How to use the new crops of the season

KATE RYAN continues her series ‘A Year of Flavour’ , where she looks at what food is in season — to grow, forage or cook. This month she heralds the arrival of springtime
How to use the new crops of the season

Jerusalem Artichokes Garlic Rosemary. Picture: Kate Ryan

WE’VE reached March in A Year of Flavour, and change is in the air.

In the relay race of seasons, March is when spring is truly handed the baton as new life emerges and it gets busy in the garden!

March heralds meteorological Springtime, and at the end of this week, the clocks will leap forward. I had my first al fresco lunch in the garden during St Patrick’s week, and there was heat in the sunshine: warmth, blue skies, sunshine — all the things we bare our teeth through the winter for. Magical!

New life is all around us now. The bird feeder, newly acquired at the start of the year, remains a hive of activity with our resident gang of sparrows, three types of blue tit, gold and bull finches, robins, starlings and blackbirds. I have ulterior motives, of course; I feed them peanuts and seeds and they poo on the dodgy patch of my lawn that desperately needs fertilising! I will have to move it soon to a new spot for fear they will help themselves to my newly sprouted seedlings in the raised bed.

Earlier this month I spotted frog spawn in various rivulets and little ponds on our daily walk. I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw tadpoles, so it’s been exciting to watch them over the past few weeks morph from little black dots in transparent jelly, into first stage tadpoles and now just on the cusp of growing their legs.

March is also the month when we say a final adieu to the crops of one season, and welcome in the new — a transitional time in life, and so too in what we now put on our plates.

GROW IT YOURSELF

March is when I spend a lot of time staring at mud! Seeds have been sown and I’m excitedly awaiting their arrival.

In line with tradition, spuds went in the ground on St Patrick’s Day; garlic, radish, spring lettuce and spring onions have all gone into my raised bed too and germinated nicely. Inside, windowsills are full of seed trays as beetroot, broad, runner and borlotti beans, peas and mangetout all burst into life.

Monkfish Brown Butter Wild Garlic Nasturium Capers. Picture: Kate Ryan
Monkfish Brown Butter Wild Garlic Nasturium Capers. Picture: Kate Ryan

There are herb seedlings too on the windowsills. Even if you only have the smallest of spaces, grow some herbs. I always have, even on a draughty balcony on the eighth floor of a high-rise! Herbs are easy to grow and surprising hardy and tenacious plants. Great for the beginner gardener, herbs are forgiving, and versatile in the kitchen too — workhorses imparting flavour and prettiness.

Towards the end of summer, leaves can be harvested and dried to ensure a year-round boost of flavour. Herb flowers are edible but let go to seed and those seeds can be collected, dried, and used as spice — coriander, fennel, lavender, and poppy are excellent for this.

Perennials return every year with the littlest amount of care, but annuals must be planted every year. All will grow happily in containers if watered regularly. Grow from seed or buy small plants and grow on.

In my garden I grow a mix of perennials and annuals. Perennial: bay, thyme, rosemary, mint, chives, oregano, lemon verbena, lemon balm, fennel, and lavender. Annuals: coriander, basil, and parsley.

If you’ve managed to over-winter your kale, spring will trigger these plants to produce sprouts ready for flowering. Picking off the Kale Sprouts encourages more leaves instead, and the shoots can be eaten. They need little cooking — sweet and tender and a great replacement for purple sprouting broccoli!

SHOP FOR IT

March is when one growing season comes to an end and another begins — also known as the hungry gap. Make the most of the last of winter leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, celeriac, and cooking apples.

Blood Oranges are still around, see my recipe below for a seriously delicious Blood Orange Curd which I heartily recommend gets lashed on top of a marshmallow-y pavlova with lots of cream.

If overwhelmed with leeks, clean and slice them on the round, bag and put in the freezer for year-round use.

Parsnips are nearing their end too, and, other than roasting I love to make a batch of Curried Parsnip Soup that keeps well in the freezer, too.

Celeriac is a versatile vegetable. At the end of its season, eat in a way that chimes with warmer days. My recipe below for Celeriac, Kohlrabi and Apple Remoulade would pair deliciously with an unctuous Wild Boar Burger from Ballinwillin Farm in Mitcheltown.

Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes with Garlic and Rosemary are a great replacement for roast potatoes to accompany Pork Schnitzel. Martin Conroy’s free-range Saddleback and Gloucester Old Spot pork from his Woodside Farm in Ballincurrig, east Cork, would be perfect for this!

As the last of the Cooking Apples are eked out from winter stores, celebrate the end of this season just as the new season apple blossoms make an appearance by making my Stuffed Baked Bramley’s with Whiskey Caramel Sauce, recipe below.

Blood Orange Curd Pavlova. Picture: Kate Ryan
Blood Orange Curd Pavlova. Picture: Kate Ryan

Rhubarb season is now well underway, and although we are most familiar with using it for sweet things, it is a vegetable. Wonderful in a Khoresh, a Persian-style stew of lamb and rhubarb. Alternatively, trim and slice into pieces of equal length and toss with sugar, vanilla bean extract and juice of half an orange and roast in an oven at 200C for 15 minutes covered and five minutes uncovered for delicious Sweet Roasted Rhubarb. It jars well and is perfect with porridge, yogurt, rice pudding, ice cream or, of course, thick custard!

FORAGE FOR IT

At long last we are drowning in Wild Garlic! Use it to make flavoured butter, pesto, baked into bread and even sautéed and eaten as a spring green. This month, I chose to use it to accompany a lovely fillet of Monkfish with Brown Butter, Wild Garlic and Pickled Nasturtium Seeds from last summer, in place of capers. Find the recipe below.

Spring Nettles are perfect now too — just be sure to wear thick gloves to pick their young tips. Use in stews, or to make a thick soup with potatoes, cream, and lots of white pepper.

I decided to use my first seasonal pick of nettles to make Nettle and Buffalo Ricotta Cannelloni. Make it exactly the way you would with spinach. Simply sort, clean, and blanch nettles and finely chop. Add to ricotta with grated lemon zest and season. Fill cannelloni tube using a piping bag, place in a baking dish and pour cover over a simple tomato sauce (onion, garlic, tinned tomatoes cooked down and blitzed). Top with Buffalo Mozzarella, also from Macroom, and a generous grating of cheese. I like to use a six-month aged Buffalo Cheddar available from Olives West Cork market stall and some NeighbourFood hubs too.

Good to pick right now, too, is Ground Elder. Be conscious of where you pick it, as the name suggests it grows along the ground, so ideally find a place where it has grown a little higher up and pick young leaves.

Kale Sprouts Picture: Kate Ryan
Kale Sprouts Picture: Kate Ryan

It has a deeply herbaceous flavour, something between parsley, chervil and lovage, and makes a particularly fine Herb Oil, great to dress spring salad leaves with or as a decorative, and delicious, herby drizzle in sauces, soups and even curries. See method below.

Dandelions are also out. Their leaves make a seasonal salad with the last of last season’s Endive and garnished with dandelion flower petals. Their roots, once cleaned and dried out in a low oven or dehydrator, can be ground down to make a powder that makes a caffeine-free replacement for coffee.

COOK IT

Celeriac, Kohlrabi and Apple Remoulade

A crisp and fresh salad that is perfect with pork and fish.

Ingredients

½ a celeriac bulb, peeled, sliced thinly and julienned

1 Kohlrabi peeled, sliced thinly and julienned

1 large apple, peeled, cored, sliced thinly and julienned

½ red chili, remove seeds, chop finely

½ tbsp caraway seeds

1 lemon, zest and juice of

Handful of fresh coriander, finely chopped

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt and pepper

Method:

Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix to coat thoroughly.

Monkfish with Brown Butter, Wild Garlic and Nasturtium Seed Capers

Feel free to substitute wild garlic for chives or the green stems of scallions, and pickled nasturtium seeds with capers. Serves 2, serve with steamed buttered potatoes. Monkfish is a dense fish and takes a little more cooking. Cooking time will vary depending on the size and shape of the fillets.

Ingredients

2 Monkfish fillets (approximately 250g each), skinned, off the bone and sinew removed

Olive oil, salt, and pepper

50g butter

2 handfuls of wild garlic

Juice of ½ lemon

2 tbsp of pickled nasturtium seeds or capers.

Method:

Heat a frying pan large enough to fit the fish with space to spare. You may need two pans. Season fish with salt, pepper and olive oil. Add fish to the hot pan and cook, turning every couple of minutes to ensure even cooking.

Towards the end of the cooking time, add butter and froth it up to brown. Repeatedly baste the fish with the frothy butter using a spoon, add the capers, lemon juice and drop in the wild garlic. Allow the greens to wilt a little. Serve the fish immediately onto warm plates, spoon over the buttery juices, capers, and wild garlic.

Celeriac Kohlrabi and Apple Remoulade. Picture: Kate Ryan
Celeriac Kohlrabi and Apple Remoulade. Picture: Kate Ryan

Ground Elder Oil

The method in “The Irish Cook Book”, written by Jp McMahon, is simple and works with any herb every time.

Ingredients

100g Ground Elder

300ml Sunflower Oil

Method:

Place the herbs into a blender and blitz.

Into a small, deep saucepan, add oil and herbs. Heat gently for five minutes until oil and herbs separate and the oil begins to bubble. Chill everything overnight.

The next day, strain through muslin or a fine sieve. Refrigerate or freeze into ice cube trays for use as needed.

Orange Curd

This curd is sweet compared to tart lemon curd and is equally wonderful atop a pavlova as it is on hot buttered toast. Makes about 3 small condiment jars. Keep refrigerated, will be good for two weeks.

Ingredients

2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks

160g caster sugar

80g unsalted butter

3 Blood Oranges, juice, and zest of.

Method:

Place all eggs and sugar into a saucepan and whisk together until smooth.

Place the pan over a low heat and add butter, zest, and juice. Stir continuously until the mixture has thickened.

Pour into sterilised jars, clamp on lid, and allow to cool completely. Refrigerate for four hours until set firm.

Stuffed Baked Bramley’s with Whiskey Caramel Sauce

So easy to make and yet indulgent tasting. If serving this to little ones, make the caramel sauce without the whiskey!

Ingredients

4 Bramley cooking apples, cored

2 tbsp raisins

1 tbsp hazelnuts

1 tbsp pecan nuts

2 pieces of crystalised ginger (optional)

1 tbsp brown sugar

½ tsp ground cinnamon

30g chilled butter.

Method:

Baked Bramley Apple before cooking. Picture: Kate Ryan
Baked Bramley Apple before cooking. Picture: Kate Ryan

Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, fan, and butter a baking dish.

Using a knife, score around the circumference of each apple. This allows the apple to expand while cooking and preventing it bursting open.

Chop to roughly equal length raisins, ginger, and nuts. Place into a bowl with the butter, sugar, and spice. Use your hands to bring together. Stuff as much of this mixture into hollow where the core was removed. Top with a small knob of butter and bake for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile make a caramel by melting 115g of butter in a heavy bottom pan. Add 200g of brown sugar and whisk until the sugar has dissolved. Allow this mixture to bubble up, it will darken as it begins to caramelise.

Add 125g of double cream and stir to combine and thicken.

Add 50ml of whiskey and stir through.

The caramel will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four weeks.

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