Seasonal Stars

Read below about the seasonal stars that are on your child's school meals menu, spring/summer 2016

If you would like to see what’s in season year-round, and plan your shopping to suit, visit the BBC Good Food Guide Seasonal Calendar [external link].

Smart Recipes

For cooking and meal ideas - try Change 4 Life Smart Recipes [external link]

Cauliflower

A brassica, like cabbage and broccoli, cauliflower is a mass of tiny, tightly packed flower heads (called curds), which grow from a thick central stem to form a single, round head, cupped by green leaves. It has a firm, almost waxy texture, and a mild, delicate flavour. Most cauliflowers are white, but it's also possible to find green and purple varieties, as well as the sweeter Romanesco cauliflower, with its distinctive pointed florets. Like all brassicas, cauliflower smells very unpleasant if overcooked, so brief cooking is essential. 

Availability
All year round, but at its best from mid December through to mid April.

Choose the best
Go for cauliflowers with pure white heads with no discolouration, and crisp green leaves. The colour of the base is a good indication of how recently it's been picked - the whiter, the fresher.

Prepare it
Cut off the surrounding leaves (if they're fresh, they can be cooked, too). For large cauliflowers, cut off individual florets from the central stem and cut again if necessary. You should end up with florets of a comparable size, so that they all cook at the same pace. Then wash. Smaller, baby cauliflowers can be cooked whole.

Store it
In perforated bag in a cool dark place, or the fridge. It will keep for several days.

Cook it
The florets are great used raw in a salad or as part of a crudité selection served with dips. Cooked cauliflower florets keep their shape best when steamed (5-10 minutes) - remember to place them upright in the steamer. It can also be boiled (takes 5-10 minutes for florets; around 10 minutes for a whole cauliflower). For both cooking methods, test regularly with the tip of a knife to make sure they don't overcook.

Alternatives
Try broccoli.

Peas

A type of legume, peas grow inside long, plump pods. As is the case with all types of legume, their sugars start to turn to starch as shortly after they're picked, so they are best eaten just-picked. Frozen peas are put on ice very soon after being picked (within three hours) and the flavour can be superior to that of fresh peas harvested a couple of days previously.

Availability
Fresh peas are at their peak from May to November.

Cook it
Boil (2-3 minutes - use the minimum amount of water needed, and don't add salt, as they'll toughen up. A pinch of sugar will bring out their sweetness). Steam (1-2 minutes).

Alternatives
Try mange tout or broad bean.

Broccoli

Like cabbage and cauliflower, broccoli is a brassica and is sometimes known by its Italian name, calebrese. It has tight clusters of deep green buds and thick, edible stems and was developed from the more loosely packed purple sprouting broccoli. There's little to choose between the two in terms of flavour or nutrition.

Availability
All year round, but at its best from the end of July to the end of October.

Choose the best
Go for firm, bright green, undamaged heads (if it's yellow its already past its peak) and firm stalks. As broccoli deteriorates faster when in contact with the air, supermarkets often wrap it in cellophane - always choose the unwrapped type if you can as, if it still looks good, you can be sure that it has been recently picked.

Prepare it
Trim any woody stem ends or tough leaves with a knife. Divide into small, individual florets, each with a short stem, and diagonally slice the thicker stems. Rinse under cold water. Broccoli boils or steams in 3-6 minutes, depending on the size of floret. In stir-fries, cook it for a couple of minutes, until tender.

Store it
In an airtight bag in the fridge.

Cook it
Cook and drizzle with olive oil or melted butter or a handful of grated parmesan; add to a cheesy pasta bake; stir-fry in groundnut oil with chopped garlic and dry fried cashews, adding a drizzle of sesame oil to the pan just before cooking ends.

Alternatives
Try purple sprouting broccoli or cauliflower.

Apples

Grown in temperate regions, apples are one of the most widely cultivated tree fruits. There are over 7,000 varieties in existence, many of which are grown in Britain but, despite that, only around 12 varieties are commonly sold in UK supermarkets, of which many are imported.

Colours range from red, to yellow and green, but all varieties fall into one of two categories: eating, also sometimes called dessert apples (including Cox's Orange Pippin, Golden Delicious, Granny Smiths, Braeburn, Gala, Pink Lady and Jonagold) or cooking, with the latter being more tart in flavour, a result of their higher levels of malic acid (the best is Bramley, though Blenheim Orange, Grenadier, Reverend W Wilkes and Ida Red are also available). The texture can be very crisp and juicy or more yielding, according to variety.

All apples are a good source of vitamins A and C, as well as fibre.

Availability
All year round, though British apples are at their best from September through to November.

Choose the best
Look for firm fruit, with no blemishes, bruising or wrinkles. Don't be fooled by a very shiny skin - many apples are waxed to make them look good. And don't discard an apple with dry brown patches ('scald') - it's just the result of overexposure to sunlight and won't affect the quality.

Prepare it
Eating apples can be eaten with the skin on - just wash thoroughly first. Cooking apples should have the skin removed with a paring knife or a peeler (which will take away less flesh); core by cutting them into quarters then cutting the core away or, if you want to keep them whole, by using a corer.

To prevent the flesh turning brown, brush with some lemon juice or keep in bowl of water to which some lemon juice has been added.

Store it
In a perforated bag in the fridge. For longer term storage, wrap each one in newspaper and arrange in a single layer, folded side down, in a wooden box or wicker basket, kept somewhere cool and dark. Check each one regularly to make sure they haven't gone rotten - one rotten apple will spoil the whole lot.

Cook it
Eating apples can be eaten raw and also go well with cheese or used to make a Waldorf salad.

Cooking apples are good stuffed with a filling such as dried fruits or mincemeat, dusted with sugar, dotted with butter and baked in the oven; chopped for an apple pie or crumble; thinly sliced for a classic French tarte tatin; thickly sliced and pan-fried in butter and sugar and served with ice cream; stewed to make an apple sauce for game or rich meat like pork; grated and added to muesli.

Alternatives
Try pear.

Pears

Like apples, to which they are related, pears come in thousands of varieties, of which only a small fraction are sold in the UK. Their fine, slightly granular flesh is much more fragile than apples and, unlike most fruit, they improve in flavour and texture after they're picked.

Most pears are wider at the bottom than they are at the top, though a few varieties are more spherical in shape. They're not as brightly coloured as apples, most having skins that range from dull bronze through to soft green, though you can also find red varieties such as Red William.

Availability
In season from September to January.

Choose the best
Pears are very delicate and bruise easily when ripe, so always buy slightly underripe (they should be firm but not hard), then ripen at home. They ripen from the inside out - when they're ready they should give a little at the base. Avoid any pears that are mushy or bruised.

Choose your pear according to your taste - here's a rundown of some of the main varieties available in the UK.

Conference has a long, conical shape, with a yellow skin with russet markings. Its flesh is grainy, sweet and juicy and it cooks and eats well.
Comice is more bulbous in shape, and has juicy, meltingly tender flesh; it's good for cooking and eating, particularly with cheese.
Concorde is a cross between Comice and Conference.
Packham's is native to Australia, has a wide-bottomed shape and a smooth green skin that ripens to yellow. It's succulent and is great to eat raw.
The green-skinned Anjou is large, sweet and good for cooking and eating.
Red William has a speckled, bright red skin, and buttery, sweet flesh.
Rocha, from Portugal, has firmer flesh and is juicy and sweet.
Williams Bon Chrétien is tender and juicy, and good for cooking and eating.
You can also find Asian (or Nashi) pears - they have the shape and crisp texture of an apple and their sweet flesh is best eaten raw.

Prepare it
Wash. Their skin is edible, but they can be peeled a number of ways. If you want to keep them whole, leave the stem on, then use a vegetable peeler to peel down along their length.

If you want to cut into chunks, slice into quarters, cut out the core, then peel with a sharp knife.

To stuff a pear before cooking it, you should leave the skin on; just cut in half lengthways, then scoop out the core with a teaspoon.

Finally, if you're not going to eat cut pears straight away, brush the cut sides with lemon juice or acidulated water to prevent them going brown.

Store it
If you buy underripe pears, keep them in a fairly cool place until they are ready to eat. They can then be stored in the fridge, but should be eaten as soon as possible.

Cook it
When cooking with pears, choose slightly underripe ones, as they'll keep their shape better.

Poach whole (15-25 minutes); quarter and roast (20-25 minutes); cut into wedges and grill or pan fry (4-5 minutes). Serve with a cheese board; add to blue cheese salads; use in baking; make into chutney.

Blackberries

A purply black-coloured berry comprising many individual seed-containing fruits surrounding a cone-shaped core. Wonderfully juicy, they're good raw (straight from the hedge!) or cooked and are bursting with vitamin C. Wild, they're often called brambles.

Availability
End of July through to mid October.

Choose the best
Look for plump, shiny, tender berries, with none that are mushy or mouldy. If you buy a punnet, check that the underside isn't stained - that means the lower level of berries has been crushed.

Prepare it
As blackberries are very delicate, avoid washing them if possible, but if you have to, do it just before using them and drain well.

Store it
Arrange them on a layer of kitchen paper on a plate, so that they don't crush each other, and store them in the fridge. Take them out of the fridge an hour before eating, so that they're at room temperature. Eat within a couple of days of buying or picking.

Cook it
Sprinkle with sugar and/or créme de mure liqueur and serve with cream; purée and sieve to make a coulis for ice cream or to make sherbets, fools or sorbets. Bake with chopped apples in a crumble.

Alternatives
Try loganberry or raspberry.