Flavours of February
February is the month of anticipation and it all depends on the weather. A mild month will bring us some real delights, whereas a cold one will leave us stuck with the winter basics. How do you plan your menu? Here are some certainties to go for.
It’ll now be full steam ahead for forced Yorkshire rhubarb, but don’t forget the three grades. Make sure you are getting the right one for your dish!
Cabbages are a real staple, and GP busters, with the star being the January King. However, don’t write off sprouts just because we normally associate them with Christmas. They are still great quality, and the new varieties are much sweeter in flavour. I think sprouts add a deeper flavour and colour than cabbage. The sprout tops are still available – they look just like baby cabbage leaves.
It’s beetroots galore at this time of year; red, candy, golden, crapaudine and white. Again, don’t forget to order the size you want – all are available from ping pong through to tennis ball sized.
There’s no need to be ordering plastic punnets of French baby vegetables at extortionate prices – the locals will be paying around £1.80 per kilo for baby veg, maximum. While on this theme, what about baby red and brown onions, baby parsnips and Chantenay carrots – box clever!
Hopefully you foragers will be able to get your wellies on and go pick some wild leeks. I love getting down to the river bank, pulling them up and eating them raw; just outrageous flavour, and further proof that fresh is best! There should also be wild garlic, if not from our woods there will be French, although this will be pricey.
Tomatoes are mainly associated with the summer and hot weather but one of my favourites is the Sicilian green Camone. It looks under ripe and inedible, but it’s lovely with its ribbed edges. Once you bite into it the flavour just floods into your mouth, making these a real must for any winter salad. There will also be some Sicilian cherry vine, midi plum vine and San Marzano tomatoes available.
Italy will also have stunning monks beard agretti, cipolle onions, fennel, and radicchio heaven with Tardivo and Treviso. Italian peppers for me have something special about them, although they don’t look as perfect as the Dutch. They aren’t just a better flavour, they have more juice and texture and the rustic looks just makes me want to eat them: they look natural.
Over to France, and the wet garlic aroma from both green and purple always gets me going. Bunches of it are heaped on pallets. It throws me back to the past when things were just picked and then used: there was no carting produce off to a factory to be packaged, it was just picked, sold and eaten. If we are very lucky there will be the first green and white asparagus. You can expect to pay around £15-20 per kilo but boy, it’s good!
To finish off the month there is always the drama of who has the first morel mushrooms. This really is a favourite moment in the calendar for me. I just love to grab a handful, feel the texture on my skin, then raise to my nose to get the distinctive fragrance, like smelling a fine wine. You just know it’s right and spring is edging ever closer.