Eat shoots and leaves: Mark Hix celebrates spring with leaves plucked from the garden or hedgerow

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This is a great time of year to harvest tiny shoots and leaves from the lettuces or herbs in your garden – or even wild plants like nettles, wild garlic and young sea beet. After that burst of warmer weather in March, all sorts of things sprang up in the garden and all of my rosemary bushes burst into full flower. These tiny spring delights offer lots of inspiration for dinner parties or light lunches.

Some of the plants in your garden may not immediately scream, "Stick me on a plate for dinner" – but you'd be quite surprised at how wonderful some of those young spring shoots and leaves look and taste when you dish them up.

New season garlic duo toasts

Serves 4

Now is a good time to harvest wild garlic leaves and blend them with some olive or rapeseed oil; store it in your fridge for when the season finishes. It makes a great convenience sauce when tossed into pasta with Parmesan or spread on toast like this.

This is great as a sharing dish at the beginning of a meal, instead of bread. There are some nice, young, new-season garlic bulbs on the market now, as well, which simply need baking whole or halved and just spread onto the bread.

8-12 slices of ciabatta or sourdough
A handful or two of wild garlic leaves, washed and dried
200-300ml olive or rapeseed oil
4 bulbs of new season garlic, halved

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Place the garlic on a roasting tray and bake for about 35-40 minutes or until soft. If they start to colour too much, just cover with foil.

Meanwhile, blend the wild garlic in a liquidiser with just enough oil to make a thick paste. Grill the bread and serve on a sharing plate or board with the garlic bulbs and the wild garlic sauce in a pot.

Crispy sea bass with rosemary flowers and cucumbers

Serves 4 as a starter

When my rosemary bush is full of tiny blue flowers I can't resist trying to find a way to use them. I've made both sweet and savoury jellies and even crystallised them, but here I've scattered the lightly perfumed flowers onto the fish and cucumber. They complement it perfectly. You don't have to use sea bass for this – try grey mullet or white fish like cod, pollack or whiting.

300-350 sea bass fillet, boned
100ml milk
100-150g gluten-free self-raising flour
Vegetable or corn oil for deep frying
Half a cucumber, cut lengthways and the seeds scooped out
1tbsp olive oil
tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A small handful of rosemary flowers
1 medium shallot, peeled, halved and very finely sliced

Preheat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer.

Cut the fish into chunks of about 2cm square. Season it, then pass through the flour, shaking off any excess. Pass through the milk, and then again through the flour. Deep fry for 2-4 minutes, turning the fish with a slotted spoon as it cooks, until crisp and golden. Remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper.

Meanwhile cut the cucumber into half-cm thick slices, on a slant. Heat the olive

oil in a frying pan and cook them for a minute or so on a medium heat without colouring, seasoning and turning them as they are cooking. Add the vinegar and remove from the heat. Arrange the cucumbers on warmed serving plates with the sea bass on top, then scatter over the rosemary flowers and shallots. You can spoon a little more olive oil over if you wish.

Salmon with spring vegetables

Serves 4

I normally plant a few snow pea or pea plants but rarely get to harvest them because I tend to raid all of the shoots for salad before they get a chance to develop.

4 x 150-160g salmon portions, skinned and boned
A couple of good knobs of butter
A couple of handfuls of pea shoots
60g mange tout or sugar snaps shredded lengthways
A tablespoon of olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Season the salmon fillets, heat a little of the butter in a heavy-based or non-stick frying pan and cook the salmon for a couple of minutes on each side, keeping it a little pink. Depending on the thickness of the salmon you may need to cook them a little longer.

While the salmon is cooking, heat the rest of the butter in a frying pan and quickly cook the pea shoots and mange tout for a minute or so, seasoning them and stirring as they are cooking. Spoon into the centre of warmed serving plates, place the salmon on top and spoon a little olive oil over.

Spring garden salad

Serves 4

I love not having to jump in the car and drive off to the local shop or supermarket for boring salad leaves. I haven't got much of a garden but what I do have is a few pots, a small herb garden and some good hedgerows that yield some great leaves and shoots for an interesting and tasty salad. I even use sedum in my salads – which most people grow in their flower beds – but there are dozens of varieties which all have interesting flavours and textures for the salad bowl. Pennywort, the lovely round-leaved wild plant, also makes a good addition and the great thing with all these leaves is that they are free.

2-3 handfuls of interesting salad, plant and herb leaves, washed and dried

For the dressing

1tbsp chardonnay or moscatel vinegar
tbsp Dijon or Tewkesbury mustard
A handful of mint leaves, chopped
A few sprigs of tarragon, chopped
2tbsp rapeseed oil
2tbsp vegetable or corn oil
1tbsp water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

A few hours before serving, make the dressing by whisking all of the ingredients together or shaking them together in a jar. Leave to infuse, then strain through a fine sieve.

To serve, toss the leaves in half of the dressing, season to taste and serve the rest of the dressing separately.

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