social_facebook_box_blue social_twitter_box_blue ig-logo-email

By Well Seasoned, Mar 19 2019 01:59PM

When does spring start for you? I’ve been asking around recently and it’s clear that Spring means different things to different people.


Perhaps the earliest start date for the new season is Imbolc, the pagan celebration which falls exactly half way between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. It has long been celebrated as a turning point in the calendar when the days start to get noticeably longer and with the emergence of snowdrops, the first sign of the end of winter.


Candlemas, on 2nd February is the Christiana equivalent of Imbolc, also marking a return of the light.


For meteorologists who, for convenience, divide the year into four very equal quarters, the date is the beginning of March.


Today (20th March) the vernal equinox will mark the point that the days are supposedly the same length as the nights in the northern hemisphere. Although, technically speaking, due to refraction of the light over the horizon, that day actually passed a few days ago, on a day known as the Equilux, around the 17th of March.


And finally, of course, there’s the moment on 31st March when the clocks will “Spring forward” and make the artificial, yet at the same time very real difference to the length of our evenings.


So there you have it – at least six different points when Spring "traditionally" starts. But, of course, those are all fairly arbitrary and essentially fixed points in the calendar. In truth, Mother Nature will decide when winter’s over and we each have our personal milestones that mark the real start of Spring.


For me, the renewed dawn chorus is a really important one and, being partly Welsh, the flowering of golden daffodils in the hedgerow is another. For others it's bluebells, the waft of wild garlic, Easter or the hawthorn blossom.


There’s undoubtedly some stormy weather still to come but there’s a real sense of relief and optimism that comes with the changing of this season. Whenever it starts for you, Happy (nearly?) Spring!

By Well Seasoned, Feb 28 2019 02:00AM

If you’re brave enough to go to the beach in late Winter, try hunting for razor clams (or, as they’re known in Scotland, ‘spoots’.) These elongated molluscs resemble the shape of a cut-throat razor, hence the name, and they make for excellent eating.


Despite the risk of some pretty inclement weather, February is a good time to collect and eat shellfish because most will spawn during the warmer summer months. For some reason (as with many of our shellfish) we don’t eat many razor clams in the UK, but they are gobbled up by our continental cousins, and for good reason. Their flesh is firm and meaty, and although it has a fairly subtle taste, it partners very well with some big, bold flavours. In Portugal and Spain they are frequently cooked up with chorizo and other spicy meats.


If you want to try catching your own, first you need to locate a likely razor clam bed. There’s nothing like a bit of local knowledge, so do some research and ask around first, but sandy, flat beaches are their preferred habitat. You’ll need to check tide tables and aim to be on the beach at the beginning of the slack, low, spring tide (the very lowest tide) in order to have an hour at the lowest water line. Then look for little keyhole-shaped holes in the sand.


Using a large spouted bottle, pour several tablespoons of fine table salt into the hole and wash it down with water from a squeezy washing-up-liquid bottle or similar. The high salt levels irritate the clam and after a few moments you should see the surface being pushed upwards before the top erupts out of the sand. Grip the shell between two fingers, then firmly but slowly pull the clam out from its burrow. Make sure you grab the shell quickly and hold on; if you let go or wait too long they will bury themselves back in almost as quickly as they came out.


Your razor clam should be at least 10 centimetres (4-inches) in length. If it is, put it in your bucket. If not, put him back for another day.


If you draw blank or don't fancy the bracing weather, your local fishmonger should be able to help you out, with a bit of notice.


Razor clams are a little fiddly to prepare but once the clams are steamed open, the meat will pull easily from the shell and the inedible parts can be cut away.


Lay the clam flat on the board with the rounder end to the left, cut this off close to the dark sac. Lift the frilly wing up and slice off the cylindrical piece of meat with the pointed end. Now trim the wing away from the dark sac. Scrape off any odd bits of sand as you go. Now the meat can be sliced into halfcentimetre pieces ready to use. If you’re unsure at any point, the internet has plenty of useful videos on fish and shellfish preparation.

By Well Seasoned, Feb 20 2019 02:00AM

A medieval beast stalks our countryside, but is so elusive that many people aren’t even aware of its existence. You might be surprised to learn that there are wild boar alive and well in British woodlands.


In the past, large numbers of boar inhabited our woods and fields. The Tudors loved to hunt them, and a spit-roasted wild boar was the centrepiece of many a medieval banquet. Sadly, sometime in the seventeenth century, British boar were hunted to extinction and nothing was seen of them for many years. But then, in the 1980s, boar farms breeding imported animals were established in Britain. In several incidents, most notably the great storm of 1987, some of the animals escaped, and in a few rare cases they were able to establish themselves as free-living populations. A


lthough there is some debate as to exactly how widespread they are, breeding populations have existed since at least 1990 and are now certainly established in Kent, Sussex, Dorset and the Forest of Dean.


Wild boar are extremely wary, generally venturing out only at night. They cause problems for a number of groups, including farmers who have to deal with the damage they do to land (boar feed in the same way as pigs, quickly reducing the ground to a hummocky quagmire) and ramblers who on several occasions have startled boar with their dogs, unexpectedly finding themselves in the middle of a c anine/porcine rumpus.


They are also hardy beasts, with no natural predators in this country, so most land managers agree that they need to be culled in the same way as deer. This ensures a healthy population and limits the damage they do to crops, land and fencing. The upside is that if your butcher can get hold of it, wild boar meat is a seriously tasty treat.


Wild boar breed during the warmer months and so, while there isn’t an official season for them, reputable dealers will only sell truly wild meat from late autumn through to the spring. That shouldn’t, however, stop you from buying farmed meat, which is invariably free range and of high quality all year round.


For me February is the ideal time to tuck in as it makes the perfect warming ragu for a hearty pasta dish.


Pappardelle with wild boar ragout


People often ask me about the merits of fresh versus dried pasta, but I think you have to look at them as two different products. The more robust texture of dried pasta made with just durum wheat semolina is not really comparable with fresh egg pasta. I like both in equal measures and have no qualms about using goodquality dried pasta. I feel it works better for something like a carbonara, as the texture stands up to the pancetta or guanciale and it gives the whole dish body. With a meltingly tender ragout or encasing soft ricotta, however, fresh egg pasta is the way to go.


The most important thing for me with a pasta dish is that the pasta shouldn’t be overshadowed by the sauce or filling. It has an equal role in many dishes but can also be the star, with the sauce just providing moisture and seasoning.


serves 6 as a main

course

For the wild boar ragout

650g wild boar or good-quality pork, diced

100 ml olive oil

125g coarse pork mince that is fairly fatty

1 carrot, peeled, quartered lengthwise and cut into ½cm pieces

1 stick celery, halved lengthwise and cut into ½cm pieces

1 large onion, finely diced

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

1 tsp ground fennel seeds

1 tsp chilli flakes

150ml white wine

6 sage leaves and 1 bay leaf, tied in muslin

1 tsp dried oregano

½ a 400g tin of good-quality chopped tomatoes

100ml semi-skimmed milk

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


To serve

420–480g dried pappardelle, or 600–750g fresh egg pappardelle

aged Parmesan (24 months is a good choice)

olive oil


1. Preheat the oven to 140˚C.


2. To make the ragout, season the boar, heat the olive oil in a large casserole or heavy pan, and fry

the boar in small batches to colour well. Drain and set to one side.


3. In the same pan, fry the pork mince, breaking it up into small chunks as you go. You are looking to colour the meat so use a fairly high heat and don’t overcrowd the pan. Remove from the pan and set aside with the boar. Tip off excessoil to leave around 2 tbsp.


4. Add the carrot, celery, onion and garlic to the pan and cook until starting to soften – around 10 minutes. Add the fennel seeds and chilli flakes and cook until aromatic. Add the wine and reduce by two-thirds. Add all the remaining ingredients, including the meat, and bring to a simmer. Season well, cover and place in the oven for at least 3 hours, stirring occasionally and topping up with water if the meat is getting too dry. The boar should be breaking up into flakes when it is cooked. It may need a little encouragement with a fork. Adjust the seasoning and leave the sauce to rest while you cook the pasta.


5. To serve, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil – around a litre for every 100g of pasta, with 1 tsp of salt per litre. Cook the pa sta according to the packet instructions for al dente if dried, or 1–3 minutes if fresh.


6. Heat the ragout and, using tongs, transfer the pasta to the ragout. Don’t drain the pasta too carefully, as the starchy water that comes with it will emulsify the sauce and allow you to cook the pasta and sauce together for a minute or two.


7. Finish with a good glug of your favourite olive oil and some freshly grated Parmesan.



By Well Seasoned, Feb 13 2019 02:08PM

We're creeping slowly towards the warmer weather of spring. Although we may well still have some snow and sleet before we get there, we're starting to notice some of those early, welcome signs. In the last blog we looked at snowdrops. Today, we listen out for the beginnings of the dawn chorus...


The chorus of garden birdsong signals the start of the mating season as our feathered friends start looking to attract partners and defend their breeding territories. Beginning with blackbirds and robins in late February, other species will gradually join the chorus through to late May, when it reaches a glorious crescendo.


The sunrise singing provides a fascinating insight into the world of our birds. With a little patience, you’ll soon learn to distinguish individual species and the order in which they start to sing each day. They stick to a fairly rigid timetable and you might well prefer simply to soak up the atmosphere as you lie in bed – it begins around 4.30 a.m. this month, and as early as 3 a.m. as we reach the early summer.


The order of the birds song is dictated by the foods they eat and their ability to see in the low morning light. The early birds (blackbirds and robins) literally do catch the worms. These species have comparatively large eyes compared to their bodies and are able to see in the earliest, dim light of dawn. As the sun rises and light levels increase, insect-eaters (wrens) wake from their slumber. Finally, the seed-eaters (finches and sparrows) take their time and wait until just before daybreak.


So, expect to hear, in order:


Blackbird – monotonous chink, chink, chink followed by a distinct, low-pitched melody

Robin – high-pitched tick, tick, tick, followed by a cascade of warbling notes

Wren – chur, chur, churrrrr (at an impressive volume for such a small bird)

Chaffinch – distinct pink, pink, pink, followed by one of several flourishes

House sparrow – chattering and repetitive chirrup, chirrup.



Blog

Welcome to the Well Seasoned blog.

 

Check back regularly for more updates on the Well Seasoned

book and seasonal food news.

RSS Feed

Web feed

 

WEB-cover