Late spring is one of the best months for fresh produce, with many fresh green vegetables and herbs being available. The weather also means that more of us prefer to have lighter food and a desire to eat outdoors.
Herbs are in abundance in late spring. Anyone who loves gardening will know that herbs are in season as they start to grow at a seemingly amazing rate in the Spring months. Fresh herbs add fresh and fragrant flavours an essential part to many dishes such as "Pot Roasted Tarragon Chicken" and "Lavender Ice Cream".
Asparagus, is in season only for a brief time (September-December). The growing of asparagus is labaouress and time consuming. It takes three years after sowing, for asparagus to be marketed and then it only provides for a couple more seasons before the quality declines. The asparagus also needs plenty of attention, at the peak of the season asparagus can grow 2cm an hour and requires hand harvesting every 24 hours. Asparagus is always best eaten fresh as it detiriotes soon after being picked. 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. Asparagus at its freshest is best cooked simply, steamed or boiled until just cooked and dressed with a little butter, lemon and seasoning. Asparagus is delicious with eggs, try serving it with a homemade hollandaise sauce or poached eggs. It also makes an excellent soup and is mouth watering in a risotto or pasta dishes. This month asparagus features in our "White Asparagus in Spicy Coconut Milk" recipe and "Spring Vegetable Barley Risotto".
Beans and Peas Fresh peas and broad beans are in stores now. While they are young they are sweet and tender making a great change from horrible frozen ones. Take advantage of young broad beans that can be simply stringed and eaten whole, in later months you will need to depod the beans and peel off the greyish outer skin. Peas and broad beans are best cooked briefly in boiling water and served hot or cold and are delicious with mint and parsley or toss them with a little finely chopped bacon. Try pureeing them with mint and a little yogurt or creme fraiche and serve with scallops or lamb cutlets. Fresh peas feature in our "Spring Vegetable Barley Risotto" recipe.
Globe Artichokes: are soon to be gone as their season is from June to November. Small bud artichokes can be eaten whole, deep fried or pickled (popular in Italy). Artichokes are generally sold larger and it is the heart of the artichoke that is edible. When choosing go for heavy plump ones with a firm stems. Store in a plastic bag in the vegetable compartment in the fridge for up to a week. To prepare you will need a cut lemon and a bowl of water with lemon juice in it. To prepare whole globe artichokes: snap off the tough outer leaves from the base, then cut 2 cm from the top and trim each leaf. Remove the stem and with a small sharp knife remove the furry choke in the centre. Rub all over with lemon and place in the lemon water. To prepare artichoke hearts: trim stalk to 6 cm, snap off the outer leaves until you get to the soft, pale leaves, trim the top of the leaves, remove the choke and rub all over with lemon juice (place in water with lemon juice). Globe artichokes can be, boiled, steamed, stuffed, baked and fried. To boil place whole or artichokes hearts in boiling water with a little lemon juice or vinegar and cook for 20-30 minutes until tender. A traditional way to serve whole artichokes is with holandaise sauce or lemon butter, pull the leaves off and dip in the sauce. Try quartered globe artichoke hearts (pre-boiled and dried), deep fried in a light batter, served with lemon and creme fraiche
Tomatoes 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. Tomatoes team up well with an endless selection of ingredients including common herbs, meat, seafood, cheeses and seasonal vegetables. To enjoy tomatoes at their best eat them at room temperature
Also good: new season potatoes, capsicum, eggplant, chokoes, cucumbers, watercress, zuchinni flowers and sweet onions.
Novembers brings plentiful berries, ranging from mulberries, blueberries, loganberries, raspberries and strawberriesto name just a few. To make a deliciously simple dessert, break up some meringues, add thick cream, strawberries and raspberries and mix togeher briefly. Spoon the mixture into bowls or wine glasses dust with icing sugar and garnish with mint.
Apricots, peaches and nectarines are good baked and poached on their own or in tarts, pies and cakes.
Cherry season runs from October to February with it peaking in mid summer. Australia produces mainly sweet cherries, these are best served raw but can be cooked instead of the sour varieties but will have less flavour. 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. 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.
More seasonal fruit: Figs, kiwiw fruit, lychees, bannanas, mangoes, melons, pawpaw and passion fruit. Wrap wedges of melon in proscuitto and serve as a refreshing starter. Make a tropical pavlova with kiwi fruit, lychees and passion fruit.
Balmain Bugs or Moretan Bay Bug are a type of slipper lobster, they have no pincers or claws. They are found along the coast of Australia and New Zealand in depths of water 20-500 metres. The tail is the only edible part of the bug and the flesh has a medium to strong lobster like flavour. When purchasing live they should be active not sluggish, and cooked bugs should not smell fishy. Bugs are best poached, steamed, barbecued or grilled. Poached or steamed whole, they are an attractive addition to a seafood platter. Sliced in half lengthways, brushed with a little olive oil and barbecued or grilled over a high heat, they are sensational. Melt over a little herb butter or serve simply with lemon wedges and tabasco.
Blue swimmer crabs are Australia's most common crab. They have 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. Pan fry peeled and deviened prawns in plenty of olive oil with finely chopped chilli and plenty of garlic, toss in freshly cooked spaghetti and serve on a bed of rocket.
More fresh seasonal seafood includes red emperor, kingfish, whiting, coral trout, and rock oysters. Deep fry rock oysters and serve with tartare sauce or sour cream and sweet chilli sauce.
Make the most of the tender lamb by enjoying rare roasted legs and racks of lamb, and quick to cook lamb cutlets (why not try cooking them on the barbecue).
Veal is also good in spring, now that you can actually purchase free range veal, bred outdoors with their mothers (unlike the Dutch variety that are celled up indoors from birth and force-fed milk). Place a sage leaf on thin escalopes of veal and then wrap it with Parma ham and lightly pan fry in a little olive oil, accompany the veal with some freshly cooked fettuccine with a light tomato sauce. Try lightly crumbed escalopes Pan-Fried, serve with a slice of lemon, spinach and new potatoes.