By April what seemed dead and desolate is now becoming green and full of life, with young nettle and wild garlic in the countryside and lambs on farms. Of course with easter we have a good excuse to celebrate the new seasons produce. There is a move to lighter dishes with softer flavours.
Cockles can be eaten raw, smoked or steamed like mussels. To prepare them scrub the shells removing in debris. Any that are open give a sharp tap on a work surface and if they don't close discard them. Cook them in single layer in a pan with a little wine and water, and some aromates e.g. peppercorns, parsley and bay leaves, place a lid over the pan and cook them over a moderate heat until they open (around 5 minutes), don't cook them to long or they become rubbery. Any that don't open discard. They are good simply tossed with a little butter, garlic, parsley and freshly ground pepper serve with slices of baguette. Alternatively remove the cockles from their shells (reserve a few in there shell for garnish) and add them in dishes such as fish pies, pasta marinara, paella, soups and risotto (see our recipe index for more ideas).
Crabs. I love white crab meat even more than lobster, with a soft, rich but delicate texture, but I have little time for the brown meat from the body which is considered by many as a delicacy. Crabs are best bought live or recently boiled, when choosing live be sure they have all their claws and legs, and are lively, if buying freshly boiled check that their shell is bright and that they smell fresh and not of ammonia (fishy). Place live crabs in the freezer for a couple of hours before cooking in boiling salted water. They make great salads, soufflés and additions to seafood stews, Thai curries and stir fries. Try our recipe for "Thai Crab Salad on Crispy Noodles".
Also good in April: Mullet, crayfish, cod, sea bass, sea trout and salmon
Lamb: September brings early spring lamb and kid. Make the most of the tender lamb by enjoying rare roasted legs and racks of lamb and quick to cook lamb cutlets (why not try cooking them on the barbecue). Our site includes plenty of delicious recipes for you to try in and outdoors.
Spinach has long been known for its health benefits being full of vitamins and high in iron but it is only in recent years that it has gained popularity. Spinach has a very high water content and will reduce right down when cooked. It can be cooked in a dry pan or with just a little olive oil and crushed garlic over a high heat (make sure you drain off the excess water before serving). Serve as an accompaniment to meat, fish and poultry dishes or in quiches, omlettes, pies, pastas and rice dishes. Baby spinach should be eaten raw as a salad leaf, a combination of baby spinach, diced bacon, walnuts and blue cheese makes a tasty dish.
Herbs: Tarragon, parsley, oregano and chives begin to show, a change from the heavier sage and rosemary (while still good especially when they are flowering for sweet dishes) available through the colder months. Anyone who loves gardening will know that herbs are in season as they start to grow at a seemingly amazing rate in the Spring months. Garden herbs add fresh and fragrant flavours an essential part to many dishes such as "Pot Roasted Tarragon Chicken". Try making a savoury pana cotta with the addition of herbs eg. chives, parsley, basil and tarragon all work well, serve with asparagus (in late April), smoked salmon or slices of prosciutto. A selection of mixed herbs from the garden make a nice quiche or tart. Herbs are usually associated with savoury dishes but they can be used to create yummy aromatic desserts as well. Infuse a creme brulee with thyme or rosemary. To add flavour to caster sugar place a few sprigs of rosemary or Lavender, the sugar can be used to flavour various cakes, biscuits, sorbets, meringues, and pavlovas.
April also brings purple sprouting broccoli, radishes and celery. The first Asparagus and Jersey Royals can be found at the end of the month.
The land becomes abound with bounties in spring with wild garlic, nettles, sorrel and young dandelion leaves. Often overlooked these greens make an excellent addition to meals. These can be found growing around walkways, wasteland, parks and rivers everywhere. When picking, make sure that it is in an unpolluted area and away from animal faeces. Pick young nettle leaves with gloved hands, boil and refresh before using to remove the sting. Nettle has far more uses than nettle soup, when cooked it can be used in much the same way as spinach. Be adventurous make nettle pasta or gnocchi or simply add to risotto or a quiche. Wild garlic is growing in popularity and is often sold at farmers markets. It has a strong aroma that can be over bearing but its flavour is far milder than garlic. It can be used as a herb or as an addition to salads, try it in quiches, risottos, soups, pasta, and seafood dishes. Young dandelion leaves are a good addition to a salad and are used by the Greeks in the same way as rocket. They are best eaten in spring before they flower as the leaves become tough.
Morels are one of the spoils of spring, with a distinctive honeycomb like cap and hollow inside these mushrooms can only be found in the wild. They grow from late March to May usually after warm rain. They only last for a few days so are notoriously difficult to find. Raw morels are mildly toxic so need to be cooked, they are scrumptious simply sauteed in butter and served with toast. Morels are good in stews, soups, omlettes, pasta and risotto. Being hollow they can be also be stuffed and baked.
April isn't a good month for British grown fruit as we see the last of the apples, pears and citrus fruit. While we await the summer berry season. Rhubarb: Outdoor grown rhubarb is about all we have to offer. Excellent in both sweet and savoury dishes, unlike the indoor grown variety you will need to peel the tougher stalks like celery. Stew with sugar and serve with panna-cotta or ice-cream, cooked rhubarb also makes a delicious accompaniment to seared duck breast.