Spring Kitchen – Fruit and Vegetables
When winter arrives, I’m usually glad that I have no outdoor space which requires tending. The thought of the dank murk, of hibernating life brings me little joy as I look out my tenement window. However, when the first buds of spring appear I long to get out and have access to the seasonal ingredients which begin to poke through the ground. In Scotland there’s a hunger for the sun to appear a little higher in the sky, wild garlic and asparagus seem to take an interminable age after their appearance in the south of England to show their faces north of the border. But as soon as they do the growing season never seems to end. Elderflowers and nettles for those minded to forage are in abundance, with the joyous yellow of gorse seemingly omnipresent to give truth to the age-old legend about kissing being out of fashion when gorse is out of flower.
Wild garlic is one of those wonderful ingredients you often smell before seeing. It’s usually April before it makes an appearance near me, and then it finds its way into almost everything I make. My favourite use for it is in pesto, I can literally eat it with a spoon from the jar. You can try out whatever combination of cheeses and nuts you like, but I’ve finally settled on walnuts and Bonnet, the wonderful hard goats cheese from Ayrshire. It also perfectly protects witch sole, a most underrated fish which is wonderful in spring, from the heat of the oven, imparting a delicate flavour to the fish.
As spring becomes summer the soft berries begin to appear, whether cultivated or wild; strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, blaeberries, all the way through to the return of late summer brambles signaling the darkening days. There is no need to dress seasonal berries in anything but a thin splash of double cream, however if your palate needs a little more complexity of flavour, spiced yoghurt, or a honey and whisky based panna cotta provides the perfect backdrop to the sweet, tart acidity of the fruits of the season.
When it comes to vegetables, Ayrshire potatoes are an annual treat which can’t be overstated, and as the season progresses you’ll find courgettes and their wonderful flowers, baby carrots, peas, broad beans, with onions, and beetroot to follow. It may seem strange to be using ingredients this fresh to make soup as the temperature begins to rise, but the dishes here are almost the opposite of a thick winter broth. Light and delicate in flavour, served a bit cooler, and without cereal additions, these soups perfectly reflect the season. Spring vegetables, or even what’s left of the winter larder shredded with seasonal asparagus and syboes (spring onions) and a fragrant stock can be warming or refreshing depending on the time of day, while a glut of tomatoes and the fresh acidity of sorrel is mouthwatering in its simplicity. However it’s the culmination of new season lamb, and a basketful of summer vegetables that is the highlight, the perfect reflection of a hard earned summer harvest.
Fifth and final article in my Scottish Daily Mail Spring Kitchen series