All about April

  • By
    Dulcima Mansell - Food writer

Dulcima celebrates the perfect pairing of spinach and ricotta, plus versatile and meaty halibut.

Spinach and ricotta pizzaBack when I was 12 I went on holiday with a friend to visit her father who lived in Northern Italy. I had never been to Italy before and the trip was quite a culinary awakening for me. I have very vivid memories of being taken to a pizzeria and, being a vegetarian at the time, (dropped that habit many years ago) I chose the spinach and ricotta pizza. It was about two feet in diameter, very thin based and seriously enticing. I was in love, I ate the whole thing, it was my first taste of the combination of spinach and ricotta, and I thought it was perfection.

My only experience of spinach and ricotta prior to that moment was in tragically bland cannelloni which seemed to be the vegetarian option on every menu at the time (before wild mushroom risotto took over the role). That pizza taught me that, done well, they are one of the great culinary 

SpinachSpinach turns up in a lot of my cooking (no iron deficiency for me!) Stirred into a risotto at the last second it is fabulous. I rarely make a salad without it featuring somewhere, I love it with pasta and spinach gnocchi is to die for.

Personally I have little preference between baby and grown-up spinach. Yes you may need to snap off the more stubborn stalks from the older variety, and maybe the younger leaves are preferable in a salad but the difference seems to end there. Whichever you choose ensure you use a good grating of nutmeg and lots of lovely black 

Spinach goes very well with curry flavours and whenever I reach for the spices I cannot resist making a side of saag aloo (spinach and potatoes). I recently tried sag aloo and served it alongside spiced halibut - my second seasonal delight for April.

Halibut steaksWhile you wouldn't know it to look at a fillet or steak of it, halibut is a flat fish, a huge one, the biggest there is in fact. It has very dense meaty flesh, unlike smaller flat fish; it flakes beautifully and holds its shape well. Halibut can take bold flavours and works particularly well with strong Asian flavours, be they Indian spices or a Chinese sweet and sour.

It can be battered and deep fried but make sure you keep the batter light and don't overcook it, there is nothing worse than dried out fish. Chunks fried in a very light tempura batter with a dipping sauce are delightful.

Fish cooked en papilotteThere has been a bit of a trend of cooking fish en papillote recently. It is certainly a good way of locking in the flavour and keeping it moist, however I can't understand why people insist on serving it in the parcel - just looks messy to me. I tend to veer away from cooking vegetables in with the fish, as it's nearly impossible to cook them all precisely, just some lemon, a splash of white wine and some herbs. A side of buttered spinach would work wonderfully.

What are your favourites in April? And how do you like to cook them?

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