At last we see the light at the end of the tunnel. I grew up in the countryside where long, cold winters were only natural for me, but I’ve never had to cope with such winters in Budapest. I admit that this season has its merits as well, but I’m out and out a summer kid and I seem to have become a little soft in recent times, so this winter was a pain in the neck for me. There’s barely a sadder view I can imagine than that of vegetables, which have frozen during the night in the unheated hall of a market I happened to visit at the time of the hardest frosts. Then it was hard to believe that summer would ever come again and we will have colourful tomatoes or sour cherry season, and especially, that there will be times when I will not have to wear so many layers of clothing, which make me feel like a Michelin man all day long. Of course, spring has only just begun, but I have needed the first milder days of March so much!
The first swallows
Every year, the first thing which undeniably indicates the beginning of the new season, is ramsons. It is one of the ingredients, which should be consumed only during their season. If you go to a restaurant and see ramsons on the menu in October, my advice to you is: Run! It may seem strict, but I immediately think that they probably don’t pay much attention to the freshness of other ingredients either. We can use ramsons for a variety of purposes, for example, for spicing up salty curd cheese dumplings or scones, substituting parsley or other herbs, but if you really want to enjoy its fresh and intensive taste, take a nice slice of bread, spread goose fat on it and just simply sprinkle raw ramsons on top without any huss and fuss. Take the chance and enjoy them as long as you can, because they don’t last too long.
Although it’s rather just a mere dream at present, but after ramsons, the next and most definitive raw material during the spring season for me is asparagus. Like the above plant, asparagus can only be enjoyed for a couple of weeks, as it easily becomes woody, which makes it unenjoyable. In the meantime, however, you can happily grill them with a little butter, but don’t overdo it, you don’t need to suppress its taste with anything else. In addition to salt and freshly ground pepper, only a few drops of lemon (or perhaps white wine) may be added to asparagus. You can dip them into soft-boiled or poached eggs, it’s a good old combination, just like serving them with hollandaise sauce. If I really want to get out of my comfort zone, I combine them with some broad noodles cooked al dente and with ricotta, and on better days, I even sprinkle them with a few toasted cashews or pine nuts. You may also prepare a frittata with it. The version with asparagus tastes best!
Speaking of favourite spring ingredients, we should also mention the various kinds of morels. They can be superbly varied and can make almost any soup, ragout or pasta dish even more exciting. My personal favourite is the combination of some morels and small dumplings with eggs, opening new dimensions for this fabulous spring dish, to which I usually add some further extras: browned butter gives it a pleasant, walnut character, and I replace the garden lettuce with grilled heart lettuce.
Spring restaurant openings
Of course, March is not just about cooking at home. The sunshine may not yet be strong enough, but it still manages to lure me out, letting me spend most of my time outdoors. Life is so cruel, I always get hungry during outdoor activities, so I must eat something, and I can hardly do anything wrong if I choose something delicious. I have already gone into raptures over Stand25, but the good old fixed star of the city, the Innio is still worth mentioning. It’s a real must with the qualities of a fine dining restaurant, providing at the same time very good value for money.
An explosive event of the past few weeks was the opening of Dobrumba, a place I have recently managed to visit. The popularity of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurant is based on true performance: the environment is loveable, the service is impeccable, the food is super exciting, and even the prices are reasonable. At last, a place relying mainly on its local guests, yet brave enough in the field of flavours and seasonings. Their beetroot meze has become an absolute favourite, but the stuffed peppers and kofta were also divine. Unfortunately, I wasn’t fully satisfied with my hummus, it would have needed a little more power, though it is not necessarily their fault, I like it with more tahini than the average.
This year has been terribly busy in terms of new openings and we are still looking forward to some big shots like the fine dining restaurant of Tamás Széll and the best of fresh ingredients is also yet to come.