Spring has officially sprung today and it brings with it a world of fabulous new Australian produce. We look at the bounty of this vibrant season – from artichokes to asparagus – and how to make the most of it
Best cooked quickly to preserve their vibrant green hue and prevent them from going mushy, green beans are a great source of vitamins B1, B6, A and E, magnesium, calcium and potassium. Choose crisp and firm beans with no soft spots or signs of discolouration. They can be kept wrapped in dry paper towel in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to 10 days.
How to eat them: The freshest of beans need little more than a quick steaming, boiling or blanching, some good-quality butter or olive oil, sea salt and toasted slivered almonds or pine nuts. However, dressings made with maple syrup, cider vinegar, dijon mustard, citrus juice or honey will add extra spark. Blanched, they’re beautiful in a salad with tomato and lentils, or goats cheese, walnuts and zucchini, or, perhaps, pumpkin, orange, feta and mint. They team perfectly with grilled fish, add crunch to homemade sushi and rice paper rolls, and pump up the vegie quota in stir-fries, curries and tagines.
Best in spring and autumn, this fruit has two main varieties in Australia – red papaya (pictured) and yellow pawpaw. The red features green/yellow spotted skin with dark tangerine-tinged flesh and is sweet. The yellow variety is less sweet, rounder with pale orange skin and bright yellow flesh. Both are packed with vitamins C and A, carotenoids and folate, boosting immunity and skin elasticity. The fruits are ripe when they yield to gentle pressure. Store in the fridge and consume within two days.
How to eat them: Simply cube the flesh and eat it fresh, or toss into cereal or muesli with yoghurt for breakfast. Poach in water with sugar, lime juice, cinnamon and star anise for a healthy dessert, or try folding mashed and diced papaya into wholemeal muffins with coconut. In salads, they pair well with prawns, rocket, beans, dill and mint. Transform them into a salsa with tomato and avo to team with seafood or corn fritters, or add unripened versions to coconut cream-based curries.
Spring and autumn are prime seasons for mushies in Australia, particularly buttons, cups, field, portabella and swiss browns. These are all high in antioxidants, low in kilojoules, and said to be good for boosting the immune system, preventing cancer and lowering the risk of gout. Choose firm mushrooms with a uniform colour and a slightly shiny surface. Store them in a brown paper bag on the bottom shelf of the fridge for at least a week.
How to eat them: Wipe mushrooms gently with a damp cloth, using a soft brush to remove any dirt from the skin, before trimming the stem and throwing them into everything from salads to risottos. Go old-school and stuff mushrooms with rice or mince mixtures, skewer them with meat and pop them on the barbie, slice them up for stir-fries, curries, noodle dishes and pizzas, or turn them into a tapenade for an interesting dip. Pastas, pies and pilafs love their meatiness, or try marinating for an antipasto plate.
Garden peas, snow peas and sugar snaps are all in their prime throughout spring. Green peas lose their sweetness quickly after picking, so best to cook them as soon as you buy them. Choose small to medium-sized plump peas that aren’t hard or bulging. For sugar snaps and snow peas, buy bright green, firm varieties and store in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to a week, or wash, top and tail, blanch and freeze in airtight containers for up to a year.
How to eat them: They can all be snacked on raw, but are tastiest when cooked. While stir-fries are the obvious choice, try adding them to paella, seafood pasta dishes or with grilled pork with ginger, garlic, chilli and soy. Mint, spinach and feta are their ideal marriage in salads, though grilled stone fruit and prosciutto also works with a yoghurt dressing, as does chilli and barbecued corn. Snow peas and sugar snaps are particularly great julienned with carrot and wombok and turned into a slaw for burgers or steak. Garden peas love pancetta or speck as a side for lamb.
Forget the Mexican and Peruvian offerings, now is the time to get into Aussie asparagus. At their best from now until November, the green, white or purple varieties have a herbaceous flavour, are low in kilojoules, high in fibre and packed with vitamins C and B. Choose firm, bright bunches with well-formed, tightly closed tips, and store in the crisper of your fridge wrapped in damp paper towel inside a plastic bag.
How to eat it: Remove the woody ends and blanch or grill it on the barbecue ready for salads, teamed with salty and sweet accompaniments, such as prosciutto, feta, haloumi, roasted pumpkin or sweet potato, rockmelon or corn. Risottos, quiches and frittatas welcome its green goodness, especially paired with the likes of peas, zucchini and smoked or pan-fried salmon. Throw spears into stir-fries or pasta dishes, or blend with garlic, rocket, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan and cashews for a twist on pesto.