Its February and the weather is a bit grim. If I wasn’t training for this bleedin marathon I’d be hibernating along with the rest of the country. Unfortunately I am spending most of my evenings battling against the freezing cold wind, telling myself it will all be over soon. Luckily, this is a great month for fantastic seasonal veg. In fact, some of my favourite vegetables come into their own this month which means I can make lots of delicious soups to warm myself up when I get back from a run. One of my favourites is purple sprouting broccoli.
I love broccoli. I reckon its probably my favourite vegetable and I eat it most days. Normal broccoli is lovely, but purple sprouting broccoli is miles better. For starters, I love the way it looks…the long, dark green, wild looking leafy stems, the dusky purples…its beautiful. It’s also sweeter than normal broccoli and has a great texture, especially the stalks. It’s quick and easy to cook, very healthy and a great basis for a quick supper. It’s also packed full of goodness including vitamins A and C, iron, calcium and fibre.
The purple sprouting broccoli season runs from January to May in the UK, but its at its best between February and April. Any greengrocer, farm shop or supermarket worth its salt will have it in stock now. You can of course get it out of season but it just ends up a bit tasteless. When buying, look for fresh, firm and healthy stems, not wrinkled. The spears should snap cleanly and the florets should show no sign of yellowing.
You can do so much with it…you can wrap it with parma ham, you can serve it draped with hollandaise, you can turn it into a gratin with some crème fraîche and grated cheese, you can dip it into hummus or soy sauce…whatever you like. Personally I love broccoli simply steamed and sprinkled with good sea salt, although you may prefer it tossed in butter or oil. I also love it in stir fries with a bit of bite to it. The important thing is not to overcook it, keep it al dente. When its gone soft it rather loses its charm.
Also in season are leeks.
Again, I love leeks (this is a good month for me). Packed with antioxidants, nutrients and vitamins, the leek is a perfect winter vegetable. They’re great in soups and pastas, great on their own and fantastic in a gratin. They work well as a side dish as well as being the main attraction.
Leeks are at their best from November through to April. When buying them, look for firm, straight dark leaves and white necks. Avoid yellow or wilted leaves and stalks that tend to bend.
They are closely related to onions, shallots, and spring onions or scallions and give a lovely flavour and bite to dishes. They can be a tad harsh when raw but once cooked they become a lot more delicate and sweet. You can stir chopped and boiled leeks to mashed potato, you can make them into a beautiful gratin, they go brilliantly in soups, casseroles, pies, pastas, tarts and risottos. Anything really. If you’re looking for a delicious, nutritious and seasonal food to see you through the cold winter months…something that can be steamed, boiled, roasted, grilled and baked and has a sweet taste and a smooth texture – then the leek is for you!
Yet another lovely vegetable…the cauliflower.
Cauliflower is a mass of tiny, tightly packed flower heads which grow from a thick central stem to form a single, round head, cupped by green leaves. It’s really quite beautiful to look at.
It has a firm, almost waxy texture and a mild, delicate flavour. Most cauliflowers are white, but it’s also possible to find green and purple varieties, as well as the sweeter Romanesco cauliflower with its distinctive pointed florets.
To cook, cut off individual florets from the central stem and steam or gently boil for a few minutes. It’s best to test regularly with the tip of a knife to make sure they don’t overcook. Overcooked cauliflower does not smell good!
I love cauliflower steamed with some crushed sea salt over the top but really, the best way to have cauliflower is when its topped with lots of glorious cheese. It’s wonderful. I simply cook the cauliflower, place it in a gratin dish, make a cheese sauce and pour it over, top with a little more grated cheese and perhaps some breadcrumbs, then pop it in the oven for 20 minutes until bubbling. Amazing.
You can also eat cauliflower raw in a salad or serve as a crudité with a selection of dips.
Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celeriac, chicory, jerusalem artichoke, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, parsnips, potatoes (maincrop), purple sprouting broccoli, salsify, savoy cabbage, shallots, swede, truffles (black), turnips
MEAT & GAME
Guinea fowl, hare, partridge, turkey, venison
FISH & SHELLFISH
Clams, cockles, dab, dover sole, gurnard, haddock, halibut, hake, langoustine, lemon sole, lobster, mackerel, mussels, oysters, red mullet, salmon, scallops (queen), skate, turbot, winkles