Spring is on its way – hooray!
However, Spring is much more the season of sowing than it is of harvesting, particularly the month of March. None the less we have plenty of spring vegetables available, especially as we move from March through to May. But why not sow some seeds for later in the year as well? Herbs and salads will grow on a window sill and you can grow many things in pots on the patio or even among your flowers and in your garden beds. If you have gardening friends, I’m sure they will share some seeds or even give you some surplus seedlings.
Make March the month for serving your own Minestrone soup! Feeds 8-10.
This substantial soup is capable of variation according to the season and what’s available. With some crusty bread it’s a meal in itself. Cooking time 1hr plus 15 mins
cook 60-120 minutes
5 tbsp (75ml) olive or other vegetable oil
2 onions finely sliced
2 medium carrots diced
100g smoked bacon chopped small
1 stick of celery chopped small
4 cloves garlic crushed
2 medium potatoes peeled and diced
2 leeks washed and thinly sliced
1 tbsp of fresh sage or 1 ½ tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried oregano
3 bay leaves
1 can chopped tomatoes
1.7 litres stock, vegetable or meat (I use 3 Knorr stock pots and water)
1 can (14oz) cannellini or borlotti beans
150g greens shredded – whatever is available: spring greens, kale or cabbage
100g small pasta (eg orzo/risoni)
2 tsp salt
Heat the oil in a very large pan and sauté the onions, carrots, bacon, celery and garlic.
Add the potatoes, leeks and herbs and stir them in well; sauté for a few more mins before adding the tomatoes, mixing again.
Now add the stock and bring to the boil. Cover and turn the heat right down as low as possible and let it simmer for an hour or two
Add the cannellini beans and their liquid and the greens. Bring back to the boil and finally add the pasta, salt and pepper and simmer until the pasta is tender.
Serve with some grated cheese passed round separately, and crusty bread.
Seasonal Vegetable Pie
or, if you prefer, make this into a lovely Vegetable Crumble instead.
Some people are worried about making pastry so here are three alternative toppings for this versatile mixed vegetable base – my recipe for perfect pastry (shortcrust), or try the comfort of a simple suet crust, or try no-skills-required quick but nutritious crumble topping!
Again, what you use for the vegetable mix depends on what you have available – this is a great recipe for using up bits of unused veg from the bottom of the fridge! Serves 4-6 depending on the size of appetite! Use a 1.2 litre pie dish
cook 60 minutes
900g approx. root vegetables (carrot, parsnip, swede, celeriac, potato)
1 large onion
2 tbsp oil plus 50g margarine
Several sprigs of thyme leaves or 1 tsp of dried thyme
1 rounded tsp paprika
2 tbsp tomato purée
1 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp flour
600 ml vegetable stock
1-2 tbsp lemon juice or cider vinegar
200g shredded greens (eg spring greens / savoy cabbage / kale / sprouts)
Some small florets of broccoli (or use cauliflower)
125g mature cheddar cheese
200g plain flour
50g block stork margarine
30 ml cold water.
This recipe is vegan and makes wonderful shortcrust.
For Short Crust Pastry
For Suet Crust Pastry
300g self-raising flour
150g vegetable suet
cold water to mix
200g wholemeal plain flour
100g block margarine
3 tbsp seeds (sunflower/pumpkin/sesame)
70g nuts chopped (walnuts/hazelnuts/cashews)
plus the cheddar cheese as above grated
For the Crumble Topping
If you are making short crust pastry make this first and let it sit in the fridge for 30 mins or so. It is easiest to make the pastry in a food processor: simply put in the flour and the fat and whizz it together until it is looking a bit like breadcrumbs. If you don’t have a food processor rub the fat into the flour with your fingertips in the old-fashioned, time-honoured way. Then gradually add the cold water whilst the food processor is running on low speed so that it comes together in a soft but not sticky dough.I usually do the final bit in a bowl with my hand just making sure there is enough but not too much water.
If you are going to make suet crust pastry do this once the veg are ready. You can make the crumble topping first or last. Simply rub the fat into the flour as for pastry and then stir in the other ingredients including grated cheese.
Now make the vegetable base. Peel and dice all the root vegetables and chop the onion.
Heat the oil and margarine together in a large pan. Add the onion and cook gently until translucent stirring occasionally. Then add all the other vegetables stirring them all to coat them in the melted marg.
Let the veg ‘sweat’ a little on a gentle heat for about 10 mins then stir in the paprika, tomato purée and the sugar, salt and pepper; cook for another 2 mins. Now add the flour and stir for another minute or so before adding the stock, stirring while you slowly pour it in. Add the lemon juice or cider vinegar.
Let it come to a gentle simmer. Put the lid on and let the veg cook for about 10 mins before adding the shredded greens and broccoli/cauliflower florets. Let them cook for about another 5 mins. The vegetables should be just tender.
Heat the oven to 190 Gas 5. Make the suet pastry if using this. You simply mix together flour and vegetable suet and then stir in water to make a soft but not too sticky dough – it is a bit stickier than shortcrust.. Suet pastry should be used as soon as it is made and rolled thicker than shortcrust.
Heap the vegetable base into a pie dish and if using either sort of pastry, cut the cheese into small dice and dot them over the vegetables.
Roll out your pastry, put a strip round the edge of the dish; moisten this with a little water and then lay your pastry over. Press down round the edges to make a nice fluted edge and trim with a knife – I use the bits trimmed off to make some ‘leaves’ as decoration. Brush with a little milk. If using the crumble topping just press it gently over the top of all the vegetables.
Cook for approximately 30 mins until golden. (I generally cook suet crust at 200C).
Creamy onion and garlic soup
This onion soup is wonderfully enhanced by using the liquid left over from garlic mashed potato. If you cook 1kg of potato with the peeled cloves from a whole garlic bulb in 500 ml of milk and 500 ml of water and 2 bay leaves, when the potatoes are cooked drain off and reserve the liquid. Use some of the liquid when you mash the potatoes and garlic together. Keep all the rest for this soup!
cook 20 minutes
2 large onions (plus 2 garlic cloves if not using the garlic flavoured milk above)
1 small potato
900ml milk and water – ideally the garlic infused milk water mix from above
Plus 1 Knorr vegetable stock pot
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Chop the onion, garlic if used, and potato.
Melt the margarine in a pan and sauté the onions (and garlic) until transparent.
Add the potato, the garlicky milk-and-water, topping it up to 900ml if necessary or just add 500ml milk and 400ml water plus the Knorr stockpot. Also add the bay leaves and salt and pepper.
Bring up to the boil then simmer covered for about 20 mins.
Blend the soup and check for seasoning.
There should be lots of purple sprouting broccoli available this month but if you prefer you can use calabrese (i.e. heads of broccoli), but these are not seasonal in April in UK – they are usually harvested in summer and autumn.
cook 30 minutes
1 large red onion cut into wedges
250g purple sprouting broccoli
Small bunch parsley
60g stilton cheese or your choice, plus 25g parmesan (optional)
6 eggs (if you think 6 eggs insufficient for 4 people make it 8 & cook for longer
I had the oven on anyway so I made this frittata in the oven (see below for alternative method). Heat the oven to 200C.
Put the onion into a roasting tin and pour over a tablespoon approx. of oil.With your hand make sure the onion pieces are all coated and roast in the oven, maybe 15 mins or so.
Meanwhile cut the stems off your broccoli to make nice short florets; cut the stems into small pieces. Either steam or boil for 2–3 mins.Drain thoroughly.
Chop the parsley stalks and leaves.
Lightly beat the eggs and then add the broccoli, chopped parsley and crumble in the cheese. Mix it together and add some salt and pepper.
When the onions are fairly soft remove them from the oven. Put a knob of butter and a splash of oil into an ovenproof dish and pop it into the oven for a minute or two. Brush the melted butter round the dish and put the onions in spreading them out evenly over the base.
Pour the egg and broccoli mixture over the onions and return to the oven. Cook until the egg is set, puffed up and nicely browned – approx. 15 mins
Note – if you don’t want to use the oven it is possible to make a frittata by using the hob and then the grill. You would need to cook the onion wedges in a frying pan or flame proof dish. Combine the eggs, broccoli, cheese and parsley as above and then pour over the onions and allow the egg mixture to settle and start to cook at the bottom and then finish off under a medium grill.
Easy to make – delicious to eat! Traditionally given away in little packs of three tied with ribbon.
cook 8 minutes
makes 24 biscuits
100g unsalted butter, softened
75g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 free-range egg, separated
1 small unwaxed lemon, finely grated zest only
200g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1–2 tbsp milk
Preheat the oven 200C/180C Fan/Gas 6. Line three baking trays with baking paper.
Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat until well combined and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and lemon zest. Sift in the flour and mix well. Stir in the currants and enough milk to make a fairly soft dough.
Knead the dough on a floured work surface and, using a rolling pin, roll out the dough until 5mm/¼in thick. Using a 6cm/2½in fluted cutter, cut out 24 rounds. Transfer to the baking trays using a palette knife and bake for 8 minutes.
Lightly beat the egg white using a fork.
Remove the biscuits from the oven and brush the tops with the beaten egg white. Sprinkle over caster sugar and return to the oven for 5 minutes, or until pale golden brown and cooked though. Leave to cool on the trays for a few minutes, then carefully lift onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Note – you do not want the dough to become too soft; if it seems a bit too soft pop it in the fridge for 10 mins until it is easier to handle.
Cream of Spinach Soup
It is possible to buy/pick spinach throughout the year but in May you can get the first of the new young spinach, which is lovely.
cook 30-40 minutes
1 small onion chopped
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
4 tbsp butter or margarine
1 heaped tbsp flour
500ml chicken stock
500g fresh spinach
500ml milk (or if you omit the cream then use 600ml)
120ml single cream
Fresh chives snipped small, or grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
In a large pan cook the onion and garlic gently in the butter/marg with the lid on. Once it is nicely softened and yellow stir in the flour and then the stock.
Stir in the spinach, cover and simmer until the spinach is cooked – if it’s young it won’t take long.
Purée in a blender and then reheat, adding the milk to gain the right consistency.Add the cream if using and whichever flavouring you prefer -nutmeg or chives. For May perhaps the fresh taste of chives would be good.
Now check the seasoning and add salt as required.Sometimes a little bit of sugar helps to bring out the flavour, but don’t add much.
Very nice with cheese on toast!
Broad Bean and Almond Pilaf
I love broad beans! But if you don’t, you can make this with peas (frozen peas, as May is a bit early for fresh). Almonds are nutritionally very beneficial. Enjoy this Spring-flavoured meal, ideally using fresh herbs.
cook 20 minutes
4 tbsp olive oil
4 shallots or 1 large onion thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove chopped
225g brown basmati rice
1kg broad beans in their pods (approx. 370g podded weight)
Bunch of fresh dill roughly chopped
Small bunch of parsley, roughly chopped
575 ml vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
Blanch the almonds by pouring boiling water over them. Once the water has cooled down a bit the skins will slip off.Spread them out in a single layer in a tin and place under a medium grill.Watch like a hawk so they turn a pale golden colour and don’t burn. Set to one side.
Pod the beans.
Heat the oil in a flameproof casserole or pan and sauté the shallots/onion and garlic until soft.
Add the rice and stir so it is coated in the oil; add the beans and stir in ¾ of the herbs. Now pour in the stock and season with salt and pepper.
Bring to the boil and simmer gently with the lid on for about 15 -20 mins until the rice is cooked and the liquid absorbed. Fork in the almonds and sprinkle over the rest of the chopped herbs. Replace the lid and let it sit for about 5 mins in a warm place. Serve with a green salad.