The Hix Report – Use your Imagination

It’s easy to keep cooking seasonally in the depths of winter when you use a little imagination, says our food columnist.

Wintertime cooking doesn’t need to be too taxing on the brain. It’s still possible to churn out creative and colourful food at this time of year. We tend to forget our real seasons and just throw ingredients in our shopping basket regardless of what part of the world they have been flown or shipped in from. But we have plenty of winter roots here in the UK that have a number of uses – from soups and broths, to stand-alone vegetable dishes and salads.

Celeriac, beetroot, swede and parsnips are all in season now. I find the contrast from using the abundance of green summer beans and peas to the firmer roots around in late autumn and winter makes the year-round eating process much more exciting. A couple of years back I even popped a few pieces of sugar beet in my cartridge bag when standing in a field full of it at a shoot. I went home and made various things with it – from shredded and pickled beets to an Indian chutney with cardamom.

Then of course, we have winter’s greens and brassicas, with farmers really pushing the boat out on new and interesting varieties. The most exiting one I’ve discovered in the last couple of years is flowering sprout hearts. I was given them in Padstow last year by a local grower. They are a miniature cross between curly kale and a Brussels sprout.

We use them at the restaurant briefly blanched in salads as a starter with cheese, game and nuts. This time of year is wonderful for meat and game. The game-bird season runs through until the end of January. Various types of deer, rabbit and hare are certainly good winter warmers, especially cooked with some root vegetables and served with winter greens. Any of these would certainly get the conversation going at a dinner party.

For me the time of year is irrelevant. Sun, rain, cold and snow: we have plenty of good food to feed us all year round here in Britain, and it can be as light or heavy as you wish.