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Column: On the Table with Tine Roche

While we await the vibrant ingredients spring brings, citrus fruits can put zing on our plates, writes Cambridge Cookery’s MD Tine Roche

March was the first month of the calendar year until 49BC, when Julius Caesar declared that January should herald in the new year.

And doesn’t March feel more like the month that actually heralds in a new year? Blackbirds sing during ever-lighter evenings, the first sheer green on the trees is showing and the clocks are once again about to be set to summer time. It’s a giant step into the sunshine.

Yet when it comes to the new growing season, it’s too early for any real change. Come March, I have to admit that I am ready to bid farewell to the cabbages and many wonderful root vegetables that have inspired me in the kitchen over the past two months.

Citrussy salads on the counter at Cambridge Cookery (28220438)
Citrussy salads on the counter at Cambridge Cookery (28220438)

I am not yet finished with citrus fruit, though. Their spirit-lifting zingy acidity and pretty colour hues of pink, orange and red continues to delight me in the kitchen and at the table.

Matching citrus with seafood, also in its prime during the cold month of March, is always a success. Lemon with fish and prawns is of course a given, but there are so many more deliciousflavour combinations to be had. Pink grapefruit is a wonderful partner for cooked North Atlantic prawns and avocado. It also works well with creamy goat’s cheese.

If you bought up the last of the Seville oranges, they will, by the way, keep happily for another month in your fridge - and they can be frozen, whole, which is a surprise to many.

Citrus fruits can put zing on our plates, writes Cambridge Cookery’s MD Tine Roche (Credit iStock) (28220426)
Citrus fruits can put zing on our plates, writes Cambridge Cookery’s MD Tine Roche (Credit iStock) (28220426)

The unique aromatic acidity of Seville oranges, more akin to lemon than orange, make them a superb partner for plump and rich seafood dishes such as seared scallops and griddled prawns, as well as partnering, in that most iconic of fashions, with duck. Duck à l’Orange was created with Seville oranges. It was never intended to be a sweet dish. Try squeezing Seville oranges over piping hot, oven roasted purple sprouting broccoli as well - it’s a revelation.

Marrying citrus with the warmth of cardamom is another surefire combo. If some March days seem icy and far from the promise of spring, ditch whatever promise you made to yourself about healthy eating and soothe body and soul by making a classic sponge cake, demanding no more than a few staple ingredients and 10 minutes of your time.

Whisk 180g of egg - which equates to three whole eggs - and 180g of caster sugar until thick and ribbony. That should mean less than two minutes using electric beaters. Add the same weight in plain flour and two teaspoons of baking powder. Melt 50g butter with 150ml milk or water and add that. If you like, add a bit of vanilla.

You now have all it takes to make a perfect light sponge cake. You can flavour that in a myriad of ways, but for a March cake, keep one foot firmly placed in warm winter spice, whilst letting the other step forward into the summer sun and combine warm ground cardamom and the grated zest of a large orange of the thick-skinned variety.

A cake like this can be baked in a loaf tin or something more ornate like a Bundt tin. Either way, bake for 45 minutes at 180C, having first buttered and crumbed the tin.

Drizzle with a simple icing sugar and fresh orange juice glaze or make butter icing from two times the weight of icing sugar to soft butter, then beat in enough cream cheese to give the required soured flavour, and add some orange zest or juice.

Ten minutes to make and, I would love to say, hours of enjoyment. But the truth is: 10 minutes to make, 10 minutes to devour! Which is why I tend to make two cakes whenever I bake, rather than one. It is just as easy, and that way, when one cake has been reduced to mere crumbs on the cake stand, you know there is another one waiting in the wings or in the freezer.

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