In March you can find the first proper greens. Just a few bits, picked from garden or verge, will improve bought salad greens no end. Add small, tender hawthorn leaves to your sandwich, or ramsons if you can find them. Young nettle tops make a good soup. Our garden is full of hairy bittercress which is neither hairy nor bitter, but tastes exactly like cress. The only trouble is, the leaves are so small ...
If you do fancy eating weeds, see here .
Gardeners can start sowing soon - but don't be too quick, the ground is ready if you can sit on it with a bare bottom. While waiting - always difficult - there is something you must do NOW: weed!
SOW broad beans, early carrots, leeks, brussels, swede, celery, parsnips, maincrop peas, radish, spinach beet (better value than proper spinach, and nicer), chard, turnip, lettuce, early/summer cabbage, spring onions, early cauli, bulb onions, beet.
Plant: potatoes, onion sets, shallots, asparagus.
If your soil is not too wet or cold, and going to be empty for a while, you can sow green manure. Leave future seedbeds alone, but tares or phacelia are excellent preparation for a bed which will have transplants.
For those of you who don't live in the countryside, there's a site about growing veg in town, or small spaces: www.verticalveg.org.uk.
Veg: sprouting broccoli, cauli, spring greens, radishes, rhubarb, leeks, carrots, spring onions, salad leaves, parsnips, cabbage, chicory, sorrel, swede, brussels, celeriac, rocket, Jerusalem artichokes.
Fish: dab, black bream, red gurnard, red mullet, mussels, oysters, clams, sardines.
Purple sprouting broccoli contains sulphoraphane which helps prevent cancer, and provides resistance against heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes. It's packed with vitamins A and C, carotenoids, iron, folic acid, and calcium. If you can't find it in the supermarket, try farmers' markets or your neighbour. Eat it fresh! As follows:
-Eat raw in salad or with a dip like hummus.
-Steam for 3-5 mins, until just softening. Serve immediately.
-Dry well. Stir-fry covered for 3-5 mins in sesame oil. Best with toasted sesame seeds.
-Slice finely (stems, heads and leaves), add to rice for 2 mins or combine with pasta sauce.
-Allow 4-6 stems per person. Steam gently for 6-8 mins, no more! Sprinkle lightly with lemon juice. Serve immediately on warmed plates with melted butter for dipping.
-Toss in a pan with generous butter, add lots of salt and pepper. Best way to judge which stalks are tender enough to eat is to break them: if they snap easily, they're done. Or add lemon juice and zest, or flavoured butter with fried breadcrumbs.
DANDELION FRITTERS or PANCAKES
Gather freshly opened dandelion heads (considered a heart tonic in herbal medicine) from a clean place. Mix batter: put cup of self raising flour in a bowl, gradually add 1/2 cup milk while whisking to a thick batter. Heat some veg oil to a medium heat and fry: throw one flower at the time into mix, coat with batter, take out in a spoon and pop in the pan. Once small holes begin to appear, flip over with a fork and cook the other side. You can make these sweet or savory. Give with mustard or honey, and/or add herbs to the batter.
This basic pancake mix can be used to house many different things - chopped onion with other finely chopped vegetables (beetroot makes pink ones!) or herby fritters.
NETTLE - MUSHROOM SOUP
450g potatoes diced into 1cm cubes, 225g young nettles, 225g chopped mushrooms, 2-4 tblsp butter, 1l water, 1tsp salt, plus more and pepper to taste, 60ml crème fraîche/sour cream, more for serving.
Heat the water, pour over washed nettles to wilt them. Drain, keeping the water for the soup, and chop roughly. Sautee nettles and mushrooms in 2 tblsp butter and stew gently for a few mins. If it gets dry, add some water. Add potatoes and water to the pan, bring to a boil and simmer until potatoes are tender. Puree, season. Add crème fraîche to the soup. Serve in bowls with some creme fraiche on top.
WHITE BEAN and NETTLE SOUP: meal-soup
200g young nettle tops (four big handfuls), 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped, 2 x 410g cans white beans, drained and rinsed, 200ml stock, salt, pepper, very good extra-virgin olive oil, chives (optional).
Put nettles in a pan, along with the clinging water, place over medium heat until wilted (about five minutes). Drain, squeeze out excess water, chop roughly. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over a low heat. Add garlic, cook gently for 2 mins. Add beans and stock, bring to a simmer for 5 mins. Scoop out half the beans and liquid, and process in a blender. Return the puréed beans to the pan, stir with a wooden spoon, roughly crushing the whole beans as you do so. Stir in the nettles. Taste, season generously and bring back to a simmer. Spoon into shallow bowls, swirl a generous amount of your very best extra-virgin olive oil over the top and finish, if you like, with snipped chives. Serve straight away, with bread.
SPROUTING BROCCOLI with TOASTED SESAME SEEDS serves 4
Broccoli for 4, 1 rounded tblsp sesame seeds, 2 tblsp tamari/soy.
Heat wok/frying pan, add sesame seeds and cook for 2 mins, stirring often, until some start to jump. Put on one side. Use broccoli whole or in smaller pieces. Wash and dry well. Heat oil in the wok, add broccoli. Toss, so it's coated with oil. Cover and cook for 2 mins, until it starts to soften. Add tamari and sesame seeds: stir well so all the broccoli is coated. Serve immediately. Try serving with brown rice or noodles. Goes well with peanut sauce.
PASTA with SPINACH and BROCCOLI SAUCE
50g butter, 300g head of broccoli cut into small florets, 50g flour, 250ml milk, 250ml water, nutmeg, 200g spinach, 100g grated cheddar, 250g pasta, 6 tblsp breadcrumbs, pepper, salt.
Preheat grill. Put butter, flour, milk on medium heat, stir with whisk till boiling. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg. Remove from heat, gradually stir in spinach so it wilts. Add ¾ of the cheese. Cook broccoli and pasta in salted water for 10-12 mins. Drain, stir into cheese sauce. Put in dish, scatter over the rest of the cheese and crumbs. Grill for 5 mins.
The Ministry of Food: Thrifty Wartime Ways to Feed Your Family Today by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall. Not just a sentimental looking back: not just lots of (adapted) recipes; not just information about growing responsibly and organically, but all of these, well written, well produced. Good idea for a present.
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