Here is the first of a few features I will be contributing to the Cooler magazine website over the summer. It includes two seasonal recipes - an Asparagus & Parma ham tartlet and Watercress & walnut pesto.
Over the next few months I hope to inspire you to have a go at cooking something new, highlighting the fantastic ingredients available at this time of year and some of the benefits of using seasonal produce. This month I’m sharing two simple recipes using vegetables in season right now, Asparagus and Watercress.
As people who love the outdoors and the many fun possibilities our planet affords us whether on water, land or mountains, we instinctively want to care for this environment that provides us with so much. The choices you make as a consumer give you the power to make a small difference every day.
One of the many environmental benefits to buying fruit and vegetables which are in season is that less energy will have been used in their production than those grown in an artificial environment. A tomato bought in season will not only have consumed less energy in the growing process, but hopefully in storage too. If grown locally it will also have used less energy in transportation, bringing its carbon footprint down dramatically. I guarantee it will taste better too.
Using seasonal produce gives you an ever changing shopping basket of ingredients to cook with, and although some fruit and vegetables are only available for a short period of time it doesn’t always mean they are expensive. Produce in season is often good value as wide availability can drive prices down. Farmers markets are a great place to start, but don’t forget your local market or grocery shop where they may be using locally grown seasonal produce without shouting about it.
Want the learn more about eating seasonally and what to eat when? Check out http://www.eattheseasons.co.uk/ where you can also sign up for a weekly email update, or the bbc food website is a useful resource http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/seasons. To locate your nearest farmers market see http://www.farmersmarkets.net/ . On the Well Seasoned food blog I often feature recipes which use seasonal ingredients, enter your email address on the homepage to receive recipes straight to your inbox.
Parma ham & asparagus tartlet
Makes 4 tartlets
12 asparagus spears
400g puff pastry, rolled to 1cm thickness
4 slices of Parma ham or similar
4 tablespoons of crème fraiche
A little milk to glaze
Salt & pepper
Parmesan cheese & fresh sage to garnish
Trim an inch from the bottom of the asparagus spears then steam or boil them for three minutes or until just tender. Once cooked immediately plunge into a bowl of cold water, this stops them cooking and keeps them green and crisp.
Cut the puff pastry into four rectangles long enough to fit the asparagus, and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper.
Pat dry the asparagus before wrapping three spears tightly in a piece of the ham and repeating with the remaining asparagus so you have four bundles.
Spread a tablespoon of crème fraiche down the middle of each pastry rectangle before placing an asparagus parcel on each. Use the milk to brush any exposed pastry around the edges and season with salt and pepper.
Cook for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is brown and crisp. Garnish with shavings of parmesan, easy to do with a vegetable peeler, and fresh sage leaves.
Serve with a salad for lunch or pack into a lunch box for the perfect picnic accompaniment.
Watercress & walnut pesto
Serves 4 with pasta
Large bunch of watercress, 100g approx
2 cloves of garlic
100ml extra virgin olive oil
50g Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper
The best way to make pesto is to chop the ingredients by hand. Time consuming yes, but the result is a course pesto in which all the ingredients can still be identified, most importantly in the flavour. Like all food the quality of the end product here relies on the quality of the ingredients that go into making it. Use the best ingredients you can find and you won’t be disappointed, made with a big bunch of fresh watercress from the market this tastes amazing!
Wash the watercress thoroughly removing the very end of the stalks and drain, then peel and roughly chop the garlic. Using a large knife chop the watercress, garlic and walnuts until the mixture forms a course paste yet the individual ingredients are still recognisable. You can do this one ingredient at a time and add to a bowl, or combine them little at a time on a large chopping board. Once chopped add the olive oil and freshly grate the Parmesan into the mixture. Mix to combine and season to taste.
The quick way is to blitz in the food processor, if doing this add the first three ingredients little at a time and pulse until roughly chopped being careful not to turn the pesto into a smooth paste. Then place the pesto into a bowl before adding the oil, freshly grated Parmesan and season to taste.
To store keep in an airtight container such as a jam jar and cover the pesto with a thin layer of olive oil. This way it will keep in the fridge for several days.