Spring is finally here. The weather is getting warmer, the days are becoming longer and we finally get a break from the heavy food of winter. At this time of year, we see many spring staples come back into the kitchen: peas, pomegranates, spring onions, British lamb, crab and the much-loved Jersey Royal potatoes. It is a common belief that to eat seasonally is expensive, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Here are two easy recipes – and one slightly harder one – that use the best of what’s available this month.
Chilli Crab Linguini
Crab is one of those foodstuffs that has a reputation for poshness. It is an expected item on the menus of fancy restaurants or the centrepiece of a middle-class housewife’s dinner party. Yes, crab can be expensive if bought from certain retailers, but it has been slowly coming down in price. You can pick crabmeat up, tinned from most supermarkets, and even Waitrose now sells a fully prepared crab for £3.99. Here is a recipe that can be made with tinned or fresh crab and can easily be made quite cheaply.
400g dried linguine or spaghetti
3–5 cherry or vittoria tomatoes, halved
1tbsp fresh or dried parsley
1.5tbsp lemon juice
50ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 pinch, dried chilli flakes
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1. Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling water for 7–8 minutes or until al dente (with a bite).
2. Meanwhile, put the chopped tomatoes, crabmeat, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, chilli flakes and garlic into another pan and warm through over a low heat.
3. Drain the pasta, return to the pan with the warmed sauce ingredients, then briefly toss together. Season to taste.
Easy lamb Tagine
Cheap lamb from New Zealand can be eaten all year round, but in-season lamb is hard to beat. From April to June it’s at its most tender, but as the season progresses the flavour develops. Spring lamb is fantastic for roasting with garlic and herbs. This early season lamb is slightly tougher than it will be in a months’ time, but as with all tough meats, you can get around this by cooking it slowly. This tagine is an excellent way to make the meat tender whilst keeping it succulent.
800g lamb, cubed
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
50g dried apricots, halved
half a tin of chickpeas
pinch of mixed spice
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
150g couscous or 370g of rice
1 lamb or chicken stock cube
1. Heat oil in a large saucepan.
2. Brown the lamb in batches. Remove with a slotted spoon and store. Between each batch, deglaze the pan with 1tbsp of hot water.
3. Once all the lamb has browned, add more oil to the saucepan and fry the chopped onion until it is turning brown (about 3–5 minutes).
4. Add the garlic and fry for another minute.
5. Return all the lamb to the pan and pour in the chopped tomatoes, chickpeas, apricots and add a big pinch of mixed spice.
6. Crumble the stock cube into a jug and add 500ml of boiling water. Mix well with a fork and then pour the stock into the saucepan.
7. Stir and mix well, then turn the heat down to a low setting. Cover the saucepan with a lid and simmer for an hour.
8. If serving with couscous, place the couscous in a bowl and add 200ml of boiling water. Stir well, cover, and leave to stand for 5 minutes. After cooking, separate the grains with a fork before serving.
9. If serving with rice, add rice to a pan of salted, slightly boiling water (the ratio for perfect rice is two parts water to one part dried rice. So, for this recipe use 740ml water). Cook for 10 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed most of the water.
Spring Onion Focaccia
This recipe is something a bit different. Baking has always been my personal passion in the kitchen, especially Focaccia, and it does take time and money. But if it’s worth doing, then it is worth doing it properly. Focaccia is an incredibly versatile bread and there are hundreds of recipes out there – this is one of my favourites.
For the bread
300ml warm water
7g sachet fast action dried yeast
300g strong white flour
200g plain flour
2tbsp caster sugar
0.5 tbsp salt
100ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing and drizzling
a few fresh rosemary sprigs
sea salt flakes for sprinkling
For the topping
2 bunches spring onions, stalks trimmed
1tbsp good quality aged balsamic vinegar (I like Belazu, available from larger supermarkets)
0.5tbsp caster sugar
20cm x 30cm high-sided rectangular baking tin (or similar)
1. Put the warm water in a jug, add the yeast and mix briefly. Leave for 5 minutes or until frothy.
2. Put the flours, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture. Combine with your hands.
3. Add the olive oil and mix well to form a loose dough (it should feel wet and very soft).
4. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead for about 8 minutes. Alternatively, knead in an electric mixer with a dough hook on a medium speed for 5 minutes.
5. Lightly oil a large clean bowl. Add the dough and cover with lightly oiled cling film. Leave in a warm place for 1–2 hours until doubled in size. (As a general rule, the higher the bread rises at this stage the lighter your end result will be. You can tell that your bread is ready for the next stage when it springs back if you poke it. If it does not spring back, leave it for longer or repeat step 4.)
6. Heat the oven to 160°C/140°C fan. Put the spring onions in a small baking tray, drizzle over the balsamic vinegar, then sprinkle with sugar and a pinch of salt. Toss to coat, then bake for 6–8 minutes until soft. Set aside.
7. When the dough has risen, turn it out onto a work surface and knead gently for 5 seconds. Carefully lift the dough into your baking tin. Don’t stretch and pull the dough to fit the tin, it will increase in size as it bakes.
8. Arrange the spring onions on top and dot with the rosemary sprigs. Sprinkle generously with sea salt flakes and drizzle with oil. Create dimples all over the surface of the dough by pressing deep down with your fingertips. Leave in a warm place until doubled in size (approximately 1 hour).
9. Heat the oven to 220°C/ 200°C fan. Bake the focaccia for 10–15 minutes until golden, then lower the heat to 200°C/180°C fan and cook for 20 minutes more.
10. Remove from the oven and drizzle with more oil, then leave it to sit in the tin for 5 minutes. Carefully remove the bread from the tin, then cut or tear it into thick slices.
April is definitely the month where we first see a big change in our diet after Christmas. There is so much to discover this month, and hopefully you will feel inspired to take some of these recipes and incorporate them into your Easter meal. Next month, more berries and fruits will be available and one of the most underrated and ignored plants comes into season – Elderflower.