A month of repentance, purification and pancakes, February marks the beginning of Lent on the Christian calendar with Shrove Tuesday arriving on the 21st. For the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts it’s World Thinking Day on the 22nd and this year’s theme is the environment. Love it or hate it, February also means Valentine’s Day. To mark the occasion, this month’s gastronomic inspiration comes from the brain of someone who has had a lifelong love affair with food, fifth generation farmer and founder of Big Barn, Anthony Davidson. ‘As far as I'm concerned, variety is the spice of life,’ he says. ‘Whatever is available, I will go out and find it, come back and cook it.’
Anthony started Big Barn 10 years ago after realising that ‘farmers could team up and sell directly to consumers, offer a wider range of goods and provide a better service than the supermarket and still be cheaper.’ Anthony is passionate about supporting local producers and retailers and sees food as a fantastic way to connect people. A tool on the Big Barn website shows people where their local producers and retailers are (just enter your post code). ‘Know what you are buying and find out what is in season,’ he advises. ‘For example, local, well hung topside is better than a fillet from a supermarket.’ There are a lot of root vegetables around this time of year, which according to Anthony, are great ‘for making soups some stock and can last three of four days.’ Here are his February favourites.
‘There is so much you can do with a potato: chips, wedges, roasted, mash, soups, baked, dauphinoise... In all their diversity, potatoes are an important vegetable for most of Europe and central to a hearty British meal. Perfect for chasing the February blues away. ‘
‘Another versatile vegetable to rival the potato, carrots can be sliced julienned, roasted, juiced, eaten raw, oh, and don’t forget carrot cake,’ says Anthony. Carrots are also extremely good for you and are packed with beta carotene and vitamin C, despite being 90 per cent water. ‘Wash rather than peel them,’ adds Anthony, ‘[as] most of the nutrients are in the skin.’
‘This distinctive and sweet tasting root vegetable is fantastic roasted or mashed as a side dish or as part of hearty stews or casseroles. Swede also makes a great soup -creamy, rich and flavoursome.’
February marks the end of game season in the UK (October to February) and pheasant is often sold off on the cheap. ‘Don’t go to the supermarket - you will pay four times the price,’ says Anthony. ‘Instead, find you local game dealer.’
‘There are over 2,000 varieties of apples in the UK,’ says Anthony, ‘and the supermarkets only sell 12. Some are best plucked straight from the tree and only last a few days, while others are only good for cider. Some apples are best stored for three months. I won’t tell you which ones, go down to the farm shop and ask some questions.’
Anthony Davidson’s Dauphinoise Potatoes
Creamy, filling and utterly moreish, the humble spud gets a Valentines Day makeover in the shape of delicious Dauphinoise
1kg baking potatoes (use floury potatoes such as Russet, King Edward, Maris Piper or Desiree)
Four cloves of garlic
500ml double cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• Preheat the oven to 160C.
• Slice the potatoes into thin slices. Place the slices into a bowl of cold water as you cut them to prevent browning.
• Trim the ends off the garlic cloves but don't peel. Grate the cloves on a grater. The flesh will go through the fine holes and the skins will be left behind. Scrape the grated garlic flesh into the bowl with the potatoes.
• Season the potatoes, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
• Pour the cream over the potatoes and mix well again.
• Place the potato slices into the gratin dish. They should come to just below the top of the dish. Press the potato down with the back of a spoon or your hands so it forms a solid layer. The cream should come to just below the top layer of potato (top up with more double cream if necessary).
• Place the potatoes in the oven and bake for one hour and 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are completely tender.
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