Monday, 23 March 2015

Ask the Foodie: How does one survive the 'hungry gap' in Cambridge?

Image credit: Cambridge Edition


My Ask the Foodie column for Cambridge Edition this month provides a guide to surviving the 'hungry gap' in Cambridge...


Q). How does one survive the “hungry gap” in Cambridge?

A). For the keen gardeners and seasonal eaters amongst us, the month of March spells an empty veg patch and dwindling winter food stores; the hungry gap between the last hardy brassicas of the winter and the first new season broad beans of spring. I applaud you - it’s certainly a challenge to continue eating with the seasons this month, but a very tasty one. Bridge the gap by seeking out the very best local produce you can find, and maybe even forage for your own seasonal treats too. 

At farm shops and market stalls, look out for new crops of purple sprouting broccoli – surprisingly versatile and easy to transform into a feast, stalks and all - and the last of the kale, leeks, parsnips, and, if you can still face them after Christmas, sprouts. Radishes start to appear in March, bringing a welcome pop of colour and flavour after a long winter of comfort food. The Sunday market in Cambridge city centre is a good starting point for fresh produce, as is the local organic selection of vegetables on offer at Burwash Larder in Barton. Radmore Farm Shop on Chesterton Road is another favourite and always stocks an abundance of seasonal produce. The supermarkets can be a little trickier to rely on for seasonal British goods, so check the labels first. If you’re willing to work with what you’re given, try a seasonal veg box delivered to your door every week by The Cambridge Organic Food Company (www.cofco.co.uk).

Bulk up your bounty with some super seasonal treats that require a little extra effort: March is the time to start foraging for wild garlic and nettles, often the first fresh greens to emerge in a British spring. Use young garlic leaves in salads and to add flavour to soups and stews. Make the most of the nettle’s purifying qualities (known also to help tone the body and reduce blood pressure) and gather up the plentiful short, young plants to pack into healthy, detoxing soups. For something special on the side don’t forget about this season’s fresh fish, some of the best in my opinion. Catch the last of the winter mussels, new stocks of sweet, plump scallops, and wild salmon (if you can get your hands on it). Ask your fishmonger what’s good, or track down a weekly fish van and stock up on fresh fish and some great tips for preparing and cooking it (Newnham, Saturday mornings; Chesterton Road, Wednesday 8am-3pm). 

If you’d rather not do the time at the markets, or in the kitchen, pay a visit to one of Cambridge’s restaurants paying close attention to the seasons. The finest, freshest (and therefore in season) ingredients take pride of place on the menus at Alimentum, The Hole in the Wall, Pint Shop, and Fitzbillies, so you can guarantee a seasonal feast whatever the time of year.