Flavours of January

January is always looked upon as a bit of a downer in the kitchen after the busy festive period, but some stunning produce starts to appear this month that I’m sure will get your creative juices flowing – as well as help your gross profit (GP) over the quieter period. The following gems will set your menus alight and entice punters away from their fire sides.

Without doubt this is the best time of the year for citrus fruit and for me, the blood orange is the finest dessert orange in the world. It needs the cooler nights to develop the sensational bright maroon flesh which is also the healthy part as it contains the antioxidants, anthocyanins. I think it really does become a superfood when you consider the amount of vitamin C (double a regular orange), and 30% of your daily dietary fibre. The blood orange also has a unique and distinct raspberry flavour and the juice just pours out!

Navels are at their best too and the bitter Seville orange is also available for a very short period – if you want to make marmalade this is the time. Lemons are equally good with the standard waxed Spanish full of juice and the unwaxed Italian taking lemon to another level. Crush the leaf and use the oil to flavour butter to dot on fresh fish or steamed veg.

Pears are the queen of the season and the passé-crassanne pear is its juicy best in January. The only thing I can say here is serve it with a bib! There’s also no shortage of options on the apple front either. Look out for gems like the gold rush, chantecler, patte de loup, grey pippin, and the clocharde. For cooking, the French use the patte de loupe. These can be eaten raw and you will certainly not have to add sugar when cooking them – a much healthier dessert option. For exotic perfumes and flavours, there’s mangosteen, lychees, mango and melon from Brazil and Senegal and the highly-perfumed French muscat grape.

Closer to home, this is the month for early Yorkshire forced rhubarb. A burst of colour in a predominantly grey month, enjoy their stunning bright red stems, lovely yellow leaves and meltingly sweet and tender flavour and texture.

For the ultimate luxury, there’s black Périgord truffles which are now at their best as the frost helps to ripen them and intensifies their flavour. Our black diamonds come from a secret supplier in Spain, where they are currently cultivating the best truffles in the world. So good that truffle hunters from France and Italy are buying there rather than at home.

If truffles are off the budget, you can add richness to winter dishes with dry products, like nuts and beans. The Tarbais haricot bean is full of flavour and very tender – and flageolet beans and puy lentils are good choices.

GP-busting winter vegetables are again in abundance this month. One winner is the Jerusalem artichoke with the Lincolnshire product taking precedence over the French, not only in flavour but also in price. At around £1 to £1.20 per kilo, they make a flavoursome and comforting soup of the day paired with haricot beans and a splash of truffle oil – or in a gratin as a luxury side. French muscade pumpkins will also be down to around £1 per kilo – a steal for soups, roasting and pasta.  Purple sprouting broccoli is also becoming a staple as local growers develop more weather-resistant varieties – plus there’s little prep and no waste.

This is a great month for cabbages as the frost makes them milder and  sweeter. The cabbage used to be the basis of winter dishes before the arrival of the potatoes from South America in the 1700s and are the perfect complement with a wide range of textures, colours and flavours and all the vitamins we need to beat the cold. Locally-grown, the best for me is the January king cabbage – streaked with red and bursting with flavour. It’s a great price, as are the excellent savoy red and white cabbages now in abundance.

White chicory is in season along with the forced dandelion – and even though you can find them all year round they taste best between now and March. Chervil root is also becoming more popular. Nutty and subtly sweet, it has a flavour reminiscent of sweet carrot with subtle hints of celeriac, and a creamy white interior – delicious boiled then finished in a hot pan with butter or puréed. Parsley root looks very similar to parsnip but it has a more delicate flavour. The taste is sweet but also sharp and bitter – somewhere between a celeriac and carrot with hints of parsley leaf and turnip.

Other great-value winter winners are small graded English onions – red and brown –  perfect for roasting whole along with baby parsnips. Root veg is generally at its best this season such as celeriac, swede and turnip, but carrots cropped during the winter are unforgettable. Try the popular chantenay, now available as a rainbow of roots in purple, yellow, orange and white. Fan these beauties across any plate for a stunning effect. Sure to brighten up the gloomiest of winter days!