Behind The Blue Door

Statement Dining | January 9, 2016 |

Seasonal eating:




Spring’s weather may often be lacklustre but there’s surprisingly vivid colour at the farmers’ market, thanks to our plucky vegetables.

Make the most of produce with our guide to the best seasonal ingredients – and our favourite ways of serving them.

Forced rhubarb

It’s no surprise that Yorkshire-based food writer Elaine Lemm has a host of delicious recipes for forced rhubarb, that Barbie pink crop grown mysteriously by candlelight in Yorkshire’s rhubarb triangle.

Crumbles are always a winner but we love this interesting new way to serve the stem  – as part of a main course, with mackerel. And why not? Rhubarb’s bitter sweetness is a perfect foil to the mackerel – and makes a bright splash on the plate too.

Pan-fried mackerel with forced Yorkshire rhubarb


Image source: RFB Photography


  • 4-5 stalks rhubarb
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 2 fresh mackerel fillets
  • 4 tbsp plain flour, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 tbsp capers, drained


  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6.
  2. Wipe the rhubarb stalks with a damp cloth, then cut into 15cm lengths. Place the cut rhubarb into a roasting tin and sprinkle with a few tablespoons of cold water followed by the sugar.  
  3. Cover the tin with a sheet of foil and pop the tin into the preheated oven.  Cook the rhubarb until it has softened but is still holding its shape.
  4. Leave the rhubarb to cool, then drain through a sieve and reserve the juice.
  5. Dip the mackerel fillets into the flour, skin side down. Tap the fillet gently to remove any excess flour.
  6. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and place the fillets in the oil, again skin side down.  
  7. Sprinkle with the rosemary.
  8. Add the cooked rhubarb to the pan, followed by the capers.  Stir gently, then remove both the rhubarb and the fish and keep warm.
  9. Finally, add the reserved rhubarb juices to the frying pan, stir really well and cook for one minute.  
  10. Serve the fish on hot plates with the rhubarb, capers and the juices poured over.


More versatile than its straightforward onion cousins, the leek’s sweet, pungent flavour is sometimes overlooked. Although it adds richness as a background flavour, it can also take centre stage too.

British Leeks, run by the British Leek Growers’ Associations, is a great resource, packed with tips and recipes, including this rich, creamy chowder from food blogger and chef Dominic Franks, from Belleau Kitchen.

Belleau Kitchen’s hot smoked salmon and leek chowder


Image source: British Leeks

Dominic says: “This is my favourite healthy soup which proves that diets don’t have to be boring! It’s rich, thick and creamy soup, inspired by a visit to San Francisco. To reduce the carbs I’m using cauliflower instead of potatoes to thicken, but essentially the recipe is the same as the classic clam chowder although of course I’m using a local hot smoked Welsh salmon instead.”

Serves: 4-6


  • 1 medium onion – finely chopped
  • 1 medium cauliflower – finely chopped
  • 2 medium leeks – finely chopped
  • 1 stick of celery – finely chopped
  • 1 cup of frozen sweetcorn kernels
  • 2 x 180g packs hot smoked salmon, skinned and flaked
  • 500 ml vegetable stock
  • 500ml skimmed milk
  • Fresh thyme
  • Salt and pepper and fresh thyme


  1. Add a generous knob of butter and a little olive oil to a large pan and gently sauté the onions until soft, then add the leeks, cauliflower and celery, place a lid on and sweat until all the vegetables are soft.
  2. Add sweetcorn, stock and the milk to the vegetables and let them simmer for 10-15 minutes. Using a spoon, take out one third, blend with a hand-whizzer and return to pan before adding flaked fish. Stir with a little more olive oil and let it cool slightly before serving.

Savoy cabbage

This gratifyingly deep green brassica’s crinkly leaves can be chopped, shredded and wrapped into a variety of recipes and pairs particularly well with red wine, apples, spices and horseradish.

Leading vegetarian chef Rachel Demuth runs Demuth’s Cookery School in Bath, where her recipe for la ribollita is a firm favourite on the Italian cookery courses. The original recipe calls for cavolo nero but savoy cabbage makes a great substitute in British winters.

La Ribollita

Rachel says, “Feel like a nourishing supper? A big steaming bowl of hearty ribollita will hit the spot! It has beans, greens, and loads of flavour from fresh herbs. Absolutely one of our favourite vegetarian comfort foods.”


Image source: Deluth’s Cookery School/ Rob Wicks, Eat Pictures

Serves 4 – 6


  • 85g dried cannellini beans soaked overnight and drained
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, diced large
  • 2 celery sticks, chopped
  • 2 leeks, thinly sliced
  • 150g savoy cabbage, trimmed and roughly chopped
  • 1 x 400g tin Italian tomatoes, strained
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 3 tbsps olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
  • handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • lots fresh ground black pepper

To serve

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • chopped flat-leaf parsley


  1. Using a large heavy saucepan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onion and cook gently until they begin to soften. Then add the leeks, celery and carrots and sweat gently for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the savoy cabbage and the tomatoes and cook for another 10 minutes.
  3. Add the beans, bay and thyme, stir and cover with water. Pop a lid on and simmer for 1½ -2 hours until beans are cooked.
  4. Remove the bay leaves and thyme stalks from the mixture. Ladle a third of the soup into a blender to liquidise – or put into a separate pan and mash. Return the liquidised soup to the saucepan, add salt and pepper and stir well.
  5. In a small frying pan, heat the remaining oil and gently fry the garlic until it just begins to brown. Add parsley, stir for a minute then add to the soup. Season to taste.
  6. To serve, drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil and extra parsley.

La Ribollita means ‘reboiled’ – a hint that the soup is traditionally reheated and served the following day, when the flavour will have deepened deliciously. Serve over a hunk of bread.


If we’re talking colour, what better than carrots to add a vibrant splash to our dishes? Of course, the humble root vegetable has affinities with all kinds of flavours, both sweet and savoury.

The Flavor Bible (American in both spelling and inspiration) suggests combining carrots with coriander and lime; with cumin and orange; with maple syrup and orange and even with pistachios.

Great British Bake Off contestant Chetna Makan uses her Indian heritage to add a unique twist to her baking, so her spice flavours are usually very interesting. Although her take on the carrot cake may offend some seasonal eating purists by including bananas, it’s a fresh look at the classic tea time treat.

Carrot and Banana Spiced Cake


Chetna, who created the recipe for Carr’s Flour, explains: “It has a touch of orange and added moisture from the banana. I’ve also incorporated the beautiful flavours of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg – plus walnuts for the crunch.”


For the cake

  • 200g light muscovado sugar
  • 200g unsalted softened butter
  • 4 large eggs (separated)
  • 200g carrots (grated)
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 ripe banana (mashed)
  • 200g Carr’s self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp grated nutmeg
  • 50g chopped walnuts

For the icing

  • 250g double cream
  • 250g mascarpone
  • 3 tbsp icing sugar
  • Handful of chopped walnuts


  1. Preheat the oven to 180 ˚C (Fan 160˚C, Gas Mark 4). Grease and line 2 x 8 inch cake tins with baking parchment.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the butter and sugar until light and creamy. To this, add the 4 egg yolks and whisk again. Mix in the carrots, orange zest, banana, flour, baking powder, spices and nuts.
  3. In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold the egg whites into the cake mix.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tins and bake for 25-30 minutes or until done. Once baked, leave the cake tins on a wire rack to cool.
  5. In a bowl whisk the cream, mascarpone and sugar to soft peak stage. Spread half the icing on one cake and place the second cake on top. Spread the other half of the icing on top of the cake and sprinkle over some walnuts to decorate.

More baking and cookery tips can be found on Chetna’s YouTube channel, Food with Chetna.




For more produce recipes, check out Fat of the land: Seasonal suppers to warm the soul, where leading restaurateurs share their favourite dishes.


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