With all the hot weather there is a hugh selection of produce available in the early sommer months. Seafood is in abundance, perfect for the barbeque. Why not have a light seafood Christmas dinner outside?
Salad leaves are swelling from the shelves of supermarkets and grocers.Once upon time salad leaves meant simply iceberg and cos lettuce, but now a lamb's lettuce (also known as marche), curly endive and oak leaf among many more varieties are a common sight on shop shelves.
Prepare a simple salad with a combination of leaves varying the colour and taste. A Greek Salad makes a refreshing lunch, toss together shredded lettuce with sliced tomatoes, thinly sliced cucumber, chopped spring onion, shredded mint, a little dried oregano, feta cheese (crumbled or cubed) and olives, season and dress with lemon juice and olive oil.
The Herb selection is abundant in summer with basil, mint and corianderat their best. A mixed selection of fresh herbs with a few salad leaves make a delicious salad. Basil, mint and coriander are essential to many East Asian dishes.
Asparagus, thick and thin spears are both tasty, the season running from September-December. Asparagus is always best eaten fresh. When buying always choose spears of equal size and be wary of those in a bunch as they are often bruised with poorer ones hidden in the centre. Delicious simply steamed, tossed with butter and parmesan shavings.
Beans and Peas are still good, these include: snake beans, butter beans, green beans, roman beans, broad bean, peas, snow peas and sugar snaps. Unfortunately later in summer broad beans will be larger and not as sweet. A selection of beans make tasty salads with a little mint, lemon juice and olive oil or prepare a combination in a pasta dish, try our Summer Bean Orecchiette with Smoked Salmon.
Zucchini Flowers are available throughout summer. The flowers are egg yolk in colour and 6-8cm long. It is easy to recognize the male ones from the females, as the males simply have a long stalks while the female flower has a small zucchini attached (far the better for culinary use.) Consisting mainly of water they are highly perishable. Store in the refrigerator covered with a plastic bag or damp towel for up to 3 days. They are suited to quick cooking methods eg. deep fried in a light batter, steamed or char grilled. The flowers are brilliant for stuffing. Use your imagination for the fillings: soft cheeses, herbs, cured meats, crab and lobster all work well.
Hass Avocados: In general the colour of an avocado skin is not an indication of its ripeness, but Hass avocados are an exception to the rule - if the skin is green it is definitely not ripe. Ripe hass avocados have purple black stem that gives easily. Hard avocados can take 4-5 days to ripen. When they are ripe, eat within the day. Hass avocados can be used to prepare a simple guacamole. Serve it as a dip with vegetable batons or corn chips or try our seasonal recipe for Grilled Salmon on Mango Salsa and Guacamole
Summer Tomatoes are ripe and full flavoured with a sweet and juicy flesh, brilliant for the simplest of dishes such as a Tri Colore Salad. Always serve tomatoes at room temperature to enjoy them at their best. With the exception of green zebra tomatoes, green tomatoes are simply unripe. They are acidic and firm, great for chutneys, relishes, salsas, risotto and gratins, or try American Deep Fried Green Tomatoes. To ripen tomatoes leave them in a warm place. Avoid refrigerating tomatoes, so buy only what you need.
Australia, with its warm weather, has a long tomato season beginning in early spring and peaking mid summer. Varieties include beef, round, cherry, plum (egg) and hollow. Beef tomatoes eg oxheart, fry and barbecue well (barbecue slices with mushroom and steak for a mouthwatering sandwich). Plum tomatoes are Delicious in Italian style dishes such as pasta sauces. Cherry tomatoes are best served simply whole in salads or toss them in olive oil and roast in a moderate oven for 15 minutes, toss with pasta with pine nuts and parmesan shavings or in a salad with bococcini and basil. Round tomatoes are a general all purpose variety. Hollow tomatoes, have firm thick flesh with easy to remove seeds, great for stuffing. A simple Spanish recipe is Tomato Bread with Pimento and Anchovies, relying on the flavour of ripe rich tomatoes. Tomatoes team up well with an endless selection of ingredients including common herbs, meat, seafood, cheeses and seasonal vegetables.
Corn being a warm weather crop grows well in the Australian summer. Corn is a Native American cereal crop that originated in prehistoric Mexico. The Aztec, Mayans and Incas considered it the 'magic plant', and it had a major part in their staple diet. So it comes as no surprise that it features in many American recipes such as homity grits and popcorn. Corn is sold soon after it is picked in America and then cooked fresh, as it deteriorates after being picked and in a matter of hours the kernels turn to starch and lose their sweetness. They are good on the barbecue and makes a good addition to salsas. Serve freshly cooked corn with butter flavoured with garlic, paprika and or mixed herbs. Corn is also good added to soups. Try making Mussel or Clam Chowder using fresh corn kernels, or simply add cooked kernels to stir fries or salads. The easiest way I find to remove the kernels is by cutting them down the sides with a sharp knife.
Also good: new season potatoes cook whole on the barbecue or roast, boil and serve with lots of butter or cold with sour cream and chives, try this months recipe for Broad Beans and New Potato Tortilla . Capsicum, eggplant, chokoes, cucumbers and sweet onions also make up this months glutton of produce.
Summer screams out berries, ranging from blackberries, blueberries, loganberries, raspberries and strawberries to name just a few. Such a selection cries out to be made into "Summer Pudding". This month we include a Summer Pudding Terrine, a great buffet dish. Ripe strawberries of course are also excellent served simply with cream. One of my favorite ways of serving them is in a glass with a little cointreau and a little freshly ground black pepper. For a refreshingly healthy ice-cream try making Strawberry and Blueberry Frozen Yoghurt. Prepare a simple but yummy gooseberry fool, by simmering 500g gooseberries with 150g caster sugar until soft, puree and mix in 300ml thick or whipped cream adding more sugar if needed.
Peaches, apricots, nectarines are good baked and poached on their own or in tarts, pies and cakes.
Black, white and red currants season is well underway.To prepare a quick redcurrant jelly simply bring equal amounts of redcurrants and sugar to the boil (stir the sugar once or twice until dissolved) and leave to cook for 8 minutes, remove from the heat skim and strain into a jar.
Apricots are suited to both sweet and savoury dishes. Originating in China, they are a stone fruit from the rose family. They came to Europe via the Spice Trail, as a result they are found in many Middle Eastern Dishes including savoury tagines and stews teamed up with lamb and chicken, spices and dried fruit. Australia is one of the main produces of apricots along with Turkey, Iran and USA. Their season is from mid November to February, with it peaking in December-January. There is no need to peel apricots as their flesh is thin. When cooking halve and remove the stone. Try making a stuffing with basmatti rice, pistachios and apricots for lamb or chicken or prepare them in an upside down cake or tart tatin.
Peaches, nectarines and plums are all good baked and poached, on their own or in tarts, pies and cakes. Choose stone fruit with firm unblemished, full coloured skin, that have a little give when pressed. Store them at room temperature until just soft then eat or refrigerate for 2-3 days. For a decadent granita prepare Peach and Champagne Granita or for a more traditional dish a true Peach Melba. Blood red plums make a refreshing Plum sorbet or for colder days try a British Plum Cobbler. Peaches and nectarines make a good savoury salad teamed up with walnuts, blue cheese and English baby spinach or lambs lettuce.
Cherries are an ancient fruit, originating in South Eastern Europe. There are three main varieties of cherries; sour (prunus cerasum), sweet dessert cherries (prunus avium and the hybrid dukes which are in between (suited to both savoury and sweet dishes). Sour cherries are often sold as morellos, they include different Varieties with dark flesh, suitable for cooking. In Australia there are a few producers of sour cherries but in most cases you will have to substitute sweet ones in cooked dishes. Sweet cherries are best served raw, they can be cooked but the sour varieties give more flavour to meat dishes and jams. The cherry season runs from October to February with it peaking mid summer, morellos (sour cherries) are available late January. Choose bright coloured cherries with their stalks on, check that the stem is green and the cherries aren't under sized (small ones usually indicate that they have been picked too early, and will lack taste.) Sweet cherries will keep in the refrigerator for several days, while sour cherries will keep for weeks. Stoning cherries can be time consuming and messy if done by hand, but the use of a cherry (olive) stoner certainly speeds things up. To remove the stone by hand, make a slit in the top of the cherry and pry the stone out with your fingers. For a yummy dessert try our recipe for Cherry Clafoutis.
More seasonal fruit: Figs, lychees, pineapples (smooth and rough leaf), grapes, Valencia oranges, mangoes, melons and passion fruit. Accompany a cheese platter with black muscat grapes, prepare an enticing Coconut Mango Sorbet or serve wedges of rock or honeydew melon wrapped in prosciutto.
Tasmania Atlantic Salmon. Poach or barbecue whole salmon for easy festive entertaining, accompany with a light salad, pasta, rice or a salad of new potatoes. For something extra special prepare Salmon Gravalax (just as good as smoked salmon) and serve as a starter for your Christmas dinner or include in a buffet for New Years or Australia Day.
Lobsters purchased live or ordered from your fishmonger freshly cooked should be eaten on the same day. When choosing lobster make sure all their claws are intact and if buying them live they should be active, not sluggish. Barbecue or grill lobster and accompanied with herbed flavoured butter or serve cold lobster with dill mayonnaise. For an impressive dish serve the best of the seasons shellfish and crustaceans in a Fruit de Mer.
Blue swimmer crabs are Australia's most common crab. they are found in all Australian States. They have a light blue shells, stick legs and claws, and weigh 300-700g. They usually die soon after being caught, so should be cooked as soon as possible. To cook, first place the crabs in the freezer or fridge for a couple of hours to freeze or put to sleep. Bring some salted water to the boil and place the prepared crab in the water, return to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with lemon slices, tabasco and mayonnaise or remove the white meat and prepare in a salad or as the recipe requires.
Prawns are plentiful and excellent cooked on the barbecue or in light pasta dishes, like Lemongrass Prawns.Grill or barbecue the seasons Queensland saucer scallops grill or barbecue in their shells, try them topped with a spicy salsa or a little creme fraiche and sweet chilli sauce. Also, Scallops with Herb and Garlic Butter offer a simple, but very tasty, alternative.
More fresh seasonal seafood includes red emperor, kingfish, whiting, coral trout, bugs and rock oysters. Steam or deep fry reef fish such as red emperor and coral trout.
Spring lamb is widely available and better quality and value than it has been in past months. Lamb chops, lamb cutlets, racks and legs of lamb make a great addition to a barbecue or serve roast lamb cold with a salad of new potatoes or try a spicy Thai lamb salad.