Surviving the ‘Hungry Gap’: Winter Veg Recipe Ideas for the UK Food Shortage

Remember how hard it was to find flour during COVID? Well now it's tomatoes we're searching for! Peppers, cucumbers and salads are all also currently in short supply in the UK.

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This seems mainly due to unseasonably cold weather in countries that usually supply these shores with such veggies, like Spain and Morocco. Meanwhile Brexit, (the gift that just keeps giving), has apparently put the UK to the back of the queue for the scarce supplies that do remain, due to the increased logistical and administrative difficulties. The picture is completed by the fact that the UK is only 60% self sufficient in terms of fruit and veg, while high energy costs have led to reduced domestic production.

That said, tomatoes and peppers are summer vegetables, and furthermore they are not plants that are naturally suited to a northern European climate. How many fresh tomatoes do we actually need in the middle of February? Could this be the wake up call we need to consider more carefully, what grows where, and when?

Orecchiette with sausage, chilli and broccoli

They call this late winter time 'the hungry gap' - between the major growing seasons, in which we are restricted to fewer options. The environment secretary Therese Coffey was ridiculed recently for suggesting that the issue lies in us not cherishing turnips enough. Perhaps she picked the wrong vegetable to make her point, (no-one actually likes turnips). But winter veg are clearly by no means in short supply and root crops and brassicas come in all shapes, flavours and sizes.

Broccoli, cauliflowers, beets, carrots, cabbages, kales, chards, leeks and many more. You can make all sorts of wonderful things out of them! Aside from the discussion around availability they are also at their best right now. They will have travelled less far and therefore be fresher, and of course due to their abundance they will be easy on the wallet too.

Brussels Sprouts Tart with Leeks, Speck and Gruyere

So forget your peppers and your pomodori, we can create endless delicious and simple suppers out of things that are bountiful and growing all around us right now. Here are some ideas!

From the Cook Eat Discover magazine vaults, click on the dish for recipe:

  • Brussels Sprouts Tart with Leeks, Speck and Gruyere Cheese
  • Leek, Sausage and Saffron Risotto
  • Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Crispy Pancetta and Roasted Hazelnuts

Other ideas:

  • Sausage, Broccoli and Chilli Pasta

A classic combo - try it once and it'll become one of your staples! Boil broccoli florets in plenty of salted water until soft and cooked then set aside. Reserve the cooking water and use it to cook your pasta. Orecchiette would be perfect for this, but most shapes are fine! Meanwhile, in a frying pan, cook off some sausage meat with chilli, garlic and rosemary in plenty of good olive oil. Once the meat is cooked through and browned off a little, add the cooked broccoli. Mix well and simmer for a few mins with a little of the pasta water. Add your cooked pasta, toss well, serve!

  • Beetroot, Stilton, Walnuts and Honey on Toasted Sourdough

Think of this as a British bruschetta! You can boil off your own beets or just buy the vac-packed supermarkets ones, there's no shame in that. Toast some sourdough, gently rub with a cut clove of garlic and drizzle with olive oil. Cover with sliced beetroots, crumbled stilton, and roughly chopped walnuts. Toast the walnuts in a pan gently first for best results. Lastly, drizzle with a little honey.

  • Roasted Carrots, Whipped Feta, Cumin Oil

Cut some medium sized carrots in half, and roast with salt and olive oil in a hot oven for 30 mins, or until cooked through and starting to caramelise. Meanwhile, whip feta with a little yogurt to create a sauce. In a frying pan, toast off some cumin seeds a little in hot oil, set aside. Serve the carrots drizzled with the whipped feta and cumin seed oil. Grate over a little lemon zest and scatter on some chopped parsley. Enjoy!

  • Smooth Cavolo Nero Soup with Burrata Cream and Garlic Croutons

Strip the leaves from the stalk and boil in salted water for 5 mins, or until soft and well cooked. Drain and cool quickly with cold water to retain the vibrant colour. In a deep pan, soften onion with plenty of olive oil, then add a few diced potatoes. Add a little water and simmer until the potato is cooked through. Add the cooked cavolo nero and a little more water or stock and blitz well with a stick blender, add more liquid if too dry. Season well. For the croutons, simply fry a few whole peeled garlic cloves in olive oil until browned. Discard the garlic. Add some cubed bread to the oil and fry until crunchy. Take a burrata, mash it up in a bowl with a fork to create a 'cream'. Garnish your soup with the burrata and croutons.