Not-So Hungry Gap??? from our regular food blogger Helen Parkin of A Forkful of Spaghetti
Looking out of my window, I’m not finding much cause for inspiration. Rain is spotting loudly against the glass, and the wind is blowing old leaves around the garden and dumping them in unceremonious piles on my front doorstep. We’re also feeling the effects of the so-called ‘Hungry Gap’ – that time of year when we seem to have eaten stews for months on end, and our tastebuds crave fresher textures and tastes.
As the winter months drag on, and the colour of the sky seems stuck in a distinctly non-Farrow and Ball shade of grey, I’m willing the sap to start rising and looking forward to seeing the first tips of new, lush green shoots emerge from the claggy earth.
Days filled with sunshine and salads are still some way off yet. But all is far from lost. We have so much good produce in this country that while our choice of fruit and vegetables might be a little restricted right now, there is much else to celebrate.
A trip to my butcher and fishmonger the other day served as a pertinent reminder to me of our natural riches. The game season is in its final feather-flapping throes, but there were still plump partridges, pigeon, and guinea fowl available. Next to them sat venison and wild rabbits (a bargain at £3.45 for a whole rabbit, liver and all). Grab ‘em while you can. Me, I’m busy potting rabbit and confiting a few legs so that I can make them last just that little bit longer.
The fishmonger, perhaps even more popular than usual in the wake of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s FishFight
(please sign his petition if you haven’t already done so), displayed beautiful prime examples of our coast’s seasonal finest – silvery mackerel; the distinctly less showy, but no less tasty brill; cracking crabs; and newly-fashionable-again cockles, to name just a few. If you’re wondering what to do with your mackerel.
Hugh has a sizzling suggestion
. But if eating the fish in a bap doesn’t do it for you, lose the bap, and turn the rest into an elegant starter – slice the mackerel into thin strips to make goujons, deep fry, and serve with a citrussy blood orange aioli and a plate of dressed winter salad leaves.
Being, as it is, an oily fish, mackerel benefits from well-judged counterpunches. Gooseberry, rhubarb, and orange are great contenders for the job. Happily, (forced) rhubarb is to hand at the moment, and can be swiftly transformed into a tangy accompaniment – poaching or chutneying are the easiest options. Rhubarb also makes a fantastic ketchup (a useful one to remember if you want to introduce your children to new flavours under the guise of something familiar!). Here’s my favourite recipe
from a fellow food blogger.
As much as I love condiments, forced rhubarb is such a dazzling colour and cheek-smacking flavour that it seems a shame to mess about with it too much. So my personal preference is to poach it, pile it on to a slice of egg-dipped and sugar-dusted fried brioche, and then top the lot with either Greek yogurt or
crème fraiche and thin strips of orange zest. The recipes
on my blog. No, it
won’t help your post-Christmas diet, but it will most definitely feed your soul.
Talking of colourful food, this time of year is also the season for pink and peppery radishes, arguably one of our more overlooked salad stuffs.
Why we neglect them is beyond me – they’re super-easy and quick to grow (and you need very little space – even a tiny tub will be fine), and their crisp crunch and perky flavour make a welcome change from all the stodgy stewed root vegetables that we typically fill up on during the cold months.
For a lively winter snack for 2 people, chop a generous handful of radishes into quarters (use baby turnips instead, if you want to do something different with your root vegetables), add the same quantity of grated carrots and chopped roasted peanuts, and toss the lot in a zingy dressing.
No need to go overboard – a couple of tablespoons of groundnut oil (or another light nut oil – but not walnut) with a dash of lemon, mustard, and salt and pepper will do the trick. A twist on the theme makes a refreshing side dish to go with a curry. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan, and add a pinch each of cumin and black mustard seeds.
Once they start popping, add further pinches of turmeric, salt, sugar, and (optional) asafoetida. Remove from the heat, and leave to cool for a couple of minutes. Add about a tablespoon of lemon juice (taste as you go along – you don’t want to overdo it), stir, and then mix the lot into your radish, carrot, and peanut medley. Leave to stand for a few minutes to allow the flavours to develop.