Sunday, 13 March 2011

Spring planning

For a few hours this morning, it was spring. The sun was warm on my shoulders, and I doubted the wisdom of having worn a jacket. At the market, there was forced rhubarb, the stalks still thin, but now more gently priced. I brought home a kilo, along with a sweet, fudgy-textured goats cheese and a small bag of wild garlic leaves. The weather was not so assured as to push the planned beef stew off the dinner menu, but it too got a lift, with handfuls of fresh thyme, olives and orange peel.

By mid-afternoon the skies were grey and threatening. According to the forecast, we won’t be seeing the sun for a while. But if March in England is a study in inconstancy, it does provide lots of opportunities for planning and anticipation. Here are some of the things that have made it onto the long-list:

Perhaps this will be the year that I finally figure out how to cook them. This seems like my sort of recipe.

Chicken and White Wine Stew with Gremolata
Books for Cooks, the too-popular for its own good shop off Portobello Road, publishes occasional compilations of favourite recipes made in their test kitchen cum cafĂ©. This recipe from Annie Bell’s Living and Eating was their top choice in Volume 6. The switch from red wine to white, and the inclusion of lots of herbs and lemon, sounds like a perfect update to more wintery braises.

Our local farmer’s market is selling some lovely-looking leaves, young and soft enough to eat raw. I’m thinking of using it in a goats cheese spread like the one we made a few weeks ago with wild garlic. (We used a rindless, spreadable cheese, loosened up with a splash of milk, packed it into a small crock and served it with toast.) I’m excited, too, by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s suggestions for combining it with eggs, or in place of watercress in a warm new potato salad.

Lemon cake
Other than rhubarb, there won’t be much local fruit until the strawberries start appearing in June. But lemons have a brightness that seems right for this time of year, and I’ve been meaning to find a simply, citrusy cake to add to my repertoire. I could be swayed by this polenta one from the River Cafe. But a moist, sticky one—maybe made with olive oil?—would also be a welcome find.

A Swiss chard tart
Savoury tarts, whether with puff pastry, a pizza-like dough or short crust, freeform or in a fluted tin, are something that I eat rather than cook. They’ll be a number of steps to this one, from buying a tart case (or individual ones?), to revisiting rolling-out pastry. As for potential recipe sources, I don’t see any reason to look beyond Clotilde’s blog, which provides a choice of tart garnished with squash seeds, a hand-formed pie and a strudel made with filo pastry and goats cheese. Perhaps the perfect make-ahead brunch dish?

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