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Put it on your plate: seasonal recipes for February

Harriet Worthington08 February 2017

As a country, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to food. There is no ingredient we can’t get our hands on at the click of a mouse or a short stroll down the road. More than half our food is sourced from abroad, supermarkets stuffed with the colours of the rainbow all year round. We can feast on Spanish strawberries in December and tomatoes from the Canary Islands in January. Our disregard for the British growing seasons has manifested itself in our pitiful knowledge of seasonal food – in a survey conducted by BBC Good Food Magazine, 90% of respondents couldn’t answer correctly when rhubarb, gooseberries, blackberries were in season.

Eating with the seasons is a no-brainer. Kinder on the pocket and the environment and supporting British farmers, the pleasure and flavour to be had from eagerly-anticipated seasonal produce beat the instant gratification and lacklustre taste of out-of-season imports hands down.

We’ve taken some of our favourite February vegetables (not a lettuce or courgette in sight) and found some delicious ways to serve them. Cooking with seasonal ingredients sometimes requires a little creative thinking, but the results are always worthwhile.

1. Cauliflower

At its best: mid December – April

Part of the brassica family, the versatile and often underrated cauliflower, has a mild, delicate, flavour and can be prepared in myriad ways.

Cauliflower has emerged from under a blanket of cheese sauce (cauliflower cheese) to take a leading role on meat-free menus in particular. The cauliflower steak served at The Palomar among others was one of the hits of 2016.

Our favourite way to use cauliflower is to blitz the florets down to a fine grain and use in place of rice or couscous. It's the base for this delicious vegetable stir-fry recipe, which can be made in under 30 minutes.

2. Jerusalem artichoke

At its best: November – March

This tuber is not a member of the artichoke family but a variety of sunflower. The sweet, nutty, white flesh packs a good crunch.

Cook Jerusalem artichokes as you would parsnips and potatoes (roast, sauté, mash). They make for a wonderfully silky soup and work brilliantly with the wild flavours of game.

We particularly love Nigel Slater’s Jerusalem artichoke, leeks and black pudding. If black pudding isn’t your thing, swap it for fat strips of pancetta.  

3. Purple Sprouting Broccoli

At its best: February – April

A distant and more flamboyant relative of broccoli, purple sprouting can be used in much the same way. It adds crunch and vibrancy to your plate.

It doesn’t take much to spruce up purple sprouting broccoli into a stupendous side dish. It pairs well with cheese sauce or Parmesan and herbed crumbs. For a speedy lunch, serve with rosemary breadcrumbs and a soft-boiled egg for protein. 

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall makes a meal out of it with his Purple Sprouting Broccoli Gratin. Swimming in cream and grilled until golden and bubbling, it’s best served with some fresh bread and butter

4. Leek

At its best: September – March

A member of the allium family, the pungent leek assumes a sweet, delicate flavour when cooked and is indispensable in the winter kitchen.

Wonderfully versatile, leeks form the basis of any number of dishes. Leek and potato soup is always a reliable winter warmer while Marcus Wareing’s leek crumble sits happily alongside a Sunday roast or bangers and mash.

And we love combining leeks with another winter stalwart, kale, in leek and kale pearl barley with crispy lardons to make a hearty and wholesome midweek supper.  

5. Parsnip

At its best: September – March

Another reliable root veg. A member of the carrot family, the earthy but sweet flavoured parsnip makes a great addition to winter soups and stews and lots more beside.

Marvellous mashed, a revelation when roasted in maple syrup, soothing in soups, parsnips don't go amiss in cake and bread recipes either.

Our favourite recipe comes from Danny Kingston (aka Food Urchin). His good-looking root vegetable tarte Tatin is a delicious way to use up any root vegetables you may have lurking in the larder.