With the arrival of March comes the first signs of spring. Our taste buds move from craving dark, richer flavours to lighter and brighter notes to suit the longer evenings. Foods that are in season are not only practical, but are better for you as they are at their nutritious peak. Bursting at the seams with this seasonal loot is your local farmer’s market. It can be tempting to stick with the same ingredients because it’s safe, but for me, this can result in complete food fatigue.
To help navigate you through the market stalls, here are five foods at their peak this month:
1. Wild Garlic
Spring has truly sprung when wild garlic appears at the market. Although strong smelling, the taste is milder than the bulb, so don’t be afraid to use with abandon. The season is short (these divine leaves will be gone by June) so make the most of the annual flourish.
Classic: The chive-like flavour of the long green leaves work really well in soup (I really like this Wild Garlic & Potato Soup recipe from Ballymaloe!) with a tart dollop of crème fraiche and some toasted seeds on top, mopped up with some soda bread.
Snazzy: Wild garlic pesto will make an exciting alternative to the traditional basil. It is delicious lathered though some silky pasta, or simply scooped generously into a grilled cheese sandwich.
Experimental: Impress your guests this Easter Sunday by giving your rack of lamb a succulent crust of wild garlic pesto. Nobody will even ask for the mint.
Ah, rhubarb, what’s not to love? Its candy pink lengths, its flirtation between sweet and tart flavours…those first bundles are impossible to resist! Many of us conjure up images of rhubarb and custard, that god-like pairing, and I’m not sure there is anything so satisfying in a dessert. The rhubarb of early spring is exceptionally pink and sweet, lending itself daintily to desserts fit to out-pretty even the most chic Parisian patisserie window.
Classic: It would be a shame not to allow rhubarb to fulfil its life purpose in a wonderful rhubarb tart, with some home made custard to up the comfort factor.
Snazzy: Rhubarb curd makes an altogether more fun alternative to it’s lemon counterpart. Delicious as a filling for a sponge cake, or simply smeared on some warm baguette – embellish to suit your mood!
Experimental: According to Diana Henry, the tartness of rhubarb balances the fattiness of meats like pork and duck. Try incorporating it into your savoury courses in place of plum and apple.
A metaphorical jump in the sea, the oyster is one of our most precious seafoods. From Carlingford to the annual festival in Clarinbridge, they symbolize celebration and sharing, a party in a shell! As the saying goes, oysters are at their best with an ‘r’ in the month, so use these last opportunities to get shucking before we move into those ‘r-less’ summer months.
Classic: Raw, a squeeze of lemon and washed down with a glass of Muscadet. Perfection!
Snazzy: As above but with a dash of fiery Tabasco. Perfection x 2.
Experimental: Donal Skeehan’s Bloody Mary Oyster Shooters will not only get your evening off to a rollicking start, but should woo even the most reluctant oyster eater.
4. Blood Orange
Well, you’re not going to find this one on your foraging trip, but the siren red flesh of this citrus fruit is worth seeking out from larger markets. They are at their best from late winter until May, depending on the variety. Their thrilling tartness will bring your spring palate to life after winter hibernation.
Classic: Brighten up long, lazy weekend breakfasts with blood orange juice.
Snazzy: Turn above breakfast into long, lazy weekend brunch with blood orange mimosas!
Experimental: Be still your beating heart and behold the duck to end all duck, with Yotam Ottolenghi’s Seared Duck Breast with Blood Orange and Star Anise.
5. Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Leafier and deeper in colour than regular broccoli, PSB offers a pop of colour to your spring plate. I love it for its crunchy texture, while the taste provides a break from the stodgier vegetables of winter. These tender stalks are at their peak from February to April.
Classic: Before asparagus season begins, use purple sprouting broccoli as your choice dipping vessel. Team with soft eggs and hollandaise and you’ll soon wonder “asparagus who”?
Snazzy: For comfort food at it’s creamiest, Rachel Allen has the answer, with her Kale and Purple Sprouting Broccoli Bake. Impressive enough to share with others, but also decadent enough to enjoy alone, greedily with a spoon.
Experimental: It will be tricky to find better suitors for PSB over garlic, ginger, chilli and a few drops of soy. Diana Henry pairs this with the dark flavour of buckwheat noodles, complete with a crispy fried egg on top. Possibly one of the most satisfying yet wonderfully healthy suppers.
I’m always on the look out for new spring recipes, tweet me your favourites @sarahzoneill
Sarah is among many Irish people living in London, where she delights in exploring its exciting food scene. She is passionate about food markets, spending her weekends trawling around Borough market grazing, chatting and stocking up on all things edible.
She dedicates a blog to her adventures in the markets, from her local farmers market to those she happens upon on her travels. Writing for TheTaste allows her to share tales from the food front line with fellow eager eaters.