Between winter and spring there’s a frustrating time. One day the sun shines, the sky is a warm, dark blue and the greenhouse door needs to be pulled wide open.
This spring-like day is generally followed by a grim, grey, damp day… the greenhouse door remains firmly shut because winter has returned. Maybe it’s only frustrating because I’m an impatient gardener. I want to get out there and sow seeds. I’m anticipating the first peas, lettuces and broad beans that the warmer weather will bring. I’m eager for blossom on the fruit trees, flowers in the borders and bees buzzing between them.
The garden has more patience. Winter’s passing is marked by the muscari taking over from snowdrops as the flowering bulbs. The rhubarb and chives are just starting to show fresh leaves, and on warmer days, pulmonaria, crocus and rosemary flowers are opening to dispense spring nectar to the bumblebee queens as they emerge from hibernation. Indoors the chilli and tomato seedlings get moved from one windowsill to another, following the sun. Everything is coming along at the right pace.
One of the positive things about the transition from winter to spring (apart from the promise of longer and warmer days), is the merging of flavours as the last of the winter crops are joined by the first fresh spring leaves. Here’s a recipe for a Garden Deli favourite. It uses the last few leeks pulled from the veggie patch. They’re a little weather-beaten after a winter in the ground, but still have all the taste that home grown veg should. Add a good handful of rocket, parsley and chervil from the greenhouse – again these are overwintered plants, but now starting to make young, new season growth. And you have a winter-spring flavour fusion.
A spring leek tart
250g plain flour
pinch of fine sea salt
125g unsalted butter, cold
1 egg, beaten
enough very cold water to form a dough
knob of unsalted butter
4 medium leeks, cleaned and finely sliced
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
handful of fresh spring herbs, finely chopped
120g Wensleydale cheese – or whichever cheese is your favourite
200ml crème fraiche
nutmeg, to taste
First make the pastry – combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Grate the cold butter into the bowl then, quickly and gently, use your fingertips to distribute the butter evenly through the flour. Stir in the egg and just enough icy cold water to form a dough. Make a ball with the pastry, wrap it in cling wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes – you can leave it longer if it’s more convenient.
While the pastry is chilling, make the filling. Melt the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the sliced leeks and sauté until soft. Remove from the heat. Season the leeks with salt and pepper, then stir in the chopped herbs.
Preheat oven to 190oC/375F/gas 5. Grease a 24cm (9½”) flan tin.
Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll it out to line the flan tin. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the pastry in the base of the tin. Top this with the leek and herb mixture, and cover with the rest of the cheese. Whisk together the crème fraiche and eggs along with a good grating of nutmeg. Pour this mixture over the flan filling – you might need to tip the tin one way and the other to spread the mixture evenly through the leeks and cheese. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the filling is set and a nice golden colour on top.
If it’s one of those warm, blue sky in between days, serve the flan with a green salad and some freshly baked bread. On the other hand, if it’s a grey, cold day, jacket potatoes and baked beans might be more appropriate…