January and February: warming winter fare
The first weeks of the year are a time for warming and hearty food to combat the cold weather and long dark nights. The UK has a wonderful abundance of winter vegetables available through January and February perfect for such dishes. Root vegetables are plentiful; beetroot, carrots, parsnips, turnips, potatoes and sweet potatoes, as well as the slightly lesser used celeriac and swede, both of which make interesting alternatives to potato in mash or chip form. Brassicas are also widely available; with rich green savoy cabbage, kale, cauliflower and the poorly done by Brussels sprout which so often is saved only for Christmas day, are all excellent at this time of year. Many winter vegetables work well with strong flavours such as richly flavoured meats like game, which is also in season, spices and a multitude of hardy herbs.
More delicate options include celery, chicory, leeks and Jerusalem artichoke, all of which work well in lighter meals and with fish. Don’t forget other seasonal produce to add interesting flavours such as chestnuts and wild mushrooms (various varieties are available all year round).
I love making soups in the winter, warming and filling, yet a healthy option after the excesses of the holiday season. Thick, chunky vegetable, almost transparent consommé, soups with rice or noodles or good old “boil up the left overs” soup; all are so easy and quick and satisfying. Served with crusty bread or homemade crackers, soup makes a great midweek dinner, with the added bonus that it can also be made in advance and stored for a few days in the fridge. I like to make a batch at the weekend for a quick meal if I’m late home, or for a filling, but easily digestible lunch.
If you eat it, winter is when you are most likely to crave meat. Richer meats like game (duck, pheasant, venison etc) are all still in season at the start of the year and are great roasted and served with plenty of fresh vegetables, or in comfort food form; pies, casseroles and stews. I’m a big fan of fish, and in the winter focus more on meaty types; tuna, swordfish and scallops; all strong enough to combine well with winter vegetables.
If you fancy something sweet, there are plenty of apples and pears still available at this time of year and apple crumble or tart tartin makes a great finish to a weekend dinner. I like adding spices such as ginger, star anise or cinnamon to add a twist to the flavour and serving with a big dollop of crème fraiche. Whilst not native to the UK, this is the best time for cirtus fruits too. I can’t resist a few blood oranges when I need a good boost of vitamin C!
Enjoy the new year and make the most of the dark nights and cold weather to potter around the kitchen cooking up a feast or two!
In season: Apples, Pears, Beetroot, Brussels Sprouts, Savoy cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celeriac, Celery, Chestnuts, Chicory, Jerusalem -Artichoke, Kale, Leeks, Parsnips, Potatoes, Swede, Sweet potato,Turnips