Forget the 1st of January, my new year starts in March. Spring bulbs, lambing and the pruning and replotting of the garden – all signs point to a fresh start. In the kitchen, the end of the hungry gap is in sight – the period of the year where vegetable beds are most barren. It was around this time that the first fresh peas arrived into our Roman kitchen from Campania. Colour, flavour, texture – everything about them was so exciting, so different to the robust profile of winter vegetables.
In England, we can get carried away by the first signs of spring. Feeling the sun on our backs for the first time in months, we leave home without a coat and start arranging picnics in the park. Italians, in contrast, stay in the moment, welcoming spring’s arrival but recognising that winter is still close on their heels. Their cooking reflects this balanced view of the seasons. In March we paired the delicate first peas with end of winter artichokes, making the precious first harvest of the season go a little further whilst making the most out a variety of vegetable that they won’t see again until November.
In the middle of March I spent a sunny weekend in Sussex, returning to Rome with my bag filled with wild garlic, evidence that spring had sprung in Britain. My Roman colleagues weren’t quite sure what to make these bright green leaves. Unsurprisingly, the quite remarkable difference in climate between rainy Sussex and dry, mild Lazio means that wild garlic can’t grow around Rome. In a slightly disconcerting role reversal scenario, I showed them how to make wild garlic pesto, which they paired with braised artichokes and stirred into a risotto in bianco.
Together, we created a dish that overlapped spring and winter. It’s a way of looking at fruit and vegetables that has shaped the way I cook ever since. With your eyes open to these between-the-seasons moments, you’ll encounter incredible flavour combinations that would remain out of reach if you were to view the seasons as four distinct categories. Taking each day as it comes stretches out a much wider horizon of seasonal cooking, and softens the blow of rain after a wonderful week of sunshine.
Wild garlic scrambled eggs with spelt soda bread
This wild allium likes damp, well-covered spots, so seek it out in woodlands, near ditches and along riverbanks. I whizz it with nuts and olive oil for pesto, stir it into soups and here, fold it into scrambled eggs. Served on top of a slice of soda bread, my go-to weekend bake throughout the year as it’s so simple to make and ready in the time it takes to get the paper on the table.
For the bread
250g spelt flour – wholemeal works well too
200g white flour
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
200g greek yoghurt
150g whole milk
Handful of seeds
For the eggs
Decent knob of butter
2 tbs whole milk
Small handful wild garlic (6-8 leaves), roughly chopped
- Preheat the oven to 200⁰C (180⁰fan) and grease a 2lb loaf tin with vegetable oil.
- Sieve the flours, salt and bicarbonate of soda together in a large mixing bowl.
- Whisk all the wet ingredients – including the egg – together in a jug.
- Using a wooden spoon, stir the wet ingredients into the dry. Try not to mix too much, it should be a fairly wet, tacky dough that slops easily into the tin. Top with any seeds you have to hand.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the base sounds hollow when tapped. Turn out of the tin and leave to cool while you make the eggs.
- Whisk the eggs, salt, pepper and milk together. On a low heat, melt the butter and pour in the egg mixture.
- Keep the heat low, it’s the secret to soft curds in scrambled eggs. Using a flat-bottomed wooden spoon, keep the eggs moving around the pan until they’re just about ready – I like mine quite soft – then throw in the wild garlic.
- Serve on a slice of soda bread, preferably buttered.
Illustrations by Liv Amato-Pace