We’re not really meant to enjoy cooking at this time of year.
Foul weather, the hangover from December’s overindulgence and fun-sapping self-denial all conspire to drive us inwards, falling back on old kitchen standards, and trying to work out how long it will be until Spring.
But if there’s a single resolution worth making and keeping, it should be to eat well, and so this post rounds up some of my favourite things to cook in the first few months of the year. I’ve based this on the produce you’re likely to find at the Marylebone Farmers Market in London, as that’s where I do my weekly shop. But none of these things are particularly exotic, so anyone in the middle of the northern hemisphere winter should find these ingredients really easily.
Compiling this round-up made me realise how much there is to enjoy right now. While it may be tempting to buy and eat whatever is available in the shops, ignoring the seasons robs us of one of the great pleasures of cooking and eating. Courgettes somehow taste much better when they’re anticipated, then used with abandon for three or four months, testing our ingenuity with ways to make use of a glut, before disappearing again.
So if you’re eating seasonally, this is a time of cabbages and kale, purple sprouting broccoli, root vegetables and cauliflowers. From the sea there are great clams, and there are the last of the game birds as well as the second half of the venison season.
One of my favourite greens, still in plentiful supply in January, are sprout tops.
Briefly blanched and then tossed in butter, or the trinity of garlic–anchovy–chilli, or in a mix of garlic and the excellent chilli and shrimp sauce available from The Garlic Farm at the market. You could also serve them with breadcrumbs or use them in this really simple but brilliant winter pasta recipe that pairs them with chestnuts, smoked bacon and marsala wine.
That trinity of garlic-chilli-anchovy also works briliantly with kale. A dish we eat at least a couple of times a month through this period is black kale (also called cavolo nero) with pasta (pictured above left). There is another version of it on the blog here. To make it really punchy, head to La Fromagerie and pick up some pecorino semistagionato, a really fruity, pungent cheese that makes the dish sing.
Kale also works well in a risotto made with rice, or with spelt or pearl barley. The blog has recipes for a rice risotto with kale and smoked bacon, or a pearl barley risotto with beetroot and kale, finished off with a buffalo milk cheese from Alham Wood. This was one of the most popular recipes on the blog last winter.
A final recipe for kale – served on sourdough toast with smoked bacon and cheese for a brilliant Sunday brunch dish (above – right).
The huge amount of rainfall and flooding we’ve had might start damaging even the sturdy root vegetables crop, but at the moment there are plenty of beetroot, celeriac, jerusalem artichokes and potatoes around.
Carrots star in this pearl barley risotto, topped with a green sauce of hazelnuts and parsley (above – right), or you could pick one of Phil’s Pestos to top it off.
Celeriac is an under-rated vegetable – it makes a great backbone for a soup (above – left), mashes brilliantly for a fresher, lighter alternative to mashed potato alongside some of the great sausages available from the market. Another odd looking vegetable is the Jerusalem artichoke, whose distinctive nutty flavour also shines in soup, or this fabulous supper dish, a pithivier of artichokes and potato.
You’ll find red beetroot, candy striped (chiogga) and golden beetroot at the market, and they combine brilliantly with capers, oregano and orange in this fresh salad.
Finally if you’re looking for some raw food goodness as part of a new year attempt to eat healthily, you can use raw beetroot, celeriac, carrots and kohlrabi in this Asian coleslaw (above).
Cauliflower and Purple Sprouting Broccoli
If you don’t love cauliflower, then I’ll wager it’s because you’ve only ever eaten it as a soggy mess or drowned in cheesy sauce. Try one of these and you’ll never look back: roasted cauliflower, and pasta with cauliflower, chilli, garlic and anchovy. The pasta dish can be made with white cauliflowers or the fabulous pointy green romanesco cauliflowers that you find often at the market.
Purple sprouting broccoli is one of the star winter vegetables, and pairs really well with tomato – fresh tomatoes in this recipe with quinoa, or with the fabulous oak roasted tomatoes available from The Tomato Stall at the market.
(While we’re talking about tomatoes, although The Tomato Stall’s fruits taste good throughout the year, this technique for roasted tomatoes is a great one to use in the winter months, and combine roasted cauliflower and roasted tomatoes in this dish with some salty cheese – pictured above).
Fish and Meat
I think some of the best value meat you can find is a shank of venison from South Downs Venison at the market. Braise a shank in place of a roast joint of meat, or braise it and shred the meat for a really great dish of pappardelle with venison ragu (above – left). Venison mince, together with gnochi from the market, and cheese from Alham Wood, all combine in this dish which is the very essence of comfort food: gnocchi with venison ragu (above – right).
January also sees the last of the game birds – my favourite way of cooking game is here.
Clams are great at this time of year and often available from Simon Long. Serve them in the classic dish of spaghetti with clams, or combine them with mushrooms and brown shrimp (also from Simon Long) or with a spicy sausage and beans.
During the winter months, smoked fish (from Simon Long and from Seafayre) brings warmth to a potato cake, or simply cooked and flaked over a baked potato (try a Yukon Gold potato from The Potato Shop).
The Farmers’ Market takes place every Sunday from 10am until 2pm in the Moxon Street Car Park, London W1. Further details here.