Let us dispel the rumours that seasonal cooking is limiting; that recipes can only be used during a short seasonal window. All too often I learn that a dish was avoided because the cook didn’t have precisely the right ingredients or they felt it wasn’t the right time of year for it. Cooking seasonally allows me to fool my friends into thinking that I have an unending repertoire of recipes at my disposal. In fact, I have a trusted handful that I turn to week in, week out, simply swapping out the ingredients for ones that are at their best at that particular time of year.
You don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of fruit and vegetables to know what could go where. All you have to do is think about what the role of each ingredient is in the recipe. Is it a leafy green? A punchy herb? A hearty root vegetable or a bright burst of acidity? I guarantee that a rummage in your fridge or store cupboard will uncover a texture or flavour substitute that will give a reputable understudy’s performance. Learn and be liberated: nothing in the kitchen is irreplaceable.
Winter greens – cavolo nero, cabbage, kale – all behave in the same way as spring greens or spinach leaves do; they’ll just need a little longer in the pan. The same goes for herbs. In winter you’ll need to add the hardier stalks of rosemary and thyme to the pan at the start of your cooking, whereas the fresh, delicate leaves of parsley, coriander and chervil are best roughly chopped and stirred in at the end. Whilst I’m always sad to see it go, I comfort myself from the loss of purple sprouting broccoli with the arrival of the first green beans, just as good in a warm salad or thrown into a stir fry. When it comes to baking, come the summer you can swap out the rhubarb from your favourite cake recipes for the same quantity of ripe, juicy apricots or chopped pears in the autumn. For pesto, I use basil with pine nuts in summer and kale with pumpkin seeds once the leaves change.
Think of yourself as a shrewd manager of a talented but somewhat unreliable sports team – you play them when they’re at their best.
Spring chicken casserole with minted Jersey Royals
Serves a greedy pair or four
This casserole recipe is one of my go-to vehicles for the changing seasons. In winter, I use hardy greens like cavolo nero or cabbage instead of spring greens. The courgettes could be carrots and the parsley becomes thyme, added at the start with the onion. The method and core ingredients – chicken, stock and onion – remain the same always. In winter I need the comfort of mashed potatoes, rather than new.
What you need
For the casserole:
Two thighs & two chicken drumsticks.
One onion, sliced
Two courgettes, sliced into half centimetre rounds
One lemon (for zesting & juicing)
500ml hot stock
200g spring greens, sliced
Two handfuls of peas
Small bunch parsley
For the Jersey Royals:
200g potatoes, washed
Small bunch mint
You’ll need a wide, high-sided frying pan or a casserole dish.
- Bring the oil to a medium heat in the pan. Season the chicken pieces well with salt and pepper and place skin-side down into the hot oil. Sear until golden brown, around five minutes. Turn over and repeat on the other side.
- Remove the chicken and pop onto a plate next to the hob.
- Add a glug more oil and then tip in the sliced onions. Cook until translucent, around five minutes, then add in the sliced courgette rounds. Zest in the lemon, season well with salt and pepper.
- After a minute, pour in the hot stock and carefully place the chicken pieces back in the pan. Cook on a medium heat for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile pop the washed potatoes, a good tablespoon of seasalt and the whole bunch of mint, stalks and all, into a pan. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil and then turn down to a gentle simmer.
- Once 15 minutes is up, switch off the potatoes. Stir the sliced spring greens and peas into the chicken casserole pan, making sure all the greens are covered in liquid. Cook for another five minutes.
- Drain the potatoes, taking care to remove the mint stalks. Drizzle with olive oil.
- Squeeze half the lemon into the casserole. Serve over the potatoes, accompanied with a spoon with which to slurp up the juices.