Tag Archives: Herbs

Winter Food in Season

Winter market

Brighten a winter’s day with yellow and ruby grapefruit, or warm up with the earthy flavours of potatoes and beetroot. June – July, fruit and veg in season.

It’s June and the icy bite of the Cape winter is setting in; even so it is impossible to remain unmoved by the sight and sound of the local farmers markets. As I arrive shoppers approach and pass by hugging brown paper bags brimming with choice produce, and other treasures of the day, at times their faces obscured by bunches of long-stemmed flowers. The market stalls are groaning with fat roots, purple cabbage and an array of mushrooms, fresh and beautifully displayed. The temptation to buy all the eye can see is overwhelming.

Cape Gooseberries are in season and are a real treat, brightly displayed in their little punnets. The season will last from now until the end of September. Early in the season I tend to get gooseberry fever, first poaching the fruit with sugar and serving with either a jug of fresh organic cream or custard, or I bake it under a crumble topping the butter, flour and sugar sometimes flecked with shredded almonds. Then toward the end of the season I might stir the raw fruit into a cake, the warm tartness flatters the sweet crumbs.

Moving along the stalls I spot some witlof, part of the chicory family, it is just coming into season. I love its shape and taste, a long and bulging white spear with pale golden tips, crisp and slightly bitter. I have to say it is one of my favourites at this time of the year. It goes well with roasted walnuts or hazelnuts, young goats’ cheese and watercress or radicchio. But witlof is also beautiful cooked. Cut it in half and lay it in a shallow casserole dish, dot with butter and season with salt and pepper. Pour in just enough stock or water to come halfway up the sides, cover with a lid and cook for about 20 minutes. Remove the lid, turn over and cook until golden brown and lightly caramelized.

Next stall up I find some excellent looking beetroot. The best time for eating is now through to October. I buy a bunch of six, each the size of a plum with a lovely rich ruby wine colour. The stalks are young and translucent, a vivid magenta purple, the roots have coarse, dusty, curly whiskers. They are so easy to cook; after washing, I cut off the stalks, leaving a short tuft behind, then put the beats in a roasting pan with a splash of water and cover with tin foil. An hour in the oven and they are done; the skin slides off effortlessly to reveal sweet, ruby flesh. They need no oil, just a splash of vinegar, red, white or tarragon and a crumbling of salt. It’s best to dress the beats as soon as they are cut into segments, while their flesh is still warm. The vinegar sets the colour and the warm roots take up the flavour. The beet leaves are an added bonus. I drop the leaves and stems, into a shallow pan with about a glass of water, bring to a boil for about two minutes, drained and toss through the sliced beets and sprinkle with goats’ cheese; makes a delicious dish on its own served with a slice of thickly buttered cottage loaf bread.

I need some potatoes. The humble potato is a very versatile vegetable, one for which I have a weak spot. I love creamy mashed potato and I adore cubes of potato crisped in duck fat with roast beef, or pommes boulangère with lamb. Potatoes are harvested year round and cold stored for many months. Now though is a great time for eating them. Many varieties are at their peak and the chilly weather especially calls for it.

For the best result when cooking with potatoes it is best to choose the right potato for the job. Floury potatoes are high in starch and low in moisture and sugar, making them perfect for mashing, baking, roasting and frying. Their waxy counter parts have higher moisture content and are low in starch, meaning they hold their shape when boiled or added raw to casseroles, they are best for salads, or simply tossed in butter and sprinkled with salt.

Wanting something sweet with which to make a desert I head for the fruit stand. In season at the moment are grapefruit, oranges and mandarins and that is just what I want. A tip when selecting grapefruit; they do not ripen once they are off the tree, so be sure you buy ones that are actually ripe. What I love about grapefruit is their season ranges from late summer to the end of winter, bringing a little sunshine into the kitchen.

My favourite way of serving citrus at the moment is to arrange slices of pink and yellow grapefruit, oranges and mandarins on a platter, pour over hot caramel and immediately drizzle the lot with Cointreau. The caramel will dissolve, becoming a delicious sauce. This simple, bright, colourful desert is great with custard or a dollop of thick natural yoghurt.

There is something deep and unshakably right about eating food in season, knowing where it comes from and knowing that the seasonal produce is at its best. Learning to eat with the ebb and flow of the seasons is the essence that makes eating enjoyable for me.

Also in season are:

Vegetables: Asian greens, avocado, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, fennel, ginger, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, okra, olives, onions, parsnips, pumpkins shallots, spinach, swede, sweet potatoes, turnips.

Fruit: apples, lemons, limes, papaya, pears, persimmons, pomelos, rhubarb, tangelos

Kate Abbott 08/06/2011©


Thyme, as essential as salt and pepper

Thyme in a pot

Thyme has inspired poetic praise from Virgil to Kipling, who wrote of “wind-bit thyme that smells of dawn in Paradise”.  It is one of the great culinary herbs of European cookery.

Thyme deserves a place right beside salt and pepper in the kitchen. Its amiable and positive flavour works in more dishes than any other robust culinary herb. Whether it’s humming in the background or conspicuously assertive, thyme seems to go with everything in the cooking pot. Another virtue is that it aids the digestion of fatty foods which makes it very useful in a health promoting diet.

Thyme can be added at any point in the cooking process, from the beginning of a stew to a last minute sprinkle. Oftentimes it is added both at the beginning and again a few minutes before serving to slow cooked dishes.

Use thyme judiciously until you are familiar with its pungency. As long as you match the quantity of the herb to the robustness of the other ingredients, thyme is comfortable with nearly any savoury dish. You can be as timid or as daring as you wish, using anywhere between half a teaspoon and one tablespoon per serving. The smaller amount will linger softly whilst the larger amount is best with something that has its own assertive flavour like a grilled leg of lamb.

Chopped fresh leaves are much more pungent than dried leaves. When converting between the two, start with equal amounts and adjust according to taste.

I trust you’ll add this wonderful herb to your cooking repertoire.

Tossed Salad with Thyme Vinaigrette

Inspired by the traditional Greek salad this dish is always popular when served at our classes or family gatherings. The baby salad greens are optional but they do add a wonderful dimension to the salad.

500g green cabbage, shredded (I liked to use savoy)
1 medium red onion, sliced thinly
150g black olives, pitted and halved
225g feta cheese, crumbled
120ml olive oil
about 3 tbsp. red or white wine vinegar, herb vinegar or lemon juice to taste
2 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp. salt
1 big handful baby salad greens (optional)

In a large salad bowl, toss the cabbage, onion, olives and feta until thoroughly mixed. In a small mixing bowl whisk the olive oil, vinegar, thyme and salt. When emulsified toss with the salad. Refrigerate the salad for 1 to 2 hours to allow the flavours to develop. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. Just before serving, toss the bay greens with the salad and season with pepper.