It always seems to catch me by surprise; the sharp transition from February into March. Although I’m surely ready for spring itself by now, the truncated month of February does play havoc with my natural order of things, especially as my youngest sons birthday is in the first week of March and always causes me a slight panic. But as the party is all sorted and bowling with a group of 8/9 year olds to look forward to, my mind can now focus on other things.
February was unseasonably mild this year with record breaking temperatures of 21 degrees reached in parts of the UK. Here in Wales we even hit 20.3 degrees just up from Aberystwyth on the Ceredigion coast. This was a stark contrast from the year before where we were in the grips of an Arctic blast with the “Beast from the East” keeping temperatures below freezing and with large parts of the country covered in snow until Easter!
As a chef the weather and its extremes effect us in many ways, we feel the immediate impact of less daytime passing trade if the weather is inclement, especially here on Gower. We do however get the brave hardy walkers and their four legged companions, they stroll out in all weathers and are only to happy to come in and dry off and warm next to our lovely fire in the bar. A warming bowl of soup or chowder is often the go to dish to embrace them with a warming hug from within and will set them on their way happy and satiated. The weather also effects our menus and availability and prices of products sometimes quite drastically. The effects of last years Artic blast followed by a long hot and very dry summer has meant our British potato crop has been severely affected. Late planting followed by drought conditions is not good for any crop but our humble potato has really suffered, the harvest was considerably less and the potatoes themselves a lot smaller than normal, prices have gone through the roof with a sack of chippers at almost £14 for a sack (normally around £8) and we as Brits do love our chips and can hardly do without them.
March announced itself with storm Freya which was particularly bad here in Wales, the waves and tidal surge here on Gower put on quite a display smashing onto the rocks and sending spray high into the air, the drive home from work was quite spectacular!
Although it all may sound a little gloomy there is one thing about this time of year that is sure to keep the spirits high; that is the lighter mornings and the drawing out of the evenings, the days are starting to get longer. The promise that summer will soon be here gathers momentum during the month of March culminating in the changing of the clocks and a return to BST.
March is also known as “the hungry gap” making reference to the fact that it is an in-between month with regard to fresh produce. If like me you’ve had your fill on winter root vegetables and brassicas, you maybe looking forward to a welcome change and inspiration, this redemption can be found in the shape of the humble leek, the first of this seasons offerings.
Leek, Caerphilly & Thyme Torta
For the pastry;
400g of 00 flour
1/2 tsp salt
4tbsp virgin olive oil
100ml ice cold water
For the filling;
3 medium leeks, trimmed & sliced into thin rings and washed thoroughly, drain well.
2 whole eggs beaten
200g Caerphilly cheese grated or crumbled
A bunch of Fresh Thyme rubbed off the stalk
Making the pastry;
Combine the salt & flour together in a bowl, add olive oil and water, mix lightly to form a ball, wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for 1 hour.
Remove pastry from fridge and allow to reach room temperature before rolling out. Take a 20cm pie dish lightly grease with olive oil, roll out pastry over- lapping the dish by a couple of cm all around. Set aside.
Make the filling;
Mix the filling by combining all filling ingredients in a bowl and season well with black pepper freshly ground.
Place the filling mixture in the centre of the lined dish, folding over the excess pastry to form a rolled crust.
Bake in a preheated oven 200 degrees/ gas mark 6. For 30-40 mins until the pastry is golden brown, leave to cool slightly and serve warm.