At last, spring is here and filling the air with nature's sweet offerings. I know this because my nose starts to twitch even before my eyes open as I smell the posy of freesias propped up in a lovely old glass jar placed right beside the bed. The scent is stimulating and rousing enough to get me up and out of bed. The daphne has also just started to flower in the garden.
Time to put the kettle on, brew a pot of tea and contemplate the new seasonal ingredients, their availability, and how to involve them in appetising recipes.
This is such a special time of the year, heralding the appearance of gorgeous baby vegetables, glorious asparagus and sweet spring lamb, and a reason to combine delicious light flavours to celebrate the new season.
After winter's heartwarming stews and roasts, spring is a time when we start to crave fresher, lighter, healthier food. Asparagus has begun to appear in the shops already so I have chosen this to be at the heart of our first tasty salad. (Although some purists may be appalled because, like strawberries, both are associated with late November, early December and Christmas, and many think they shouldn't be expected to raise their heads so early.)
Other ingredients used today are easily available - salmon, mint, mozzarella, baby carrots, beetroot, fennel and lamb - but it's the way we combine all these flavours that is key. By using quick cooking techniques the result will be vibrant dishes that don't take too much time but taste inspirational. Juicy orange slices paired with the punchy flavour of fresh mint leaves and the creamy texture of mozzarella can be a meal in itself. Add a few slices of raw salmon or some rare lamb, and some crunchy breadcrumbs or pine nuts for texture. Lemon, chilli and anchovies add extra flavour in the dressings.
Though green asparagus is the most common variety, white and purple are becoming more available. White asparagus needs to be peeled because the stems are thicker and often quite woody.