February is the month when the chill really sets in for me. November is never really that cold, December is kept warm by a continual blanket of rich food and celebratory drinks, January I haven’t really woken up…
By the time February gets here I’m sick of the long, dark days and the all-pervasive damp chill. However, towards the back end of February there’s a quiet brightening leaking back into the world, with one or two days of not-so-abject weather.
Weather aside, February is a fine month to be eating seasonal British produce. With the tail end of winter crops – kale, leeks, carrots, cabbages – and new leaves unfurling in the hedgerows, it’s time to rejoice and feast before the March to May hunger gap kicks in.
Brassicas – seasonal food that’s both good for you and tasty
February is a grand month for brassicas. Kale (Aldi is THE best for British black kale/cavelo nero btw), sprouts (yes, those devilish little fart bombs), divine purple sprouting broccoli (so delicious with chilli and anchovies), cauliflower and spring greens.
Brassicas are a great source of much-needed nutrients and are packed full of vitamins K, A and C, plus manganese, iron, folate and much more.
Health benefits aside, the reason I like to include brassicas is their sheer adaptability. Perfect paired with fresh flavours like lemon, garlic and chilli, they also work wonderfully well blanketed in comforting creamy, cheesy sauces or with tomatoes for a quick pasta dish.
If you want to get more seasonal greens in your diet, but you’re not sure about sprouts, try this picked sprouts recipe.
Leeks – the most underrated allium ever
Oh, if I could write a love letter to one vegetable, it would be the humble leek. Overlooked for its brasher cousin, the onion, or pushed aside for the high-and-mighty shallot, the leek is often left languishing in the vegetable drawer.
But this is where I convince you to give leeks a look in. Sweated down for half an hour in butter they become sweet, soft and sticky. Add these to your linguine with some cheddar and wholegrain mustard, and you’ve got yourself one of the most pleasing pasta dishes I know.
Sliced very thin and added to ramens or spring vegetable soups, leeks add a less abrasive allium sweetness than a spring onion (which isn’t in season yet). They’re great for adding sweet body to stocks and like brassicas, are perfect with creamy, cheesy sauces.
If you want a pleasing, cheesy, hug in food form, try my taleggio lasagne which features leeks and kale.
Dandelions – eat your foraged seasonal greens
Colloquially known as ‘piss the bed’ for their apparent ability as a diuretic, the dandelion is one of the first British wild edibles to poke its sharp leaves through the cold ground. You may see it as a garden pest, but February is the best month for picking this bitter little leaf.
Loved across the continent, it’s really just us supermarket-cosseted Brits who have forgotten what a great addition to a salad dandelion can be. Bitter like radicchio, it’s great tossed through pasta, used with blood oranges and vinaigrette to cut through rich dishes, or made into a pesto.
Dandelions will grow anywhere, but it’s best to pick the leaves away from a road or ‘brownfield’ sites like old factory demolition sites. Pick the leaves before the flower heads start to show, as they become stringy and bitter then. Don’t take all the leaves from one plant (unless you’re riding your lawn of them!), but take a few from each and treat like a cut and come again.
Mussels, oysters and clams – sweet shellfish that’s at its best right now
March will be the last month we can eat mussels and oysters before they become milky during spawning, so get stuck in now. Great as simple moule mariniere, they also pair well with fennel, bacon, chilli and chorizo.
I’m actually more of a fan of the clam than the mussel. Technically you can still get palourdes during the summer, but they’re at their sweetest and best in the colder months.
Like mussels, clams need barely any cooking and adapt to the same flavour profiles. Right now I’m chucking them in a pan with some white wine and fennel seeds, mixing in some cream and then tossing with kale through linguine. And, who can resist a traditional spaghetti vongole? One of my all-time favourite dishes ever!
What other seasonal British food can you eat in February?
There’s plenty more seasonal British produce that’s good to eat in February, including:
- The sweet, day-glo pink of forced rhubarb.
- Thanks to advances in plant breeding and chilled warehousing there are still British apples, onions, carrots, parsnips and cauliflowers.
- Jerusalem artichokes – roast with garlic and rosemary for a great side dish.
- Blood oranges bring a vibrant citrus kick to salads and cakes, kumquats are great to eat like sweeties.
- Radicchio and chicory brighten up winter plates and bring a pleasing bitterness to stodgy winter eating. Try this beet and chicory salad, replacing the grapefruit for blood orange.
- The first of the spring lamb can be found at the butchers, soft, sweet and mild, unlike lamb from later in the year.
- From around our shores we get brill, halibut, haddock, hake, John Dory, lemon sole, salmon and turbot.
- And who could forget truffles?