Serial dinner party host and author of cookbook ‘Land and Sea; secrets to simple, sustainable sensational food’ Alexandra Dudley shares her best tips on how to use up the the forgotten parts of vegetables for low-waste meals as well as two sustainable and seasonal recipes to try this spring.
The days are longer and the mornings are lighter. There are birds, blossom, buds on the trees and inch by inch things begin to get greener. I think spring is one of the most exciting times to be in the kitchen. After months of potatoes, roots and soups there is new life peeking up from the vegetable patch. Asparagus, spring onions, radishes, watercress and – outside of the garden – wild garlic. There is something incredibly satisfying about foraging for one’s own food: with it comes a sense of connecting, calmness and a deep appreciation for the seasons. Whereas foraging for mushrooms comes with a risk (and should always be done with proper guidance), searching for wild garlic is simple and safe. You can usually smell it before you see it – it has a pungent smell, garlicky but sweet. It takes the form of long leafy greens and when it grows it does so plentifully so pack your baskets when you go hunting.
Wild garlic is found in damp shaded areas, woodland and often by rivers or streams. You can eat it in many ways – folded through eggs or scrambled tofu, wilted into curries or pureed into soups. You can sauté it like spinach or toss it through a salad, bake it into breads, chop it into a sauce or my favourite way to use it – in pesto.
I note my recipe for wild garlic pesto below. I like to use roasted almonds for their nuttiness but traditional pine nuts will also work well, as will cashews or even toasted sunflower seeds. My method is simple but the important thing is to add the oil after blitzing. It keeps the texture of the pesto and makes for a far better bite. Enjoy it tossed through pasta or stirred through potatoes. I even love it spread on toast.
Wild garlic and roasted almond pesto recipe
Serves 4 in a pasta (increase as necessary)
3 large handfuls wild garlic
1 lemon – zest and juice
tsp flakey sea salt
Preheat your oven to 180C/fan and place your almonds on a clean dry baking tray. Roast for ten minutes until they begin to smell nutty. Allow them to cool.
In a food processor, place your almonds, wild garlic, the zest and juice of your lemon and the sea salt. Pulse until the garlic has well broken down but you still have some breadcrumb sized like texture in your almonds.
Transfer to a small bowl and slowly add olive oil until you reach the desired consistency. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, lemon, oil if you wish.
Store in a clean dry jar in the fridge and pour a little olive oil on the top to seal it and retain its freshness.
Another bit of gold of spring is Asparagus. Asparagus is something I urge one to eat only when in season. April is the month for asparagus so enjoy it to your hearts content. Im of the belief that no April home is complete without the regular stench of asparagus wee. Steam it, roast it, shred it and enjoy it raw. Add it to a salad, to a stir fry or enjoy it with a poached egg or drizzled with pesto, or even just as is it is with a pinch of salt.
The importance of eating with the seasons of course plays a role in protecting our environment. Food that has travelled far leaves a deeper cut in our eco-system. Supermarkets are unfortunately largely to blame for our obsession to have everything all year round. But it isn’t natural for us to eat strawberries in January and asparagus through to December. The carbon footprint of asparagus flown by plane from Peru is vast in comparison to that of asparagus grown close to home. Its taste pales in comparison too. It is bland, often watery or woody and never ever as good as that grown in Cornwall or Norfolk.
For me one of the best things about cooking is to eat with the seasons. The excitement for the arrival of summer berries or cooking squash soups lazily in my kitchen in autumn. It is a small and simple effort to help preserve something we are so lucky to have – the seasons. It encourages one to be creative, to find new ways to use ingredients and to use those in a way we perhaps haven’t thought of before. Which leads me to my next spring time gem. The radish.
When I was a child I called radishes ‘the spicy things’. They often made my nose wrinkle and my tongue sting. Over time I learnt to enjoy them and understood that they were a peppery vegetable often in need of a creamy counterpart to soften the bitterness. Enjoy them alongside whipped organic butter sprinkled with sea salt or creamy hummus or butterbean dip. Slice them finely and toss them into salads or dress them simple with good olive oil and the zest of a lemon for a colourful side dish. If I still haven’t convinced you to enjoy a radish then let this be the way I do. Believe me when I say that roasting radishes will completely transform the way you think about them. Their pepperiness turns to sweetness and they become juicy little balloons that pop in your mouth. You can also pan fry them (use the dressing below) and toss them through with boiled new potatoes. But for something a little bit special I offer my recipe below. Roasted radishes atop sticky black rice with a pesto made from their very own leaves.
Roasted Radishes on black rice with a radish top pesto.
350g venere black rice (other black rice or wild rice works too)
3 bunches radishes with leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1/2 a lemon)
1 tablespoon of honey
salt and pepper to season
(this will make extra, keep it in a jar in the fridge for later or freeze it in portions)
Leaves of 3 radish bunches
1 bunch of basil, leaves and stems (roughly chopped)
1 clove of garlic, roughly chopped
120g pine nuts (or cashews or toasted almonds)
zest and juice of half a lemon
good pinch of salt
Preheat your oven to 180C/fan.
Chop the leaves from the radishes cutting slightly above the stem so as not to take any radish head with you. Wash these as you would salad and allow them to dry, or if in a rush simply pat dry with a clean tea-towel or cloth.
In a food processor place your radish leaves, basil (leaves and stems), garlic, pine nuts, lemon zest and juice and a good pinch of salt. Pulse until the mixture has broken down but a bread crumb like texture remains in the nuts. (you may need to push the leaves down using a spatula or spoon).
Transfer to a small bowl and slowly add the olive oil until you reach the desired consistency. Season to taste adding more lemon, salt or oil if needed. Set aside.
Wash and halve your radishes. Place them in a bowl with the olive oil, lemon juice, honey and salt and pepper before spreading in one layer onto a baking tray and roasting in the oven for about twenty minutes or until sticky and slightly charred.
Cook rice according to instructions. Season with olive oil and sea salt. You could also add a splash of cider or red wine vinegar and tsp of honey to add a little more flavour should you wish.
To serve divide the rice onto plates. Top with roasted radishes and finish with generous spoonful’s of the radish top pesto. I always like to serve a little extra in a bowl on the side.
I have never understood why we don’t see more radish top pesto. Even at the most luxe of stores a bunch of radishes costs little over a pound and their leaves are ideal for pesto. Slightly peppery, slightly sharp they are a very good way to bulk up a pesto without the need to splurge on expensive herbs.
I think it is important to eat like this. To push ingredients as far as they can go and make the most of what they have to offer. The pesto method can be applied to carrot tops too. Carrot tops can also be sautéed as you would spinach. A splash of honey off sets their bitterness well and a sprinkling of chopped hazelnuts take them from excess to extra! Beet stems can also be cooked this way. I like to wok them with garlic, soy or tamari and a little chopped chilli. Their leaved can be tossed into salad. Radish leaves can too. You could probably wok a radish leaf too I imagine. I’ve not yet tried. You could certainly let them wilt over hot boiled new potatoes with a few sprigs of mint. And take note to add the stems of your mint to the water when you boil the potatoes. It gives them a little minty kick and makes the most of the stems.
You see there are many ways in which you can use the ‘bits’ the ‘bobs’, the forgotten parts of the vegetable. If ever in doubt at what to do there is always stock. We seem to think that stock must include bones. This is nonsense and whilst a bone stock has its benefits a vegetable one has them too. In addition, there is much use for a vegetable stock; soup, risotto, hearty broths or Vietnamese pho.
I often hear people complain that there is ‘no point’. They live alone. Why bother to save one carrot peel? Why – is because 1.9 million tonnes of food is wasted each year in the UK alone. Why – is because we as consumers and even as individuals do have power to cause change.
We are the pebbles that cause the ripples that cause the waves of change. Why –is because we are so privileged even to be able to waste food when so many cannot afford to feed themselves. Why – is because we can. So use the bits, make stocks, create odd concoctions and experiments in the kitchen. Some will work, some will fail. Sometimes you will forget to use your vegetable scraps and they will become rancid. Its ok. You tried and that is the point.
Make the most of ingredients, make the most of the seasons, respect them, work with them. Treat them well and you’ll be rewarded with joy, satisfaction that only comes with cooking something that has had the whole table in delicious silence. There is little better than new season asparagus steamed just till al dente. Perhaps eaten with the window open, the radio on, maybe a bunch of daffodils atop the table. This is spring.
Want to know more about what to eat in Spring? Read Danielle Copperman’s guide.