it an ideal ingredient for both sweet and savoury dishes.
Typically salmon are born in fresh water and migrate to the ocean before returning to fresh water to reproduce. Classed as an oily fish, salmon is high in protein, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Most salmon available is farmed (wild salmon stocks are very low). Look out for salmon certified by the RSPCA Freedom Foods scheme, which ensures that high welfare standards during production are met, including stock densities.
Seasonal Best during March…
Bananas, blood oranges, cauliflower, celeriac, chicory, chickweed, cockles, hake, John Dory, kale, leeks, lemons, lemon sole, mussels, nettles, oranges, oysters, passion fruit, pineapple, pomegranate, purple sprouting broccoli, rhubarb (outdoor), salad onions, salmon, salsify, sea trout, shallots, skate, sorrel, spinach, whitebait, winkles.
WHAT'S IN STORE NEXT MONTH
James Wellock of fresh and dried ingredients supplier Wellocks takes a look at what's coming into season in April Make sure you're looking out of your windows and speaking to your suppliers as it's the most exciting time of the year for produce. Sunshine has a massive impact on the arrival of the first spring crops.
Wild foraged produce could not be any better as it bursts into life. At the moment, wild leeks are coming in at £12 per kg, wild garlic £8 per kg, black lovage £12 per kg, sweet cicely £18 per kg, and laver seaweed £18 per kg (all prices are approximate). As well as adding an extra dimension to your dishes, these products all grow where they choose to and where they flourish so they naturally optimise nutrient levels - there is no use of pesticides and it has also been shown that diets containing wild plants lower cholesterol.
While purple sprouting broccoli has been available all winter, the spring crop will be something else, with vibrant colour, tender stems and flavour to die for. It be should be around £12 for 4.5kg.
Asparagus from the South should definitely have started and hopefully, with a bit of sunshine, the Yorkshire asparagus will be available, too. This, for me, is the best bar none, but I would say that, being form Yorkshire. As always, if it is warm and there's plenty about, the prices will be forced down, I think the first will start from £4 for 250g and this will halve as the season progresses. White French asparagus will now be at its peak, and its cheapest.
All the baby salad leaves will be arriving and as the growers continuously develop their ranges a good 12-plus varieties should be ready from chards and kales through to mizunas and rocket, giving you a vibrant salad. Winter savoury and lemon balm fresh herbs will also be here.
The first of the French Heritage tomato mix will arrive again, with all shapes and sizes, colours and flavours. To give you even more choice the coeur dÍe boeuf tomatoes (like a ribbed beef tomato tied up in a parcel) not only look spectacular but taste as tomatoes should!
Italian garden peas and broad beans will have size and sweetness, as will my favourite, the borlotti, which looks beautiful with its cream colour and red streaks.
To complete your menu, think about morels, mousseron, St George mushrooms and trompettes, although they are coming to an end.