© Patricia Niven

Spring is always declared before it actually arrives. On March 1, the calendars on our phone read “first day of spring”. That was the same day that the “beast from the east” met Storm Emma and the whole country was snowed under. We walked to work slowly, so as not to slip on the black ice, and looked at the daffodils we had planted outside our deli. They were bowing, nearly breaking, under the weight of the snow, an image that struck us as an appropriate metaphor for the British spring. What a way to start the season. 

We are eager to put winter behind us, hungry for warmth, aching to open our windows and leave them open, have our homes and hearts filled with fresh, blossom-scented air. We are ready for the new spring before it is ready for us, and there’s no harm in announcing it early if it makes us all feel better.

Now the latest bout of snow has melted away and our daffodils have sprung back up, greeting us with yellow crowns in the morning. The days are still slightly grey but sudden bursts of sunshine and rain, and the lightest haze of green on bare tree branches, mean it’s almost here, just around the corner. It may be too soon for a spring feast — but let’s do it anyway.

Roasted prawns, artichokes and fennel salad

© Patricia Niven

This is a combination we go back to time and again, as the artichokes bring out the sweetness of the prawns like nothing else, while the fennel adds a note of fresh aniseed. This is an easy dish to make if you are comfortable with prepping artichoke hearts: if not, then it’s a good place to start practising this important life skill. We always thought we were quite adept at it until we saw the vegetable mongers in the markets of Istanbul — they use a big machete-like knife to carve around the heart in a spiral with such deftness and speed that it’s like peeling a tangerine. They then pack the trimmed artichokes in a little bag with water for their customers to take home, like goldfish.


2 red onions, peeled and cut into 6 wedges (400g)
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and cut into 8 wedges (600g)
1 tsp whole fennel seeds
1 tsp whole coriander seeds
4 artichokes, trimmed down to the hearts
1 lemon
16 large prawns, peeled (we prefer to leave the heads on)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Sprinkling of sugar
1 bunch chervil, top part only
1 bunch dill, top part only
  1. Heat your oven to a really hot 200C with fan assist, 220C conventional.
  2. Set the onion and fennel wedges on a baking tray, drizzle generously with olive oil all over, season with salt and pepper and the whole fennel and coriander seeds. Place in the oven to roast for 15 minutes. Mix well and roast for a further 15 until all the wedges are starting to colour and soften.
  3. Cut each artichoke heart into 6 wedges and, using the tip of a knife, remove the choke part. Place artichokes on a second tray. Cut the lemon in half, juice half of it all over the artichokes and mix well so that they don’t discolour. Cut the other half lemon into thin slices and add them to the same tray as the artichokes. Again, drizzle with the olive oil, season generously with salt and pepper and place on the other shelf in the same oven. Roast for 12 minutes and remove. Top with the peeled raw prawns and drizzle with a little more olive oil and season again. Return to the oven for another 6-7 minutes until the prawns have turned a deep pink. Mix the 2 trays together and add the fresh herbs before serving.

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