Keep it local, keep it fresh in February

If January poses a challenge to the fresh but local food lover, it might seem as if February is just having a laugh at us with the veg on offer! It’s a windy month and not only from the weather - Jerusalem artichokes are plentiful but exhausting in their cathartic effect on our digestive systems. That said, they do taste delicious! I love them in soups but they also make a wonderful risotto. The secret is to scrub, peel and then to grate them. Cook them slowly in milk until very, very soft, then carry on making your risotto in the same pan by adding a little butter and onion, then the risotto rice, stock and whatever else you have. Providing the artichokes are really soft before you start adding the other ingredients the climate changing effects of the dish are, at least, partly mitigated!

With ‘exotic’ brassicas such as kale becoming much more widely available (they are also very easy to grow) our winter pot roasts can take on a surprisingly Mediterranean flavour. There is nothing better on a cold winter’s day than a pot-roasted chicken, cooked slowly in a flavour-packed stock stuffed with veg around a plump, succulent bird. Boiling shredded greens in the stock at the end of cooking - while the chicken is resting prior to carving or being pulled part for serving - adds colour to the broth and lots of extra vitamins and minerals to keep the late winter colds at bay. Just brown the chicken all over in a little oil in a saucepan which is a tight fit for the bird, then add a selection of veg in 5cm/2in chunks. Add stock, bring to the boil and cover then simmer slowly: about 90 minutes will cook a large chicken, but test the thickest part with a skewer to make sure the juices run clear. The breasts will steam if the stock comes to the top of the legs or drumsticks.

We food writers rant on about nutrition and sometimes we change our recommendations according to latest theories - then we, along with the food scientists, get ridiculed for blowing in the wind and changing our minds. Nutrition is a very young science and ideas are developing all the time as more is discovered about the make-up, value and effects of the foods that we eat. What most people are agreed about is that we should eat more vegetables - and that is particularly interesting in February. I came across this chart on Twitter from American figure skater turned family doctor and nutrition coach Joel Fuhrman. What fantastic news for February eating, especially here in Chichester where I live on the Uk’s south coast.

If you have an allotment or grow vegetables in your garden you should be smiling as you look at Dr Fuhrman’s superfood chart: we certainly have kale, spinach, sprouts, rocket and broccoli at our community garden right now. We are not an area with big growers specialising in these foods, but Charlie Foot at Chidham is top notch when it comes to growing brassicas and he opens his little shop in Chidham Lane on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays in his packing shed. His produce is so fresh and flavoursome. Tuppenny Barn, just along the road at Southbourne also have a great range of these foods in their shop, as well as our fabulous Hairspring Watercress from Hambrook, another top food as you can see. Farm shops like Runcton have their own purple sprouting broccoli. Suddenly February looks like a month of good health and good eating - if we can just get creative in the kitchen.

All the following recipes are available to download and print by clicking on the links.

Cauliflowers are great in spicy dishes and pakoras make a fabulous light meal. Making them sounds lots more complicated than it is. If you don’t have all the spices listed just use curry powder.

Cauliflower pakoras with apple raita

Serves 2 as a main course, more as a snack or part of a curry

There are completely wonderful cauliflowers about at the moment with tight, white florets that make you long to cook something more original than cauliflower cheese, delicious as that is! I have reworked a naughty but nice recipe from Classic Indian Cookery, a book that I edited years ago, and it is perfect dish for a snack lunch or supper. Use cucumber or onion in place of the apple in the raita, if you wish. To be authentic you should use chick pea flour for the batter - but that’s not in my store cupboard, so I have adapted.

  • For the raita:
  • ½ lemon
  • 1 eating apple
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • 150g pot natural yogurt
  • For the cauliflower
  • 1 small cauliflower
  • Oil for deep-frying
  • 100g plain flour
  • Spices: 2 tbsp ground coriander, 2 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp chilli powder, ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  1. For the raita. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into a bowl. Coarsely grate the apple with it’s skin and toss it in the juice. Add the remaining ingredients for the raita except the cayenne and mix well.
  2. Cut the cauliflower into florets about 4cm in diameter. Heat the oil in a deep frying pan or deep fat fryer to 170℃, 340°F .
  3. While the oil is heating blend all the dry ingredients together (the bicarb makes a light, crisp batter), then mix to a smooth paste with 150ml/ 2/3 cup water. Coat each piece of cauliflower well in the batter.
  4. Cook the battered cauliflower in the oil for 3-4 minutes, until crisp and deeply golden. Drain on crumpled kitchen paper, scatter with a little sea salt and serve with the raita, garnished with Cayenne pepper if you wish.

Any broccoli is good - but I have to say that purple sprouting is my favourite! I grew it in abundance on the very first allotment that I had, a landshare with a lady from church at my first job near Epping Forest. I can remember taking bagfuls of the purple spears into work to share. I wish I had had this recipe, inspired by Andy Stephenson from Hallidays in Funtington, back then! Hallidays is a family restaurant that really does local, seasonal food brilliantly.

Purple sprouting broccoli with blue cheese and chilli

Serves as many as you wish

The quantities for this delicious warm salad starter depend on your appetite. Make the veg the star of the plate!

  • Purple sprouting broccoli: young, tender shoots
  • Garlic, red chillies and some nuts of your choice
  •   (cob nuts, walnuts and less local pine nuts all work well)
  • Molecombe Blue, Isle of Wight Blue or any other blue cheese
  • Extra virgin olive oil, or chilli infused local rapeseed oil
  1. Trim the broccoli and split any slightly thicker stalks. Finely chop some garlic and red chilli and roughly chop some nuts. Fork some cheese into small rough pieces.
  2. Steam the broccoli until just tender. At the same time, heat a small frying pan, add a little oil, then add the garlic and chile, off the heat. Cook gently for a minute or two without browning, then add the nuts and remove from the heat.
  3. Arrange the broccoli on individual plates and add the cheese. Top with the chilli, garlic and nut mix, a little salt and pepper and drizzle with oil before serving.

Spinach is the stuff of legend when it comes to strength, if not actually good looks (thnk Popeye!). It is so easy to grow, especially if you favour the perpetual spinach although I do think the more traditional varieties have slightly more flavour. Either way, teamed with glorious local soft cheese, spinach makes a wonderfully satisfying quick dish with pasta and peppers.

Pasta with spinach and goat’s cheese

Serves 4

This is wonderful made with Sussex Slipcote soft cheese: I think the pepper variety is my favourite.

  • 1 large red pepper
  • 300g dried pasta of your choice 
  • 250g prepared leaf spinach
  • Knob of butter
  • 100g Sussex Slipcote, or any other soft sheep or goat’s milk cheese
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  1. Quarter, seed then finely slice the pepper. Roughly shred the prepared spinach.
  2. Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water as directed on the packet.
  3. Place the spinach in a colander and set it over the pasta in the pan while it is cooking - place the saucepan lid over the spinach and steam for 2 minutes (the base of the colander may be in the pasta water, but that is OK). Remove the colander and chop the spinach in it with a metal spoon in the sink, until all the water has drained away and the spinach is finely chopped. Set aside on a plate.
  4. Add the pepper to the pasta for the last 2 minutes of the cooking time. Drain the pasta and peppers in the colander.
  5. Melt the butter with the cheese in the saucepan, then add the pasta, peppers and spinach and toss them together in the cheese. Season well, and grate a little nutmeg over the pasta before serving.

Where there are Brussels sprouts there should be sprout tops, and they are my favourite part of the plant. They are great cooked as spring greens and served with oranges, which are also in season right now, if not actually from here! There is also a video of this recipe if you prefer to watch before you cook?

Spring greens with orange

Serves 2

Leafy veg are a bonus in January when roots and cabbages dominate our home-grown veg choices. You can make this with a Savoy or January King cabbage, or with some of the leaves from one, but I think spring greens - loose leaved, non-heating cabbages -  have the best and sweetest flavour. This is great with any poultry or game, white fish or salmon, sausages or thick slices of ham.

  • 2 small heads of spring greens or about 12 leaves of cabbage, depending on size
  • 1 large orange
  • 25g softened butter
  1. Wash the greens and remove any large or tough stalks. Roll up the leaves and shred them coarsely. Grate the zest from the orange into a small bowl and mix with the softened butter plus a little salt and pepper. Cut away the pith from the orange (see Bite-sized video #3) then chop the flesh into chunks, reserving any juice.
  2. Cook in boiling water for 4-5 minutes, or until the greens are tender. Drain thoroughly in a colander.
  3. Chop the greens with a metal spoon squeezing out any remaining juice then turn the greens into a serving dish or the saucepan emptied of any cabbage water. Add the orange butter with the chopped orange and mix together. Season lightly and add a little freshly grated nutmeg if you wish. Serve immediately while piping hot.

I featured kale last month in my delicious recipe with chick peas. It is also fabulous in a one-pan supper with some of the extraordinary choice of local artisan sausages that are available now throughout our bountiful county.

Sausages with curly kale and chestnut stir-fry

Serves 3-4

A winter recipe for an easy one-pan supper. I always keep some peeled chestnuts in the freezer at home for dishes like this, but you could use a rinsed and drained can of butter beans in their place. Always check cooking directions on a sausage pack - if it says they need 20 minutes to cook, amend this recipe accordingly.

  • 1 onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 200g curly kale
  • 6 large pork sausages
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 200g peeled chestnuts - I prefer frozen, but vacuum-packed or canned are ok too
  • 1 tbsp fruit or balsamic vinegar, or soy or chilli sauce
  1. Prepare and slice the onion and cut the carrots into matchsticks. Remove any thick stalks from the kale and shred the leaves, then cook them in a pan of boiling water for 2-3 mins. Drain and leave until required.
  2. Snip the sausages apart and cook them in a large non-stick frying pan with the oil for 15 minutes, turning frequently. Remove them from the pan to a plate and cover with a second plate.
  3. Add the onion and carrots to the pan juices and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, until starting to brown. Add the kale, allow it to wilt slightly then stir-fry for 3-4 minutes, adding the chestnuts as the kale begins to cook down. Slice the sausages thickly.
  4. Season the stir-fry to taste with salt and pepper, then return the sausage slices to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes. Spoon the vinegar or sauce into the pan, bubble for a few seconds, season and serve immediately.

Who says that February is The Hungry Gap? Not here in West Sussex!