This past winter has seemed the longest ever, so it is with great excitement and gratitude that we at the restaurant have welcomed in the blue sky and warmer days. We are eating outside most days now and the garden is full of tulips, peonies, early roses and dahlias. Warm-weather produce is also finally beginning to trickle in – asparagus, peas, broadbeans, the first deeply sweet, orange-fleshed melons from Italy as well as apricots and even a box of cherries. Basil has returned, one or two tomato varieties and the first peppers and aubergines.
At this time of year – weather permitting – cooking at the restaurant becomes more pared back, and there are more combinations of simple flavours, which is one of the best ways to really experience the taste of food.
Here are some recipes that will taste better eaten in the open air. Some can even be prepared in advance, meaning no one has to miss the al-fresco fun.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627
Cold pea and mint soup
11/2 litres/21/2 pints of water
2 large bunches of mint
800g/28oz shelled fresh peas
1 bunch of basil, leaves only
60ml crème fraîche
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place the water on the stove to boil, add a large pinch of salt and one bunch of mint, unchopped, stalks and all. When the water is boiling, add the peas and cook for three minutes. Remove and, without draining, let the peas cool slightly. Now purée in batches with the remaining mint (leaves only) and basil. Pour into a bowl and fold in the crème fraîche. Taste and adjust the seasoning – it will need salt and plenty of pepper. Chill in the fridge till cool. Serve in chilled bowls.
Salt-baked turbot with potatoes, pea shoots and sauce verte
1 whole turbot – weighing approximately 2.5kg/88oz, gutted but left whole
10kg/350oz rock salt (not sea salt)
For the sauce
1 bunch of chervil
1 bunch of dill
1 bunch of tarragon
500ml/17fl oz crème fraîche
Sea salt and pepper
Set your oven to its highest setting and place the salt into a large bowl; add water until it is the consistency of wet sand – not too wet, though, as this will stop the salt from setting. Now spread half the salt on the base of a roasting tray large enough to hold the fish. Lay the fish carefully on the top and cover with the rest of the salt. The fish should be completely immersed in the salt, with all its flesh hidden.
Place on the middle shelf of the oven and roast for 18 minutes. The salt will soon set hard like clay and the fish will steam within.
While the fish is cooking, make the sauce: chop the herbs finely and stir into the crème fraîche; season generously with salt and pepper.
Remove the fish from the oven and allow to sit for a few minutes. You can test whether the fish is done by inserting a sharp knife through the salt into the thickest part of the fish. The knife should be hot at the point. Crack the salt with the base of your knife and carefully remove. Discard the skin and serve the fish flesh in large chunks with the sauce spooned over.
I love to serve this with a salad of roasted fennel, beetroot, tomatoes and sweet potatoes, which you can make by simply roasting the vegetables in olive oil and basil (40 minutes at 200C/400f/Gas6 for the beetroot, 30 for the fennel and sweet potato, and 15 for the tomatoes). Drizzle over a dressing of Greek yoghurt (250ml/8fl oz) blended with olive oil (40ml/2fl oz), the juice of two limes and two teaspoons of Tabasco, plus a pinch of sea salt.
To make the dressing, place the yoghurt in a bowl, stir in the lime juice, olive oil and tabasco. Season well with salt and stir to combine. To serve, arrange the vegetables, basil and beetroot tops on a plate and drizzle over the dressing. Serve at once. '
Almond tart with apricot jam
An almond tart is a lovely end to any meal; it goes with almost any spring or summer fruit. The quantity of pastry makes more than you need for a 10-inch tart shell, as does the filling, but pastry freezes well and it's always good to have some to hand.
Makes 8-10 slices
For the apricot jam
1kg/2lb apricot, washed
The juice of two oranges
500g/1lb caster sugar
The peel of one lemon
1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthwise
For the pastry
500g/1lb plain flour
40g/2oz caster sugar
1tsp pure vanilla extract
1 whole organic free-range egg
1 organic free-range egg yolk
250g/8oz unsalted butter
A little cold water
For the almond filling
300g/10oz whole blanched almonds
300g/10oz unsalted butter
300g/10oz caster sugar
6 whole eggs
The zest of 2 lemons
First make the jam. Slice the apricots in half and remove the stones and hard surrounding core. Lay cut-side up on a tray and squeeze over the orange juice and sprinkle over the sugar. Leave for 30 minutes to allow the sugar and juice to soak into the fruit. Now place into a heavy-based saucepan. Add the lemon peel and vanilla pod and bring to a vigorous boil over a high heat. Turn down slightly and cook for 30 minutes or until slightly broken down and sticky. Remove from the stove and, while warm, spoon into sterilised jars. This will keep well in the fridge or a cool dark place for a month.
Now start on the pastry: place the flour in a food processor along with the sugar, vanilla extract, whole egg and yolk. Dice the butter into small cubes and add to the bowl. Turn the machine on and blitz until you have the consistency of wet sand. Add a tablespoon of cold water and continue to process; the dough will begin to come together into a smooth ball. At this point remove from the machine and wrap in greaseproof paper. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes while you make the filling.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6. Lay the almonds on a tray and place on the middle shelf of the oven. Cook for 3-4 minutes to warm them and tickle out their natural flavour. Remove and allow to cool, then grind them in the food processor until still quite coarse. Chop the butter into cubes and add along with the sugar. Turn the machine on and add the eggs one at a time through the funnel in the top. When finished you should have a soft paste that quite easily drops from a spoon. Remove from the bowl and stir in the lemon zest. If using almost straight away, leave out at room temperature. Otherwise place in the fridge.
When ready to use, slice the pastry ball in half. Wrap and return one half to the fridge or freezer. Generously flour your work surface. With your rolling pin, roll out the pastry to an eighth of an inch thickness and line your tart case with it, pressing firmly into the sides with your thumb. Prick the base well all over with a fork and chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas5. Remove the tart case from the fridge and line with parchment paper and pastry beans (uncooked rice will do) and blind-bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Then take out and remove the beans and parchment paper. Pour in the almond filling – you will have plenty left over – and return to the middle shelf of the oven. Cook for 35-40 minutes more or until the surface is golden-brown and the top is firm to the touch.
Cool on a rack and serve in slices with a spoonful of the jam, and finish with a good dollop of cream or crème fraîche.
The Forager by Wendy Fogarty
Petersham's food sourcer on the best farmers' markets to find the freshest in-season produce...
If you don't have an allotment, walled kitchen garden or vegetable patch, keeping in touch with the seasons is easy with regular visits to your local farmers' markets. For accredited farmers' markets throughout the UK, go to www.farmersmarkets.net.
Alternatively, for information on local produce and growers, plus recipes and articles, you can search by postcode and produce category at www.bigbarn.co.uk.
Or, for details of pick-your-own farms and farmers' markets throughout the UK, check out www.farmshopping.net.
Meanwhile, Petersham Nurseries' own home-grown range of vegetables, annuals and cut flowers will be available to buy at the Twickenham Farmers' Market Plant Fair on Saturday 7 June. Full details can be found at the London Farmers' Markets website ( www.lfm.org.uk), which provides a detailed breakdown of what's coming up across the capital.
What's in season?
Right now, expect to find:
New potatoes (including Cornish tatties)
Peas and pea shoots
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