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The Hungry Gap

April 13, 2010

Apologies for a writing drought, time has been a bit full with work and writing projects over the last few weeks. Will try and be more contientious.

Padding around the garden in bare feet, I can feel the heat of the sun warming my back. Shoots and new leaves are tentatively unfurling to bask in the gentle glare of the sun. Spring is here, it is official, and plants are waking up to greet the new growing season. But asparagus, in any real sense, is still sometime ahead of us, and aside from watercress, the odd pea shoot or a few bits and bobs under glass, the available veg is the dessicating remains of last season. Cranky, tired leeks and bloated forgotten fennel are still being pulled from earth which was bitten hard throughout the winter. The very last roots, now definitely past their best, are looking distinctly worse for wear, all wrinkle and wither now, months after digging.

Things aren’t great now on the British veg scene. While the sun shines, blossom explodes into the springtime air and all is vibrant, things are at their very worst in the kitchen gardens: ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the hungry gap. It seems a bitter irony that at this time of year, when the earliest taste of summer is in the air, that our vegetable supply should be so stuck in the dark ages. This year especially so; still reeling somewhat from an exceptionally harsh winter, things are later than ever. Now that I can pretty much sit outside to eat, I want fresh, light, vibrant food, all zing and crunch, not the comforting warmth and stodge of the winter past. But how does one achieve that, with what is available? It’s all in the delivery.

Put aside for one moment the obvious charms of watercress and any salad leaves which may have pulled through the winter. We’re not talking about an easy ride here, we’re talking about getting some spring time milage from the withered remnants of winter’s clamped roots – conjuring a little something special from unpromising ingredients. It’s been a long winter of roasted roots, and while they can be spruced into a spring salad with some lemon juice, wilted greens and chopped herbs from the greenhouse, it’s time to leave them behind.

So get your sharpest knife, your keenest eye and some roots – a beetroot and carrot for now. Peel them and slice into the thinnest, translucent slices physically possible, then slice across into fine julienne. Leave to soak in water to crisp up while you mix up a little dressing: soy sauce, sesame oil, lemon juice and a tiny bit of honey. Take some super fresh tuna and pop it in a bag with blood orange juice and seasoning. Let it ‘cook’ for a few minutes. Meanwhile, drain and dry the roots, then toss in the dressing – enough to coat it gently but not to drown it. Add a good bit of sesame seeds and incorporate, then serve on the plate – the roots on the bottom, the fish (sliced finely) on the top.

And there we go – I won’t cook it, but it could just be the spring on a plate you’re after.

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