February can definitely feel like winter has begun to outstay its welcome. We long to project ourselves forward out of the dark and the drizzle into the promise of spring, nowhere more so than on our plates.
Tomato shortages may be across the headlines, but there’s no need to go short in your cooking. There is plenty of homegrown seasonal fruit and veg available, as we have yet to hit the ‘hungry gap’.
While keeping your fruit and veg seasonal, you can rely on your cupboard staples to add the extra character and zing. Tinned tomatoes, pulses, pastes, sauces and spice mixes can all liven things up. Add items like garlic, chillies, ginger, lemon and fresh herbs as condiments and your choices can be endless.
Celeriac, beetroot and carrots are the foundation of eating seasonal in winter as they can be stored long after harvest in the right conditions. They needn’t be a punishing parade of beige and you don’t always need to mash them into submission. Tick the comfort food box with a wholesome pie or get fancy with something like this carrot tart. This beetroot pasta recipe has echoes of the Mediterranean about it.
We associate green leafy veg with the spring and summer but there is plenty available in the winter, it is just a little more robust or tightly packed. Cabbages and kales are kings at this time of year; they grow more slowly in extreme cold but still provide a steady yield of nutritional goodness. A whole head of cabbage seems overwhelming if you mistakenly feel you need to use it all in one meal; use it across the weeks for a flash of green here and there and it will soon disappear. Or try roasting kale to give your greens a crispy crunch.
Cauliflower and broccoli
Towards the milder end of the winter, we see a surge in floret-ing brassicas. Cauliflower is the stalwart – steady, sizable and prized for its firm texture. Now freed from the inevitability of cauliflower cheese, it is being roasted, baked, sliced, grated and puréed and used in anything from curries to tacos. Purple sprouting broccoli will start to appear toward the end of the month. These tender spears are a seasonal delicacy on par with asparagus; enjoy them in their own right or add them to salads, bakes or pasta dishes.
Leeks and onions
The veg stores may be full of onions, but the field are still brimming with winter leeks. Sweeter and milder, you can use the whole thing including the green leafy tops. They only need a little heat and time make a sweet tangle that can make a thrifty lunch or plump up some pastry.
Lettuce feels intuitively summery but you can get still get a good mix of salad leaves that will grow in unheated polytunnels through the winter. Mild chard and claytonia, pungent dandelion, rocket and mustard, and bitter radicchio all grow well in the UK over winter and will allow you to keep your salad game afoot.
You can still see the remnants of the British apple season at this time of year as they have been in storage over winter since the late autumn harvest. They’ll always be ideal for cakes, puddings and bakes but are also perfect for your breakfast bowl; grated in to your oats, baked into a purée, pan-fried with a little butter, or all three.
Find out more about eating seasonal throughout the year in this guide from Riverford.