Forget the veg garden – the best spring produce hales from the sea and the dairy.
At this time of year I often feel the harvest can’t quite keep up with my seasonal requirements. As soon as I feel the first tentative warmth from the sun a switch flicks and I want lettuce, peas and pencil thin asparagus. But even at the start of May there can be a way to go before their arrival on my plate.
Not so with the bounty of the sea. Truck down to Crail harbour in March and you’ll find the guys at the Lobster Hut giving it a lick of paint in preparation for opening.
Shellfish season in the UK runs from spring right through to November. So by May big brown crabs are in plentiful supply. Which is perfect because their lighter texture and energising ozone fuelled flavour bridge the gap between hearty winter fare and sprightlier summer suppers.
Spring Goat’s Cheese
Also just hitting the shops are the first of the spring goat cheeses. The year round presence of cheese discourages us from thinking of cheese as seasonal but don’t you believe it. Not only does milk production kick in with the arrival of another year’s young but the green stuff starts growing. Grass, herbs and all that makes goat’s cheese taste so fresh, and…well, grassy is at its lush peak right now.
You will find decent goats cheese available through the winter but most often this cheese is made from milk that has been frozen. The first of the Spring 2016 goat’s cheeses, at 6 weeks maturity, will be available right about now and getting steadily better over the next couple of months.
Herbs and Eggs
My final shout out for spring seasonality is a simple herb omelette. Simple but such a pleasure. At risk of coming across as smug about the purity of the seasons, I do dream of this all winter long. Maybe it’s because I’m lucky enough to keep my own hens and even through the winter when they’re not laying they still need fed, watered and cleaned out, so I look forward to my herb omelette as pay back.
Pay back that never disappoints.
My favourite place to buy crab is the aforementioned Lobster Hut in Crail where they cook it to order. It’s been there since I was a little girl, sadly I don’t get much of a chance to visit these days. Still any decent fishmonger will have brown crab and they should be able to take the meat out for you, if you ask.
Brik is a North African staple, a pastry variant a bit like Greek Spanakopita. This recipe hails from Genevieve Taylor’s A Good Egg. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. It’s a cracking little cookbook and you should all own it.
250 g fresh crab meat, half brown meat for flavour and half white meat for texture
4 spring onions, finely sliced
1 red chilli, finely chopped, seeds in or out depending on your preference for heat
Small handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Juice of ½ a lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 sheets of filo pastry
50-75 g unsalted butter, melted
Coarse sea salt, to finish
Preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas 7. In a small bowl, mix together the crab, spring onion, chilli and parsley. Stir through the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and black pepper.
Unroll 2 sheets of the filo and sandwich them together with a little melted butter. Spoon a quarter of the crab mixture into the centre and create a deep indentation in the middle with the back of a teaspoon. Crack an egg into this, then fold one side of the pastry carefully over it. Brush with a little more butter before folding the other side up over the top. You should now have enclosed the filling and be left with a sort of flattened cracker shape. Brush the surface gently with more butter, then fold up the two ‘tails’, brushing once again so the surface is well buttered all over.
Place the brik on a baking tray, seam-side down, and repeat with the remaining filo until you have 4 neat parcels. Brush the top surface with a final slick of butter and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. It may feel like you are using a lot of butter, but briks are normally deep-fried, and these baked versions need a generous amount of butter to get the pastry to crisp up in the oven.
Bake in the oven for 12–15 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden. Serve hot from the oven.
Goats Cheese Tartine
When goat’s cheese is daisy fresh in spring I love it on a crusty hunk of bread with a light mountain honey drizzled on top. I almost have to force myself to do anything else with it. Maybe a slice of pear?
I had a chat with Beringere at cheesemonger Iain Mellis about this and she agreed though she said she likes spring goats cheese tartine with salad. So you’ve Beringere to thank for this. This is her method and her spring goat’s cheese recommendations to follow.
Beringere recommends: Ragstone, Chabis and Eve
150g spring goats cheese,
3 – 4 slices good sourdough bread
1 head soft buttery lettuce
Preheat oven to 200/Gas mark 6. Distribute the goats cheese between the bread and place on a tray in the oven for 7-10 minutes. You want the cheese to have long enough to warm and soften but not for either the bread or the cheese to dry out.
Wash and spin the lettuce, toss gently with the vinaigrette and serve with the goat’s cheese tartine.
Spring Herb Omelette
There really aren’t any rules about what herbs to use in this omelette, just whatever you have growing, or round about. Oregano is always one of the first to appear in my garden and there’s generally parsley knocking about from the previous year unless it’s been a very hard winter. I use thyme too but only if it’s the soft downy, new growth. You absolutely don’t want anything woody going in this omelette.
How many eggs you use is really a case of appetite. 3, maybe 4, plus a tablespoon of cold water, salt and black pepper.
I read Elizabeth David’s Omelette and a Glass of Wine at an impressionable age so I’ve been adding a tablespoon of finely grated parmesan to my herb omelette ever since. The only other stipulation is a good omelette pan. I survived for years without one. My omelettes were good eating but not quite the triumph they’ve been since I followed my own advice.
3 – 4 eggs
1 tbsp cold water
salt and black pepper
1 tbsp finely grated parmesan
1 tbsp fresh spring herbs
Beat the eggs with a balloon whisk. Add the cold water and beat again. Add the seasoning.
Heat your omelette pan and melt the fat of your choice. I tend to use whatever oil I think can take the heat the best out of what I have in my cupboard. Vegetable, sunflower, rapeseed. It’s important to use the absolute minimum. I wipe off the excess with a piece of kitchen paper and run this around the pan.
Pour in the egg mix. Run the mix around the pan, use a spatula or fork to loosen the mixture at the edge and flip it back into the gradually setting mix. Watch the heat and lower if you feel the omelette is cooking too quickly. Add the parmesan and herbs.
Continue this process until the omelette is cooked. It is far more delicious if you leave the egg slightly undercooked in the middle. The egg will continue to cook after you remove the omelette from the heat, so if you cook it for any longer you risk it becoming rubbery.
Loosen the omelette with a spatula and slide onto a plate flipping the omelette back on itself.
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