Ah, spring! So clean, fresh and light… A time that signifies newness, when we start thinking a little more about seasonal produce and the innovative ways we might cook with the brightly-coloured ingredients that surface after the depths of winter. In the spring, we often feel the urge to dive into salad making, but the weather outside often has other ideas. With that in mind, for this column, I’ve chosen to share recipes and waste-minimising tips for not just one but three different vegetables so that you have inspiration for the wetter, colder days as much as the bright sunny ones.
If you hadn’t already guessed this from the front cover of my cookbook, The Whole Vegetable, the cauliflower is truly one of my favourite vegetables. It’s so versatile. It can be cooked and blitzed into couscous, roasted with any seasonings, or, if you have a little more time, fried with some breadcrumbs to create crunchy cauliflower ‘wings’. The leaves needn’t be discarded, they are just as great as the white part and, in my opinion, very much make the cauliflower what it is. Roast them up with some olive oil, salt and pepper for a crunchy side or topping, or even chop them up small and add to soups, stews or other one-pot recipes. The following salad is one of my favourite ways to cook with cauliflower.
Inspired by a trip to California, where I discovered a deconstructed take on Caesar salad, I’ve created my own version for the spring months. It’s a hearty salad with a subtle hint of paprika that lifts it out of the ordinary. This is hands down one of my favourite salads come spring, it offers a bit of everything. A crunch, a zesty kick, some sweetness, and a dressing that makes a bold statement to bring it all together. It works really well as a main but you could make a larger platter of this salad as a side to accompany a hot dish, maybe something bean or legume-based, or simply serve it with some toasted bread drizzled with oil and rubbed with garlic. A very simple and tasty addition.
Cauliflower’s greener sibling, the broccoli, is another favourite stalk-based vegetable of mine. The stalk is another part of the vegetable that is often disregarded, but I’ve always been known to nibble on it whilst prepping the florets. It’s also great to add in to whatever dish you’re using the broccoli for, or, if you happen to save it, chuck it into a smoothie for some extra nutrients and colour. You could even make a soup based around it with a dash of coconut milk and some cumin and garlic… I’m salivating just thinking about it. The following broccoli-based recipe is a dish I love being able to share.
The green appearance may have you thinking otherwise, but this is one of the creamiest risottos going. Packed with greens for nutrients and lots of options to sub in your favourite spring vegetables. I include a broccoli pesto as part of this recipe, but that’s totally optional. You could have any pesto you like, or if you don’t have any to hand, chuck a handful of fresh basil in at the end for that herby pesto feeling. It’s filling but doesn’t leave you feeling uncomfortable and with all those vegetables, your body will love you for it. Risotto is a dish that keeps on giving, as it can be enjoyed all year round but tailored to the season, just as I’ve done here. This is a great one for the colder spring days when you want a little comfort from your meal.
Spring also brings one of my favourite fruits: rhubarb (well, botanically speaking, it’s a vegetable, but with its distinctive taste – a combination of sweet and sour – it’s predominantly treated as a fruit in cooking). When I was growing up, my grandparents lived in Cornwall, not far from where we lived at the time in Devon (I’m a country bumpkin at heart!). Their house had a big, beautiful garden where my brother and I spent many hours, and my grandad had quite the set-up for growing rhubarb, which crowned at the beginning of spring. He had more than he knew what to do with and would hand it out to neighbours and visitors, as well as rustling up a smooth, sweet, but ever-so-sour stewed concoction. When we were young, our favourite way to enjoy this was naturally with an enormous scoop of vanilla ice cream, always Cornish, with second helpings. My grandad took great pride in growing this ever-abundant spring delight, grooming it throughout the year, and giving us monthly updates on it. So often, my favourite recipes are those with a story or sense of nostalgia behind them, and stewed rhubarb is one of these.
In light of my love of rhubarb, this cashew cheesecake with a rhubarb coulis is a recipe I’m always making, especially as the dessert at supper clubs and retreats. A fridge or freezer cake that will not let you down, the rhubarb is stirred through carefully, helping to balance out the rich creaminess from the cashew-baked cake. It’s one to please a crowd.
I look forward to sharing more recipes with you in the height of summer. Until then, you can find lots more inspiration in my cookbook, The Whole Vegetable.