By the beginning of February, winter really starts to feel like it’s dragging. The skies remain a dull grey, the pavements often wet and the air almost always chilly, and I find myself itching for the clouds to part and let through a warm ray of sunshine. In the kitchen, I grow tired of scrubbing earth off roots and rinsing soil from thick leaves, and I long for spears of bright green asparagus and punnets of ruby red tomatoes and the seemingly endless supply of berries the coming warmer months will bring. But I know I’ll also be a little sad when kale and cabbages and knobbly roots are off the menu again for another year, so I’ll enjoy them while they last, with a good helping of German Gemütlichkeit on the side. Here’s my Seasonal Eating Guide for February.
I’m not sure there’s a way better to enjoy Savoy cabbage (Wirsing) than by shredding and steaming its dark green, crinkly leaves and serving them simply with a knob of butter and a sprinkling of salt flakes, but there’s an awful lot more you can do with them if you fancy trying something new. How about:
☆ using whole leaves to parcel up ground beef and herbs to make traditional German Kohlrouladen
☆ creating the perfect side for pork sausages by throwing shredded leaves in a pan with with some bacon, apple and cider à la Delia Smith , or
☆ making Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s warm Savoy cabbage salad with lentils, bacon and avocado (which might sound like an odd combination, but trust me, it’s fab).
It’s hard to find decently sized parsnips (Pastinaken) where I am in Wiesbaden – they’re spindly carrot-sized affairs, paling in proportion to the chunky ones I was brought up on in the UK. The earthy, sweetly-flavored cream-coloured roots can be prepared and cooked much in the same way as potatoes: mashed or roasted, made into soup, fries or crisps. The smaller ones don’t need peeling, just give them a quick scrub and off you go. I’d rather like them:
☆ puréed, to accompany Nigel Slater’s lamb chump steaks and spiced butter,
☆ in David Tanis’ gratin with turmeric and cumin
☆ scattered as crisps with honeyed walnuts on a bacon, pear, blue cheese salad.
The cauliflower (Blumenkohl) is often considered a rather plain and boring vegetable, but over the years I’ve discovered it’s incredibly versatile. There’s much more you can do with this brassica than turning it into soup, or steaming it and smothering it with cheese: I’ve come to best love it roasted, perhaps first sprinkled with cumin and served with tahini sauce, or turned into Yotam Ottolenghi’s cauliflower cake. It turns out cauliflower can withstand the addition of all sorts of adventurous flavors, so I also love the idea of:
☆ Ottolenghi’s cauliflower salad with hazelnut and pomegranate seeds
☆ an Israeli pear and cauliflower bake, and
☆ Angela Hartnett’s simple cauliflower and chickpea curry.
I have to admit that when I buy a bag of lamb’s lettuce (Feldsalat – also known as Corn Salad or mâche) at the market, it usually ends up as part of a rather uninspired lunchtime salad. But these tangy little leaves (tucked beneath the carrots and cauliflower in the main photograph above) deserve to be presented in a rather more interesting way – just make sure you give them a good wash first, or you might find your dish a bit gritty. I’d like to try out:
☆ Clothilde Dusolier’s chicken and lamb’s lettuce soup,
☆ Florence Fabricant’s rack of lamb with lamb’s lettuce, and
☆ a lamb’s lettuce salad with yoghurt dressing (and tomatoes and/or chickpeas).
They’re far from fashionable I know, but if you’re in the market for a very budget-friendly, surprisingly adaptable winter root, you can’t beat the humble swede (Steckrübe). A member of the brassica family, swedes – known as neeps in Scotland, eaten most famously on Burns Night with haggis and tatties, and called rutabaga in the US – are a cross between a turnip and a cabbage. A hard, round root with a purplish top, edible leaves and yellow flesh, swedes have a sweet flavour that intensifies when cooked. Bake a whole one in the oven or parboil it in chunks, but do watch if you’re doing the latter, for if you cook them for too long, they tend to suddenly disintegrate without warning. If you’re unsure about eating swede raw or plain, try dressing it up a bit – you never know, you might like it!
What else to eat in February:
Chicory (Chicoree), leeks (Poree or Launch), Brussel sprouts (Rosenkohl), salsify (Schwarzwurzeln) and Jerusalem artichokes (Topinambur).
What are you cooking up this month? Any seasonal recipes to recommend?