April offers a glutton of produce that a warm summer brings along with early Autumn crops.
In the Southern Hemisphere there isn't a game season like the other side of the world, where game can only be hunted and sold at specified times of the year. Even so, Autumn months still remain the season for game.
Wild duck season is from February until June. In April they are still small enough to eat by quicker cooking methods. If you are lucky enough to have young wild duck you can cook the breast meat in much the same way as you would the farmed variety. Score the skin in a criss-cross fashion and pan fry it in a little olive oil, for 8-10 minutes(skin side first) so that the skin is slightly crisp. Serve the breast with a port and quince sauce (simply add a spoonful of quince cheese to a port and stock reduction),accompany it with potato dauphiniose and sautéed spinach.
Mud Crabs and Blue Swimmer Crabs are good in April. They are best bought live or recently boiled, when choosing live crustacean be sure they have all their claws and legs, and are lively, if buying freshly boiled check that their shell is bright and that they smell fresh and not of ammonia (fishy). Mud Crabs have plenty of succulent flesh. I love Chinese Stuffed Crab Claws (use the rest of the white flesh in salads, spring rolls, soufflés, soups etc). Blue swimmer crab are good in seafood stews soups and stir fries or serve freshly boiled with lemon slices, tabasco and mayonnaise or remove the white meat and prepare in a salad or as the recipe requires.
Atlantic Salmon, Sea Trout, Wild Barramundi, Garfish, Eel, Sand Whiting, Snapper, Pilchards, Bream, Abalone and Squidare all good. Try this months recipe for "Stuffed Squid with a Red Curry Sauce".
Wild Mushrooms season should be well under way (as long as there has been sufficient rain). Pine mushrooms (saffron milk caps) and Slippery Jack mushrooms (also now cultivated) can both be found growing under pine trees. These wild mushroom varieties can be found in green grocers. Wild mushrooms are often very expensive but you only need a few to bring out their full flavour. Wild mushrooms make excellent warm salads, pasta sauces and risotto dishes. In Autumn and Winter cultivated mushrooms are also at their peak.
Tomatoes are at their best in late summer and early spring. There is still an abundant selection of tomatoes to choose from including green and yellow ones. The best way to choose tomatoes is by smelling them, the aroma should be strong of tomatoes not chemicals. To enjoy them at there best eat them when they are ripe and full of flavour, at room temperature. Ripe plum tomatoes appear in countless Italian recipes accompanied with basil. Why not try our recipe for "Fried Green Tomatoes".
Silver beet is good in April. It has a much stronger flavour than spinach and is coarser. It is known by many names: chard , Swiss Chard, sea kale beet, white beet and incorrectly spinach. It is in fact part of the beet family, this includes beetroot and sugar beet. It works well in many Mediterranean style dishes such as spinach pie, as a wrapping for rice meat (dolmade style), ravioli and many Italian recipes which call for spinach. The stem needs to be removed when prepared for quick cooking dishes but can be left on for stews, braising (the French like the stems with a belchamel sauce) and soups.
Pumpkin is a good Autumn vegetable, though available all year they are more varied and plentiful now. There are hundreds of pumpkin varieties in all shapes, sizes and colours. Australia's own Queensland Blue has green-grey flesh with rich orange flesh. What better way than to relax on cooler Autumn evenings than with a comforting Pumpkin Soup.
Also good this month are Brussels sprouts, chicory(also known as Belgian endive and witlof), fennel, Asian Greens including bok choy, beetroot, onions, avocados, cucumbers, ginger, swedes, parsnips, potatoes, fennel, olives, cabbage, broccoli, beans (green and snake) and eggplant..
Apples In April the apple season is fully under way with many of the early varieties already coming to the end of their availability (these include Bramley, snow and Jonathon). Granny Smiths, Fuji and Pink Lady (the end of the month) should become plentiful. Apples are a traditional accompaniment to pheasant, pork and pot roasted chicken. Apples are good in pies, tarts and stews. Make a simple apple crumble by stewing up a few peeled and chopped cooking apples with sugar, cinnamon and cloves, until the apple collapses and is soft. Remove the cloves and cinnamon and place the apple in an oven proof dish. Make a crumble by mixing together oats, flour, brown sugar and butter until they are well combined. Cover the apple with the crumble mixture and place the apple crumble in moderate oven for 20-25 minutes. Serve the crumble warm with ice-cream or cream. Try our "Apple Cake" or "Roast Pork with Baked Apples"
Figs: In April figs become widely available and are delicious served in a savoury salad accompanied with Parma ham. Grill sliced figs sprinkled with sugar or poach in sugar syrup (try adding spices such as aniseed, cinnamon and chillies). Figs make a yummy tarte tatin. Try this months recipe for "Fig and Frangipane Tart".
Quince: Quince is a fruit that is sadly overlooked and due to its lack of popularity is becoming hard to come by. I know people who are happy to give them away or throw them away. Silly really when many of us are happy to pay a fortune for Quince Cheese, which is so simple to make. Quinces need to be cooked, often with sugar as they are to bitter to eat raw but when cooked they are delicious. Quinces can be difficult to choose as they go rotten from the inside, look for fresh unblemished yellow fruits. Quince's flesh is hard, so use a sharp heavy knife when cutting, the flesh will brown when exposed but as it turns a dark pink to light burgundy when cooked this isn't an issue. Quinces are good with poultry and game and scrumptious in cakes and pies or simply baked as an easy dessert. To bake: peel, halve and remove the core, coat the cored sides with butter flavoured with brown sugar and cinnamon, and bake at 200C for 25-30 minutes. Quince Cheese: Wash 2kg quince thoroughly and roughly chop (no need to peel or decore). Place in a large pan, cover with water and boil for 30-45 minutes until the fruit is soft. Puree and sieve or pass through a mouli (food mill). Weigh the puree and add 400g of sugar to every 500g of puree. Place puree and sugar in a pan and gradually bring to the boil, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. Cook for 2-3 hours stirring regularly. When ready the mixture will be thick and come away from the sides, and it will turn a deep burgundy colour. Remove from the heat. Spread the paste evenly onto a lightly oiled tray so that it is 2-4cm thick, cover with a cloth and leave to dry for 1-2 days. Cut as required and place in layers between grease proof paper in a sealed container. Store in the fridge or in cool dark place for up to a year.
Nutsincluding pistachios, chestnuts, walnuts, peanuts, almonds and hazelnuts are all in season. Cooked chestnuts are good in stuffings and terrine's, they also make a great addition to salads. Pistachios add flavour and colours to terrine's, couscous, salads and rice dishes. Walnuts are at their peak mid-April to mid June, whole nuts will stay fresh until November if stored in the refrigerator.
Also in Season: Pears, pomegranates, oranges, cumquats, limes, rhubarb, kiwi fruit, guava, persimmons, grapes, papaya, custard apple, Queensland strawberries and passion fruit. Grapes are widely available eat them on their own or why not try a Spanish White Gazpacho Soup (made with ground almonds, garlic, olive oil and grapes) or serve them with a selection of cheese. Pears I enjoy simply poached and served with a little ice cream or creme fraiche, in a savoury salad or with a selection of cheeses. Autumn plums make a yummy crumble why not add finely chopped hazelnuts to the crumble mixture.
Going, Going, Gone:April is the last month of the summer berry season so make the most of them while they are still around, why not try serving them with brandy snap baskets and sorbet or serve them in cointreau.