Category Archives: Winter

Kale

Boerenkool

Make friends with kale.

You’re probably wondering why I’m writing a post about kale on the warmest day of the year so far in the Netherlands. Winter seems far behind us and spring is already in the air. After all, kale is a vegetable eaten during the cold, dark hours of winter. Well, if you look outside in the fields and allotments right now, you’ll notice there’s not a whole lot growing in the ground. Perhaps a handful of vegetables of which the trusty kale is one.

This time of year was traditionally known as the ‘Hungry Gap’, a time when last summer/autumn’s stored harvest were dwindling or fast deteriorating and the first spring vegetables would not appear until May. While greenhouses and all-year food at supermarkets have pretty much bridged the 21st century hungry gap, it’s still a tricky time for seasonal locally-grown food – yes the daffodils and blossoms are now in bloom but many vegetable plants aren’t ready to plant yet and the berries and fruits aren’t quite ready to wake up. As the weather warms, we automatically start to crave lighter foods like vibrant greens, tomatoes and the like and sweet summer fruits – we’ll have to wait a few more months for these real seasonal foods to arrive.

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In the meantime while the evenings are still cold enough, why not indulge in kale? It’s still growing happily outside, is abundant in the Netherlands and is available to buy everywhere. Buy whole leaves and shred them at home or try pre-shredded packets. Look for dark green leaves without any yellow blemishes. Stamppot is the country’s favourite way of cooking kale – boiled and mashed with potatoes and other veges or perhaps with bacon. Today, there are many other delicious recipes for cooking kale. Tuscan Ribollita soup is one of my favourites as is a simple stir fry with garlic, chili, soy, and lime – blanch the kale quickly first before frying so the leaves cook faster and don’t dry out. Kale loves to be paired with something sour like a citrus fruit or vinegar or something super salty like anchovy or bacon. Try this pasta with chili, lemon and anchovy for a quick tasty weeknight dinner. Just don’t overcook kale, otherwise your kitchen will smell like rotten egg for days…..

Some early spring ingredients (grown outside) to enjoy:
Forced rhubarb – grown indoors in the dark – is available now, while regular rhubarb is available from april/ may onwards.
Green asparagus should be ready to eat sometime in late April.
Wild garlic can be foraged in April.
Winter postelein is good now.

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Chestnuts

chestnutsIf there’s one ingredient I’d love to see more of on our dining plates, it’s chestnuts. Few ingredients celebrate the cold weather and its accompanying comfort food like chestnuts. Just a whiff of roasted chestnuts – even better from a streetside stall – is enough to get anyone’s mouth watering. These earthy, fragrant, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth delights pair equally well with sweet and savoury dishes in Western and Eastern cuisines. 

The late autumn months are when chestnuts are harvested but they’re sold well into the deep winter. You’re probably come across the large, fallen round chestnuts in your local park. These horse-chestnuts aren’t edible – but do look gorgeous as seasonal decoration. The edible varieties look smaller and flatter. While foraging for chestnuts in the park or forest, protective head gear is recommended: the falling spiky pods launched from a height of more than 10 metres are likely to cause some serious damage!

Raw chestnuts are available to buy at the markets, fruit & veg shops and some supermarkets. Look for shiny, hard chestnuts with smooth skin and no sign of any hollowness or softness. Score and either boil or roast them and eat whole immediately. Besides the outer shell, the very thin, astringent inner skin needs to be removed before eating. One down side is that preparing raw chestnuts is quite laborious. Thankfully pre-cooked (and peeled!) chestnuts are available in vacuum packs at your local deli or specialty store or in purée form.

The winter kitchen is the perfect celebration of chestnuts: roast pheasant with chestnut filling, chestnut and parsnip soup, chestnut stuffed mushroom, sprouts and chestnuts,  chestnut risotto or chestnut and chocolate torte. So if one of your new year’s resolutions is to be more adventurous with your cooking, then chestnuts could be a good starting point. Time to start cooking…

Wishing you all a wonderful 2014, full of delicious, beautiful, seasonal food.

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READY THIS WINTER

Yes winter is here. Yes the shortest day of the year is almost upon us. But thankfully after that, things can only get better…or that’s what I like to think.

As it’s too cold for most fruit and vegetables to grow outdoors in winter, winter food used to consist mostly of what you managed to store and preserve from the summer and autumn harvests. These days, greenhouses and food freight means that fresh food from all seasons is available right into the depths of winter, which has its advantages and disadvantages. Eating fresh strawberries in winter seems on par with eating braised red cabbage or a heavy stew in summer.

Now is the time to indulge in hearty, comfort-food that makes the most of the beautiful winter produce that is in season now, and explore every variation of cooking with these ingredients – likely with some form of cheese. And enjoy that second helping of stew while it’s still cold enough.

Plentiful: Indulge in root vegetables of all kinds! Potatoes, carrots, onions, parsnips, celeriac, beetroot, swedes, turnips. Perfect for roasting and mashing, soups, stews and other heart warming dishes. Leeks are always a winner in winter as is cauliflower, and don’t let the look or reputation of Jerusalem artichokes deter you yet again!

Cabbages are part of the exclusive club of vegetables that cope wonderfully well outside in the cold. All those cabbage dishes you were waiting to try? Now is the time. Look for beautiful, shiny, squeaky cabbages: white, red, savoy, and pointed are the most common.

Have a nut feast and buy nuts whole in their shell: hazelnuts, walnuts or chestnuts for example.

Winter is the time for stewed, baked or poached fruit: pears, apples or quinces are perfect for the job, stewed with spices and a dash of something boozy. And better still, blanketed with a layer of crunchy, buttery crumble.