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cucumber

Made up almost entirely of water, the juicy, refreshing cucumber comes in many shapes and sizes, from tiny, knobbly specimens to long, plump, smooth-skinned ones – and, although they are subtle, there are distinct shifts of flavour between the different varieties.
Cucumbers are used the world over, especially in salads and relishes, their mild flavour often being used to carrystronger flavourings or to provide a calming accompaniment to fiercer seasonings, such as chillies and spices. They are frequently paired with yoghurt, soured cream and cheese – a tradition that spreads from the eastern Mediterranean right through the Middle East and into India. Chopped cucumber is a central ingredient of raita, a cooling, minty yoghurt relish for serving alongside spicy curries, while in Greece it is stirred with yoghurt and mint to make the dip tzatziki, and the similar cacik in Turkey and other parts of the Middle East. It is also popular pickled or marinated with herbs, vinegar and spices – a tradition particularly associated with central and eastern Europe.
When buying, look for firm cucumbers. Although the skin is edible, it can easily be removed using a vegetable peeler, if desired. You can also quickly remove the seeds by halving the cucumber lengthways and scooping them out with a teaspoon. The flesh may then be sliced, diced, grated or cut into batons, ready to add to any dish you choose.

Tzatziki

summer recipe

Method:

  • Peel, seed and grate 1 small or 1⁄2 a large cucumber into a strainer and press out as much liquid as possible.
  • Tip the remaining flesh into a bowl and combine with 240ml/8fl oz/scant 1 cup of Greek yoghurt, 1 crushed clove garlic and 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh mint.
  • Stir in salt to taste, then chill in the fridge until
    ready to serve.

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Susannah Blake
Seasonal Food
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broccoli

The short season for purple sprouting broccoli begins in the depths of winter and continues through into spring. This highly attractive vegetable offers a wonderful alternative to the more commonly found blue-green calabrese variety of broccoli (and the less common bright green romanesco) that is found during the rest of the year. Purple sprouting broccoli has long, shooting stems with coarse green leaves and a purple tinge to its heads. With a more delicate flavour than the other broccoli, it makes a wonderful treat. Enjoy it lightly steamed until tender and served as an appetizer with hollandaise sauce or melted butter (rather like asparagus) or use it in tarts, gratins, soups, sauces and pasta dishes, as well as in stir-fries and salads. When buying, always choose firm stems with tightly packed heads and really fresh-looking
leaves. Avoid specimens that are wilting, soft or discoloured. Remove the leaves, trim the ends of the stalks and peel away any thick skin, then either steam or boil until it is just tender and still retains its bite and colour. If stir-frying, cut into bite-sized pieces. If a recipe requires only the florets, do not throw away the stems – when cooked, they are tender and juicy and have a marvellous flavour. Use them in another recipe such as a soup or stew.

Broccoli and spring onion salad

Ingredients: 2 bunches spring onions; 2 tbsp olive oil; 1.25kg/2lb 12oz purple sprouting broccoli, trimmed; shavings of Parmesan cheese for sprinkling (optional). For the Dressing: 1⁄2 tsp grated orange rind; 1⁄2 red chilli, seeded and chopped; 2 tbsp orange juice; 1 tsp lemon juice; 2 tbsp olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

First make the dressing.
Put all the ingredients in a jug, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper, and whisk together. Set aside.
Preheat the grill to hot.
Trim the root and tops of the spring onions and strip off the papery outer skin.
Arrange on a grill pan. Drizzle with the olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Grill for 3–4 minutes on each side until tender.
Meanwhile, pour about 5cm/2in of water into a wide pan and bring to the boil. Add the broccoli and cook for about 5 minutes, until just tender. Drain well and pat dry.
Divide the broccoli and grilled spring onions between four warm serving plates, drizzle over the dressing and scatter with
Parmesan shavings, if using.
Serve immediately.

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Susannah Blake
SEASONAL FOOD

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Tender fresh asparagus, with its mild yet distinctive flavour, is one of the great joys of spring, lasting right through into early summer. The green variety is the most common, with stems that can vary in size from fine spears only a few millimetres thick to sticks as sturdy as your thumb.

You will also come across white and purple-tinged asparagus. Usually eaten as an appetizer – served warm with melted butter, vinaigrette or hollandaise sauce – the cooked spears are also a wonderful addition to salads, tarts, layered terrines, risottos, pasta and even scrambled eggs. They make an attractive and delicious topping for canapés, such as bruschetta and crostini, too.
Asparagus is best eaten on the day it is picked, so it is ideal if you can grow your own or buy it locally from somewhere you know it has been freshly picked. Farm shops are often a good source. Imported asparagus can be tough and lacking in flavour. Look for firm green spears with
tightly packed buds, and avoid any that are withered or beginning to brown.

Preparing and Cooking Asparagus
Asparagus spears can be cooked in numerous ways, but the simplest method is to cook them in simmering water until just tender. They can then be eaten with your fingers, accompanied by a dip of melted butter or hollandaise sauce.
Some cooks recommend using an asparagus steamer to cook the spears. This is a tall pan with a basket inside to hold the spears upright, so that when the pan is filled with boiling water, the stalks cook in the water, while the delicate tips steam above it. However, it is just as effective to cook asparagus lying flat in a frying pan containing about 2.5cm/1in of simmering water. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of the spears. If they are thin and delicate, they will become tender in a couple of minutes, while thicker stems may need 6–8 minutes. The best way to test if asparagus is cooked is to lift a spear out with a fish slice and take a bite. It should be tender and juicy, but not soft. To prepare asparagus, rinse lightly under cold running water, then snap off the end of each stem – it should pop and break just where the stem ceases to be woody and becomes tender. Pour about 2.5cm/1in water into a large frying pan and bring to the boil. Arrange the asparagus in the pan in a single layer and cook over a gentle-medium heat until tender. Then carefully lift out of the pan using a fish slice or spatula and pat dry on kitchen paper before serving.

recipe

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Susannah Blake
SEASONAL FOOD