10 December 2015

Linguine with smoked trout and watercress

A few weeks ago, we dropped in to see some friends who own a trout fishery at Avington in Hampshire. It's a lovely place, and while I'm not a game fisherman myself, I can see the attraction of wiling away a few hours stalking trout. One of the things about the place that excites me the most is that they have their own smoker, and cold smoke trout from the lakes. The smoked trout and salmon that you buy in the supermarkets is often a bit dull and flabby, but this stuff is the real thing: produced in small batches, with a firm texture and a full smoky flavour. We came away with a side of smoked fish. I used some in a pasta dish - linguine with smoked trout and watercress.

Linguine with smoked trout and watercress

30 November 2015

Leeks vinaigrette

Leeks are one of the stalwarts of the winter vegetable plot. At this time of year most of the available green vegetables, such as cabbages, sprouts and kale, come from the brassica family and have a certain similarity in flavour. Leeks, which are alliums and related to onions and garlic, provide a distinctly different flavour. Leeks are fully hardy, and will stand through the coldest of weather. They are often a bit player, appearing in stews and pies alongside many other veg, but are such a tasty vegetable that sometimes they deserve to be the star of the show. One of my favourite leek dishes - and very easy to prepare - is the French bistro classic: leeks vinaigrette.

13 November 2015

Growing puntarelle in the UK

I first came across puntarelle on a winter holiday to Rome a few years back. Puntarelle is a variety of chicory, with distinctive pointy leaves. It's very popular around Rome, where it is in season in late autumn and winter. The best bit is the heart, which can be used to make a refreshing, slightly bitter salad. The outer leaves can be a bit tough, and are best braised. Puntarelle is very hard to buy in the UK. I thought I'd have a go at growing some this year, and found it grew very well.


6 November 2015

What's in season in November

What I like cooking and eating changes with the seasons. By November, my thoughts turn to stews, game and fruity puddings. By this point in the autumn, root vegetables, winter squashes and brassicas dominate. The game season is in full swing, and a wide range of English apples are (or should be) available. For those craving something raw, various hardy, or semi-hardy salads, such as chicories and mustards, are in season.

Winter squashes

31 October 2015

Chanterelles preserved under oil

Mushroom hunting can be a fickle activity. On some occasions, one returns from a walk through prime woodland in mid-autumn with hardly anything to show. Usually, especially if you know a few good spots, you will find enough for a meal. Occasionally, you find a huge bounty of mushrooms - more than you can eat in several meals. These are the days that mushroom hunters dream of. When it happens to me, I am like a child on a trolley dash in a sweetshop, and pick frenetically until I have picked much more than I can eat in one go. I am then bound to spend the rest of the day cleaning and preserving mushrooms.

8 October 2015

Pickled green tomatoes

By early to mid October, as temperatures drop and daylight hours shorten, tomatoes grown outside stop ripening. At this point it is best to pick all the remaining fruit on the plants. There are always a lot of unripe green tomatoes that need using. Last year I wrote about making green tomato chutney, one of the classic ways of using green tomatoes. This year, I thought I would also experiment with pickling green tomatoes whole. Pickles are prominent in Turkish cuisine, and a bowl of mixed pickles, or tursu, often appears in a meze spread. I have a lovely Turkish grocers round the corner, which sells a wide range of Turkish pickles. Earlier this year I bought a jar of pickled green tomatoes. They were delicious, and inspired me to have a go at making my own pickled green tomatoes. Pickled green tomatoes have a fresh clean flavour and crunchy texture, and can be added to a meze spread, but are also delicious with cheese and cured meats.

3 October 2015

What's in season in October

October usually starts with relatively mild (and this year sunny) weather, but often ends cold and positively autumnal. This change is reflected in the crops that are available. Early October sees the very last of the tender crops. By the end of the month there is an array of autumnal favourites available: leeks, swedes and cabbages to name but a few. It is a good month for fruit – with many varieties of apple and pear being harvested. October is also good for wild mushrooms, and a great time of year for game. It is the last month when one is likely to have a glut of some sort, and gives an final opportunity for preserving.

22 September 2015

Elderberry sorbet

Elderflowers are very popular in early summer, when cordials, cakes and other elderflower-flavoured products abound. Their early autumn iteration, the elderberry, is comparatively neglected. This is a shame, as elderberries are tasty and very common. Elder trees are quick growing and colonize any neglected land. They can be found almost as easily in the town as the countryside. Returning from buying a paper at the weekend, I found several in a neglected plot just round the corner from my home, and picked a bag full of ripe juicy berries.

17 September 2015

Damsons - and what to do with them

Damsons are a variety of wild plum in season in September. They are smaller than domesticated plums, with a dark purple skin, often covered in a whitish bloom. They have a tart taste raw, but once cooked with a little sugar, have a delicious fruity flavour. Damsons can be found growing wild in hedgerows, but are also cultivated and can be found lurking in gardens and elderly orchards.

13 September 2015

What's in season in September

When it comes to seasonal produce, September brings rich pickings. In the veg plot, late summer stalwarts such as tomatoes, courgettes and beans are still cropping, albeit a little more slowly than in the glut-ridden days of August. These are joined by the first of the autumn varieties, leeks, kale and other brassicas, and autumn fruits like apples and pears.  September is one of the best months for foraging, with an abundance of wild fruit and mushrooms there for the picking.


25 August 2015

Asparagus peas

Each year, I like to try growing something new in the veg plot – either a vegetable that I haven’t grown before, or, in the case of asparagus peas, something I haven’t eaten before. Earlier this year I was given a copy of James Wong’s Homegrown Revolution. Wong’s book is full of unusual new species to try. Asparagus peas sounded interesting, and looked pretty easy to grow, so I got hold of a packet of seeds.

Asparagus peas (with a few mange tout)

17 August 2015

10 things to do with runner beans

Runner beans are a veg plot stalwart, which can be harvested in southern England from about mid July until the end of October. They can also be found in good-quality greengrocers. Being climbers, they can be grown up a wall or fence, taking up a fairly small amount of ground. They are one of my favourite beans, but by about August it is easy to feel a bit overwhelmed by huge gluts of runner beans. It can be difficult to think of different things to do with them, so I thought I would share some of the things I have been doing with runner beans recently.

7 August 2015

Kohlrabi slaw

In the last few years, I have discovered kohlrabi - a particularly odd looking vegetable. It has a relatively mild flavour raw, like a tart apple with a hint of cabbage. Although at first-glance kohlrabi appears to be a root vegetable, the bit one eats is in fact the swollen base of the stem. It is a member of the brassica family, but lacks the funkiness or pepperiness that most other brassicas have raw. It is also lovely cooked, where it takes on a fuller creamy flavour, with a hint of artichoke. The leaves can also be cooked and eaten like spring greens.


3 August 2015

What's in season in August

August is a month when a great variety of fruit and veg is in season. In the lingering days of summer, tomatoes and stone fruit ripen, and beans and courgettes provide a great bounty of produce. As the month draws to its conclusion, we often get the first signs of autumn: cool dewy mornings and darker evenings. This is reflected in the produce available, with the first of the wild mushrooms, blackberries, cobnuts and the earliest apple varieties. The Glorious Twelfth, when the grouse season begins, heralds the start of the game season.

August days on the South Downs

26 July 2015

Braised artichokes and pearl barley with summer veg

I am a huge fan of artichokes. They have a great meaty flavour, and are much more versatile than many people think. I have written before about my attempts to grow artichokes, and they are a vegetable that I love growing. When we moved into our new flat earlier this year, as soon as some space became available, I planted half a dozen plants. One of these fell foul to some aggressive sabotage from a seagull, but the others grew well. By July, several small artichokes had appeared.

14 July 2015

Apricot jam

Mrs Room for a Radish and I recently took a road trip round North West France. France is well known for its strong culinary traditions. What I like most about the food culture in France is not so much the restaurants, but the quality of raw ingredients on offer. What particularly excites me is the markets. Even a small town will have a market once a week, and larger towns several. Often there will be stall after stall piled high with fruit and veg. Some specialising in onions and garlic, or salads, or maybe a fishmonger or two, a cheese stall, a charcuterie stall. The range and quality of produce is often high, and the prices reasonable. Canny old French ladies flit from stall to stall, comparing produce before deciding on what’s the best value for money.

2 July 2015

What's in season in July

Instead of listing what is in season in July, it may be easier to say what is not in season in July, at least in terms of fruit and veg. The high summer months of July and August are when vegetable growers reap their most significant harvest. In some cases being overwhelmed by gluts of beans, courgettes and other veg.

26 June 2015

What vegetables should I grow in my garden?

When starting to plant a new vegetable plot a question asked by many gardeners is what should I grow? This is particularly so for the novice gardener, faced with the huge range of seeds and plants available. Over the last eight or so years, I have had three vegetable plots of varying sizes, plus lived in a flat with a balcony, which I crammed with as many plants as possible. Over this time I have tried growing a fair few varieties of veg, with differing results, and have built up a list of favourites.

18 June 2015

Emmer sourdough

One of the joys of baking my own bread is experimenting with different flours. Sometimes that might be seeking authenticity baking a ciabatta using an Italian type 00 bread flour, or baguettes using French T55 flour. What I particularly enjoy is baking with heritage flours, from grains such as spelt or emmer. Humans have a long history of growing grains, and over the millennia have developed and cross-bred countless varieties. The pace of this advance has been particularly fast since the Second World War. As I wrote in another post, mainstream varieties of wheat grown commercially today are quite different to those grown 50 or even 30 years ago. Often, yield and disease resistance, rather than flavour, are the major driving forces behind the development of modern cultivars. (And in many ways this is understandable, we live in an increasingly crowded planet and have only a finite amount of agricultural land.) By baking with heritage flours, we can inject more complex flavours into bread, as well as getting a taste of the breads our ancestors ate.

9 June 2015

Fritto misto di mare

After a week of gales and rain, the weather finally came good last weekend, and we got our first real dose of summer. One of the great joys of living by the seaside is that when the weather turns good, it feels like you are on holiday, without having had the hassle of catching a plane or train, or endless hours of driving. I decided to go with the holiday vibe, and cook an Italian classic, fritto misto di mare (literally ‘mixed fried seafood’ – like many food descriptions, it sounds sexier in Italian).

6 June 2015

What's in season in June

June is the first month of summer (although at times in the fickle British weather it doesn't always feel that way). In the veg plot, June can herald something of a hiatus - the sowing and planting out of spring has finished, but most of the main crops are not yet ready to harvest. Excitingly, June heralds the beginning of the British summer fruit season, giving a real taste of summer. If you fancy a bit of foraging, elderflowers are at their peak in early June and can usually be found in both the town and countryside.

31 May 2015

DIY Smoked Mackerel Paté

For Christmas, my parents-in-law gave me a hot smoker. It is a great kitchen toy. It looks like a mess tin - one of those metal things that survivalists like Ray Mears eat from at picnics. You put some wood chippings in the bottom of the smoker, place a tray over the top and pop your food in. Shut the lid of the tin, and put the smoker on the stove, and leave it to smoke. You can buy a hot-smoker from any decent kitchen suppliers, and I've heard it is possible to make one out of a biscuit tin, or even a wok and some wooden chopsticks.

20 May 2015

The walled kitchen garden - an introduction

As regular readers and friends will know, earlier this year we moved to Hove. When we looked round the flat, one of the things that we really liked about it was the garden. The borders were pretty over-grown, but the garden was a good size and looked like it would get a lot of sun. It was quite a contrast to the garden we had in our London terrace, which was narrow, ran up a hill and was overshadowed by trees in the neighbouring gardens. The Hove garden clearly had a lot of potential, but it was also going to be something of a project.

The garden when we moved in

12 May 2015

What's in season in May

By May, Spring is in full swing. The trees are in leaf, and all sorts of seedlings are pushing up through the soil. The garden and countryside are awash in verdant greens. In the veg plot, as with all spring months, May is more about sowing and planting out than harvesting. As the risk of frost disappears, tender plants such as courgettes, tomatoes and runner beans can be planted outside. With long days and often plentiful sun and rain, plants seem to put on an amazing amount of growth. In terms of what can be harvested in May, or gleaned from hedgerows, it is often about young leaves for salads.

1 May 2015

Wild garlic soup

Wild garlic soup

This is another recipe that is ideal if you have picked or otherwise acquired a large quantity of wild garlic (or ramson) leaves. Despite the abundant use of wild garlic leaves, the soup has a relatively mild flavour and lacks the pungency of raw wild garlic. It has a vivid green colour, and a pleasant earthy flavour, which reminds me of woodland in spring. The method is pretty simple, and can be adapted to make soup with watercress, nettles and other fresh green leaves. This recipe will serve four.

28 April 2015

Wild garlic pesto

Visiting my parents at the weekend, we decided to go for a walk in the woods. My mum was keen to see bluebells. I was keen to pick wild garlic. My dad is an artist, and there’s a wonderful little wood near his studio that we thought would fit the bill.

April is a lovely time of year for a walk in the woods. The trees are just starting to put on leaf growth, and lots of light floods onto the forest floor, which is a riot of verdant green and wild woodland flowers, primroses, wood anemones, forget-me-nots and bluebells, all of which put on their show before the trees’ leaves shade the forest floor for another summer. By the end of April, wild garlic is coming to the end of its season, but is particularly easy to spot once its starry white flowers appear. 

21 April 2015

Crab and Samphire Linguine

Crab, samphire and other ingredients
At the weekend I went down to my local fishmongers, Brighton and Newhaven Fish Sales, and was excited to see the first of the new season’s samphire. I couldn’t resist. I also bought a crab, and decided to make crab and samphire linguine. It seemed the perfect supper on a sunny spring day.
Samphire is a sort of succulent, which grows in salt marshes. It is in season from about mid spring to August, and has a pleasant slightly salty flavour. It is delicious lightly steamed with a little good quality olive oil, and a twist of pepper, and works well with fish. In the spring it is great raw, but tends to get a bit woody as the season goes by.  It can be foraged, although most of the places I know where it grows tend to be on the side of rivers with heavy marine traffic or in nature reserves. I avoid picking the former because of the risk of pollutants and the latter because, well, foraging from nature reserves seems to be frowned upon, for good reason.

18 April 2015

Planting an asparagus bed

Asparagus is one of the classic spring vegetables, available for a couple of months from about early to mid April. These days asparagus can be found in the shops all year round, much of it imported from Peru. Imported asparagus rarely has the flavour of English asparagus in season. Sadly, English asparagus always seems to carry a hefty price tag, even in the middle of the season. I saw a bunch of English asparagus for sale in Borough Market recently, right at the beginning of the season, for £6. I counted the bunch, there were 7 spears. Much as I like asparagus, I am not really willing to pay almost a pound a spear for it.

1 April 2015

What's in season in April

April is one of my favourite months. In part this may be because it is the month of my birthday (although the thought of being a year older is much less attractive these days than when I was a child). But mostly because it is spring. Plants are covered in the first flush of new green leaves, bulbs are out, and the birds are singing. In the veg plot, April is more about sowing and planting than harvesting. Most of the veg that can be picked in April is either from plants that were sown the previous year, such as spring cabbages, or perennials, like asparagus. It is a great time of year to get out into the countryside, and there are various wild foodstuffs that are worth foraging.

23 March 2015

Veal chops, Marsala and wild garlic

Veal used to be one of those meats that, like foie gras, one was not supposed to eat. It was pretty tasty, but the way it was produced was not very humane. Happily, welfare standards are much better than they used to be for veal calves, at least in the UK. I have to say I am pretty pleased, being partial as I am to a nice bit of veal now and then. English rose veal has grown in popularity in recent years, and in many ways it is an ethical choice for us carnivores who like to know that our meat lived reasonably decent lives before hitting our plates. One of the sad facts of the dairy industry in this country is that on many farms, male dairy calves are of no use and hence destroyed at birth. If more people ate veal, more of these animals would be given some kind of life and a useful role in the food chain.

22 March 2015

Ground elder frittata

We recently did that thing, the one where you decide to move out of South London to Brighton, or to be more accurate, Hove. (I hesitate to conform to stereotype and use the word 'actually'.) We have a new garden. It is sunny, and a good size - a little overgrown, but full of potential. We have started clearing the garden, but with the onset of spring I noticed the appearance of ground elder. Ground elder is a fairly invasive, fast-growing plant, which can be hard to clear from a garden. It is a member of the carrot family, and has leaves that look a bit like celery leaves. Ground elder is edible, and I have heard that in the spring it makes good eating. I picked a young sprig, and gave it a nibble. It had a mild, pleasant flavour - somewhere between celery and parsley (both of which it is related to). Surprisingly tasty for a plant that can be the bane of many gardeners' lives. The flavour gets stronger and less pleasant as the plant gets older, particularly once it has set flower. Its edibility is in fact the reason why we have ground elder in the UK. Apparently it was introduced here by the Romans as a food plant.

Ground elder in the border

4 March 2015

What's in season in March

March heralds the beginning of spring. Not that it necessarily brings milder weather; apparently in England we are more likely to get snow in March than in December. The days are definitely getting longer, and that in itself springs many plants into action. For those excited about eating a plethora of exciting UK-grown spring produce, March can be something of a disappointment. Early spring is what used to be known as the hungry gap – a hiatus between the disappearance of winter staples and the appearance of the first spring produce. If you have a veg plot, March is a good time to start sowing seeds, and thinking of all the produce you will be harvesting later in the year, rather than a time when much can actually be harvested.

1 March 2015

Trouble with gluten?

I have been baking bread at home now for several years. I find it a deeply satisfying process. There is something magical about taking four basic ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast (sometimes in the form of a sourdough starter), and with a bit of kneading, fermentation, shaping and baking, turning them into a loaf of bread. And what bread too! The flavour of home-baked bread far surpasses that of supermarket bread and much of that found in high street bakeries.

4 February 2015

What's in season in February

February is a funny old month. It is the month that in the UK can bring some of the harshest winter weather, and I write this having travelled through a fair bit of snow to get to work today. People are usually getting sick of winter, but spring still seems a way off. That said, the days are definitely getting longer, and towards the end of the month we sometimes get the odd nice day that suggests that spring is maybe not so far away. It is a similar story in terms of seasonal ingredients, at the start of the month we're still looking at a lot of winter staples: roots and brassicas, and we wave goodbye to most game birds for another season, but towards the end of the month we start to see a few new things that hint of the approaching change of seasons.

14 January 2015

Seville Orange Marmalade

Seville oranges

On a wet and windy Saturday morning in early January, I was pleased to find several boxes of Seville oranges on sale at my local greengrocers. Suddenly I knew what I was going to do on such a dismal weekend: make marmalade. These lumpy and often misshapen oranges are available for a few short weeks in January. As the name suggests, Seville oranges are grown around Seville, primarily for British marmalade production - apparently the Spanish aren't big fans and don't keep many for themselves.

6 January 2015

Blood orange, radicchio and florence fennel salad

I love winter food: stews, roasts and pies feel right on cold, damp days. Sometimes though, I get the urge for a good salad. This is a tasty little salad with a southern European feel, using some seasonal winter produce. It works well as a starter, a palate cleanser after a heavy meal, or with grilled fish. The tangy citrus of the blood orange works nicely with the bitter radicchio and mild aniseed flavour of the fennel. Like all salads, it is more of a suggestion than a rigid recipe. If you like aniseed, you could also add in a small bunch of roughly chopped chervil. Before blood oranges are in season you could use satsumas. Serves 4-6.

2 January 2015

What's in season in January

Okay, so January isn't renowned for being a great time of year for seasonal produce, but here is a quick take on what is about at this time of year...