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On the Table: Why May is the tastiest month

With many of her favourite fresh ingredients reaching their peak - asparagus, globe artichoke, new potatoes - Cambridge Cookery’s Tine Roche says May is a month of culinary celebration

Tine Roche's favourite ingredients reach their peak in May (56248560)
Tine Roche's favourite ingredients reach their peak in May (56248560)

May is my personal month to revel in seasonal produce in the kitchen. All my absolute favourite things are at their peak. If I had to restrict what I cook for the rest of my life to only a handful of key ingredients, my list would include new potatoes, asparagus, free range chicken, globe artichoke and stone fruits - all bursting into the food scene in May.

Not only are they utterly delicious, but they also herald the true start of British summer, soon joined by other fabulously delicious ingredients including new green peas, radishes, open air-grown lettuces and herbs.

(Lamb, by the way, is not on my list, as lambs born in spring are best enjoyed aged six months or thereabouts, so it is really an autumn ingredient.)

All of the above are mouthwatering, but none more so than asparagus, made even more special due to its short season of only six weeks or so. Just as it is with fish, so it is with asparagus that it must not be over cooked and is best kept well away from water. Boiling or simmering adds no flavour whatsoever, whereas a bit of unctuousness from butter and eggs in various guises will elevate asparagus to their heavenly herbaceousness.

Roasted and served with brown butter and chopped hazelnuts they make a refined starter or side dish; dipped in a light tempura batter and deep fried before being served, still warm and ideally on a simple strip of greaseproof paper with wasabi mayo, they become an impressive dish to put on the table with a glass of ice cold Sauvignon Blanc while lucky guests wait for lunch in the spring sunshine; added to a savoury tart case filled with ricotta and egg they elevate a humble quiche to stratospheric levels; and shaved lengthways and added raw to a spring salad of tender lettuces and thinly sliced radish, dressed with a simple lemon and olive oil dressing, they add a surprise shot of new green peas to the unsuspecting palate.

Tine Roche's favourite ingredients reach their peak in May (56248562)
Tine Roche's favourite ingredients reach their peak in May (56248562)

On to new potatoes. Goodness me. If I boil them, I can’t stop myself from halving them while still so hot they burn my fingers as I fish them out of the water and add a generous cold dollop of salted butter, with added sea salt, eating as I stand by the stove before I serve them with whatever they were intended for. Roasted, whole, with finely chopped sprigs of new rosemary they are sumptuous.

Spring chicken next. Yes, free range chicken used to be, and still is, a seasonal ingredient. Roasted with a lemon and fresh rosemary and thyme in its cavity, some herb-infused soft butter pushed under the skin of the breast fillets, and joined by whole new potatoes for the second half of a 70 minute-or-so roasting time, it loves being served with asparagus, new green peas and a salad of mixed leaves and a classic dressing made the French way from sunflower oil, balsamic, white vinegar and finely chopped raw garlic - quite possibly the best meal I can think of preparing and enjoying!

Adding butter - and sea salt - has been a recurring theme for this column and never more so than when we turn to the secretive globe artichoke. This thistle emanates “don’t touch me” thus protecting its tender heart - the outrageously delicious inner disc with which the patient peeler of cooked artichoke leaves is rewarded. Under a topknot of wiry hair, reminiscent of those awful rubber trolls with wild hair some older readers will remember, globe artichoke hearts, smothered in cold salted butter with extra sea salt on top are beyond good. They beat just about everything else from the plant world.

Tine Roche's favourite ingredients reach their peak in May (56248564)
Tine Roche's favourite ingredients reach their peak in May (56248564)

Just ahead of our own main soft fruit and berry season, including strawberries, Southern European apricots and nectarines arrive bursting with the full oomph of summer. With their honeyed sweetness and juiciness they are perfect partners in savoury May salads, as they align so exceptionally well with ingredients offering the polar opposite in taste - salty and lemony goat’s cheese, feta and prosciutto.

Vist cambridgecookery.com for more.

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