Spring produce recommended by HEART of ENGLAND"Fine Foods

PUBLISHED: 11:41 23 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:46 20 February 2013

Roast Lamb

Roast Lamb

With spring almost upon us it's time to get excited about the produce which will soon be popping up in our gardens and making its way onto our plates

Tastes of spring

With spring almost upon us its time to get excited about the produce which will soon be popping up in our gardens and making its way onto our plates. There is so much fresh food to look forward to but among the first to make an appearance will be forced rhubarb, purple sprouting broccoli, spring onions, radishes and spring lamb

Rhubarb is commonly thought of as a fruit, and eaten and cooked like a fruit, but it is actually a vegetable and is closely related to garden sorrel. Rhubarb season runs from April to September but forced rhubarb is available a month before.

Rhubarb originates from Asia where it was used for medicinal purposes and was first grown in Britain in the early 17th century as an ornamental plant before it was discovered, in the late 18th century, that the stems were edible. They are rich in vitamin C, dietary fibre and calcium but the tart flavour means rhubarb usually needs sweetening with sugar to make it more edible.

Although popular for use in crumbles, pies, fools, yoghurts and conserves, it also makes a good accompaniment to meat and oily fish. But you should never eat the leaves as they contain a toxic level of oxalic acid.

Forced rhubarb has a bright pink stem and a more delicate flavour than the rhubarb thats available through late spring and summer. It doesnt need peeling and needs only very brief cooking. To force rhubarb the roots are dug up in the winter months and replanted in large sheds and kept in dark, warm, moist conditions. Four to six weeks later they are harvested by candlelight so as not to damage the tender pink stalks. Normal outdoor rhubarb is darker in colour and needs to be peeled as it suffers more damage.

Broccoli was initially cultivated by the Romans and has been grown in the UK since the early 18th century, although the purple sprouting variety has only become popular in the last 30 years. It is especially tasty when young and tender, it should be darkly coloured and have crisp stalks. Try steaming, boiling or stir-frying. Purple sprouting broccoli is packed with vitamin C, is a good source of caretenoids, iron, folic acid, calcium, fibre and vitamin A and is also thought to help prevent cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes. Try purple sprouting broccoli in tarts, quiches and pasta, sauted with bacon and onion or with a cheese and herb crumb.

Spring onions are normal, white onions picked early and although spring onions are now available throughout the year, the youngest and most tender are found in spring and early summer. They belong to the same family as garlic, leeks, shallots and chives and were first cultivated by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. Spring onions are a good source of vitamins B and C, folate and fibre and are relatively high in an antioxidant called flavonoids. Pick small, thin spring onions as these will be the youngest and the ones with most flavour. Try them in Chinese and Japanese style dishes, salads, risottos, with fish or brushed with oil and chargrilled.

Radishes were eaten in pre-historic times in Japan, China and parts of Europe but were not cultivated in Britain until the 16th century. The most popular variety of radish is the red radish which is enjoyed in salads but other varieties include the large white radish, which is popular in Japan, and the black radish. Radishes are taken from the roots of Raphanus sativus, a plant related to horseradish, turnip and mustard, and contain significant levels of vitamin C. Choose radishes which have bright green leaves and plump, firm bulbs as this indicates freshness, a crisp texture and peppery flavour. The peppery flavour is at its strongest in the skin so if you prefer a milder taste you can peel them. And dont discard the green tops as these can be used in salads or cooked like other greens. Radishes can also be used in curries, coleslaw and pickles.

Spring lamb will also start to make an appearance this month but can often be very expensive to begin with. Spring lamb has small, slender bones with pink, rosy-coloured tender flesh which has a more subtle flavour than darker-fleshed summer or autumn lamb. Go for lean pieces and avoid any with yellow or crumbly fat. Spring lamb is associated with Easter and is the choice of roast to serve on Easter Sunday.

Visit your local farm shop or independent retailer for some wonderful fresh, spring produce, and your local butcher for spring lamb. Perhaps try Cosford Grange Farm Shop, Cosford; Greenways Farm Shop, St Georges, Telford, or Old Faithfuls Farm Shop, Quatt, Bridgnorth. Look out for the Savour the Flavour swing sign which indicates that there will be regionally produced food and drink inside and visit the HEFF website to find your nearest retailer. www.heff.co.uk

Spring Lamb Cutlets with a Herb Crust

From Richard Fletcher of The Pheasant Inn, Admaston, near Telford

Serves 4

12 lamb cutlets
For the crust:
50g white bread, torn intochunks
2 tbsp wild garlic leaves
1 tsp fresh rosemary
1 tsp fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
Knob of butter

1. Pre-heat the oven to 220c or Gas Mark 8
2. Heat the olive oil and butter in a heavy frying pan until foaming but not coloured and pan-fry the cutlets for a few minutes on each side until browned
3. Meanwhile, in a small blender whizz the bread, garlic leaves, rosemary, thyme and salt and pepper. Press the mixture onto each cutlet, and roast in the oven for 15 minutes
4. Serve with new potatoes and buttered steamed curly kale and a rosemary-scented gravy

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