We have had some lovely rain and now suddenly spring has arrived. The patio is atwitter with swallows recently returned from wintering in Africa and now busily repairing their mud nests. The air is starting to be filled with the scent of citrus blossom – very early this year – and the raucous cries of the Great Spotted Cuckoos looking for mates. All the deciduous trees are already pruned and now that the winter harvest of limes have been gathered, we are starting with the pruning of those. The trees have vicious thorns, so thick gloves and long handled secateurs are necessary. Once the pruning is done, then a feed of horse manure and iron chelate will be given to each tree, the groups of baby limes will be thinned out and then they can be left to enjoy growing in the spring sunshine. Lime trees being tropical don’t like even the small amount of cooler weather that we have here and always look a bit scrappy and sad at this time of the year, but the boost of fertilizer followed by some warmth will transform them into the lush green trees that they should be.
In the vegetable garden the cycle continues of sowing, maturing and harvesting. There are continually salad crops, right now being harvested are a variety of chicories and endives, Florence fennel and three types of lettuce. I have seedlings of more lettuce, chicory and oriental greens just about ready to go in the ground. The mange toute peas have been fantastic this winter and are just coming to an end. I had sown some French beans to follow on, but it looks as though the birds might have stolen their heads as soon as they were out of the ground, so I am going to have to resow those.
With the early warmth I am thinking that I may be able to start sowing some of the summer vegetables – aubergines, beetroot, peppers, courgettes. For some of these I can buy seedlings very cheaply from the local market.
Just starting to be ready are the asparagus and purple sprouting broccoli. The very first head of broccoli this season, I had with orange butter as a starter, absolutely delicious. Butter sauces are a little out of favour at the moment with the concerns with cholesterol and saturated fats, but I would rather have the occasional bit of real butter than weird tasting margarines made with emulsifiers and who knows what base oil. You can of course use green broccoli for this or the green Romanesco cauliflower, white cauliflower I think is too bland for this sauce. Asparagus, either green or white are both complemented well the flavour of the orange butter.
BROCCOLI WITH ORANGE BUTTER
3-6 florets of Broccoli depending on the size
15 grams butter
Grated zest of a quarter of an orange plus 1 tablespoon of juice
Cook the broccoli for a few minutes in salted boiling water until cooked but still with some bite. You can use your serving plate as a lid and warm it at the same time.
Meanwhile put the butter, orange juice and grated zest into a small pan and heat over a low heat. Swirl the pan around continuously to mix the ingredients and get a smooth emulsion. The sauce wants to warm but never bubble, so do not go away and leave it heating. It is ready when the butter has melted and made a smooth warm sauce with the orange juice and zest.
Best eaten with your fingers scooping up the lovely orange flavoured butter as you go.
The tender and mild centres of the red and green chicories I have been using in salads, and the slightly tougher and more bitter outer leaves I have saved to cook. This next recipe is inspired by the cooking of Sicily with its arab influences of using pine nuts and raisins in savoury dishes. I thought the sweetness of the dried fruit would off set the slight bitterness of the chicory and it does very well and the red chicory contrasts beautifully with the pale pasta and pine nuts. This sort of sauce can also be served as a vegetable on its own.
Fresh tagliatelle – see post – The Beginners Guide to Making Fresh Pasta – for recipe
For the sauce per person –
olive oil for frying
1 clove garlic – finely chopped
20 gms pine nuts
20 gms raisins or currants
1 tinned salted anchovy – finely chopped
6 leaves green chicory – cut into fine strips
6 leaves red chicory – cut into fine strips
Parmesan for garnishing
Put the water for the pasta on to heat up, adding a dessertspoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt.
In a shallow pan heat some of the olive oil and add the garlic.
When it is starting to change colour to a golden colour, add the pine nuts and continue frying until they are golden all over.
Add the green chicory which is tougher than the red and stir fry for about 5 minutes.
Add the red chicory and continue frying for a further 3 minutes.
Add the chopped anchovy and the raisins. If the raisins are large then cut them in halves or quarters.
Continue stirring and cooking for a couple of minutes.
Once the pasta water is boiling add the pasta and let it come back to the boil. Cook the pasta for about 3 minutes.
Drain the pasta reserving a little of the water and add the pasta to the chicory mix. Stir well to mix together.
If it is very dry add a little of the reserved pasta cooking liquid.
Check the seasoning and add salt and freshly ground black pepper as required.
Serve with grated parmesan cheese to sprinkle over.