Well here it is, December, my favourite month of the year…I must admit, I do get slightly over-excited in the run up to Christmas and for me it all starts on 1st December. Every year I spend 1st December on the hunt for my perfect Christmas tree. Once that’s up, the decoration begins. By the evening of 2nd December, my flat looks like Santa’s grotto!
Aside from the tree, the decorations, the buying and wrapping of presents and the non-stop parties with friends, December also means FOOD!! Lots and lots of it. And that makes me very happy. For me, Christmas = Terry’s Chocolate Orange. But seeing as I’m supposed to be talking about what’s seasonal, let’s talk vegetables!
December’s food is warming and comforting, to make up for the freezing temperatures outside. It has just started to get cold in London. Just as well, as I can’t get into the Christmas mood when its mild outside. However, in the last couple of days the temperature has dropped down to 3°C, and its starting to feel a bit more wintry.
When its cold outside I just want potatoes. Mashed, roasted, baked, I don’t care. As you can see from last month’s seasonal post, potatoes are incredible, whichever way you prepare them, and they are still well in season. With my potatoes, I love vegetables and one of my favourites is the brussel sprout.
I absolutely love brussel sprouts. The quintessential Christmas dinner vegetable, they are sweet and nutty and just so delicious. I love them cooked really simply…steamed until al dente and topped with some crushed sea salt. Alternatively, you could pan-fry them with some chopped pancetta and chestnuts.
When I was a child, my mum used to make me prepare the sprouts. Back then we would discard the outer leaves then cut a cross in the base to make sure they cook evenly. Nowadays, this isn’t necessary, as it can cause them to go mushy. If I have any particularly large ones, I just cut them in half.
To boil, put into a pan with some salt, cover with boiling water, bring back to the boil and simmer, covered, for 5-10 minutes. They also take 5-10 minutes to steam. If you want to stir fry them, halve or slice finely and cook for about 10 minutes. Sprouts cook very quickly, and if overcooked they can turn quite unpleasant, so test them regularly by piercing with a knife.
Another vegetable that is in season right now is the cabbage.
There are many varieties of cabbage. Home-grown varieties include Savoy, January King, white, and red cabbages. Raw, cooked or preserved, cabbages play an important role in both Western and Eastern cuisines. They’re packed with vitamins, high in iron and potassium and low in calories.
The savoy cabbage, with its dark-green, crinkled leaves has a robust flavour and texture. It is exceptionally good for use in cooked dishes. You can shred or cut Savoy into wedges with the hard core discarded. Steam, boil or braise, add to hearty peasant soups or stuff rolled-up whole leaves with a savoury minced meat and rice mixture.
White cabbages re particularly good this time of year. Round and firm, they have tightly packed, glossy, pale-green leaves. Their sweet, mild taste and crispy texture makes them excellent in salads such as coleslaw.
Also in season are chestnuts, the ultimate in winter warmth. You can often smell the intoxicating scent of chestnuts roasting whilst out doing your Christmas shopping.
Chestnuts have an incredible smoky, sweet flavour and great texture. Roasted on an open fire, puréed and swirled into a soup, or candied and added to dessert, the chestnut is a cold-weather delicacy. Roast or boil them whole, remove their dark brown, hard shell and leafy thin, bitter inner membrane, and preserve, glaze, candy, or cream their meaty flesh for countless uses.
Ground chestnut has a sweet strong flavour and a slightly pasty texture when cooked. Dried chestnuts give a robust smoky flavour to soups or stews. There are two types of puréed chestnut: sweetened and unsweetened, which are used in sweet and savoury dishes respectively. The best are made from whole, unbroken nuts and work well in soups, stuffings, stews and sauces.
Brussels sprouts, cabbage (savoy, red and winter), celeriac, chard, endive, Jerusalem artichoke, kale, leeks, parsnips, main crop potatoes, squash, swede, turnips, winter greens.
Apples, chestnuts, walnuts, pears.
FISH & SHELLFISH
Brill, clams, hake, halibut, huss, John Dory, lemon sole, monkfish, mussels, oysters, plaice, scallops, sea bass, turbot.
MEAT & GAME
All farmed meats and game are available in December except lamb.