Sea­sonal sto­ries

New res­i­dent Oliver Rowe em­braces late spring

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Oliver Rowe is a chef and food writer. His first book, Food For All Sea­sons (Faber), is pub­lished on 16 June; @oliv­er_rowe_ lon­don

There is a sense of nar­ra­tive to the pass­ing sea­sons. As cooks, we en­gage with this as the pro­duce that en­ters our kitchens changes over the course of the year. My food year starts with or­chard fruits af­ter har­vest fes­ti­val in Oc­to­ber, moves to the roots and cab­bages of win­ter, then to the as­para­gus of spring be­fore the abun­dance of sum­mer – and it all tells a story. I find it more re­ward­ing to let my kitchen be led by na­ture, bring­ing va­ri­ety as the sea­sons wax and wane.

I’m never frus­trated if an in­gre­di­ent is un­avail­able on my green­gro­cer’s shelves; I’ll just curse my­self for miss­ing it or not mak­ing the most of it. I missed the Seville or­anges this year and didn’t make any mar­malade, but it’s not the or­ange’s fault, or the sea­son’s for that mat­ter. There’s al­ways some­thing else to be done with in­gre­di­ents that are in sea­son.

One of the prob­lems cooks face is that while the sea­sons change quickly, recipes stay frozen in time; of­ten they call for an in­gre­di­ent that only knows a fleet­ing sea­sonal mo­ment – such as cher­ries or el­der­flower – be­fore they are gone again for an­other year. What’s im­por­tant in sea­sonal eat­ing and, I think, cook­ing in gen­eral, is to have a struc­ture into which dif­fer­ent in­gre­di­ents can be worked. My cook­ing ex­pe­ri­ence has left me armed with a set of trusted base dishes that I use year-round, adapt­ing them to suit the sea­son. While I can’t pass all that in­for­ma­tion on in four short weeks, I can try to ex­plain my ap­proach.

I’ve al­ways thought that the most cre­ative cook­ing is about work­ing with what’s avail­able. The sea­sons throw a nice el­e­ment of change into this process, pulling the con­sis­tent in­gre­di­ents into fo­cus. Some of the recipes in th­ese com­ing weeks will be about the sea­sonal changes, some about the con­stants.

As­para­gus and blue cheese quiche (on the cover)

Al­most any­thing can re­place the as­para­gus here; the herbs and cheeses are in­ter­change­able as well. Make sure there isn’t too much liq­uid or oil in the fill­ing in­gre­di­ents, and blanch greens be­fore­hand – no one likes a soggy quiche. You’ll need a 25-30cm tart case. Makes 1 large quiche For the pas­try 450g plain flour 225g cold un­salted but­ter 3 whole eggs A dash of milk

For the fill­ing

4 whole eggs, lightly beaten 200ml dou­ble cream 200g creme fraiche 1 tbsp whole­grain mus­tard A lit­tle lemon zest 100g ched­dar, grated 100g blue cheese, crum­bled A hand­ful of chervil or pars­ley, chopped 2 bunches as­para­gus, or other veg

1 First, make the pas­try. Rub the but­ter and flour to­gether un­til it reaches the con­sis­tency of bread­crumbs. Add 2 eggs and in­cor­po­rate only just un­til the pas­try comes to­gether in a ball. Press into a thick disc, wrap in cling film and re­frig­er­ate for at least 1 hour.

2 Re­move from fridge and leave for 15 min­utes. Roll into a large cir­cle about 4mm deep – a bit wider than the tart tin you are us­ing. Drape over the tin, gen­tly push into the cor­ners and trim so the pas­try hangs over the rim and nearly touches the work sur­face. Work­ing round with your fin­gers, bring the over­hang back in­side and press into the sides and cor­ners of the tin to cre­ate a dou­ble layer. The pas­try should be slightly higher than the edge of the tin to al­low for shrink­age. Prick the bot­tom with a fork. Re­frig­er­ate. Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

3 Line the pas­try with crum­pled bak­ing parch­ment and fill with bak­ing beans. Bake un­til the pas­try is start­ing to colour around the edges. Re­move the pa­per and beans, then re­turn to the oven un­til the pas­try is golden. Beat the re­main­ing egg and a tiny dash of milk to­gether – brush this all over the pas­try. Re­turn to the oven un­til the egg is cooked through and glossy. Cool be­fore fill­ing.

4 Re­duce the oven tem­per­a­ture to 170C/340F/gas mark 3½. Snap off the tough ends of the as­para­gus, then briefly blanch. Chop the stalks, leav­ing the tips whole. Com­bine the eggs, cream, creme fraiche, mus­tard, zest, half the cheese, herbs, and chopped as­para­gus stalks (keep the tips for later). Pour into the pas­try case, ar­rang­ing the as­para­gus tips on top, then sprin­kle with the rest of the cheese. Cook in the mid­dle of the oven un­til just start­ing to rise and colour, about 25 min­utes. Don’t let it cook too much or the egg will split. Cool be­fore serv­ing.

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