February is the time of year when winter begins to ebb away and spring tries to sneak in while it isn’t looking. Here in the U.K. the weather can be so varied as the seasons start to turn. Sudden, cold snaps can damage delicate new shoots. Over-wintered vegetables are often tastier for spending a month or two in the cold earth and they are in an abundance right now. Greengrocers and farmers markets are full of locally grown carrots, leeks and trusty old Kale and we’re starting to see the first glimpses of early spring vegetables such as tender Broccoli and Rhubarb. Other produce from further afield which also benefits from a spell of lower temperatures are citrus fruits such as blood oranges and pink Grapefruit. Cold nights help to bring out their vibrant colour and sweet flavour.
Here are five of my favourite things to eat this month, and five quick recipes to use them in.
Purple Sprouted Broccoli
Purple Sprouted Broccoli is a hardy vegetable, grown over winter and ready for harvest in early spring. It’s available in the U.K. from February until April. It is quite a short season, but by preserving it you can enjoy this brassica for months after its harvest.
Start off by washing and sterilising a half sized kilner jar. Place 250ml of water and 250ml or white wine vinegar in a saucepan with 1 tbsp of coriander seed, 2 tbsp of sugar and 1 tsp of sea salt. Bring to a boil and set aside to cool.
While the pickling liquid cools, pack 150-200g of Broccoli into your jar. Use the nicest, freshest Broccoli you can find. Add to this 3 slices of lemon and a whole clove of garlic.
When the vinegar solution is complete cool, pour over the Broccoli making sure that all of the seeds end up in the jar. Seal and leave in a cool, dark place for at least one week to allow the flavours to develop. The pickles will keep, unsealed for several months but once opened keep refrigerated and consume within a week or so.
February is the month when the first stalks of blushing pink rhubarb start to appear at the greengrocers. At this time of year it is forced, which means grown with only a tiny amount of light. This is what gives it such a fabulous colour. I’m told that Yorkshire is the rhubarb forcing capital of the world, where it is grown in huge aircraft hangars. The only light is from candles and apparently it grows so fast you can hear it!
To make this rhubarb Curd, choose the pinkest stalks you can find. Chop them roughly and place in a saucepan with 300g of sugar and 2 tbsp of water. Cook very gently until the rhubarb is soft. Press this mixture through a sieve into a large bowl.
To this add 100g of butter and 4 eggs. Place the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water and whisk. The Curd is done when it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Transfer into a clean jar and keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Blood oranges are available from January until march. The season is very short and I just can’t get enough of them. I love the dramatic, bloody red of their flesh and the sweet-sour flavour of their juice.
My favourite cocktail is a margarita and when blood oranges are in season I like to invite them to the tequila party!
Juice 4 blood oranges and 2 limes and place in a cocktail shaker. Add 2 shots of tequila and 2 shots of triple sec. I like mine strong so I shake it with ice and strain into a glass, but you could also pour over crushed ice. Makes enough for 2 cocktails. That’s one for each hand.
Oranges and Grapefruits are at their most delicious right now. The winter months are peak citrus season, starting with clementines at Christmas and carrying on through January, February and March with Seville Oranges, Ruby Red Grapefruit and Meyer Lemons.
I love the flavour of marmalade, especially homemade, but it’s a time consuming labour of love. There are some great recipes available if you’d like to have a go at making your own jars of this glistening, Orange preserve, but if like me you are rather time poor, then try making a compote instead.
Using a sharp knife, cut the top and bottoms from three oranges and one Grapefruit. Use the knife to cut the peel from the fruit, taking the hard white pith away at the same time. Chop the fruit and place in a large pan with 300g of sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, then lower the heat and simmer for around thirty minutes. You should be left with a lovely orange, bitter-sweet compote which will set fairly thickly thanks to the pectin in the fruit. I like to add a couple of cardamom pods to mine.
Root vegetables are everywhere at this time of year. They love sitting in the ground over winter, waiting to be dug up and enjoyed. I love the sweetness of parsnips but I find that beyond the standard roast dinner or soup applications, they are often rather overlooked.
I like to make a hearty, winter salad by roasting a couple of chopped parsnips with ras el hanout in a hot oven. When the parsnips are almost finished, add to the tray and can of drained chickpeas and returning to the oven for a further ten minutes. Allow them to cool a little before tossing with chopped Kale, finely sliced red onion, a drizzle of oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and some pomegranate seeds.