Food for Thought: Winter

Winter harvests can be the most vibrant and interesting of all. Although most winter fruit and veg lend themselves to slow cooking, nothing is more enjoyable on a chilly winter’s day.

With the change in weather also comes a whole new set of gardening challenges, slugs, snails and caterpillars take particular liking to the deep green foliage that thrive in the damp soil. It is this seasonal characteristic, green foliage, which provides us with nature’s multi vitamins, just in time for the winter blues. The weather may be drab but the seasonal produce and dishes that can be created are far from it! I personally dread winter gardening; I am far from successful most years with rather pitiful crops. I tend to have two major problems. The first being I am extremely gifted in growing deep green foliage, and lots of it, but getting the broccoli or cabbage to flower seems to be beyond my capabilities. If I do manage that elusive cabbage I then have to battle with the local pests! I have scattered egg shells, placed bowls of water and olive oil and even beer to eradicate them, all have brought limited success. Companion planting has however provided me with the best results and can even provide a crop of its own. Mint and nasturtiums around the cabbages will deter white butterfly and aphids. Rosemary near the broccoli and horseradish plants at the end of your potatoes will help protect them from potato bug. Keeping the companion plants to edible varieties creates a garden with purpose and will reward you in the kitchen all season long. Where my foliage growing abilities really shine is with the slight prehistoric looking Tuscan cabbage or Cavolo Nero, as it is traditionally known. Remove leaves from the stem and lightly sauté in extra virgin olive oil with slices of garlic, chili flakes and sea salt, serve warm on toast or better still with freshly boiled cannellini beans – healing perfection. Eating seasonal wintergreens straight from the garden is truly the natural way to fight the winter ailments. Rich in vitamins and minerals, many are considered to be ‘super foods’ with a massive revival of old varieties available at the greengrocer and at the nursery. Oddly, the most vibrant fruit of them all hits perfection in winter. I mainly associate this zesty yet sweet fruit with sunny days but it really holds its own in the winter months and it is… the humble orange. I feel that the orange is somewhat taken for granted, we now see them all year round in fluorescent orange string bags on our supermarket shelves. Have we forgotten what the perfect balance between sweet and tart can taste like, in a winter orange? They lend themselves to both savoury and sweet creations in the kitchen. Their zest when added to lamb and harissa stew, brings the sweetness out of the meat, the juice boiled with sugar and poured over a cake will bring it to life. Winter days may be short but fill them with rewarding gardening, cooking and healthy eating. Embracing the winter harvest and all the challenges that come with it will give you the most satisfying and nourishing meal one can imagine.

Flourless orange cake recipe

Versions of this flourless orange cake have been around for generations and originated in the Middle East. It is extremely moist, vibrant but most of all one of the easiest cakes to make. Ingredients 2 large oranges 250g ground almonds 6 eggs 200g caster sugar 1 teaspoon baking powder Seeds from one vanilla pod 70g pine nuts Method Gently boil the whole oranges in a large pot, completely submerged for two hours. (Use a sheet of baking paper weighed down with a side plate) Quarter the boiled oranges once cooled. Place all ingredients into a food processor with the orange quarters. Mix until all combined and the batter is smooth. Place into a lined and greased cake tin with a removable base. Sprinkle with pine nuts. Bake at 180 degrees for 30 to 40minutes or until a skewer comes away clean. Leave to cool in the tin before removing and is best served the next day with thick yoghurt.

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