Fact of the Week

Forced rhubarb in season now. Don't miss out!

Monday, 26 March 2012

Time to look

This weekend was a March weekend like few others. The sun shone, the blossom hung in cascades and London was bathed in an unexpected warmth. In Peckham locals and prospective buyers sat idly at tables on the pavement, sipping their flat whites, perusing the weekend papers and admiring the pampered pouches fresh from the poodle parlour on the corner. I too sat amongst the flaneurs and watched the world go casually by, enjoying the sense of community, shared outdoor space and the first rays of sunshine on my dazzlingly pale skin.

On Friday evening I went to David Hockney's A Bigger Picture, at the Royal Academy. I was bowled over by Hockney's vivid, colourful depiction of his native Yorkshire and, faced with a weekend in London, longed to be teleported to a part of the countryside so resplendent with the sights, sounds and palette of the Spring season.

Hockney commented that you did not need to be in Yorkshire to witness such beauty. He is right of course, although you may have to look harder to find it amongst London's busy streets. On Sunday, I took the opportunity to look, not just a passing glance but a proper look, at my garden and beyond. Here are my photos of Spring.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Brockley and broccoli

A wonderful Italian friend who came to stay last week bought me some amazing Toscana salami (that's not the only reason she's wonderful!). I have been eating this melt-in-the-mouth pork and fennel Florentine sausage all week (it is studded with occasional black peppercorns which cause a flavour explosion in your mouth when you least expect it) in a number of guises all week although my favourite has been thin slices popped straight into my mouth the minute I walk through the front door. Until tonight.

On Saturday, which was my first weekend in London for some time, I went to Brockley Market. Since it was set up in October last year, Brockley Market has become such an important part of my London life that my visit on Saturday felt almost like a homecoming. The market is a local treasure trove. It is home (on Saturdays anyway) to Mike, of Mike & Ollie, who makes the most delicious Lebanese flatbreads stuffed with irresistible fillings such as mackerel, beetroot and Brockley apple, slow cooked shoulder of lamb with Brockley fig and Greenwich chestnut and for the vegetarians chargrilled cauliflower, Brockley fennel, burnt aubergine and Crystal Palace membrillo. There's the helpful girl who I think may have been involved in setting up the market and who sources unpasteurised full fat milk for my friend Kate (and who may shortly become Kate's best friend as a result). Then there's the guy who makes beautiful homemade chocolates, which I always intend to buy as presents and invariably end up eating myself. There are the two ladies from Flavours of Spain with their award winning manchego and pan de higo (Spanish fig cake) as well as chorizo, Jamon Iberico and smoked paprika, Ross from Browns of Brockley with his delicious cakes (I rarely leave without a generous slice of his banana cake with chocolate icing), Wild Country Organics with their dazzling salad leaves and greens and lots more besides. As I said, it's a treasure trove.

And every week I buy more fruit and vegetables than I can possibly eat (or fit in the fridge) from Perry Court Farm. Perry Court Farm are farmers from Kent and so their vegetables take me back to my roots in a nostalgic, earthy sort of way. Their produce looks and tastes fantastic with the result that I fail to exercise vegetable-restraint every week. So this week I bought purple sprouting broccoli, curly kale, the most beautiful purple and green cabbage I have ever seen, shallots, broccoli, fennel, parsley, lettuce and apples - which may not sound like a lot but I am only at home two nights this week.

When I got home this evening, the Florentine salami and all this beautiful veg were looking at me enticingly from the fridge, as were the dozen eggs I received on Saturday from Supercook Kate's chickens... Can you see where I'm going with this?

I didn't have a clear idea of where I was going to end up when I started but I was so happy to be in my kitchen cooking so I just followed my instincts and added whatever felt right. The result was a hot winter salad of purple sprouting broccoli and kale, liberally scattered with Toscana salami, shallots, garlic and toasted sunflower seeds with a just poached egg oozing on the top.

I am going to brazenly cast modesty aside and say that the salad was a triumph of its constituent parts (they take the credit and not me, phew!). My sister and I have long since had a love affair with broccoli and I could therefore be accused of bias in judging this dish. However, whatever your broccoli pre- or mis-conceptions, I defy you not to tell your friends about this recipe.

Hot winter salad

1 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
Toscana salami, coarsely chopped (or pancetta or lardons)
2 handfuls of Sunflower seeds
A pinch of dried chilli flakes
Pure sprouting broccoli
Curly kale, roughly chopped

Sweat the shallot in olive oil until translucent. Add the salami and garlic and fry gently taking care not to burn the garlic. Finely chop any excess stalk from the broccoli and add to the pan. Continue to cook until the stalk has softened. Add the sunflower seeds and chilli and cook for 1 minute. Divide the fatter pieces of broccoli in half lengthways and add to the pan. Cover and steam until nearly cooked. You may wish to add a ladleful of hot water if the contents of the pan are sticking to the bottom. Add the kale and steam until cooked. Season with salt and pepper.

Poach two eggs and serve on top of the salad