New resident Oliver Rowe embraces late spring
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.