Spring: loaded with flavour
18 March, 2021 — By Tom Moggach
FOR the keen cook, this month is guaranteed to lift the spirits. The first spring ingredients are popping up in the shops, including early peas, broad beans and asparagus. I’ve even picked the first tufts of wild garlic – my favourite of the lot. With preserving all the rage, here are some nifty tips for locking in the flavours of seasonal fruit and veg.
Wild Garlic Pesto
Whizz up the leaves in a blender with olive oil and any nuts you have to hand – perhaps walnuts, hazelnuts or macadamias. Then add grated parmesan, a pinch of salt and lemon zest and lemon juice to taste. For an all-British version, switch to rapeseed oil and a hard cheese such as a mature cheddar.
Instant pickles take moments to work their magic. Salting vegetables first adds extra crunch and intensifies the flavour, as the process draws out water. This technique works brilliantly with chopped cucumbers, carrots, beetroots, radishes and cabbage. For this style of pickle, all you need is salt (ideally fine sea or rock salt) and an acid such as lemon juice or vinegar. Sprinkle the salt over the vegetable (roughly 2-4 per cent the weight of the veg), mix and leave for a half an hour. Then rinse to remove the salt, pat dry with a tea towel and mix with a few drops of vinegar or lemon juice. Add fresh herbs if you have any, such as dill or mint. Eat straight away.
Fridge pickles involve preserving with a sweet vinegar infused with spices and will last about three days in the fridge. This approach works well with asparagus, carrots, cauliflower, beetroot and chillies. The first step is to make the pickling liquid by dissolving sugar in vinegar with whole spices or herbs such as cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, chilli flakes, mustard seeds, star anise, mace and bay leaf. For example, bring to the boil 100ml white wine vinegar and four level teaspoons of sugar and any spices, then allow to cool and pour over your chopped veg. For a more Oriental flavour, follow the same process using rice wine vinegar and the same amount of sugar. Once the liquid has cooled, add grated fresh ginger, a splash of light soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil. Note that you can slightly soften firmer vegetables by pouring over the liquid while hot; always use cooled liquid with softer produce such as cucumbers. You can also dilute the pickling liquid with a little water to mellow the flavour. These last about three days in the fridge.
Mexican Pink Onions
Cut red onions in half, then into thin slices and put in a bowl. Boil the kettle, pour over the onions, leave for one minute then rinse and drain. Combine equal parts cider vinegar and water, with a pinch of sugar, salt and (optional) cloves. Pour over the onions and watch them go pink, which takes a few hours.