I admit to being a little worried when I first saw today’s MoFo challenge, to “make a dish using all seasonal produce“.
In my last five years living in London, I have become increasingly aware at once of environmental and ethical concerns, financial considerations (and plain stubbornness), but also of my (and now Ben’s) preferences. These considerations have brought with them some shopping dilemmas. Do I buy what is cheapest? Do I buy only local produce (and how far afield do I go)? Or do I buy what I want, when I want, when it looks good on the shelves? In theory, in a perfect world, those would all overlap, but this doesn’t always seem to be the case.
My shopping has evolved to be guided by a strange combination of those varied factors, with a few double standards and exceptions thrown in for good measure. So while apples are distinctly seasonal, they are available via imports year-round and are usually some of the cheapest fruit you can buy, not to mention that I have enjoyed an apple daily for as long as I can remember and make for satisfying and hardwearing portable snacks.
Admittedly, you can buy most fruits and vegetables year-round, but strawberries in the winter just don’t taste as good and aren’t as fun to eat, in addition to usually being prohibitively expensive. Bananas, meanwhile, are another handy source of energy and nutrients, delicious and often cheap (Waitrose loose fairtrade bananas remain the cheapest I have ever bought in the UK), but never local to the UK or even Europe.
I remember the first time I approached one of London’s many fruit and veg stalls, excited to be able to see what was actually local and seasonal, and to know my money was going to the producer… But was disappointed to see that the fruits and vegetables piled into £1 bowls were either suspiciously large and shiny and just too perfect, or wrinkly and bruised. More importantly, there were no provenance labels save for what was printed on the sides of any crates that happened to be lying around, nor was the selection available clearly seasonal, offering anything from berries to potatoes and pears to bell peppers.
So I abandoned any strict notions of seasonality or provenance; I go with the staples I know I will eat in the coming days, the offers and seasonal produce that will keep well, the seasonal treats that are affordable or at least reasonable, and wherever there are options I will choose the more local variety. Basically, we probably eat about 70-80% the same year-round, and 20-30% of our diet changes according to the seasons.
Lately, we’ve gotten better at navigating our local daily market which, although still not being a farmer’s market, does offer some variation in availability and price according to the seasons.
As always, I turned to Eat The Seasons for a more accurate guide to seasonal produce, expecting that one standout item would propel me to cast it as the hero of tonight’s dinner… instead, I found myself faced with a new problem: we cook with and eat many of these on a regular, year-round basis – and I’d be pretty excited about cooking with any of the others we don’t regularly cook with.
Our favourite way to enjoy vegetables is either to grill them, or roast them, the latter being particularly suited to autumnal weather and the root vegetables it brings.
Having grown up eating something different every night, I do feel a little guilty that most nights Ben and I will dine on roast sweet potato or pumpkin, grilled bell peppers, and grilled tofu or sausages (we like the Oregano & Basil as well as Sage & Marjoram sausages by VegiDeli). Sometimes I’ll roast up some beetroot as well, and often I’ll grill or sauté myself some mushrooms and/or broccoli or greens to have on the side.
Although I had grand plans to craft a fancy dinner based on a variety of the amazing mid-late September produce available, artichoke is just too much work and the aubergines at the market didn’t look great, Ben doesn’t like leeks or leafy greens, I wasn’t feeling beetroot and don’t feel strongly enough towards any of the other items on the list to prepare them for just myself… Moreover, as we get home late and tend to eat quite well throughout the day, neither of us are ever really in the mood to make or sit down to a more elaborate or more complex dinner.
So, squash has simply been tossed with olive oil (from my jar of sun-dried tomatoes for added flavour and reduced waste) and coarse sea salt, and roast on a high heat for about 20-30mins before bringing the heat down while everything else finishes getting cooked.
Zucchini has been aggressively seared in the grill pan with fine kosher salt and left to soften in a pan in the oven while a sliced green pepper was tossed in the grill pan until blackened in parts, then also transferred to the oven before I realised I had forgotten the smoked paprika.
In an attempt to right the wrongs I committed against red cabbage with an ill thought out flash in the pan last night, I finely finely sliced a small amount to join a julienned carrot along with a couple of chopped sun-dried tomatoes and a little iceberg lettuce in a crunchy and colourful salad base spiked with apple cider vinegar.
And let’s not forget the plums and figs that got snacked on earlier in the day.
I guess some things just don’t need to get dressed up!