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Food in Season: May
Food In Season

WLR’s food expert Laurence Beeken highlights Food in Season for May and gives you some delicious spinach, asparagus and plaice recipes to get you inspired.

Food in Season: May

By WLR's Food Information Executive, Laurence Beeken

March winds and April showers bring forth May Flowers – that well known proverb makes us think at last of the warmer weather to come and our thoughts naturally turn to eating out and at last being able to get out in the garden and burn some calories.

Seasonal food in May is predominated by asparagus, and with good reason as this short season vegetable can be used in a multitude of ways and is actually at its best simply steamed. Other leafy vegetables are responding to the warmer weather of the season and proliferation of new growth makes salads a cheaper option. And if you thought spinach was that slushy green cooked vegetable, then think again, it is fantastic raw as baby leaf or as part of a mixed green salad. For the meat lovers then the seasonal food for May is Plaice, a much under estimated fish and worthy of a place on anyone’s plate!

If you are looking for a way to burn off a few extra calories then invest some time in your garden now, and get physical by:

  • Sowing vegetable and herb seeds: basil, coriander and parsley will sit on the kitchen windowsill quite happily, while a grow bag can be planted up with salad leaves and left near the kitchen door for ease of picking.
  • Mulching borders
  • Clearing containers for summer displays: why not add a lettuce or two or hanging tomatoes to your window boxes.

Plaice

Classed as a demersal fish (i.e. swims close to the sea bed), plaice will feed on clams, razor fish, crabs and other shellfish. They reach maturity at 5 to 7 years and can live for 30 years. Upon hatching the fry resemble a normal fish but metamorphoses into a flatfish during the second month when the left eye moves around to the right side of the head.
One of the popular UK flatfish, plaice has a bit of a reputation as a poor man’s food, due, in part, to associations with the battered afterthought in service stations and greasy cafes.  Plaice deserves be seen as a fish worthy of our attention, since as with other white fish, it is high in protein and low in fat and calories.  A good source of iodine (vital for effective thyroid function) plaice contains some omega 3 fatty acids, but at much lower levels than oily fish.  If judged on its own merits, plaice has a fine, moist texture and subtle but distinctive flavor and by picking the right plaice recipe, you can make a simple, healthy and inexpensive lunch or supper.

Preparation

Plaice is a versatile fish that can be grilled, baked or poached. For best flavour, cook on the bone. When buying, look for bright orange spots and clear protruding eyes which are signs of fresh plaice.

If the fish has been frozen, defrost according to the packaging instructions, at least overnight in the bottom of the ‘fridge.

Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling fish and don't allow raw fish to come into contact with cooked or ready-to-eat food.

Storage

In the fridge for up to 2 days or freezer for up to 3 months. If raw, make sure your fish is gutted and properly cleaned before freezing it; your fishmonger or supermarket will do this for you if you ask. Wrap the plaice in cling film, place it in a polythene bag or container, and then freeze.

Nutrition data per 100g Flesh Only (Plaice, Fillets, Raw, Average)

Calories (kcal):87.0                   
Protein (g): 18.25
Carbohydrate (g):  0
Sugars (g): 0
Fat (g):  1.52
Saturates (g): 0.24
Fibre (g): 0
Sodium (g):  0.01267
Fruit & Veg portion: 0

Plaice Recipes:

Plaice a la Provencal
Hot Plaice Salad
Plaice in Spicy Tomato Sauce

Asparagus

The British asparagus season traditionally begins on 1st May and runs until the end of June, although if it’s been a warm spring then it is possible to see the first asparagus spears on the shelves as early as late April, as asparagus is very climate-dependent (the soil temperature must be at least 10ºc before it grows).

British asparagus is claimed by leading chefs to be the best in the world as the UK climate allows asparagus stems to develop slowly producing a full, sweet flavour and a fine, tender texture quite unlike any other crop, and because it’s grown on our doorstep we can enjoy British asparagus at its most tasty and nutritious as there is little degradation through transport.

Having been attributed with many health claims, asparagus is packed with fibre along with vitamins and minerals and can even help as part of your calorie controlled diet when used as a freshly steamed vegetable.

High in the anti oxidant Vitamin A as well as Folic acid and fibre, asparagus may help prevent certain cancers, such as bowel cancer, by protecting body cells from damage caused by free radicals and has been said to reduce incidence of heart disease due to the protective effect of soluble fibre. Asparagus also contains high levels of potassium, which may help to control blood pressure, and as it is also low in fat and sodium, it is the perfect choice for those concerned about a healthy heart.
Regarded as an aphrodisiac, the herbalist Culpepper claimed asparagus could ‘stir up lust in man and woman’. Traditionally eaten with the fingers, asparagus is a seductive eating experience - not to mention having a rather phallic appearance!

Preparation

As asparagus is grown in sandy soil, always wash the spears well to remove any grit before cooking. Trim any white ends or peel with a vegetable peeler and be careful not to overcook. You should feel a little resistance when you test the spear with a knife.

How to Cook Asparagus
  • To boil: tie the asparagus in bundles of 10-12 spears so that they can be quickly removed from the water all at once. Submerge in a large pan of boiling water, cover and cook the asparagus for 3-6 minutes.
  • To steam: either in a steamer, or stand the asparagus in 3 inches of boiling water. Either way, cover and cook for 3-6 minutes.
  • To roast: pre-heat the oven (220°C, gas mark 7, 425F), place asparagus on baking sheet and drizzle over a little olive oil. Roast for approximately 10 minutes, turning a few times depending on the thickness of the spears. Stems should be soft, not limp, tips should be slightly crunchy.
  • To chargrill: toss the spears in a little olive oil and place in a ridged grill pan over a high heat. Grill the spears for 3-6 minutes turning once or twice.
  • To barbecue: set the grill on a medium height above the coals - you don't want the asparagus to cook too quickly and become black. Place the spears directly on the grill and cook until lightly coloured.
  • To stir fry: heat a little sunflower oil in a wok or deep frying pan until smoking hot, add the asparagus and stir fry for 3-6 minutes. If your asparagus is too thick, you can plunge it into boiling water for a couple of minutes and then into cold water to partially cook before stir frying or sautéing
  • To sauté: heat a non-stick frying pan over a gentle heat and add a knob of butter. When it starts to foam, add the asparagus and toss in the butter for 3-6 minutes.
  • Raw: select the youngest, finest asparagus spears available, chop roughly and use in your favourite salad.
Storage

In the fridge: If you plan to keep your asparagus for a few days, keep it fresh by placing in a jug or vase with the stems in water, then store in the fridge.

In the freezer: Wash well; cut off tough part of stalks and either leave as spears or cut in 1-inch pieces. Blanch thin stalks for 2 minutes, medium stalks for 3 minutes and thick stalks for 4 minutes. Pack leaving about ½ inch of space. For spears, it’s a good idea to alternate tips and ends down.

Nutrition data per 100g (Asparagus, Raw, Trimmed, Average)
Calories (kcal): 24.4
Protein (g): 2.9
Carbohydrate (g): 2.0
Sugars (g): 1.8
Fat (g): 0.6
Saturates (g): 0.10
Fibre (g): 1.7
Sodium (g): 0.7
Fruit & Veg: 1.3

Asparagus Recipes:

Tuna with Roasted Asparagus Salad
Asparagus & Bean Salad with Mustard Dressing
Asparagus with Chicken & Rice Salad

Spinach

Never has parental advice been more apt than “eat your greens.” Like other dark greens, spinach is an excellent source of beta-carotene, a powerful disease-fighting antioxidant that's been shown, among other things, to improve eyesight, fight heart disease and possibly prevent certain types of cancer as well. Served raw, spinach is a good source of vitamin C, another powerful antioxidant, although if you overcook it, you lose most of this important vitamin.

As a dark, leafy green, spinach possesses several important plant phytochemicals including lipoic acid, which is currently being investigated for its ability to regulate blood sugar levels, along with 20-hydroxyecdysone (20HE), a chemical reportedly used in the body for muscle synthesis, which means Popeye wasn’t all that wrong!

Preparation

Remove any long stems and rinse under cold water in a colander to remove any grit. Using a salad spinner or patting leaves dry is recommended to remove excess moisture before serving or using spinach to cook in a recipe.
If the spinach is to be used later as part of a recipe, blanch it in a large amount of water just until it wilts, then submerge in ice water to preserve its color.

Spinach is wonderful raw, but you can cook it in a tightly covered pan, with just the water that clings to the leaves after rinsing, over medium-high heat just until soft, about 3 to 5 minutes. Or, steam over boiling water or a vegetable stock, again just until tender, about 2 to 4 minutes. You can also stir-fry or sauté Spinach, either whole or chopped leaves. 

Storage

Pack Spinach loosely into a plastic bag and refrigerate to crisp leaves. Spinach is highly perishable and should be used within a week of purchase. 

Always select spinach exhibiting good green color and without any signs of wilting, yellowing or dark green slime. Leaves should be well developed and rounded (depending on type) with minimal blemishes.
If you are purchasing spinach in plastic bag check to make sure the spinach inside the bag has a "springy" feel when handled.

Nutrition data per 100g (Spinach, Raw, Average)
Calories (kcal): 24.2
Protein (g): 2.9
Carbohydrate (g): 1.4
Sugars (g): 1.3
Fat (g): 0.7
Saturates (g): 0.1
Fibre (g): 2.2
Sodium (g): 0.08
Fruit & Veg: 1.3

Spinach  Recipes:

Spinach & Cauliflower Bake
Spinach & Squash Curry
Spinach & Mushroom Risotto

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