Forced Seakale – looking somewhat like celery, but with a flavour more akin to globe artichoke. The shoots (including the leaves) can be cooked and eaten in the same way as asparagus. Boil for just a couple of minutes so that some bite remains. Melted butter is the classic, simplest, and possibly best, way to appreciate the delicate flavour. If you want to be more ambitious try a hollandaise sauce made with a good cider vinegar.
Chicory with Stilton Cream Sauce
Simply halve each chicon and blanch in boiling water until the tip of a knife will just penetrate the root. Drain and dry on kitchen paper. Heat some butter in a frying pan and fry the chicons, cut side down, until they are lightly golden. Turn over and add cream to the pan. When the cream is bubbling, break lumps of Stilton cheese over the dish. The cheese should melt slightly, but not completely. Season with black pepper (the cheese should provide ample salt) and scatter chopped parsley and walnuts over before serving. Some good bread to mop up the sauce is all that is required to make a complete supper dish.
Witloof Chicory can be eaten raw in salads or cooked, which reduces its bitterness. If the chicory is to accompany a meat dish cook as above but omit the sauce. It is particularly good served with beef braised in beer.
My favourite of the Red Chicories is Radicchio Rosso di Treviso Tardivo (pictured left). Seeds are available from Seeds of Italy (see contacts).
I usually use the leaves in salads but they can also be simply grilled or brushed with oil and placed on a hot griddle.
Retaining the colour of Forced Rhubarb
Forced rhubarb has such a wonderful pink colour, care needs to be taken during cooking to retain this. The first step towards even cooking is to get pieces of similar size. Cut the stems (excluding the leaves) into 3 cm lengths, adjusting this up or down according to the thickness of the stem so that all the pieces will cook within a similar time. Rhubarb contains a high percentage of water, which is drawn out during the cooking, so no more than a tablespoon should be added. Simply sprinkle with 100g of sugar per 500g of rhubarb. Add a tablespoon of water or orange juice to prevent the rhubarb sticking before its own juices are exuded. Cover the pan and cook over a medium heat, shaking occasionally, until of all the sugar has dissolved. Bring the juices up to the boil, then switch off the heat and leave the pan covered. The rhubarb will continue cooking in the residual heat and should be perfectly cooked by the time it is cool.
The perfect Rhubarb Fool
A classic that is hard to better. The acidity in rhubarb cuts the richness of the cream, making a perfect partnership. But the quality of the cream makes all the difference. I buy thick unpasteurised cream from Guernsey cows (see www.hurdlebrook.co.uk ). About 200 ml of cream to 500g of puréed rhubarb (without its juice) makes a fantastic Rhubarb Fool, which I serve with homemade shortbread. To ring the changes I add either orange zest or stem ginger to both the fool and the shortbread.
For information about growing and forcing see here.