At this time of year it is easy to fall into the misconception that there is little around to eat in terms of fruit and vegetables – perhaps you think only of carrots, turnips and parsnips. And it is true that these nutty, sweet root veg are very much around and worth eating. But there is plenty more out there that is uniquely wintery, nourishing and cosy – plump, soft, delicate new season's garlic, slightly bitter Brussels sprouts and their leafy sprout tops, chards, perennial spinach leaves, sprouting broccoli cabbages, pumpkins, artichokes and winter leaves.
And in terms of fruit it is almost my favourite time of the year – there are quince, ruby-red blood oranges and pomegranates. There are still some apples and pears around, and forced winter rhubarb is my favourite type, more delicate, pale and languidly beautiful than its spring/summer counterpart – and when cooked, almost sharp enough to make you squint.
I like to serve most of these fruit and vegetables simply, primarily because their flavours tend to be more delicate than the bold, well-ripened summer fruit and veg – but also because many of their jewel-like colours are a welcome sight to see against the cold, grey January sky.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627
Warm salad of sprouting broccoli, onion squash and chilli and hazelnut sauce
I like salads all year round – I think it is something to do with being brought up in Sydney, where the weather is warmer and eating salad is a way of life. More substantial salads tend to work better at this time of year in this country; very often the taste of food is more profound when served not too hot.
1 onion squash, sliced in half, seeds scooped out, but skin left on (if onion squash is hard to find, substitute butternut squash; the skin will need to be removed, but otherwise treat it in exactly the same way)
1 dried chilli, crumbled
4 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 red onion, outer skin removed and sliced into 1/8-inch rounds
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 bunch of sprouting broccoli, washed, patted dry and sliced into six long slices, which should include the stems and outer leaves
For the dressing
100g/31/2oz whole hazelnuts
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp red-wine vinegar
120ml/4fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
First make the dressing: preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4, lay the hazelnuts on a tray and place on the middle shelf of the oven for five minutes to tickle out their flavour and colour them slightly. Place the anchovies and mustard into a mortar and pound with a pestle until you have a rough paste. Add the hazelnuts and vinegar and pound once more. Pour in the oil and stir well to combine. Taste and season with a little salt and pepper if needed.
Now turn up the oven to 200C/400F/ Gas6. Lay the slices of squash in a baking tray, crumble over the chilli, pour over two tablespoons of the oil and season with the salt and pepper. Cover with foil. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes, uncovering for the last 10; the squash should be tender but not falling apart. Remove from the oven and set aside.
While the squash is cooking, place the onion rounds in a smaller baking tray and add the balsamic and remaining olive oil. Season with a little salt and pepper, cover with foil and roast in the oven for 20 minutes, then, as with the squash, uncover and cook for a further 10 minutes; the onions should be a deep purple in colour and glossy.
Place a large pot of well-salted water on to boil, prepare the broccoli and, when the water is boiling, plunge it in and cook for 2-3 minutes; drain but do not refresh.
Arrange the warm vegetables on a plate, spoon over the dressing and serve.
Jams are easy to make, and give you a great sense of satisfaction as you do so. They make lovely gifts for friends, too – there is something so nice about being given something home-made and it is also a good way to eat some of your favourite fruits when they are no longer in season.
Makes about three small parfait jars
450g/141/2oz caster sugar
The rind of one lemon
Wash the rhubarb and remove any stringy bits. Pat dry and weigh the remainder, as it is important to have equal quantities of sugar to fruit when making jams. Slice the fruit into one-inch pieces and place in a preserving pot or heavy-based saucepan and cover with the sugar. Place over a gentle heat, stir continuously to prevent burning and, when the sugar has melted completely, stir in the lemon rind and turn up the heat.
Boil the jam for 10 minutes, then remove the pot from the heat. Sterilise your jars by putting them in boiling water for 10 minutes, then spoon the warm rhubarb into each jar. Seal with lids. Allow the jars to cool in a draft-free space and remember that once the seal has been broken the jam must be stored in the fridge.
Slow-roasted garlic with thyme
Plump, sweet and very gentle, the first of the season's garlic arrives with us in early to mid-February. This is my favourite way to eat it, roasted in the oven with a little wine and chicken stock – or water, if you prefer. It is delicious with young goat's curd and grilled bread doused in olive oil.
6 whole heads of new season's garlic
250ml/8fl oz home-made chicken stock
200ml/8fl oz dry white wine
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 fresh bay leaves
A few sprigs of thyme
Approx 240g/8oz goat's curd (optional)
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Using a sharp knife, cut the tops off the garlic and place upright in a baking tray. Ladle in the chicken stock (or water) and pour over the wine. Season generously and tuck in the bay leaves and thyme. Cover with foil and place on the middle shelf of the oven. Cook for half an hour then remove the foil to allow the garlic to become golden-brown and the liquid to reduce slightly. Once the garlic is tender, remove from the oven and serve on a slice of good-quality, chewy bread, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil. Put a little dollop of goat's curd on the side, and spoon the cooking liquid over the garlic. Serve warm but not hot – the flavours will taste better this way.
Quince with verjus, bay leaves and vanilla
Slowly cooked quince are sweet and delicious. Inedible raw, once baked they are similar in taste to a baked pear, only more beautiful in colour.
350ml/12fl oz verjus or a sweet white wine
170g/6oz caster sugar
2 vanilla pods, split in half lengthwise
3 fresh bay leaves
The whole rind of one unwaxed lemon
Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas3, then, taking a clean dish cloth, wipe the quince well all over to remove any fluff. Using a sharp knife, slice in quarters lengthwise (it is not necessary to peel and core them). Lay them, skin-side down, in a sturdy baking tray. Pour over the verjus or wine, sprinkle over the sugar and scatter over the vanilla pods, bay leaves and lemon rind.
Cover securely with foil and place on the middle shelf of the oven. Bake for one hour then remove and turn the quince gently over. Cover again with foil and return to the oven for a further 11/2 hours. By this stage the quince will be a beautiful deep orange colour, sweet and soft.
Serve warm straight from the oven with cream – or allow to cool to room temperature and serve with crème fraîche, which is my personal favourite.
The Forager by Wendy Fogarty
Petersham's food sourcer on the best places to buy winter fruit and vegetables...
Quince: While this has been a bad season for quince, they can be bought via mail order or directly from Clay Barn Orchard, Colchester (tel: 01206 735 405).
Forced Yorkshire Rhubarb: Generally available from mid-January until mid-March from all good greengrocers. Heritage varieties from Brandy Carr Nurseries (tel: 01924 291 511, www.brandycarrnurseries.co.uk). More information on growing and producers can be found at www.rhubarbinfo.com and www.yorkshirerhubarb.co.uk.
Garlic: grown in England can be bought direct from the Isle of Wight Garlic Farm (tel: 01983 865 378, www.thegarlicfarm. co.uk). It also sells garlic growing kits, as does the Really Garlicky Farm in Scotland (www.reallygarlicky.com). Generally, garlic is planted in England from late autumn to March and harvested in June.
Evergreen herbs: such as bay leaves and myrtle can be bought from nurseries and Jekkas Herb Farm (www.jekkasherb farm.com), which sells bay ('Laurus nobilis AGM') in 8cm or 11cm pots, as well as six varieties of myrtle.