Read our latest recipe in Sherborne Times pages 48-49
April is welcomed with open arms as it brings a significant change in the garden and on the farmhouse table. Looking out from my kitchen window I am so fortunate to watch the neighbouring watercress farm burst into life. This has followed a hive of activity over the last few weeks whilst the individual beds have been dressed with fresh gravel and constantly irrigated. The tiny seedlings idly float in the water from the Chalke stream and are nurtured carefully to develop iron-rich leaves with a unique peppery taste.
Dress a watercress salad with orange, feta and toasted pecans to serve on your favourite platter which will be full of flavour and pleasing to the eye. Or later in the month when the stalks are robust make a vibrant pureed soup that can be married with bacon or Dorset blue. Try chopping the leaves and add to a quiche or combine with spinach for a seasonal pesto.
Although the season officially begins on the first of May, I recall buying Dorset grown asparagus as early as the twelfth of April. Enjoy these majestic spears whilst you can. Prepare carefully as they can easily spoil by over cooking. Asparagus is often boiled for a few minutes in salted water, but personally I like to brush with a little olive oil and roast in the AGA or a hot oven 180 C Gas Mark 6 for 3-6 minutes depending on their thickness.
We serve the baby spears as soldiers for a boiled egg or in a salad with soft herbs such as chives and chervil. Later in the season add them to a risotto, frittata or make a savoury bread and butter pudding layered decadently with Gruyere or Fontina cheese.
As a cook I treasure my favourite food memories. This includes sharing a plate of asparagus which was prepared by my food hero Anna Del Conte and her talented daughter Julia. Tender spears dressed generously in a simple anchovy and lemon vinaigrette. Served on a pretty blue plate with bread baked in a wood- fired oven from Long Crichel bakery ready to soak up the juices. We were encouraged to eat with our fingers and it was pure heaven. I have tried to replicate Anna’s dressing many times but it never tastes as good as hers.
Other seasonal treats
The French serve a ‘warm salad’ of dandelion leaves with fried bacon, try adding a poached duck egg for a substantial brunch. Select just a few tender young leaves that have not been sprayed, as eating too many at once, may cause a diuretic effect.
If you possess a licence it is legal to shoot pigeon all year round and the birds in our garden are looking particularly well covered at this time of year. Visit your local butcher or game dealer and buy prepared breasts that you can pan fry quickly to serve pink. Ideal as a first course with friends and great served with watercress, toast and if you are really lucky a few morels cooked in butter.
Salad dressing recipe
This isn’t so much as a recipe but more a method that was shared to me by my friend Rosie from Penny’s Mill in Nunney, Somerset.
In a bowl add a tablespoon of your favourite mustard to a teaspoon of caster sugar or honey, add three tablespoons of vinegar or citrus juice. Whisk to combine and then slowly drizzle 150ml (5floz) olive oil into the bowl and whisking all the time to create an emulsion. Once combined you can use the dressing to coat a salad or thin with a little water to serve from a jug.
Try a variety of vinegars and different oils to create your favourite recipe.