The new planting season is now properly underway in the UK. Meanwhile, winter-grown English and northern European sprouting broccoli should be around throughout April, both Purple and White varieties. While we wait for crops, particularly from our Kent growers, we welcome the foraged Wild Garlic leaves and Nettle Tops. Along with a little Wild Asparagus from Italy we have early cultivated spears. Broad beans have been arriving from Italy over the past three weeks and peas are now here. The early Egyptian wet garlic is joined by the glorious bulbs of Italian and French this month. Both the bulb and stem of these fat-necked, purple-streaked beauties can, after peeling away a layer or two of skin, be eaten.
While large-scale asparagus growers produce ever-earlier crops of English asparagus, a cold snap at just the right time in winter, along with a mild start to Spring has been good news for Andrew, our Kent Grower. The fourth generation of his family to work Brice Church Farm, Andrew grows his asparagus in the traditional way on open ground with minimum intervention. Some spears are being picked as I write and we are lucky enough to have some for our customers the first Saturday in April, well before the six-week season normally starts towards the end of April. As a result, we are told the season could, weather permitting, extend another couple of weeks this year.
At the beginning of April, as I write this, you will find at Puntarelle & Co:
Italian Spinach and Chard.
Early New Potatoes from Jersey and France.
Radicchio, Chicory, Puntarelle and Cime di Rapa, all from Italy. They are joined this week by Cicoria, a cultivated relative of wild chicory with a slightly bitter, grassy, tangy flavour to be used like spinach.
New season Purple Aubergines from Italy are now coming in, including the lovely firm, elongated purple and white variety.
New season Green and Purple Globe Artichokes, large and small.
Marinda and salty, crunchy Camone Tomatoes have seen us through winter and we continue to have these along with San Marzano and a few other varieties.
New season English Spring Onions and Tropea Onions from Calabria are here.
Round Rondo di Nizza Courgettes which have now joined the first small creamy elongated ones from Italy.
Broad Beans and Peas from Italy that started the season off.
So, what additional new season produce can we expect to come through our doors in APRIL?
Our Sicilian farmer has just picked the Oranges from his final two trees. They should arrive for Saturday 8th with some other local Sicilian produce.
Broad Beans (Fava) and Peas, the crops from Italy making way for English-grown late in the month.
Wet Garlic from Egypt, France and Italy, to be followed by the English-grown crop.
Artichokes, both Globe and tender Piccolo throughout the month.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli, and White Sprouting Broccoli. Asparagus, both the wispy, wild variety and the cultivated. The first came in from Italy but English-grown crops too.
Pungent English Wild Garlic Leaves and iron-rich spring Nettles.
Hopefully some English Hop Shoots will start to appear late in the month.
Italian Courgettes and their flowers will be joined by French ones later.
Vibrant red Tropea Onions will continue throughout the month.
Earthly, saline Jersey Royal Potatoes and French varieties like Noirmoutier Potatoes and La Ratte will take us through April. Despite the excitement they cause when they appear in March, their flavour improves during April.
English Spring onions are in too and outdoor-grown Rhubarb is taking over from the eye-catching Forced Rhubarb which is coming to an end.
April is the month for fragrant Gariguette Strawberries from France.
New season Fennel bulbs are arriving from Italy and Spring Herbs and Leaves, like Rocket, from Europe are looking vibrant.
English Watercress, both green and red, is arriving along with Radishes from the UK and the rest of Europe.
There will be some Sicilian Kumquats and the first of the stone fruits, Nespoli (Loquats), are expected in late April from Italy.
We expect the first Morel Mushrooms from Turkey.
We also hope to get Sea Kale from Scotland (to order).
NEW on our shelves:
We have been producing a small line of jams, chutneys, sauces and juices for a while now to meet our personal no-waste aspirations. New, in cooled display shelves, is a range of bottled Lacto Fermented Vegetables following the success of our March trial batches.
Although we expected to be talking about Asparagus in May, the early crop of Andrew’s outdoor-grown spears dictates which produce to focus on for our April recipe. We asked Andrew for his favourite way with Asparagus and here it is – not so much a recipe as a method of cooking this very special vegetable:
Photo ©Evie Saffron Strands
Barbecued or Griddled Asparagus
About 250g Asparagus per person
A little Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Heat a barbecue or cast-iron griddle.
Snap the asparagus spears to remove the lower inedible parts.
Wash the asparagus well and dry on kitchen towel.
Toss the asparagus well in the olive oil then place the spears on the hot barbecue rack or hot griddle. Cook for about 5 minutes then turn and cook for another 5 minutes (depending on thickness of spears).
Season with salt and pepper and serve with bread or potatoes to mop up the juices.