The clocks have gone forward, and although there’s still a chill in the air, the lighter, brighter evenings and green shoots appearing mean it’s starting to feel like spring is finally on its way. For me, that means a whole host of fresh, new, seasonal ingredients arriving at my kitchen door in every shade of green.
I can’t help but get excited by the sight of all the new produce – peas, broad beans, spring salad, leafy lettuce, wonderful fresh asparagus as well as a whole collection of fresh spring herbs like wild garlic and sorrel.
I can’t wait to get my hands on it all and start cooking fresh new dishes the minute they arrive, really experiencing the beauty of produce grown locally and bang in season. The flavours are much more fresh and bold, and eating produce at its very best allows you to really understand nature’s seasonal matches.
Many species of fish and shellfish are also at their best at this time of year and my suppliers are bringing me wonderful scallops, the first wild salmon, and one of my personal favourites, mackerel, straight from the Scottish shores and into my kitchen.
As much as these wonderful spring greens are a perfect match for the season’s seafood, don’t feel you always have to add fish or meat to a dish. A recipe like this delicious pearl barley risotto with peas and lettuce really lets the greens in the dish shine through so you can enjoy a real flavour of spring on a plate.
PEARL BARLEY RISOTTO WITH PEAS AND LETTUCE
FOR THE RISOTTO
Half a large onion, finely sliced
100ml white wine
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
50g grated Parmesan
200g pearl barley
Splash of sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper
80g fresh peas
80g fresh broad beans
Handful of pea shoots
Half a carrot, chopped
FOR THE PEA PURÉE
Half a white onion, finely chopped
90g unsalted butter
600g fresh or frozen peas (podded weight)
100ml whipping cream
2 baby gem lettuce, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
TO MAKE THE PEA PURÉE
Sweat the chopped onion in 50g of the butter for 4-5 minutes. Bring a pan of water to the boil and add 1tbsp of salt. Blanch the peas for 1-2 minutes and refresh in ice water.
Drain, then add about one-third of the peas (about 200g) to the onions – keep the rest for the finished dish. Add the cream and seasoning to the peas and onions and cook together for a further 2 minutes. Add the lettuce.
Blitz quickly and leave to chill – this helps keep the purée green until ready to serve.
TO MAKE THE RISOTTO
In a heavy bottom pan, melt half the butter (25g) on a medium heat. Add the onion and sweat gently for 1-2 minutes with no colour. Add the pearl barley and sweat for 30 seconds, before seasoning with salt. Add the white wine and reduce until dry.
Add the chicken/veg stock so that it just covers the pearl barley and cook for 17-18 minutes, adding more stock just to the level until it reduces. Stir continuously.
Once cooked, add 2tbsp of the pea purée, and mix through the risotto so that it takes on a lovely fresh green colour.
Take off the heat and add the remaining butter and the Parmesan cheese until they melt. As the risotto starts to cool, it will thicken with the cheese and butter. Add seasoning and a dash of sherry vinegar. Add a handful of fresh peas and broad beans, and mix together before serving.
Add a handful of fresh peas, fresh broad beans, carrot, fresh pea shoots and sliced Parmesan to each dish.
SCALLOPS WITH ROASTED, PUREED AND RAW ASPARAGUS
2 bunches of asparagus, about 900g in total
Olive oil for cooking
Half an onion, peeled and thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
150ml chicken stock
6-8 large scallops in shells, cleaned
Heat the oven to 180° C/Gas 4. To prepare the asparagus, snap off the woody ends and peel the lower end of the stalks. Divide the asparagus into three equal portions: set aside a third for serving raw, a third for roasting and a third for the purée.
For the purée, finely chop the asparagus. Heat a heavy-based pan over a medium-low heat and add a drizzle of olive oil. Add the onion and sweat gently for 2-3 minutes. Increase the heat, add the chopped asparagus with some seasoning and sweat for 1-2 minutes. Pour on the chicken stock and simmer for 3-4 minutes until the asparagus is cooked.
Tip into a blender and blitz to a smooth purée. Transfer to a bowl and cool quickly over a bowl of iced water to preserve the colour, unless serving straight away.
For the roasted asparagus, heat a non-stick ovenproof frying pan over a medium-heat and add a good drizzle of olive oil. Add the asparagus and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 3-4 minutes until the asparagus is tender.
Meanwhile, thinly slice the raw asparagus spears lengthways and drizzle with olive oil. Once the roast asparagus is ready, transfer it to a warm place and set aside.
To open scallops, hold with the flatter side uppermost and insert a strong small knife in between the shells close to the hinge. Twist the knife to break the hinge and open up the shells. Cut through the white muscle to release the scallop meat.
Halve each scallop horizontally into two discs. Return the frying pan to a high heat and add a good drizzle of olive oil. When hot, place the scallops in the pan, season with salt and pepper and sear them quickly for 45 seconds to 1 minute on each side until golden brown, depending on size. (It is better to leave them slightly underdone than to overcook them, which toughens the flesh.) In the meantime, gently reheat the asparagus purée.
Spoon the asparagus puree onto warm plates and arrange the roasted asparagus and scallops on top. Finish with the raw asparagus and serve at once.
To open scallops, hold with the flatter side uppermost and insert a strong small knife in between the shells close to the hinge. Twist
the knife to break the hinge and open up the shells. Cut through the white muscle to release the scallop meat.
SMOKED MACKEREL SALAD WITH HONEY MUSTARD DRESSING
600g baby new potatoes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 free-range medium eggs
4 smoked mackerel fillets, about 100g each
1 red onion, peeled and sliced
4 baby gem lettuce, halved lengthways
250g cherry tomatoes, halved
Olive oil to drizzle
4 cooked beetroot, sliced
HONEY MUSTARD DRESSING
2tbsp Dijon mustard
2tbsp caster sugar
2tsp white wine vinegar
150ml vegetable oil
2tsp chopped dill
First make the dressing. Mix the mustard, sugar, wine vinegar and some salt and pepper together in a medium bowl. Now slowly add the oil, whisking or stirring vigorously as you do so to emulsify and thicken the sauce (an electric hand whisk is ideal for this). Stir in the chopped dill and set aside.
Cook the baby potatoes in boiling salted water for 12-15 minutes until just tender. Meanwhile, boil the
eggs in water to cover for 8 minutes. Once the potatoes are cooked,
drain and thickly slice them.
When the eggs are cooked, drain and refresh under cold running water, then peel and cut in half. Break the mackerel fillets into big chunks. Halve, stone and peel the avocado, then cut the slices. Put the potatoes into a large bowl with the red onion, lettuce, cherry tomatoes and avocado. Season with salt and pepper to taste and drizzle with a little olive oil. Toss gently to mix.
Divide the beetroot, dressed salad and smoked mackerel between plates and add the hard-boiled egg halves. Spoon over the honey mustard dressing, grind over some pepper and serve.