There’s a little wisp of morning light peeping through the curtains now. In the fields, the ewes are looking plump and all around – even in cities – the daffodils are making themselves known. Spring is a time for simple pleasures and there are none simpler than the spring onion. Mild and minimalist, its elegant green stem was made for snipping over soups and risottos. It seems unjust, though, to use one of the season’s finest offerings only as a garnish. As an antidote to all that heavy February stodge, a salad for dinner is just the thing – a fat fillet of mackerel tossed with new potatoes, rocket and chunks of sweet Valencia orange. Add a glug of sherry vinegar and a large handful of sliced spring onions and you have the makings of a good springtime feast.
Oily fish are perfect for those early days when it’s neither cold enough for stews nor hot enough for something leafy. Salmon – that prince among fish – is light to eat, yet never leaves you feeling hungry. Rub two fillets with chilli and garlic and pan fry with a hearty dash of soy sauce. Watching those red fleshy segments turn a demurer shade of pink is almost as satisfying as the eating. For those still pining for the richer fare of winter, the problem can be solved by wrapping a skinned salmon fillet in bacon. Tuck a little sprig of thyme inside the parcel and place under the grill for 15 minutes. The salty bacon fat combined with the buttery flavour of the fish is a heavenly pairing.
Few would consider nettles, those vicious forest floor-dwellers to be heavenly. Yet those first four to six tender leaves on each plant stem are delicious when you know what to do with them. You’ll need your gardening gloves and long, thick sleeves – the stings are as tenacious as the nettle’s growth and they only disappear upon contact with heat. It would be wrong not to make a seasonal pot of nettle soup, with leeks and onion sautéed in butter, and a fistful of rice thrown into the stock. The nettles go in last for a mere three minutes or so and after a quick blitz in a blender, you should finish the job with a dollop of fresh yoghurt. For something a bit different, an excellent pesto can be had from boiled nettles, garlic, pine nuts and Parmesan.