Cooking in the Spring
Let’s face it—we all want to cook like Nigella and Hugh and utilise everything that we possibly can. But for many of us, this train of thought can be rather idyllic, often easier to romanticize than to execute. It is a common, and quite damaging, misconception that eating a healthy, balanced diet is more expensive than the alternative. Eating well and living frugally are not mutually exclusive by any means, and there are a myriad of different approaches that one can use to accomplish this balance—the only catch, as with most things, is that it requires that extra bit of effort going in.
One of the most exciting examples of mainstream frugality is the nose-to-tail cooking philosophy that is sweeping the country. ‘Nose-to-tail’ is essentially a fancy name for utilising the whole animal in your cooking. I realise that it’s unlikely for the home-cook to put this to the test by having a go at an entire cow or pig…which would be an admirable effort, but not entirely practical.
When it comes to nose-to-tail, I tend to approach it more as an ethos than as gospel. A roast chicken, for instance, is a wonderful thing. It yields a great roast dinner, but if picked down thoroughly can produce at least another meal, if not two, from the scraps. Try making a Warm Chicken Caesar Salad with the spare trimmings. And then there are the incredible bones, which will yield a fantastic Brown Chicken Stock that will taste roasted and deep. Add plenty of garlic and set the stock in the fridge to allow the fat to separate as it cools before turning this into a chicken soup with noodles and mushrooms, topped off with raw sliced spring onions. For a chicken soup dinner later on in the week, freeze your homemade stock in ice cube trays for later use. With only a few extra steps, one chicken can produce three distinct, delicious meals.
Cooking economically can bring a whole new host of dishes to your repertoire and elevate your cookery to a whole new level. Making chicken stock from the bones for a chicken soup is only the tip of the iceberg. With the addition of tarragon and peas, leftover fish with leftover mash can form the base for remarkable fish cakes. Polenta is perhaps one of the most regenerative dinnertime staples—try setting your leftover polenta in the fridge overnight before cutting it into chips and deep frying. Similarly, leftover risotto is perfect for rolling into arancini.
Ingredient of the Month
Wild Garlic is an incredibly versatile leaf that grows in abundance throughout the UK and Scotland. Also known as ramps, (or if you want to get technical, Allium Ursinum), wild garlic is one of the most exciting British springtime offerings. Recently, and understandably, the appreciation for this sweet and pungent weed has been gaining traction, popping up on fine dining menus across the country—and becoming somewhat emblematic for the coming of spring.
One of the best things about wild garlic is that you can forage for it yourself—(it really doesn’t get much more resourceful than that). Visually similar to Lily of the Valley, wild garlic is easy to distinguish from its blossoming lookalike, as the garlicky acridity that it emits is unmistakeable. Foraging is always a fantastic excuse for a day out with the family, and foraging for wild garlic at this time of year is the perfect place to start.
For a great way to celebrate your pickings, try a delicious chilled Vichyssoise of Wild Garlic and Jersey Royals. This is my take on a classic French creamed soup that is usually served ice cold. Traditionally, Vichyssoise is a thick soup made with leeks and potatoes, cooked and blended to a smooth consistency, then chilled and served with a sprinkling of chopped chives. My version takes most of these elements into consideration but has a quintessential English, seasonal feel, using freshly picked wild garlic and short-season Jersey Royal potatoes to lend a richer viscosity to the soup. It works as a brilliant starter at a dinner party, or as a canapé served in small espresso cups or shot glasses, and is best cooked and served on the same day.