Spring Time!

The onset of spring, heralded by the Daffodils turning their glorious gold lion’s manes heavenward to absorb as much sunlight as possible and tiny ferns uncurling like little prehistoric plants as the frosts eventually cease annoying us every morning, brings with it the promise of new season vegetables. On the walk I take with Coney every morning, I am amazed and excited by seeing the allotments springing into life: tiny spring onion shoots delicately scenting the air, spring greens ready to pluck and serve with roast lamb, the baby carrot’s fluffy green fronds waiting to be pulled from the warm soil. Not to mention new peas and broad beans. Pasta Primavera ingredients.
This first burst of greenery always brings out the cave dweller in me. I suppose it’s because we have spent all winter hibernating that we’re aching to feel alive again, to feel the warm sun on our faces. I feel like catching my own supper and sleeping amongst the ferns (if only the dog faeces, used condoms and broken glass wasn’t such an inhibitor). It always seems as though each year is greener than it ever has been before, but really, like walking around in the dark, it’s just our eyes readjusting to the newness once again.
I might seem almost evangelical about it, but spring, it seems to me, has been a long time coming. We are nearing the end of April and have only had one or two days that have seemed warm enough to sit outside. Everything is coming back to life, almost before your eyes, as the sun, at last with some heat in it, slowly coaxes and cajoles. How I envy the gardeners, so devoted to their precious vegetables. I wish that I had the patience or inclination to lovingly tend to the tiny seedlings each day as though I were nurturing a child. Unfortunately I was born impatient (in spite of being born two weeks late), although I am slowly learning, through cookery, specifically baking, that with patience, you will be rewarded (I am learning to be more resourceful and less remorseful in the kitchen).
Each year the gardeners too are rewarded with the freshest tasting produce for their labours. Thankfully they are often generous enough (or their glut is too immense) to sell the odd bunch of carrots or freshly dug new potatoes by the side of the road. This is the true organic produce, not the green labelled stuff from the supermarkets that is always hopelessly overpriced. Yet I know of some people who trust the supermarket’s organic range rather than the dirt encrusted veg for sale by the roadside. Their loss.
With the promise of all this good weather at a time unspecified in the future, I have a renewed desire to cook some new dishes. I feel that I am chocolated out, at least until autumn and am craving tart fruit pies and ice creams and instead of stodgy stews and roast dinners and comforting risottos, I am looking forward to making some sprightly soups. My husband is currently on a bread making frenzy, which goes perfectly with the soup obsession. Also, what better way to make use of the season’s short bounty? Soups are fantastic for concentrating the very essence of an ingredient, luring out the flavour that you just know is hidden away. It was a wise man (or woman) that realised that lettuce would be even better cooked than it already is raw. I have made lettuce wilted in a cream and white wine sauce, enhanced lightly with mint and sharing top billing with Petit Pois. This has then been served over a simply grilled salmon fillet and baby new potatoes. I have also braised baby gem lettuce in the oven in a simple stock and served with roast chicken.

Over the weekend, we produced both brown and white bread, to be served alongside Shrimp Bisque and Cauliflower Soups. The Bisque is a labour intensive soup, in the Cordon Bleu tradition, extracting every microscopic droplet of flavour from the shrimp. Tiny, diced vegetables are sweated down then sauteed shell-on shrimp that have been pureed in a blender are added, along with some fish stock, passed through a mouli-legume (which, incidentally, is the first time I used that particular gadget), reheated with some white breadcrumbs and then passed through the mouli again. It is minutely seasoned with salt and some Cayenne pepper. The taste is pure shrimp. It is delicate but the texture is like a velvety cream. Completely delicious with wholemeal bread.

Another springtime treat is the first cut asparagus, from the local PYO farm. A sign outside counts down the days until it is ready: the anticipation is great. “Not ready today, hopefully tomorrow!” Eventually a little tiny ramshackle booth holding it’s precious bounty of Asparagus is open for business. The emerald green bundles, fat and stumpy and glistening with dew, are demanding to be dipped in melted butter. I am planning on making an Asparagus Tart and Soup once we grow tired of eating them with our fingers.

Of course, this is England and with the gaudy sunshine comes miserable rain, and the water ratio is far greater. I am consoling myself with the fact that the cherry tree outside of work will produce the sweetest, most bountiful harvest of fruit yet.

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