Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands
Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands
Although May can be an unreliable month for weather, spring produce truly arrives this month. April’s Wild Garlic flowers and fades, outdoor-grown Rhubarb knocks the Forced variety off its perch, and it’s the month the unbeatable Alphonso Mangoes from India are at their peak. This is also the month of juicy, peppery spring Radishes, crunchy small Cucumbers, English Watercress and Spring Onions. Fruit from Europe is moving from Citrus to soft fruits like Strawberries, and the first stone fruits in the form of Nespole (loquats) are arriving. Maybe there will also be Apricots soon. The Broad Beans, Peas and Wet Garlic from France and Italy are followed a little later by the English crops. And, of course, there’s English Asparagus, which we bring to you direct from the Kent countryside.
Here is a taster of the things you can expect to find here at Puntarelle & Co in the month of May:
There are earthy, saline Jersey Royal Potatoes still and versatile Cornish Potatoes.
Vitamin C, iron and calcium-rich Spring Nettle Tops, we get both English and French (bag with care!).
Perhaps some late English Wild Garlic leaves.
Watercress from our preferred English grower, Kingfisher.
Italian Tropea Onions and French Grelot Onions.
UK-grown sweet, juicy Cucumbers and mild, crunchy Spring Onions.
Italian Ridged Cucumbers which are so good for fermenting and pickling.
From Italy, Romano and Tondo Courgettes.
From our Kent Grower, English green Asparagus, both fat-speared and thin sprue. Also European purple and white Asparagus varieties.
New Spring season Rainbow Chard from Italy.
Italian Peas and Broad Beans.
Fat, sweet, stems of Wet Garlic from France before the English is ready (don’t forget most of the stalk is useable too.
Outdoor-grown Rhubarb, picked up from our preferred farmer in Kent, who also grows our Asparagus.
French Heritage Tomatoes along with large Pineapple Tomatoes. Later in the month we look forward to large Provence Tomatoes too.
Colourful spring varieties of Radish.
Cool weather harvests of bitter Radicchio and Chicories like Puntarelle and Cime de Rapa from Italy are falling away but there are Aubergines , Peppers and Tropea Onions. There are fat bulbs of Italian Fennel still.
Spinach varieties, the Italian arriving cut with their rosettes intact.
New season Aubergines from Italy.
Italian Green and Purple Artichokes, large and small.
Early in the month there could be Morel Mushrooms still.
Strawberries from France and Italy. The English ones could be with us towards the end of the month.
It’s a lean time for European fruits but the Nespole from Italy support the early Strawberries.
Alphonso Mangoes from India too.
Given the right weather conditions we can expect to see Apricots and we may see Cherries arriving.
Nespole arrive from Italy. In early spring, just as our stores of apples are emptying and before maincrop strawberries come good, they are a welcome sight. Looking a little like apricots, they can be smooth or slightly downy-skinned and vary from yellow to orange. They have a succulent flesh, a little tart, a little sweet with a tropical fragrance. They are a fragile fruit that keep only a couple of days at room temperature but up to a week in a cool place. They can be poached in sugar syrup and simply served with yogurt or ice cream, or added to a fruit salad. Under-ripe fruits make good jam and jelly, or chutney which goes well with fatty meats like roast pork.
Raw Asparagus Salad
Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands
The early English Asparagus from our Kent grower is wonderful eaten raw. Here is a recipe, inspired by our friends at 40 Maltby Street, celebrating the early spears. It also makes a little go a long way.
Raw Asparagus Salad
(Serves 4 as a starter)
8-12 asparagus spears
A handful of pea-shoots
A few mint leaves
1 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper
Snap the tough ends off the asparagus. Cut a diagonal slice off the bottom of each spear then slice them thinly. Add salt and pepper to the lemon juice and mix. Whisk in the olive oil to emulsify. Toss the sliced asparagus and the pea shoots in the dressing. Pile onto plates and serve. (Add a few curls, or a grating, of Italian Parmesan or English Berkswell cheese if you like).
Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands
Asparagus grows from long-lived rhizomes that spread underground. The spears are the tender young shoots of Asparagus officinalis that grows into a fernlike plant over a metre tall when harvesting ends.
The spears start pushing through the ground in early Spring. In recent years, a variety of ‘early-season’ asparagus has been developed enabling some producers to get an Asparagus crop to market ahead of the game. Normally, the asparagus farmer has a few weeks of frantic activity harvesting the crop for market, and then it's all over until next year. Traditionally, in the UK, the season begins around St George's Day (23 April) and by mid-Summer's Day cutting should stop. The plants continue to put up spears but these are allowed to grow into tall fronds that photosynthesise in order to build up nutrients in the rhizome for next year's crop. In November the plant is cut back to ground level.
It takes about three years for an asparagus crown to become established and, if treated right, it can be productive for 10 years. Harvesting of Asparagus has to be done by hand. The white version is even more labour intensive as the growing spears have to be banked-up with soil to produce the blanched stems. Popular since the 18th century, white asparagus has a more delicate flavour than the green. If exposed to light after harvest, white asparagus will turn yellow or reddish. Purple varieties of asparagus are high in anthocyanins, though, like other purple and red coloured vegetables, cooking results in loss of this colour and it turns green.
This all adds up to making asparagus one of the most expensive treats of spring and early summer. Freshness is key to taste so, when you do finally get your hands on it, don't let it linger in the fridge or it will lose its sweetness. The spears are packed with beneficial nutrients - vitamins A and C, folic acid, potassium and iron. They have a natural snap-point separating the tough from the tender parts, so, it’s best to bend the spear and snap off the base rather than cut it for cooking. Young, fresh spears don’t need to be peeled but later ones benefit from peeling the lower 6cm or so.
The first, fresh Asparagus are fantastic eaten raw. Slice thinly, and toss in a vinaigrette of lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. The wispy early spears marketed as ‘Wild Asparagus’, or later thin spears known as sprue, are wonderful for par-boiling then adding to an omelette or frittata. Thicker spears can be plunged into boiling water for a few minutes until just tender – melted butter, mayonnaise or hollandaise sauce are good accompaniments. Asparagus has an affinity with eggs so pairing them is a very good idea. To cook the spears on a griddle or to roast them in the oven in olive oil, par-boiling for one minute in boiling water first is recommended.
Garlic - New Season (Wet/Green)
Our impatient wait for the new season Wet (or green) Garlic is usually rewarded in March and the fat-necked, purple-streaked green garlic bulbs are quite special. Picked at this stage, green garlic needs to be used within a matter of weeks rather than the several months of life of dried garlic, but it is at its sweetest. You can, after peeling away a layer or two of skin, eat both the white and the pale green stem, discarding only the basal core. Mild and mellow with none of the hot, pungent qualities of mature garlic, Wet Garlic is perfect for roasting whole with a little thyme, olive oil and a splash of water. Once cooked, squeeze the roasted cloves to release the caramelised garlic. Spread on a fried bread crouton or mix with some anchovies melted in a warm pan with butter to make the Italian dipping sauce, Bagna Cauda.
April heralds a real change in our arch, bringing Wild Garlic Leaves, Nettle Tops and Jersey Royal Potatoes. English winter/spring Purple Sprouting Broccoli comes to an end this month and we see the very brief season White sprouting form this month. Forced Rhubarb gives way to Outdoor Grown Rhubarb. Earthy Morel Mushrooms and, briefly, St George’s Mushrooms are to be expected. From Italy come Broad Beans, Peas and both wild and cultivated Asparagus. Spring Herbs shoot up now and juicy radishes and small crunchy hothouse Cucumbers arrive. We usually see some fantastic Wet Garlic bulbs this month too. There are European Artichokes still, joined by early Courgettes and Tenarumi. April also brings the early varieties of Strawberries – French Gariguette but it’s not unknown for us to have UK-grown ones before the month is out. The best Mangoes of the year arrive from India and Pakistan this month too.
Here is a taster of the things you can expect to find here at Puntarelle & Co in the month of April:
April marks the last of the Purple Sprouting Broccoli and the shorter season White Sprouting Broccoli.
We have earthy, saline Jersey Royal Potatoes.
Vitamin C, iron and calcium-rich Spring Nettle Tops (bag with care!).
English Wild Garlic leaves feature strongly this month.
Watercress comes in from France and there is English-grown too.
New season UK-grown sweet, juicy Cucumbers and mild, crunchy Spring Onions.
Romano Courgettes and the first Ridged Cucumbers – so good for fermenting and pickling - from Italy.
Wispy Wild Asparagus from Italy, as well as fat spears of the purple and white Asparagus varieties. If we get a warm spring, there is early English-grown too.
Rainbow Chard from Italy.
Italian Peas and Broad Beans
Fat, juicy bulbs of Wet Garlic – the first is usually from Morocco before the European ones arrives.
Outdoor-grown Rhubarb, from our preferred farmer in Kent, takes over from Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb.
April sees early varieties of Strawberries, including Gariguette and the best Mangoes of the year from India and Pakistan.
Heritage Tomatoes begin to take over from winter Camone and Marinda this month and large Provence Tomatoes begin to arrive.
Radishes change from large winter varieties to small, crunchy spring ones.
Cool weather harvests of bitter Radicchio and Chicories like Puntarelle and Cime de Rapa reduce through April.
Tropea Onions from Italy make a welcome return.
New season Aubergines from Italy are now coming in more variety of sizes and shapes and there are Spring season Green and Purple Artichokes, large and small.
Morel Mushrooms are a feature of April and St George’s Mushrooms make a very brief appearance.
Potted Spring Herbs join our usual display of cut herbs.
Don’t forget to check-out our London Fermentary fridges when you visit our arch on Saturdays. If you follow Puntarelle_Co on Instagram and/or on Twitter, we’d love it if you would show your support by also following us @london_fermentary on Instagram and/or @LondonFermentary on Twitter. We’ll be able to keep you informed with news, like what seasonal Ferments you can expect to find each month.
Bridging the gap between winter and spring this month we have an Outdoor Rhubarb & Gariguette Strawberry Water Kefir and a Mango & Lime version for you. Carrot Kraut, fermented with mustard seeds & ginger is back in stock and you’ll find jars of Kimchi too along with our fermented sauces including our ever-popular Yellow Mellow Sauce.
Apart from being delicious, these unpasteurised fermented drinks bring beneficial micro-organisms, B vitamins, minerals and enzymes in a slightly sour, zingy, low-sugar form. More about our range of Fermented products at: www.londonfermentary.com
Rich in vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin C, iron and calcium, considering Nettles as a weed seriously undervalues their nutritional benefits. Here at Puntarelle & Co we have them in Spring and early Summer when they are at their vigorous best. Like everything that grows wild, you need to be sure it has grown in a clean environment if you are going to eat it. Buy from us or, if you have a trusted patch near you, go out and snip the tops. Take care picking them or filling your bag as they pack a mighty sting until subjected to brief heat or cold.
Here is an idea for using them:
Nettle & Spinach Soup
Around 350g (12 oz) nettle tops
Around 350g (12 oz) spinach or chard
50g (2 oz) butter or olive oil
2 leeks or onions, sliced
1 medium potato, diced (optional)
Around 1 litre (1¾ pints) vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
Cream to serve
Wash the nettle tops carefully (they sting until cooked) and the spinach or chard and drain both.
In a large pan, melt the butter and add the sliced leeks or onions. Cook, without colouring, for 5-10 minutes to soften. (Add diced potato at this point if you want a heartier soup). Add the nettles and spinach or chard, cover and cook until just wilted. Pour in the stock, bring to the boil then simmer for 20 minutes.
Liquidise then reheat and season with salt and pepper.
Serve with a spoonful of cream atop each bowl of soup.
A member of the mustard family, Raphanus sativus, the Radish is native to Western Asia. Cultivated for thousands of years they had reached the Mediterranean by the time of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. In Egypt, labourers working on the pyramids were given rations of garlic and radishes. The Greeks even made votive offerings to Apollo in the form of models of radishes in gold – turnips merited the use of lead, and beetroots were rendered in silver. The Romans were early appreciators of the radish too.
Shaped by human selection, the Radish now comes in many forms and colours, from pure white throughout; black with white flesh; a form that is green outside and red within; a variety called Blue Moon which is pale purple of skin and has striated purple and white flesh; and others that have deep-red skins at the top, fading to white at the base, or are completely round and red-skinned. They also come in a huge variety of sizes from the small, elongated Breakfast Radish to large varieties of Daikon, or Mouli, which can grow to more than 30cm long and weigh as much as 3kg. All share a crisp texture and varying degrees of pepperiness. If left in the warmth too long, radishes will soften. Place them in a bowl of iced water for an hour or so and they will regain much of their crispness.
In early Spring, it’s the small red, or red and white, Radish that catches the eye. They take only 3-4 weeks to grow and are best grown early as summer’s heat can turn them harsh and woody unless watered assiduously. They are best simply washed and eaten raw with salt, bread and butter. Larger varieties can grow through the summer until harvested in the autumn. Firm and drier, these later varieties can be roasted or braised. The long, white Asian Daikon/Mouli is relatively mild and can be used raw or cooked. Most of the heat in radishes lies in the skin, so peeling moderates the heat. Cooking them deactivates the peppery enzyme and brings out their sweetness.
Serve small, spring radishes with a bowl of salt; with carrots, young peas or mangetouts and dip them into a bowl of mayonnaise or a garlicky aioli; dip radishes into a bagna cauda sauce (melt anchovies into olive oil and garlic before whisking in butter). Make a radish sandwich – butter brown bread, add a layer of radish leaves and top with sliced radishes and season with salt. The leaves of radish add a light pepperiness to a bowl of salad leaves too. Larger types, like Daikon/Mouli, can be sliced, mixed with chicory leaves and finely sliced fennel, or paired with anchovy. Both ways are good with a citrus and olive oil dressing. Radishes pickle well too. Personally, we wouldn’t cook radish. It’s the peppery crunch that makes them so appealing, so, if you want a mild pepperiness, maybe you should reach for a turnip instead.
Creamy-white Cauliflowers are immature flower structures eaten before they have chance to open. The vivid-green Romanesco is a cauliflower too and has become more and more popular in recent years. Both have a similar texture and flavour whether tasted raw or cooked, though the Romanesco has a little more depth. The fascinating Fibonacci spiral whorls of the Romanesco, along with that incredible colour, surely explain its appeal. Cauliflowers also come with purple ‘curds’ (the edible head), and there are yellow/orange varieties too but don’t expect them to keep their colour after cooking. Broccoli is another immature flower structure and in Italy cauliflowers can, confusingly, sometimes be referred to as broccolo. Both are members of the Brassica (cabbage) family but cauliflower and broccoli look distinctly different, with broccoli, generally, producing looser flower stalks.
It’s believed the Arabs in the Middle Ages developed the Cauliflower and the first mention of them being grown here in the UK is in the last decade of the 16th century. It was said the best seeds came from Aleppo. There are summer, winter and intermediate varieties of Cauliflower, which is why they are almost always available throughout the year. They grow best in cool, moist conditions, though, so we tend to see the best crops early and late in the year.
Cauliflower is a vegetable which is delicious eaten raw when you can detect that slight heat of the brassica family – a little like raw Brussels sprout. Separate into florets and dip into a dish of Bagna Cauda (a hot butter, garlic and anchovy dip). Cauliflower ferments and pickles really well and it is an essential part of Piccalilli.
As a rule, for cauliflower, the shorter the cooking time, the better the flavour. Its delicate flavour, some would say, blandness, means the Cauliflower carries other flavours such as spices well. A dish of Cauliflower Cheese is a classic, of course, with bay and clove flavouring the sauce. Cauliflower’s creamy texture lends itself to a soup. The addition of cream and potatoes tempers any possible sulphurousness attributable to over-cooked brassica. A scattering of toasted almonds brings texture to the softness of a side dish of cooked Cauliflower.
Eggs go well too. There is a lovely simple recipe in Rachel Roddy’s book Five Quarters for serving tender florets of Cauliflower dressed with oil, lemon, garlic, anchovies and black olives and served with warm boiled eggs. In the same book, you’ll find a very good Pasta e Broccoli recipe that works with either Romanesco Cauliflower or the looser-stalked Broccoli. Meera Sodha has a recipe in her book Fresh India for Whole roasted Cauliflower with Mussalam which smothers the brassica in a tomato sauce spiced up with ginger, black pepper, garlic, cinnamon, cloves and chilli powder. There’s also a good recipe for Cauliflower Korma with Blackened Raisins too and I highly recommend the Cauliflower Cheese + Chilli Stuffed Roti, which uses finger chillies and cumin for spicing.
Oh, and don’t think you have to discard all of the leaves. The more tender, inner leaves are good to eat too.
We are usually enjoying the aroma of English Wild Garlic (also known as Ramsoms, Buckram, Wood Garlic or Bear’s Garlic) in our arch by April. This beautiful and tasty leaf is a wild relative of chives but is more than a bit-player in cooking. Wild Garlic likes the damp, shady conditions of deciduous woodland, putting up leaves in early spring before flowering just as the tree canopy starts to shade out light. As with all wild food, clean growing conditions are a must and whenever we can get it we buy foraged English Wild Garlic from private woodland in Somerset.
In case you are tempted to pick your own, you must be sure not to mix it up with Lily of the Valley, which has a similar leaf but is highly toxic. Crush a piece of leaf between your fingers to release a distinctive pungent garlic smell to confirm you have the right plant.
Wild Garlic has an affinity with eggs, so works well in omelette or frittata. You can also chop it and add to a spring vegetable soup, wilt it in butter for a quick pasta sauce or make a wild garlic pesto. Do use any flowers along with the leaves as they not only look beautiful but also have good flavour.
Pasta with Wild Garlic
300g dried pasta (ribbon pastas or Spaghetti or Linguine)
80g (3oz) unsalted butter
2 handfuls of wild garlic, well washed and roughly chopped
Good olive oil and salt and pepper to season
Bring a large pan of water to the boil then salt the water well. With the water at a fierce boil, add the pasta and stir. Return the water to the boil and cook at a lively pace according to the cooking instructions.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the butter gently in large pan and add the washed and chopped garlic leaves, salt and pepper. Cook for a minute or two then take the pan off the heat. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the water, and add the cooked pasta to the buttery garlic leaves. Mix in about 50ml of cooking water to loosen slightly. Serve with plenty of grated parmesan and some good olive oil to season.
This recipe works well with spinach or chard leaves too. You could use Asparagus or Hop Shoots instead so long as you blanch the vegetables first.
The first month of meterological Spring is always the most unpredictable time of year. At this time in 2018 I wrote of snow falling in London and bad weather in southern Europe. In 2019 the last week of February saw record high temperatures in the UK, peeking at a scarily high 20+C. A clear illustration of the spring’s volatility. But whatever the daytime temperatures, night temperatures and light levels play a part. Crops don’t grow quickly at this time of year and it’s a quiet time for our home-grown crops.
We look mainly to southern Europe for fruit and vegetables to supplement our slow-growing winter Greens and Root crops. Tender Artichokes, juicy mineral Agretti and crisp Fennel are examples of what we expect from Italy. Crunchy Marinda and Camone Tomatoes still fill the gap until sun-ripened ones arrive. Citrus continues and, usually, the first new season Wet Garlic Bulbs arrive from Morocco followed by bulbs from Europe. From Italy, the first of the Broad Beans, Peas and palest-green Spring Courgettes. Citrus, including Amalfi Lemons, Tarocco Oranges and Common Mandarins continue to arrive from Italy.
Here is a taster of the things you can expect to find here at Puntarelle & Co in the month of March:
British Brassicas including Savoy Cabbage, green and purple hued January King, blistered-leaved Black Cabbage/Cavolo Nero, Kale, Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Kohlrabi.
For Roots, which store well, there are Jerusalem Artichokes, Beetroot, Turnips, Swede, Celeriac, Potatoes and Carrots. Leeks are still come in from the fields.
Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb is reaching its peak. Its stalks are a little thicker and more deeply coloured now, and are tasting at their best.
Untreated Italian Citrus in the form of Leafy and Amalfi Lemons, juicy Tarocco Oranges and sweet Mandarins. Bergamots and Cedro make an appearance.
Broad Beans, Fresh Peas, Wild Asparagus, cultivated Purple Asparagus from European climes.
Broccolo Fiolare (Minestra Cabbage) and Broccolo di Bassano from Italy.
Time to start looking out for punnets of fragrant Candonga Strawberries from Italy and Gariguette Strawberries from France.
There is vitamin and mineral packed Italian Spinach and Chard and colourful bitter-leaved heads of Radicchio. There’s Puntarelle Chicory and Cime di Rapa too.
Crunchy, juicy Agretti/Monk’s Beard continues, an excellent accompaniment to fish or simply blanched and tossed in anchovy butter.
Spiky Sardinian Artichokes, globes of Romaneschi Artichokes, medium-sized Tema Artichokes and the small purple Petit Violet Artichokes.
Pale green Italian Courgettes and crunchy red Tropea Onions from Italy.
Providing tasty Tomatoes through winter is a challenge but the green seasonal Marinda and salty, crunchy Camone are welcome, and they are at their best now.
Look out for the first Jersey Royal Potatoes and the French Ile de Ré and Noirmoutier Potatoes. All coastal-grown roots that bring a welcome rush of earthy salinity at this time of year.
Spring Radishes arrive, usually the first are from France along with crunchy small Grelot Onions.
March could see the first Morel Mushrooms - usually the first come from Canada, followed by Turkish ones.
Short season Wild Garlic Leaves arrive this month, and the first Wet Garlic from Morocco before the French crop.
Stimulating, iron-rich spring Nettles could arrive from France soon, possibly before the end of the month.
Right now our seasonal Water Kefirs take advantage of the fantastic late winter fruits that are coming through our doors. Flavours include Yorkshire Rhubarb, Blood Orange and Wonder Mandarin. As those of you who are familiar with our Water Kefirs know, there is much more to them than their beautiful jewel-like colours. Apart from being delicious, these unpasteurised fermented drinks bring beneficial micro-organisms, B vitamins, minerals and enzymes in a slightly sour, zingy, low-sugar form. More about our range of Fermented products at: www.londonfermentary.com
The botanical family of Agretti is Salicornia. It is a Saltwort, also known as Land Seaweed. The closest we have to the plant in the UK is our Marsh Samphire, otherwise known as Glasswort from when it was calcined to alkali for glass-making. This fact sits oddly with Samphire’s delicious, succulent eating qualities. Agretti has a myriad of other names in Southern Europe where it grows. These include Barba di Frate, Roscano and Monk’s Beard. Here we’ll call it Agretti for simplicity.
Agretti is a plant that has adapted to grow in salty seaside conditions but can be grown commercially given enough warmth and water. At Puntarelle & Co, we source our Agretti from Italy. It’s a plant that is not much grown commercially here in the UK as it needs a long germination period. Harvests here come in June-September. It grows in fleshy, succulent, grass-like strands, usually sold with some length of reddish/brown roots but it is a good “cut-and-come-again” plant. Our own native Samphire arrives in spring/summer. Though their succulent growth looks quite different – Samphire stems being thicker and jointed - Agretti and Samphire can be treated very similarly in the kitchen. Both are good when briefly boiled or steamed and simply eaten with butter or a hollandaise sauce. A few anchovy fillets heated in butter until they melt, make a perfect sauce. Try blanched Agretti with diced winter Camone tomatoes and a grating of bottarga (salted cured fish roe). Both Agretti and Samphire make excellent accompaniments to fish and are a good addition to a bowl of crab soup. They also pickle and ferment extremely well.
Though Samphire is familiar to us in the UK, given that it grows around our own coastline, Agretti is a much more recent arrival on our plates. You will search in vain for the vegetable in popular recipe books published more than 7-8 years ago – whatever name you search for it under. It’s not difficult to see why chefs in the UK like it. Arriving in our late winter/early spring, Agretti comes as a welcome change from the broccoli and cabbage varieties that have featured strongly on our plates over the winter months. With a crunchy yet juicy texture and mineral flavour, it effortlessly fills the early spring hunger-gap until more tender varieties of vegetables arrive on our plates.
As soon as the Sicilian Citrus season starts in December we are in contact with our growers to find out what is being harvested and when we can get them for our customers. The fruit is grown organically or with minimum intervention. There are easier ways to put citrus on our shelves but nothing compares with the taste and quality of the citrus we receive direct from Sicily.
In the citrus ‘gardens’ of Sicily, a sharp drop in temperature for a short period overnight results in the oranges taking on the distinctive red pigmentation. This gives a boost to Vitamin C and the Antithynins which make Sicilian Blood Oranges so special. The darker the flesh, the higher these levels are. Citrus harvesting starts at the end of November and can, in a year of normal weather, go on through the varieties until June. It’s the oranges that grow best in Sicily and they get the most attention, thanks to their uplifting colour palette and versatility. Citrus varieties crossbreed readily, which is why new varieties of citrus come to market from time to time. From Sicily the important varieties of orange are Moro, Tarocco, Sanguinello and the sweet Navelina. Of the bloods, the Moro develops the reddest flesh and its juice is almost raspberry-flavoured. The Tarocco is a little sweeter and its skin and flesh more variably-coloured. Our arch is aglow when the Tarocco Fire variety arrives thanks to its fiery orange/red streaked skin. The Sanguinello appears later in the season. Its thin peel make it a more delicate traveller so we tend not to get this variety. The sweet Navelina is less special but still good. And we’re always happy to receive Pink Grapefruits from our growers as it’s so difficult to find unwaxed grapefruits. As weather conditions change, lemons are now growing more happily on the island and, if we can get them, we take them. Super fragrant Common mandarins are always desirable fruit in our arch. Very fragrant floral zest and amount of seeds , make them best for marmalades and jams. They are very pleasant eating fruit too.
While much citrus is enjoyed simply as raw fruit or juiced, it is a key part of Sicilian cuisine. Sliced orange with fennel, sometimes some sliced onion and/or black olives, is dressed with olive oil for a classic Sicilian salad; a dish of risotto seasoned with sharp orange juice; a lemon or orange granita, maybe scooped into a brioche bun; a whole-orange and almond cake; all are synonymous with Sicily. Here in London we can’t get enough of sweet/sharp new season oranges, whether they come blushed or full-blooded. Blood orange marmalade, orange curd tarts, caramelised oranges and Crepes Suzette are other ways to go with the orange. And don’t forget to use the peel, either for candying or by air-drying thin peelings for later use in fish or meat stews.
A member of the Mustard family, which includes Brassicas, Kale originated in the Eastern Mediterranean. Varieties come in serrated, crinkly, curly, flat or deeply cut and feathery, and in colours from pink-edged silvery green through pale to dark, almost black, green and deepest purple. Blistered-leaved Cavolo Nero/Nero de Toscana is considered a Kale despite its ‘Black Cabbage’ translation.
Sharing bitter-sweet and peppery flavours with their relatives Cabbages and Brussels Sprouts, like them, Kale develop their best flavour and colour after a period of cold weather, particularly after frost. This activates the natural sugars in the plants. A cut-and-come-again plant, they are at their best during the January to March ‘hunger-gap’ when northern hemisphere greens are few and far between. Kale is rich in vitamins A, C and K, folic acid and manganese.
Kale can be eaten raw in a salad, after discarding any tough stalks. Their leaves can be torn and tossed in olive oil and a little salt before baking in a medium oven for 15 minutes to produce kale crisps. Tender young leaves can be sautéed briefly in a little olive oil with garlic, and, optionally, chilli. Later, larger leaves need to be chopped up and sautéed after first blanching in salted boiling water. Romans call this treatment ripassate. You can add raw Kale leaves to a soup. The leaves are particularly good with potatoes and add an earthy depth to mixed vegetable soups. Kale pairs beautifully with salty fried bacon or anchovies melted in hot butter. The leaves also have an affinity with eggs – add cooked kale to a frittata or tortilla or top with a poached egg and, maybe, a little grated gruyère for a quick lunch.
In February the colours of January continue with pinks, reds, greens and claret-splashed yellows of Chicories, stems of Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb turn from pink to red and the shades of citrus become more varied as more varieties arrive from Sicily. Large, spikey Sardinian and fat, round, Romano Artichokes share space with an array of British root vegetables, including Celeriac and Jerusalem Artichokes, but, undoubtedly, February is the leanest month in the northern hemisphere’s growing calendar.
Here is a taster of the things you can expect to find here at Puntarelle & Co in the month of February:
Vibrant pink-stemmed Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb will continue throughout the month.
Probably the last of the Seville Oranges for making bitter marmalade and buttery curd but there will be Clementins that work well too.
Un-treated, un-waxed Blood Oranges, Sweet Clementines and, if we are lucky, Pink Grapefruits.
Deep red, sweet-sharp, Pomegranates.
English Purple Sprouting Broccoli, which is particularly good right now, and, creamy Cauliflowers.
Hispi Cabbage from southern Europe.
Crunchy, salty Italian Camone and Marinda Winter Tomatoes.
From Italy too, bunches of the Mediterranean succulent Barba di Frate/Agretti/Monk’s Beard, Rainbow Chard, Bulb Fennel, Roman Artichokes and spikey Sardinian Artichokes.
Bitter-sweet Italian Greens like Puntarelle and Cime di Rapa and new season Courgettes.
A variety of colourful bitter-sweet pink and red Radicchio and milder-leaved yellow/green Endive.
Vitamin and mineral-rich British Brassicas including Savoy Cabbage, green and purple hued January King, blistered-leaved Black Cabbage/Cavolo Nero, Kale, Brussels Sprouts and Brussels Tops.
Root vegetables including Celeriac, Jerusalem Artichokes, Swede, Beetroot, organic Heritage Carrots and Leeks.
Potato varieties are Cyprus and Desiree, Maris Piper, and waxy-fleshed La Ratte.
Fresh organic Ginger Root and Turmeric Root.
Our freshly-stocked londonfermentary.com fridge this month typically includes Water Kefir flavours like Blood Orange, Yorkshire Rhubarb, Cranberry & Chilli and Honey & Camomile. Don’t forget your refillable bottles for “Kefir on the tap” option. In LF fridge you’ll find an extensive range of seasonal Fermented Vegetables too. Please , check LF website for latest Inspirational Fermentation Course dates www.londonfermentary.com
Here is a recipe using fruits that are at their best right now – that beautiful pink forced Yorkshire Rhubarb and Sicilian Blood Oranges. It’s adapted from Nigel Slater’s recipe in Tender Volume II and I can think of no simpler way to celebrate these two wonderful ingredients together.
Rhubarb with Blood Orange
4 Blood Oranges
1 vanilla pod
Heat the oven to 200C (180C Fan).
Rinse the rhubarb, cut off and discard the leaves. Chop the stems into short lengths and place in an oven-proof dish.
Remove the peel from two of the oranges, cutting away any white pith, then slice the fruit thickly and add it to the rhubarb.
Squeeze the juice from the remaining two oranges, and pour over the rhubarb.
Add a good tablespoon of sugar and the vanilla pod.
Cover the dish with foil and cook in the oven until the rhubarb yields to the pressure of a fork.
Check and adjust the sweetness to your taste.
Allow to cool then spoon into serving glasses, cover with clingfilm, and chill in the fridge for at least an hour but will keep for 2-3 days.
Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands
There are two main varieties of cultivated chicory – the Endives which come in curly and broad-leaved varieties (which we will cover in a future bulletin) and the Radicchio which is the most colourful member of the chicory family and the one we focus on here.
Radicchi is an Italian word for weeds that grow wild in the Mediterranean region. The Radicchio, and other members of the chicory family (Cichorium) that come through our doors are cultivated varieties of these. The farming world has worked for thousands of years to reduce bitterness in crops including lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers and aubergines. But some crops are still prized for this quality and Radicchio is one. Many cultures take bitterness as a signal of medicinal value.
Each variety of Radicchio is named for one of the towns in the Italian Veneto where the crop has PGI (Protected geographical indication) status: Chioggia, round and white-ribbed like a small red cabbage; Treviso, the ‘Prococe’ type having wide burgundy leaves forming a loose head and the later ‘Tardivo’ type that has more tightly packed leaves that curl into a twist at the top; Verona, smaller with deep red leaves and a loose oval shape; and Castelfranco, its creamy yellow rose-like leaves splashed with wine-red being perhaps the most eye-catching. In Radicchio, the extent of bitter compounds varies with Treviso containing most and Chioggia and Castelfranco the least. The technique of blanching, growing in cold and dark conditions, (imbianchimento in Italian) brings out the red hues in what would otherwise be a largely green-leaved crop.
Served as a salad leaf, Radicchio pairs beautifully with orange. The chef Florence Knight has a recipe in her book ‘One’ for mildly astringent Castelfranco mixed with prosciutto and toasted hazelnuts and dressed with an orange vinaigrette. Cooking Radicchio intensifies its bitter qualities and adds a delicious counterpoint to rich, fatty foods – just think of a bacon and dandelion salad. Subjected to a little charring on a grill, a more bitter Radicchio like Treviso pairs wonderfully well with a soft, creamy cheese like ricotta, goat’s curd or a blue cheese, maybe Gorgonzola, Stilton or Stichelton. Simply chop the radicchio into quarters, coat lightly in olive oil, season and grill until lightly browned and softened then serve scattered with pieces of the cheese and a vinaigrette dressing. A few toasted and salted walnuts wouldn’t go amiss.
Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb
Each year in early January slim soft-pink through to ruby-red Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb stems begin to appear at market. A native of Siberia, there is evidence that rhubarb was grown for its medicinal properties – thought to be effective in gut, liver and lung problems - at least as far back as 2700BC. It was grown in the UK for around 150 years for use as a purgative before it became valued as a food in the early 18th century. Garden-grown rhubarb is a much more muscular proposition than ‘forced’ rhubarb. Its thicker, darker red/green stems need a little more cooking and extra sugar to make it palatable. But it was the accidental ‘blanching’ of rhubarb, caused by gardeners at the Chelsea Physic Garden piling up waste plants over winter, that led to the growing of ‘forced’ rhubarb. By the time the roots were uncovered, tender stems had pushed through towards the light and these were found to be far tastier than outdoor, uncovered rhubarb stems.
The method was embraced and developed into the use of ‘forcing’ sheds, after the roots have experienced a blast of frost first in the fields, to produce an earlier, more delicate tasting crop. In Yorkshire, rhubarb farmers were able to produce such a good crop, and get it to market so efficiently, that growers in other areas of the country gave up trying to compete. Today forced rhubarb continues to be grown in a small area around Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield in Yorkshire known as "The Rhubarb Triangle". It’s labour-intensive work which means the crop commands a relatively high price. One of the oldest growers is E Oldroyd & Sons Ltd. Oldroyd's forced rhubarb still finds its way to London markets and to our shelves.
Rhubarb is valued for food from Russia through Turkey, Pakistan and the Middle East. Persian cooking values it for balancing meat stews, particularly lamb. A lightly sweetened compote is a good accompaniment to cut the fattiness of pork or oiliness of fish, like mackerel. For desserts, the tender stems can go into cakes and tarts. The most versatile way with forced rhubarb is to gently poach it to make a sweet compote - 5 parts fruit to 1 part sugar is about right if you don’t want it too sweet. Additions you can make when poaching include a vanilla pod; a little preserved ginger; orange zest and/or juice; or a single clove. Alternatively you could add a teaspoon or two of rosewater just before serving. Fold into lightly whipped cream, or a mix of cream and yogurt, to make a rhubarb fool. If you have some meringues and a little cream you have the makings of a take on Eton Mess. Rhubarb also makes a good cordial, though you’d be better waiting for the cheaper outdoor-grown variety for that.
A member of the Carrot family, along with celery, Fennel differs from them in its strong aroma, owed to its close relation, anise. This makes the fennel bulb, also known as Florence Fennel to distinguish it from the feathery herb, a more dominant and less versatile vegetable than carrot or celery. But if you embrace its licorice-like qualities and its lemon notes this crunchy, refreshing bulb can be served from the start, through the middle, and even to the end of a meal. The strength of the anise flavour does vary according to growing conditions and should you want to ramp it up, cooking with a splash of Pastis or some crushed fennel seeds does the trick.
The outermost layer of the bulb is always tough, as are the stems, but both are good used in soups and stocks. Any frondy tops can be used just as you would use the fennel herb. The bulb can be eaten raw or cooked. In Italy, Florence fennel is sometimes served raw at the end of a meal just as you might serve a piece of fruit. Fennel and orange is a typical Sicilian combination that is perfect for the winter months as crunchy Florence Fennel bulbs come through our doors along with crates of new season Sicilian oranges. A salad of thinly sliced crunchy, aromatic fennel, sweet oranges sliced or segmented, and salty, fleshy black olives is classic. There is a recipe in Rachel Roddy’s book Two Kitchens: Family Recipes from Sicily and Rome for this salad, where she mentions that sometimes sliced red onion is added or pomegranate seeds could be considered for extra acidity and visual allure. Florence fennel also ferments particularly well.
Quartered Fennel bulbs can be baked or fried in butter until just coloured, then covered and cooked with a little lemon juice until tender. Cover with parmesan or a 50/50 mix of parmesan/breadcrumbs, and pop in a medium-high oven until the topping is golden; the bulbs are very good simply sliced and braised in some olive oil and a little water, cooked lid-on until tender then lid-off until the liquid evaporates. Serve with fillets of fish, like sea bream or sea bass - add to the fennel pan if you like, cover for 5 minutes before turning the fish and cooking for a further 2-3 minutes; Claudia Roden, in her book The Food of Italy, suggests simply boiling trimmed and quartered fennel in salted water until tender (not floppy), then drain, transfer to a buttered oven-proof dish, sprinkling with salt, pepper parmesan and double cream and bake at 200C for 15-20 minutes until golden brown – delicious alongside roast chicken. In Tim Siadatan’s Trullo: The Cookbook there’s a simple and tasty recipe for Braised fennel and purple olive dressing which introduces a hint of anchovy and a little chilli heat to the dish. Brindisa: The True Food of Spain book has a recipe for Vegetable broth with salt cod and fennel. The bulb also makes a satisfying cream of fennel soup or an aromatic risotto. And in Peter Brears Cooking and Dining in Medieval England you will find Sops in Fennel – sliced fennel, finely chopped onion, olive oil, salt and a little cinnamon simmered for 30 minutes until soft then poured over thick slices of toasted white bread.
Returning to the theme of fennel as an end to a meal, the chef Florence Knight, in her book One: A cook and her cupboard, gives a recipe for candying slices of fennel and serving them with chocolate sorbet.
As I write this in the second week of January, the Artichokes are already arriving. Globe Artichokes are not much grown as a commercial crop in the UK. Here they are mostly grown on allotments and in private vegetable gardens but in recent years we have been able to get some English-grown ones for our customers. In southern Europe their harvest runs from May through to September and many Artichokes produce two crops a year. In late winter and early spring, when colour is surely a welcome addition to our roots and greens, Artichokes like the large bulbous romano or mammola from Italy with their violet-tinted leaves are a welcome sight. We can also see purple baby artichokes and spikey Sardinian Spinosi. Right now, it’s the Romano Artichoke that is bringing colour to our arch.
The Artichoke, or Globe Artichoke, is the edible immature flower of a cultivated thistle. They grow readily in dry conditions and light soils and spread prolifically in Mediterranean areas. The Arabs named them al-kharsuf, from which comes the names carciofi in Italian, alcachofa in Spanish, and artichoke in English. But it was the Italians who developed the varieties of artichoke with less bitter notes than the original that became prized in Europe. The first real evidence of artichokes being commercially available is in records from the beginning of the 15th century showing they were shipped from Sicily to Florence. By at least the early 17th century they were grown and appreciated in England, before mysteriously falling out of favour for a while towards the end of the 1900’s. Maybe it was increased travel that revived the British taste for the artichoke’s well-guarded heart. Along with Asparagus, the Artichoke is considered one of the finest vegetables we can grow.
How do you tackle an Artichoke? First, unless they are tightly closed, soak them upside down in a bowl of salted water to dislodge earth or insects. Have half a lemon to hand to rub any cut surfaces as you prepare them, or prepare a bowl of acidulated water. If the artichoke is the spikey type, you’d be well advised to snip off the vicious tips. Larger Artichokes can be trimmed and their stems peeled then steamed. Alternatively, boil them whole and serve with a bowl of aioli to dip each leaf into (the base of the leaves being the edible part). Unless you are planning to eat them whole, the outer, tougher leaves should be removed and the top third of the flower cut away. Check to see if there is any fluffy ‘choke’ in the centre and, if so, scrape it away with a teaspoon. Cut the stem, leaving a good few inches of the tenderest part, then peel it along with the base of the flower.
Young artichokes are very good eaten raw – very thinly sliced, immersed in acidulated water then dried and dressed with a squeeze of lemon, a little salt and some good olive oil (truffle oil is good if you have it). There is an English recipe in Good Things in England by Florence White, dating from the early 1700s for ‘A tart of Artichoke bottoms’ – a pie filled with the most cherished part of the artichoke, a little “minced” onion, and “sweet herbs”, salt, pepper and nutmeg. When cooked, a white sauce thickened with yolk of egg and sharpened with tarragon vinegar is poured in. But it’s in the cuisine of Italy where you will find most recipes. Cook them slowly Roman-style (Carciofi alla Romana), stem end up, until soft in a scant broth of water, olive oil, white wine, a garlic clove, parsley, mint, salt and pepper until the liquid has been absorbed. There is a traditional dish amongst the Jewish community in Rome called Carciofi alla giudea. Small, trimmed, whole artichokes are deep-fried at a high heat so the crispy brown leaves open like a flower. Serve with a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Soon the Artichokes will be joined by early broad beans and peas. Then you can make Vignarola, the classic Italian spring vegetable stew – prepare the artichokes, cut the base and stems into quarters and add to a pan of sliced spring onions, softened in olive oil, adding a little wine or water and a pinch of salt . Cook, covered, for 15 minutes before adding peas and blanched broad beans. A ball of milky mozzarella di bufala or creamy burrata is often served with it.
December ended with early new season unwaxed Italian citrus in the form of Sicilian Pink Grapefruits, Oranges and Clementine Mandarins. And, of course, there were all the staples essential to the Christmas festivities. We are back from the Christmas break to get your New Year off to a healthy start with plenty of fruit and vegetables including some big-hitters when it comes to delivering vitamin C. Here is the key short-season produce you can expect to find at Puntarelle & Co in January, along with all the usual staples:
For the first week in January, we have the first Seville Oranges of the season. There are Blood Oranges too this week, the Spanish ones, as ever, arriving first. Later in the month we will have Sicilian bloods for you. Meanwhile, we do have Italian Mandarins, Clementines and Pink Grapefruit which are pretty special as it is difficult to find unwaxed Grapefruit in the UK and their skins make the most delicious candied peel. We also have fabulous Lemons from Sicily in this first week.
Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb is on its way and we expect to have it the second Saturday in January.
Pomegranates are still coming in from Italy.
We have a selection of English Apples still coming from the stores of our favourite farm in Kent, and which should be available through the winter. Some English Pears too, though they will come to an end soon as they do not store as well as apples.
Highlights on the ‘greens’ shelves this month include crunchy, mineral Italian Barba di Frate which goes so well with fish, Cima di Rapa, Broccolo Fiolare Minestra Cabbage for warming soups, bitter-leaved Chicoria and juicy Puntarelle.
There is English Rainbow Chard, Black Cabbage/Cavolo Nero, Brussels Tops, Cabbage, Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Kale.
The cold weather Chicory salad leaves are arriving in greater numbers now, including the red Radicchios like Tardivo, Treviso and yellow/cream red-speckled Castelfranco.
Camone and Marinda Tomatoes, their crunchiness and salinity should see us right through winter.
Root Vegetables include Turnips, Parsnips, Carrots , Leeks , Celeriac and Potatoes.
The fridges at Puntarelle & Co have been re-stocked with London Fermentary Ferments, including our new introduction ‘Spiced Arabica Kraut’, and Water Kefirs, in flavours of Rhubarb, Blood Orange, Sicilian Citrus. Our next Inspirational Fermentation Course is on 16 January and is a rare opportunity to learn fermentation in one day, rather than our usual 3 sessions over 3 weeks course. As I write there are only 3 places left. Visit our website for how to sign up.
Our recipe this month is the perfect way to banish all memories of Christmas over-indulgence. We may have passed the shortest day in the northern hemisphere but that only marks the start of true winter in the UK and thoughts turn to warming soups. With a good mix of vegetables, some beans, bread, a little cheese and a big hit of iron-rich greens, you have a whole nutritious meal in a bowl. What's more its flavours simply get better should you have any leftovers for the following day.
The Italian word ribollita means re-cooked, or re-boiled and every area of Italy has its own version. In Tuscany it refers to a dish of leftover minestrone (soup) with the addition of cabbage and bread. This list of ingredients is not prescriptive and if you have other vegetables to hand, it takes well to substitutions – celeriac or pumpkin, perhaps. The soup should be quite thick and hearty. The toasted bread can be completely submerged in the liquor, which is more traditional, or placed on top.
(makes about 12 servings)
250g dried Borlotti or cannellini beans, soaked overnight, brought to the boil and simmered for 1-2 hours depending on quality, or 1 x 400g tin of beans, rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 large carrots, diced
3-4 sticks of celery, diced
1-2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 medium leeks, halved and sliced
2 medium potatoes
2 large handfuls (about 500g) of Broccoli Fiolare (minestra cabbage), cavolo nero or other cabbage, shredded
1 x 400g tin of plum tomatoes
Water to cover
Slices of good sourdough bread or baguette
Best quality extra-virgin olive oil to serve
Having first prepared your beans, fry the onions carrot and celery on a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the leeks, garlic and the potatoes and fry for a further 5 minutes. Add the plum tomatoes, broken up, with their juice and add water (do use the cooking water from the beans if you have it) to fully cover the vegetables. Add the cooked (or drained) beans, bring to the boil, season, then simmer for 30 minutes. Add the cabbage and simmer for a further 15 minutes, top-up with more water if necessary but keep the soup quite thick. Check the seasoning.
Allow the soup to cool a little to appreciate the full flavours. When ready to serve, fill the bowls, top with toasted sourdough bread or pour the soup over the bread and add a good slick of your best olive oil. You may want Parmesan cheese on the table.
Brussels Sprouts are the bitterest of leaves in the Cabbage family and quite a strange looking development in the Wild Cabbage family. Looking like elegant miniature cabbages, their small tight heads cluster around a long stalk. It’s the plume of large leaves which shelter the rosettes that confirm the cabbage origins of the Brussels Sprout. First mentioned in 1213, listed in market regulations, and again recorded in the 16th century on Flanders, it seems safe to assume they were developed around Brussels. Thomas Jefferson, after spending time in Paris as Minister to France in the 1780s, probably enjoyed them - he planted the first Brussels Sprouts in America in his Monticello garden in 1812. It seems they took a while to catch on in Britain. The first known recipe for Brussels Sprouts appeared in Eliza Acton’s book Modern Cookery published in 1845. Today the Christmas Day feast is unthinkable without Brussels Sprouts on the table.
Sprouts are the bitterest of leaves in the Cabbage family. Their challenging compounds – much reduced in modern day varieties - are concentrated in the centre of the sprout. Pungent and bitter notes works as a defence against being eaten by insects and animals but, in this case, these qualities are good for us. The mantra ‘Eat your Greens’ turns out to be good advice. The sulfurous qualities of the cabbage family are more pronounced in warm weather and less so in winter, and frost acts as a positive sweetner. Some cooks advocate cutting them in half before boiling to allow this bitterness to leach out – which does explain why many of us have memories of being served soggy sprouts at the Christmas table. If you hate Brussels Sprouts, it may well be an aversion to the mushy texture of the overcooked ones you remember rather than their flavour.
Cooked well, Brussels Sprouts have a sweet, peppery flavour. Eat them shredded, or pulled apart into individual leaves, then briefly cooked in duck fat or oil and you may change your mind about the bitter quality of Sprouts – a spritz of lime to finish is good. You could add sliced raw sprouts to fried bacon or pancetta and some cooked chestnuts.
The cabbage family has an affinity with juniper and caraway. It’s good to remember that cream, mustard, lemon, blue cheese, soy sauce or Worcestershire Sauce are good ingredients to counter any lingering sulfurousness after cooking. If you’re still not convinced about Brussels Sprouts, try Kalettes, also known as Flower Sprouts, which are a milder flavoured brassica created by crossing Brussels Sprouts with Kale.
Don’t dismiss ‘Sprout Tops’ either. For some, this is the best part of the plant. Treat them as you would cabbage leaves.