In season: February

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It’s getting warmer – hooray ! But it’s not quite summer yet, and there’s a little bit longer to wait until all of those delicious berries arrive on the market stalls of Paris. There’s still plenty of tasty stuff to fill our faces with though, here’s a list of seasonal fruit and veg currently available.

Blood orange – orange sanguine
Broccoli – brocoli
Brussels sprouts – chou de Bruxelles
Cabbage – chou
Carrot – carotte
Cauliflower – chou-fleur
Celeriac – céleri rave
Celery – céleri
Chicory – endive
Jerusalem artichoke – topinambour
Kale – so difficult to find in France, it doesn’t have a translation. But check out http://thekaleproject.wordpress.com/ to find out where you can buy it
Leeks – poireau
Parsnip – panais
Potatoes – pomme de terre
Pumpkin – citrouille/potiron
Swede – rutabaga

Stews, soups and roasted winter veg are still definitely on the menu as the great thaw begins (mind you, it’s not like we actually froze at all this winter…). Here’s a recipe for a proper French classic though, that doesn’t require hours and hours of cooking, and is a perfect starter if you’re having some friends over for a dinner party.

Leeks vinaigrette

Choose 1 or 2 leeks per dinner guest and try to select straight ones of a similar size. Bring the largest pan you have, half-full of salted water, to the boil and get on with cleaning the leeks. Remove the tough outer layer and thoroughly wash. Cut off most of the green top, leaving an inch or two above the white. Where the green colour finishes, cut from here to the end of the leaf end and fan out the leaves under a running tap to get rid of any trapped grit and dirt. Cut off the root as close to the end as you can, to keep the leek whole.

Cook for around 8 to ten minutes, until you can pierce easily with a knife. Drain the leeks (some chefs place them in an ice bath for ten minutes or so first, but it’s up to you if you can go that extra mile), the best way is to prop them up root towards the sky so all of the liquid can easily drain out of them. Now make the vinaigrette. Take 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper, and mix together (a used cornichon jar or suchlike always works well). This makes enough for about 6 leeks – adjust the quantities if you’re making more.

Place the leeks in a shallow cooking dish, or even a flat Tupperware container, and drizzle the vinaigrette over them. Rotate the leeks so everything is nicely covered and marinate for anywhere between an hour or a few days (make sure they’re in the fridge if you’re going for the longer option though). The longer they marinate for, the more delicious they’ll become. Serve on a plate with the remaining vinaigrette drizzled over and some chopped parsley if you’re feeling fancy.

Bon appétit on Blue Monday

So whether you believe the pseudoscience or not, today is ‘officially’ Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. Taking into account the weather, debt, the time since Christmas, failed new year’s resolutions, low motivational levels and the fact that bank holidays and celebration days seem to be a million miles away, we’re all supposed to be at our most melancholy today.

Now, there are many solutions for wrenching ourselves out of the dumps, and a shopping spree at Chanel would probably go quite a long way to putting a smile back on your face. But, my debit card isn’t quite that ready for action, and hell, it’s far too cold to go outside now the temperature is creeping lower and lower. My solution? Cook up a massive batch of onion soup. What could be more French than that?

Now I consider myself pas mal du tout in the kitchen, but even for those who aren’t, onion soup is pretty easy to master. Onions are the main ingredient, bien sur, and the key is in the slow cooking time, making them all caramelised and delicious. Bung a bit of cheesy toast on the top, whack it under the grill, and voila! Winter blues melt into submission like the Gruyère on top.

Now onion soup is a highly subjective undertaking, no two recipes seem to be the same. But here’s a general guide. You’ll need:

4 onions (more if small, and not the red kind)
1 litre of beef stock, though chicken works too, or at a push, good ol’ plain water
Butter
Salt and pepper
Slices of baguette (or any other bread you have to hand, slightly stale is quite ok)
Gruyère cheese, or any other good melting cheese you have to hand if you’re not fussy

Slice the onions and add to the melted butter in a pan on a heat that’s quite low – the key is to cook them slowly for 30 minutes or so (more if you have time), until they’re golden brown. Don’t for get to stir from time to time, or they’ll stick. Add the stock and bring to the boil, simmering for 40 minutes to an hour, generally the longer you cook it for, the better it’ll be. Once it’s ready, ladle into bowls and add a toasted slice of bread covered in grated cheese. Traditionally it’s then finished under the grill to melt the cheese, but you can finish the toast separately if it’s easier. Bon appétit!

In season: January

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The Christmas season generally brings with it an abundance of calories, and for most of January spells regimes, resolutions for a healthier diet, and cutting back on the good stuff. But don’t allow yourself to feel hard done by, learn to embrace the seasons, and you’ll see Parisian markets can offer you all you could need to dine each day like a king (whilst spending like a pauper).

Eating what’s in season is better for the environment given that the produce doesn’t have to travel far, meaning the price doesn’t get pushed up by fuel costs too. Plus produce in season is plentiful and therefore less expensive by default, and the cherry on the pie is that seasonal food just tastes better as you’re eating it exactly when nature intended it to be eaten. And we all know that taste comes above everything when we’re talking about French cooking.

Admittedly January isn’t the most exciting of months when it comes to what’s good to eat now, but there are a few gems to take advantage of – think a month of warming root vegetable stews and chunky soups. Below is a list of fruit and vegetables currently in season in France (by no means exhaustive), and I’ll make sure to update you month by month.

If you’re ever in any doubt when you’re at the market of supermarket, have a look at the sign for each produce item and it will show you the country of origin. Anything further afield than France, Spain, Belgian or the Netherlands for example, and you’re likely to be paying much of the price per kilo for your vegetable’s airfare. And remember, meats and seafood have their own seasons too. But more about that later.

Beetroot – betterave
Blood orange – orange sanguine
Brussels sprouts – chou de Bruxelles
Cabbage – chou
Carrot – carotte
Cauliflower – chou-fleur
Celeriac – céleri rave
Celery – céleri
Chard – blette
Chicory – endive
Clementine – clémentine
Jerusalem artichoke – topinambour
Kale – so difficult to find in France, it doesn’t have a translation. But check out http://thekaleproject.wordpress.com/ to find out where you can buy it
Leeks – poireau
Parsnip – panais
Potatoes – pomme de terre
Pumpkin – citrouille/potiron
Swede – rutabaga

For more information, head here: http://www.fruits-legumes.org/