Blighty’s supermarkets are in crisis. Heavy rains and frost in Spain and Italy mean courgettes and iceberg lettuce are running low. The lesson? To cook with the bountiful produce of Britain’s cold climate: brassicas, roots and alliums
Rationing of any kind is always likely to make people sit up straight – the idea that we can’t buy as much of whatever we’d like causes instant consternation, even if it is iceberg lettuce. It causes some understandable confusion, too, in this case, as being only allowed three heads of the stuff prompts the question why you would ever want that many – of all the veg to pick from, iceberg has got to be up there with the least flavoursome items nature has ever come up with.
And therein lies the solution to the current supermarket vegetable shortage: the best approach to filling your fridge – and eating your fill – is to be guided by flavour. This means scouring the veg aisles for what looks most vibrant. Flavour stems from vibrancy, and locally grown, seasonal produce is always going to be where it’s at. As Jane Scotter of biodynamic farm Fern Verrow puts it: “Things only taste good when grown in the right conditions and climate. I never buy lettuce or tomatoes out of season because they just don’t taste that good.” And what is good in Blighty right now are brassicas, leeks and root veg – swede, potatoes, celeriac, beets … Spring greens are coming into their own and purple sprouting broccoli – infinitely superior in flavour, according to organic farm Riverford’s Guy Watson, to the calabrese variety that the Spanish frosts have depleted – is mere weeks away from hitting our shelves. So it’s all about making do and being creative. And we’ve got the goods for you right here.
First up, there are many, many salads you can make with a good cabbage. “We probably have a raw cabbage salad at least three times a week at the moment,” says Scotter. Similarly, at Spring, which Fern Verrow supplies with fresh produce, Skye Gyngell has a brassica plant in nearly every dish on the menu, not that you’d know it from the variety of shapes and flavours she has wrought from them. Kale is the primary contender: serve it massaged with pear, pine nuts and crisp pecorino, warm with nduja or raw with lemon-baked ricotta. And you can’t wrong with a good slaw – the Hemsleys’ winter one combines cabbages with carrot, celeriac, celery, shallot and radish. Of course, you can bake, roast, braise, char and smother your brassicas, too. Then there’s this.
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