The end of the asparagus and new season’s strawberries from Michael Bourne of New Park Farm and the Groombridge farm shop, superb lemon sole and tiny little courgettes – I made it to sunny Penshurst market on Saturday and came away happy with a full basket. Family were staying ready for a wonderful ‘family’ hen party for my daughter at St John Maltby that night – it made a wonderful setting for a very special evening with all the amazing women from both families. We feasted on pig’s cheeks and dandelion salad, baked white fish, braised lamb with broad beans and aoilli, followed by a sumptuous rhubarb pavlova – total heaven. To get them in training for the evening, I fed us a perfect post-market lunch of Naked and Ready‘s wonderful Gloucester Old Spot pork pie, Thai sate Scotch egg and crab pate, chilli jelly from Sugar and Spice, rhubarb and cobnut chutney from Potash Farm, new potatoes and salad, followed by strawberries and cream. Oh, and slices of the best Battenburg cake from Debra’s Cake and Bake for tea – I turn to her amazing cakes and tarts when I’m too busy to cook myself – something that seems to have happened far too much since my build started a year ago. And my blog for June is only a week late!
Better late than never however, as with building work on my cottage nearly complete bar the shouting (and there will be some of that, I’m sure), I can finally start thinking about daughter’s wedding in a month, and hopefully get back to work properly at last. I’ve a new book project on the go and plan to get the first chapter written over the summer…
What to buy this month…
After a slow start from the cool spring, growers and producers are now at full stretch as we lead up to the summer solstice in the latter half of June. June is Kent Farmers Market Month and many of the county’s local markets will be holding special events – tastings, cookery demonstrations, local craft displays and much more – so that you can sample the very best that the Garden of England produces. As regulars know well, the county’s markets have far more to offer than just traditional fruit, vegetables and meat. Many sell everything from fresh fish and game to a wide range of ready prepared dishes and ingredients such as pasta sauces, handmade chocolates, vegetarian dishes and wonderful cakes and breads.
And the benefits of buying locally at a market are wide ranging. Not only will you get the chance to taste before you buy so you know exactly what you are getting but by going directly to the source, you can find out at first hand how the produce was grown or made. Most producers will also be able to give you storing and cooking tips so you can really make the most of your purchase. Remember that because you are buying locally and seasonally, pricing is likely to be competitive with the supermarkets and often cheaper so don’t fall for the idea that markets are an expensive luxury. For details of special events plus locations and opening times visit www.kentfarmersmarkets.org.uk or follow @KentFarmers on Twitter.
The vagaries of the weather are nowhere more in evidence than with the asparagus crop at this time of year. A cold start meant the season didn’t get going till mid May and growers will be stopping the picking before the end of the month to allow the plants to generate growth for next year, so make the most of the green spears while they are around now. Eat your local asparagus traditionally, steamed and served with melted butter or Hollandaise, or brush with olive oil and griddle the spears on the barbecue until tender then scattered with shavings of a sharp hard cheese such as Lord of the Hundreds, or maybe Kentish Bluebell or tart fresh goat’s cheese crumbled over.
Try the spears in soups, vegetable gratins or make into a perfect risotto paired with the first tender broad beans (freshly picked little pods can be enjoyed whole) and fresh green peas. I like to stir in a herb butter at the end of cooking once the grains are tender (just whiz butter up in a blender with a handful of mint, parsley, basil and chives). Other veg to look out for are crisp radishes, spring onions, spinach, and of course new potatoes. There are also early cucumbers, runner beans, spinach and courgettes, alongside all kinds of salad leaves now in season. It’s also the ideal time to plant out ‘ready to plant’ herbs and summer bedding plants.
The long days and the warmth also herald the start of the great English soft fruit season with strawberries now appearing as the month progresses – one of the great advantages of local markets is the chance to try some of the finer flavoured varieties, rather than the more robust berries grown to withstand the rigours of the supermarket supply chain that may not have the same flavour. A cool start to the year has meant early strawberries might be slower to appear than last year but they will have benefited from a slower growing period for flavour. Ditto the finest local cherries (Kentish cherries are justifiably world famous), gooseberries and early raspberries. A favourite way to serve raspberries, cherries and strawberries is to crush them slightly, sprinkle with a little Kentish cherry brandy or Italian vin Santo and sugar then leave to macerate for an hour. Serve spooned over vanilla ice cream.
Spring lamb is now at its very finest now and a boned-out shoulder or leg is perfect on the barbecue or simply roasted and served with baby new potatoes and minted broad beans and peas. Look out for salt marsh lamb this month – perfect with buttered samphire. On the fish front it’s really has to be mackerel – bought silvery fresh from the market and cooked the same day to enjoy at its very best. Try it the traditional way for the month – grilled and served with a tart gooseberry sauce. Also good this month are lobster, plaice, sardines and clams.
If your visit to the market coincides with a sunny weekend, plan the perfect picnic. Fill your basket with locally made cheeses, pates, maybe a raised pie or Scotch egg. Then just add a loaf of artisan bread baked that day, some chutney or relish, a bag of cherries and maybe a punnet of strawberries and you are all set. A bottle or two of a local beer, cider or chilled white wine and you have all the makings of a feast….
Green summer risotto
(taken from The Busy Mum’s Vegetarian Cookbook by Mary Gwynn Simon & Schuster)
Risottos are my (and my family’s) idea of the perfect comfort food and so convenient as there is always the makings of one in the cupboard or veg drawer. I make risottos in all the colours of the rainbow, just by following the basic method and adding a vegetable. Pumpkin, aubergine and courgette are all favourites but this one is a particular favourite
Prepare: 15 mins/Cook: 25 mins/Serves 4 – 6
500g prepared seasonal vegetables (such as small courgettes, podded peas, green beans, broad beans and asparagus tips)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
350g Arborio risotto rice
about 1.5 litres simmering vegetable stock
100ml dry white wine
50g fresh mixed herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, basil, chives, tarragon, dill or chervil, finely chopped
50g freshly grated Parmesan or Lord of the Hundreds
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Cook the vegetables in simmering water for 2 – 3 minutes until almost tender then drain and plunge into iced water to cool. Drain thoroughly and set aside. Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan. Add the shallot and garlic and cook for about 3 minutes until softened. Add the rice and stir to coat in the oil.
2 Add a ladleful of stock and the white wine and simmer over a medium-low heat until the liquid is absorbed, stirring constantly. Continue adding stock, a few tablespoons at a time, stirring frequently, until all the stock is absorbed and the rice is tender and creamy but still with a slight bite. This should take about 20 minutes
3 While the rice is cooking, place the butter in a blender or food processor with the herbs and seasoning and process until well blended together. When the rice is tender, add the reserved vegetables and cook for another minute or two to heat through. Stir in the herb butter and Parmesan cheese and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately.
Busy mum’s lifesaver: To get ahead, use the chef’s tip for risotto and cook up to the stage of adding the rice and first amount of liquid. Then just remove from the heat and set aside. Then when you are ready to serve the risotto reheat the base and complete as directed.