In this series, Sybil Kapoor explores how a sense of seasonality in your cooking can be enhanced through colour, forms, textures and aromas, which together create an emotional resonance, evoking a time and place
As catkins dance in the spring air and the heady scent of wallflowers drifts across London’s parks, it’s impossible not to feel happy as a cook. April marks the arrival of delicious produce such as Jersey royal potatoes, tender lamb, rocket and sweet gariguette strawberries. At long last winter dishes can be set aside and replaced by pretty, fresh-tasting recipes that conjure up spring days.
It’s worth taking time to draw inspiration from your surroundings from the tiny, long tailed tits twittering over the rooftops to country lanes showered with snowy hawthorn blossom. Draw on April’s colours and smells to create seasonal dishes with delicate flavourings such as a pale green rocket and potato soup or a fragrant strawberry salad seasoned with lime zest.
Let your imagination run riot and introduce a sense of spring to every meal.
Who can resist creamy yellow scrambled duck eggs for breakfast followed by French toast topped by the first gariguette strawberries just warmed in some vanilla sugar? There is a romance in creating a spring tea on a beautiful sunny day. Somehow, tiny cakes, iced spiced buns and cucumber sandwiches capture the beauty of outside, especially if you include violet and cream filled choux buns!
A sweet garnish
Edible spring flowers such as violets and primroses are very evocative when added to salads, cakes and puddings. Always use unsprayed primroses and woodland violets. If using as a sweet garnish, rinse the flowers in cool water, leave until dry on kitchen paper and then lightly paint their petals in egg white, dust in caster sugar and leave to dry. They look exquisite on iced almond cakes and lemon sponges. Add violet liqueur or commercially produced candied violets to whipped cream for the choux buns mentioned above.
It’s hard to describe the fresh smell of spring; the air has a sharp green scent, a mixture of freshly cut grass, linden tree blossom and wet green undergrowth. Try to capture these aromas in your cooking by using lemons and limes along with peppery herbs such as chives, watercress, wild garlic and rocket. A squeeze of lime on some papaya for breakfast, for example, or a watercress mayonnaise to accompany some poached wild salmon will instantly evoke an April day.
Keep all your dishes elegantly pared back. This allows the eater the mental space to appreciate the taste, texture, flavour and appearance of your food. A salad of waxy Jersey royal potatoes, for example, might consist of a few cooked potatoes sliced on a plate, drizzled with a new season extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and accompanied by some rocket leaves and snipped chives. If you want to make it more substantial, add some fried sliced chorizo or smoked salmon and crème fraîche.
Intense umami flavour
The key is to ensure that you use good quality ingredients that need little support from other ingredients. A rack of English lamb, for example, is gorgeous plainly roasted and served with a jus (home-made lamb stock made from roasted lamb bones and vegetables, which is then reduced until it has an intense umami flavour). Strange as it might sound, the lamb and jus taste heavenly accompanied by a rocket salad dressed in a shallot sherry vinaigrette into which you gently mix plain salted potato crisps just before you plate to create a piquant salad.
Lamb chops can be served with a spring butter flavoured with tarragon, lemon and parsley, perhaps accompanied by sautéed potatoes and a leafy salad flecked with wild garlic; while a roast leg of lamb is wonderful accompanied by early British glasshouse aubergine that have been sautéed with garlic and tossed into warm cannellini beans with diced English tomatoes.
Aside from the first early English strawberries, and rhubarb, apples and pears, British cooks are dependent on imported fruit for puddings at this time of year. Spring must therefore be conjured up by creating lighter, ethereal puddings such as iced pear soufflé or rhubarb granita; or by infusing puddings with herbal spring flavours, such as lemon thyme and strawberry fruit salad.
Pink muscat grapes
One April delicacy is pink muscat grapes. Their season stretches from March to May. Their delicate flavour is best appreciated in lightly flavoured salads, wobbly lemon or champagne jellies or as a sliced fruit topping to soft meringues and cream. They can also be added to savoury dishes and taste particularly good in a cold chicken and celery salad with wild rice, especially if you dress them with a mixed herb and lemon mayonnaise and serve with a few salad leaves.
No matter what you are cooking, try to ensure that the texture also expresses the feel of the month. It sounds odd, but to me April is a peculiar mixture of fluffy, soft and crisp textures. In other words, perhaps a lightly spiced iced carrot soup for lunch with crusty brown bread, or a hot cheese soufflé with a floppy leafed salad for supper. And then there are causal April snacks such as a crisp-based onion and black olive pizzetti or melt-in-the-mouth strawberry or rhubarb puff pastry tartlets. Time for another brisk walk.