Nettle & Quince in March
Spring cleaning the cupboards
Spring burst a few weeks ago, like an explosion. Is it earlier each year, or are we paying more attention? Already, our neighbour’s enchanted magnolia is budding pale leaves and shedding petals. The garden is a riotous wonderland.
Yet as the world unfurls and ressurects there are fewer and fewer things to eat. We are entering a period, in this (England) particular corner of the world, where stored winter produce barely bridges over to spring greens. It’s known as ‘the hungry gap.’ We’ve had to adjust our cravings accordingly, which prompted the question : could we spend the month eating staples? I may try. Go through cupboards, systematically, for a thorough spring cleaning exploration, to root out anything dangerously nearing (or already just past) its ‘best use by’ date and learn, and remember, some of the best ways with them.
A collaboration, of sorts, between what happens to be in the kitchen, things I’ve noted down in the past, and my recently (re-) organised cookbook shelves.
ROLLED OATS. This is the easiest, there are so many options. Breakfasts I used to prepare regularly and have recently neglected (hence the pile up of oats, probably!): a virtuous Bircher muesli or the endlessly adaptable granola formula. Also cookies: Anzac biscuits which, if made today, would probably hold in a ship’s hold until Anzac Day on 25 April! Or my favourite recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies, still, probably because it telescopes so many memories. Of my oldest — now adult (!) — child when he was very little and the most inveterate oatmeal raisin cookie monster, and, too, reminders of the bakery that used to make them, a short walk from the office, a couple of blocks into the unfailingly bewitching cobbled stoned world of Soho, a break, when one was needed, away from the cheap soup place or salad bar just across the street.
For this packet of oats, though, I will try something new, which lands somewhere between the righteous breakfast and the memory cookies: this date and oat slice recipe from one of my preferred baking books.
RED LENTILS. I must have cooked a bit differently this winter, and red lentils, often metamorphosed into soup, have amassed in the pantry. Another best way with them is dal. I don’t have a preferred recipe, and today I am torn between this one by Asma Khan or Meera Sodha’s easy daily dal.
CINNAMON. I have a schizoid relationship to cinnamon. The kitchen cannot be without it, but it must be the whole stick variety — never powder — and I use it essentially for apple sauce or tagines. I might grind my own powder, just for cinnamon stars or a Christmas spice mix. I don’t really like sprinklings of cinnamon in apple pies or any other cookies and cakes. If I’m being completely honest, I’m not sure how much I love cinnamon rolls, even — I’d certainly always rather opt for a cardamom bun. Others in the house don’t agree, of course, and for them I will attack the two excess jars of cinnamon quills leftover from Advent with these, allegedly ‘perfectly pillowy,’ cinnamon rolls.
MARZIPAN — I know. What an (lucky) unlikely thing to have in surplus. Because, here too, my Christmas baking intentions far surpassed what I managed in the end, so I have a full two and a half packets of German marzipan ‘Rohmasse’ to finish before April. I made the beautifully tempting Apple-Marzipan Cake (photo above), from another favourite baking book, but for me it landed on the dryer side. I would try it again, the flavour was incredible. But now I’m looking at Nigel Slater’s Chocolate chip, rose and marzipan biscuits (I’d probably leave out the rose petals). They sound so good, and quicker! So, too, the Almond Sponge Cake from Magnus Nilsson’s Nordic Cook Book, which he describes as a “very delicious, very dense and very fantastic almond sponge cake. I usually just refer to it as, ‘the cake.’” I’m pretty sure this is how I will be using my remaining 200g of marzipan. I will have to report back!
… Beyond the obvious benefits of cleansing the pantry, this exercise in search of new recipes has compelled me to re-open books I hadn’t looked at in a while. Brilliant.
FARRO. What should I do with half a bag of farro? In case winter snaps back for a day or two, with a last crack of the weather whip, I will make this soup again, from the highly lauded Six Seasons cookbook by Joshua McFadden. The recipe can be found via Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen.
ANCHOVIES! Anxious of inadvertently running out, I buy so many jars that, sometimes, old ones stay at the back of the shelf for years, while new ones get eaten, and there may be a few that suddenly need using. Spaghetti is an obvious choice: a five-ingredient recipe, if one were needed, though often I skip the tomatoes altogether and add nothing more than anchovies, garlic, and chilli. Simpler still — anchovies on heavily buttered sourdough, perhaps with a sprinkling of desalted capers. A meal worth remembering.
More things to make and cook
I always enjoy Dorie Greenspan’s XOXO Dorie newsletter, and I particularly loved a recent one titled ‘Cookies to chase away a villain,’ with notes of carnival and a very tempting recipe for hamantaschen… a good way to use up excess dried fruit, too, if that were ever a question (not in our house!).
Last month already I mentioned Olia Hercules, a Ukrainian writer and cook living in London who has, together with her Russian friend Alissa Timoshkina, moved mountains in support of the relief effort in Ukraine through their #cookforukraine initiative. These recipes have caught my heart, but there are so many. And the whole of London, if not the UK, is baking pampushky!
On a different note — Garlic noodles may be out of place here, as March isn’t garlic season (it’s nearly impossible to find decent garlic in London at this time of year, when cloves are dry and slightly acrid, or already sprouting), but this article just appeared in the New York Times and it is so tempting… One to be stashed for the warmer months when garlic will once again be young and lively.
Things to read and listen to
Too often linked to aseptic eating, here is a great example of American nose to tail eating. So many reasons to love this story.
And this recent episode of the BBC World Service’s The Food Chain about recipe collectors was really interesting. I like the idea of cookbook recipes as a form of fiction.
Magnolia blossoms are strewn all over the garden. Spring is settling in!