Each season has a specific climate, and thus, specific foods go in and out of season depending on when they grow best. This is the reason strawberries are watery in December, and peaches are expensive unless you buy them in the summer. It’s easier to buy seasonal ingredients locally, and they’ll taste better and cost less when in season. This win-win-win situation is too good to pass up, and just a quick bit of research can show which foods are in season each month.
For May, I’ll highlight five ingredients that have just come into season, and show you three quick ways to prepare each one. The recipes below are relatively simple, and, if you feel uncomfortable following loose recipes, full versions of similar recipes with more exact quantities, cooking times and more detail can be found online easily.
The first ingredient, asparagus, is a shoot vegetable commonly served as an appetizer or side dish. It has a mild, nutty, slightly bitter flavor that does nicely with creamy or acidic accompaniment.
3 Asparagus Recipes:
Blanched Asparagus with Bacon, Chive, and Truffle Crème Fraiche:
Drop asparagus into boiling water and leave it for a minute or so, until tender and brilliant green. Remove from water and immediately place in cold water. Drain and pat dry, then top with crème fraiche swirled with truffle oil, chopped chives, and crumbled fried streaky bacon.
Brioche with Poached Egg and Hazelnut-crusted Asparagus:
Top slices of toasted brioche with butter and salt, a poached egg, and spears of asparagus that have been blanched and sautéed in butter, then coated in a mixture of chopped toasted hazelnuts and maple syrup.
White Asparagus Soup:
Chop the tips off the asparagus shoots, then peel them and cut into 1cm chunks. Cook a chopped shallot in butter until soft, then add the asparagus pieces and cook them together for about five minutes. Cover in chicken stock, simmer for 30 minutes, and blend in a food processor until smooth. Pour the soup back into the pot, then cook on low heat while stirring in a mixture of two egg yolks, and splash of sherry and a few spoonfuls of crème fraiche. Stir constantly over low heat until the soup thickens. Add salt and pepper to taste, then garnish with chopped parsley.
The second ingredient that is particularly good in May is crab. European crab has white meat, which comes from the legs and claws, and brown meat, which comes from the body. White meat is sweet, delicate, and aromatic, while brown meat is meatier and has a rich, even flavor.
3 Crab Recipes:
Crab and Fennel Pasta:
Push about 200g of brown crabmeat through a sieve, put it in a saucepan with a few spoonfuls of butter and a few of water, and simmer until it reduces. Place 2 thinly sliced baby fennel bulbs and a pound of fresh pasta in a pot of boiling wate, and cook until done. Drain the pasta and fennel mix and toss the crab sauce in along with a few squeezes of lemon and about 400g of white crabmeat.
Crab Cakes with Tomato and Basil Sauce:
Mix all the white meat and half the brown meat of one brown crab (about 1kg) with two pounds of mashed potatoes and salt to taste. Form the mixture into patties; dredge the patties in flour and then beaten egg, then breadcrumbs. Pan-fry the cakes in oil for three minutes in total, then drain them on paper towels. Top with a sauce made from two chopped tomatoes a sprig or two of chopped basil, lemon juice, and the leftover brown crabmeat cooked down, salted and peppered.
Thai Crab Lemongrass Risotto:
Make a crab stock by simmering a broken crab shell and a chopped stalk of lemongrass in chicken broth. Heat butter and a finely chopped shallot in a large frying pan, then add about 100g of rice and stir to coat. Add a spoonful of green curry paste and a few tablespoons of Muscat wine, and then cook until the rice is almost dry. Strain the crab stock and add it to the rice slowly, over the course of a few minutes. Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Add chopped coriander, a few spoonfuls of cream, a chopped green chili, and 100g each of white and brown crabmeat. Stir in a spoonful of mascarpone and the juice of a lime; top with some grated Parmesan cheese.
New potatoes, our third ingredient, are potatoes harvested early to prevent them from becoming overly starchy or bland. New potatoes have a sweet, clean flavor, and are not as heavy as larger or more mature potatoes.
3 New Potato Recipes:
Sautéed Lemon and Rosemary Potatoes:
Heat a knob of butter and a few spoonfuls of olive oil in a pan, and add the potatoes, halved lengthwise. Fry for five minutes, then add two peeled and crushed cloves of garlic and two sprigs of rosemary. Fry for another five minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked through. Serve topped with salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon.
Nicoise Salad with Scallops:
Heat a few sliced new potatoes, a handful of halved cherry tomatoes, a sliced bell pepper, some pitted black olives, capers and blanched green beans in a pan with olive oil until just cooked, and set aside. In a dry nonstick pan, sear the scallops and—just before they are cooked—drop a knob of butter in the pan. Serve by placing the cooked vegetable mix and a poached egg on top of a bed of salad greens and topping with the scallops as well as a dressing made from yoghurt, chopped chives, black pepper and lemon juice.
Creamy Onion and Potato Champ:
Boil 3 pounds of potatoes still in their jackets in salted water until soft. Drain, and let rest until they are just cool enough to peel. Mash the peeled potatoes, and then add a half pint of milk that has been boiled and a bunch of chopped spring onions. Top with butter and serve immediately.
The flower of the elderberry bush, known as elderflower, is the fourth ingredient. Elderflower is light, sweet, and almost peculiar tasting, and it is most often used in drinks and desserts because of its sugariness.
3 Elderflower Recipes:
Gin, Elderflower and Cloudy Apple Cooler:
Fill a cocktail shaker with cloudy apple juice, gin, lime juice and elderflower in a 4:2:2:3 count ratio. Add a few torn mint leaves, shake with ice, and serve in a highball glass.
Key Lime and Elderflower Pie:
Cover the bottom of a springform pan with a mixture of crushed digestives and a bit of sugar held together with melted butter, and build an edge around the circumference of the pan about an inch high. Refrigerate for 20 or so minutes until firm. Fill the crust with a mixture of 400g condensed milk, 100ml lime juice, 3 egg yolks, 100ml elderflower cordial, 100ml double cream and the zest of a lime. Bake at 170C for 15-20 minutes, until the filling is barely wobbly. Let rest for 30 minutes out of the oven, then refrigerate for as long as possible, until right before serving. Serve topped with sweetened whipped cream and mint leaves.
Pepper-crusted Duck Breast with Cherry Relish and Elderflower Dressing:
Roll scored duck breasts in crushed black peppercorns, then place in a pan of hot vegetable oil skin side down. Sear for a minute on each side, then reduce heat and cook for five minutes a side. Let the duck rest out of the pan. Simmer cherries with a bit of elderflower cordial until pink, and then remove the cherries to cool. Mix cider vinegar and rapeseed oil into the leftover elderflower-cherry liquid, and use as a dressing for a bed of greens on which to serve the sliced duck breast topped with the cherries.
Also known as scallions, spring onions are the final ingredient I’ll highlight for May. Spring onions are lighter and more fragrant than traditional onions, and have a more complex, peppery flavor that can stand alone almost as well as it can complement other flavors.
3 Spring Onion Recipes:
Spring Onion Pancakes:
Mix 150g self-raising flour with a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, and add a mixture of an egg, a spoonful of melted butter, 250ml of milk, and 100g of cottage cheese. Fold together, and then add four chopped spring onions, salt, and pepper; mix thoroughly. Heat olive oil in a frying pan, and fry the batter into two-tablespoon pancakes for two or three minutes on each side. Make a simple sauce by cooking a chopped onion in olive oil, and adding a splash of white wine, a spoonful of mustard, black pepper, and 250ml of cream, then finish with a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve the pancakes topped with spinach sautéed in olive oil, salt, pepper and nutmeg; drizzle with the wine and cream sauce.
Spring Onion Soup:
Sauté a few crushed cloves of garlic and a chopped bunch of spring onions in a pot with olive oil for five minutes. Add a chopped peeled potato, stir to coat, and top with three cups of water. Cook until the potatoes are soft and let cool. Blend until smooth, and then add a splash of soy sauce and a pinch of oregano. Let simmer without boiling for five minutes, add salt and pepper to taste, and serve with fresh bread.
Onion, Fennel and Beetroot Slaw:
Shred a fennel bulb, a large beetroot, and half a red cabbage; toss with a few chopped spring onions in a dressing of sour cream and black caraway seeds. This can be served as a salad on its own, but it also works wonderfully on burgers or other main dishes as an easy way to add flavor.
Photo credit: http://choptsalad.