Vegetables often reach their natural harvest time exactly when we most require them. Spring roots and shoots are a great tonic for our livers at the time of year when our bodies naturally like to detox, summer salads hydrate us, sweet tasting autumn veggies provide the nutrient stores that will strengthen us ready for the colder months and starchy winter roots sustain us.
If you aren’t used to cooking seasonally just start slowly, no need to panic. Just plan one seasonal meal this week and perhaps two next week. After a while it will feel normal. You’ll be able to adapt your favourite meals with ease and you will be amazed at how much more variety there is in your cooking. Here I’ve written down for you some of my fallback recipes; some of which I make for the family, and some of which I rustle up for myself for lunch. I make no secret of the fact that I’m pretty lazy so these are recipes for lazy people; high on taste and nutrients, low on time and energy!
The season’s early produce can sometimes feel a bit dull as you wonder how much more of the heavy winter roots and leaves you can handle. At this time of year home produce will have generally been carefully stored for a few months and veg-boxes often have to pad out with imported produce. But all is not lost; a little inspiration goes a long way at this time of year. You can make the most of spring greens stir-fried with ginger, chilli and garlic, and then dowsed with soy sauce if you like. Jerusalem artichokes rightfully earn their nickname “fartichokes” but are lovely sliced into coins and roasted with olive oil and salt until the skin caramelizes.
Try mashing boiled cauliflower with cream, salt, black pepper and freshly ground nutmeg as an alternative to mashed potato. Beetroot is lovely roasted until sweet and then served with a garlicky yoghurt dressing. Make jacket potatoes from sweet potatoes – roast until really soft and caramelised and then serve with butter.
This is a great time to enjoy sprouted seeds and pulses if you are craving something a bit lighter. Or, as soon as they arrive in the veg-boxes prepare baby carrots, fennel, and small florets of raw cauliflower to dip into hummus, mayo, or anchovy based dressings. Try halving an avocado and adding a dash of Worcestershire sauce to the hollow left when you take the stone out. Grate beetroot and carrot to serve with toasted walnuts and a lemony dressing.
But then, as the daylight hours grow, and thoughts turn to shedding a few layers, everything kicks off with all things fresh and exciting! The season’s new, spindly asparagus is lovely lightly steamed and dipped in butter or soft boiled eggs; rhubarb makes so many amazing puddings, wild garlic is great shredded and stirred into risottos or hot pasta, Purple Sprouting Broccoli (much nicer than the more widely available Calabrese variety) is delicious lightly cooked and served with butter or briefly roasted in a hot oven; and lots of baby veg (carrots, turnips, onions etc) that require minimal cooking start to show up.
Eggs and Bacon Salad: Chop and fry some bacon in a little extra oil until crispy. Add it to a bowl of alfalfa sprouts, chopped red pepper and quartered hard-boiled eggs. Splash some decent olive oil and some balsamic vinegar into the still-hot frying pan to deglaze and immediately pour the resulting hot dressing over the rest of the ingredients. Serve straight away for a quick lunch.
Asian Style Soup: Make a soup base by boiling vegetable/chicken or beef stock with minced garlic, minced ginger, a pinch of dried chilli, a tiny bit of brown sugar, star anise and some soy sauce. Let it simmer for ten minutes. Add some combination of shredded greens, trimmed purple sprouting broccoli, and/or sprouted seeds; cook for a couple of minutes and serve. You can also add cooked noodles and/or strips of cooked meat.
This is the season of salads, but not those pathetic side-order combinations of lettuce-tomato-cucumber-grated-carrot. Would I do that to you? No, we are talking gently steamed beans (broad, runner, French or green) or colourful Mediterranean combinations of roasted peppers, tomatoes, aubergines and courgettes. A range of organically grown peppery salad leaves simply served with a great salad dressing will knock your socks off. Rub a large chicken with olive oil or butter and then season before roasting and then serve with the chicken juices poured over a huge leafy salad. Eat this outside, with friends, in the sunshine. Don’t forget to bring something to wipe your hands and face on…
Stir fries are great at this time of year – the less time you spend in the kitchen the more time you’ve got to spend outside. Brush veg with oil and griddle them on the BBQ, serve as they are or chuck them in a bowl with feta or crumbled goats cheese and a simple dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Grow what you can and eat your vegetables straight off the plant – you won’t believe the taste! Think fresh, think exciting and think vibrant and you’ve got your inspiration for summer vegetables.
If you’ve managed to hold off buying strawberries all year, now is the time to treat yourself to proper, local, soil grown beauties. The taste is incomparable. Get yourself a paper bag of cherries too, take them with you on a walk into the countryside and spit those stones for all you’re worth!
Summer Salad no.1 Take 1/2 a kohl rabi sliced into matchsticks, a diced shallot, two diced sticks of celery, a bagful of broad beans podded and steamed until tender, four radishes sliced thinly and six rashers of bacon chopped and fried until crispy. Mix the ingredients up with a dressing made from extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice and serve with brown rice cooked in a mild vegetable stock.
Summer Salad no.2 Steam a bundle of asparagus and a bag of podded broad beans over the pan of water in which you are steaming a bag of scrubbed and roughly chopped new potatoes until everything is tender. Add them to six hard boiled and quartered eggs, a little gem lettuce with the larger leaves torn up a bit, a small cucumber chopped into half moons, three finely chopped shallots or spring onions, a handful of walnuts dry-fried in a medium hot frying pan and six rashers of bacon chopped and fried until crispy. Drizzle with a dressing of extra virgin olive oil, apple cyder vinegar, a pinch of sea salt and a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper. This works as a stand alone meal.
Roasted Mediterranean Vegetables Chop and de-seed where necessary some combination of: red peppers, yellow peppers, courgettes, tomatoes, onions, garlic cloves (still in their skins) and aubergines. Toss in oil and roast in a hot oven for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally If it starts catching too easily cover with silver foil. Delicious served with quinoa or with chunks of soft goat cheese added towards the end. Don’t forget to squeeze the ready made garlic puree out of the skins and onto your plate. You can also blitz the vegetables for a pasta sauce (squeeze the garlic out of the skins first).
“I love the roasted vegetables and always top mine off with some toasted mixed seeds for a nice bit of crunch.” Carole
This is the time when I like to serve corn on the cob, hot and dripping with butter, to kids (especially when they are missing front teeth just for the amusement factor). Squash and pumpkins are really versatile and can be used in risottos and as pasta sauces as well as roasted until sweet and used in muffins and pies. Grill sliced, oiled and salted aubergines or courgettes to use in place of pasta – this works well in dishes like lasagne.
Mild vegetable curries are also lovely at this time of year, be inventive with which vegetables you use. I like to use either all green veg, or all orange veg to keep the colours clean and fresh looking.
This is also the one time of year when we get through much in the way of fruit. Local, organic and heritage apples, pears and plums are pretty special during these months.
Squash Soup Cut a squash or pumpkin in half, deseed and place, cut side down, in a medium-hot oven for about an hour (I often do this in the evening and leave the squash in the oven overnight to deal with the next day). Next day, scoop out the caramelised squash and mash with stock and your seasoning of choice. That’s it! Feel free to top with cream, yoghurt, crispy bacon, toasted pumpkin seeds, alfalfa sprouts, croutons
“This was really easy to make, very tasty and satisfying as a light lunch.” Sonya
Chicken and Squash Curry In a big frying pan gently fry a couple of finely peeled’n’sliced onions with a couple of cloves crushed garlic. Add a packet of diced organic chicken and cook through. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of curry powder, chuck in one peeled, de-seeded and diced butternut squash and 100mls water or stock, season, clamp a lid on and leave on a low heat until the squash is soft.
Veg boxes are now stuffed full of filling root vegetables for roasting or mashing and loads of dark, green leafy stuff. Bubble and squeak is one of the easiest ways to use up roots and greens at this time of year, or you could make big hearty stews with added meat or pulses. It’s got to be all about comfort food when you get home in the dark with cold fingers and damp trousers!
To sneak in extra veg you can try replacing half the amount of minced beef or lamb in a recipe with pumpkin, carrots, peppers, mushrooms and/or courgettes that have been chopped finely or briefly blitzed in the food processor. This works well with chillis, cottage pie etc.
Any recipe that uses mashed potato can include any combination of mashed swede, carrot, turnip, celeriac etc. Add lots of butter and season with freshly ground nutmeg, salt and pepper.
Forget about boiling cabbage, kale and other leafy green stuff. Once you do that it smells funny, and loses its more delicate tastes along with many of the vitamins. Shred it, rinse it and shove it in a pan with some butter. Put the lid on and leave on a medium heat until the butter is melted and the greens are heated through and slightly wilted. You can do the same with leeks. Try adding caraway seeds, cumin seeds or garlic while the butter is melting. Fry diced sweet potato or carrot matchsticks in plenty of butter too. The carrots will be good with cinnamon, cumin or carraway and either sage or sweet smoked paprika will lift the sweet potato.
Cut any root veg into chunks, cubes or chips, mix with oil, season and roast in a hot oven until everything is looking a bit crispy around the edges. You might need to stir through once or twice to brown a bit more evenly. Add sausages to the roasting pan for a sustaining supper.
Big Pan of Greens Chop/slice/dice and chuck in a big frying pan some of the following in roughly this order, leaving a few minutes between each addition and stirring every so often: olive oil, butter, onions, garlic, celery, a pinch of dried chilli, leeks, finely sliced courgettes, Savoy cabbage, curly kale, spring greens, any kind of fresh beans, frozen peas, a splash of stock, a splash of Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper. Clamp a lid on until soft and serve. Every single one of the ingredients are optional. It’s a great side dish and I like making a small amount for lunch, and then mixing it with a couple of spoons of cooked rice and a few toasted cashew nuts.
Roast bubble and squeak supper (for rainy days) Peel, chop, boil, drain and mash a combination of potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, swede, parsnip, celeriac etc. Mix with shredded and steamed cabbage and/or leeks chopped and cooked in butter. Season with salt and pepper before squashing it all into a greased baking dish. Make small hollows and break eggs into them before drizzling with oil and putting in a hot oven until the eggs are just set. This is a complete meal in itself but it is particularly nice with a slice of crispy bacon on top!
Do add your own speedy seasonal suggestions in the comments below!