From the Vitsœ kitchen: April
When times are hard, comfort is often found in food. We have turned to the Vitsœ kitchen to ask our chef, Will Leigh, to offer us all some of his wisdom and comfort. Here are William's words:
…starts with a bang. In Roman times, the first of the month was a raucous and raunchy affair known as Veneralia; now we know it as April Fools’ Day, which is somewhat tamer. The Romans certainly knew how to party. April is generally received as coming from the verb ‘Aperire’ meaning to open – in that the buds and flowers will open in this month. It is commonly known as the start of the season for planting, as the soil begins to warm and the chance of frost diminishes.
However, in Finnish, April is Huhtikuu meaning ‘slash-and-burn moon’ and, as Finland has the second highest proportion of heavy metal bands per capita within Europe, I’ll leave you to decide who got it right.
April will see the end of the game season in Europe, with the last of the venison. But it will be replaced with wild boar for those who are lucky enough to find such a precious commodity. Lamb, as you might expect, will begin to climb in price as we look at the start of the new season and spring chickens will start to appear.
In the sea, the lighter days bring the first of the lemon sole – which would be a mighty treat for lunch – alongside the red mullets, John Dory (named after the French for yellow gold ‘jaune d’oré’) and scallops that really typify the start of spring.
The wild garlic has finally started to sprout in my garden. A sure sign that the soil is warming, and it is time to get planting. In the fields, spring greens begin to appear: the asparagus season will start; we might see a Jersey Royal or two, though when they finally hit they’ll be ubiquitous, and our family will spend two weeks eating no other spud – and be all the more glorious for it. For those of you who abide in the countryside, wood sorrel, sea purslane, wild watercress and sea aster will be out there alongside the wild garlic and nettle tips for the foragers to squirrel away, all good for soups, pastas, fricassées and salads alike.
The chef, Rowley Leigh (no relation), once famously said that being a cook ‘coarsens the vocabulary, ruins the complexion, and nobody invites you to dinner – but we do it because we love it’ and there is no time like the springtime to fall in love with cookery. Peas and broad beans sing next to wild garlic and nettle tips; mackerel, burnished with a flame, is anointed with heaps of gooseberry and lovage; a roast of lamb gleams above little Jersey royals and is showered with mint, the list is endless and ceaselessly poetic.
At the time of writing I am prepared to make some hot cross buns – and I might look more at old English-style pastry work. There’s something appealing about the simplicity of traditional bakery – a few caraway seeds in with an almondy cake, or a quick scrape of lemon into a walnut biscuit. My 1775 copy of Hannah Glasse’s ‘Recipes for a modern household’ has come into its own…
A favourite treat from the Vitsœ kitchen is my marmalade and poppy seed cake, Here is the recipe for you to enjoy:
Marmalade and poppy seed cake
160g orange marmalade
140g caster sugar
170g gluten-free self-raising flour
80g double cream
50g unsalted butter
20ml sunflower oil
10g poppy seeds
3g bicarbonate of soda
1 pinch salt
Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin – mine are 25cm by 12cm
Preheat the oven to 160c
Gently warm the marmalade, cream, oil and butter – until the butter has melted
Lightly whisk together the eggs and sugar
Mix the flour, poppy seeds, salt and bicarb in a large bowl
Add the cream and marmalade mix to the egg mixture and combine
Gently fold in the dry ingredients
Bake for 35 minutes then turn the cake and bake for a further 15 – or until your cake skewer comes out clean
For added indulgence…
Pile a heap of icing sugar in a bowl and squeeze in a tiny amount of lemon juice, stir well to form a smooth, thick icing. Be stringent in your application of the juice as it will become too thin very, very easily.
Inevitably, add more icing sugar to the bowl and thicken your icing. Spoon over the cake with style, panache and elegance; or you can do as I have and pile it on thick and artless. Leave the icing to set for half an hour and enjoy.