Phew. At last we are creeping towards spring and the larder door is slowly creaking open to reveal brighter and lighter foods. It is not quite time to put the stew pan away just yet, as you will have to wait until later in the month for some of the gems in the March crown. But before we get to those beauties, there’s still some good stuff not to be sniffed at.
One of those is the leek. For me, the leek is not given enough credit for the sterling work it does in the kitchen.
You can add it to almost any savoury dish to enhance the flavour; use it as a support alongside carrots to pad out a stew, soup or stock; and make the most of its bold, onion-like flavour as the main ingredient in a wealth of different dishes. And did I mention they are also cheap to buy? What a star.
Meanwhile, a lot of the roots that we have been munching on through the winter are now getting past their best, to be replaced by above-ground greens. The particular veg flaunting its spring coming is purple sprouting broccoli.
I am not regular broccoli’s biggest fan – despite knowing all the health benefits, blah, blah – as frankly, I find it boring, overused and rarely cooked properly. However, purple sprouting broccoli is another beast altogether.
While the florets of the regular type are all tight and buttoned up, the purple stuff is slightly unruly and wild and can be eaten stalks and all, though you may have to split the stem in two if it’s particularly thick.
PSB comes with impressive credentials, being rich in vitamin C and a useful source of carotenoids, iron, folic acid, calcium, fibre and vitamin A. It also plays very nicely alongside practically all meat and fish and is delicious enough to eat on its own, slathered in hollandaise sauce and flashed under a grill.
Fancy being a little more adventurous? If the longer days and weak sunshine later in March can tempt you outdoors, then take a walk in the woods. Sniff around under trees, hedgerows or anywhere a little damp and you should smell, not truffles, but the distinctive aroma of wild garlic, which is just coming into season.
Ramsons, as wild garlic is also known, can usually be smelt from quite a distance and surprisingly, despite the aroma, has a lovely soft taste. Unlike its namesake, wild garlic is treasured for the leaves, which can be eaten raw or cooked.
Add it raw to such bland foods as cream or cottage cheese, or to a salad, or use in a mayonnaise for a background hint of garlic. Cooked, my best tip is to add its lightly steamed and finely chopped leaves to mashed potato, served with roast leg of lamb or other meat.
The bulbs can be used in a similar way to garlic cloves, but the flavour is less pronounced. Though the wild garlic isn’t quite in flower yet, when it is, the flowers are delicious and the flavour intensifies as the seeds ripen.
March is also good for spring greens, early lamb, sardines and native oysters. And you may find the first Jersey Royals at the back end of the month (though you will require a small mortgage to buy them).