OUT OF THE COLD
Winter is almost over. What better way to celebrate the imminent arrival of spring than with some seasonal cooking?
It may have escaped your notice in your busy and important life, but spring starts on Friday. Yes, finally, winter is being shown the door and we can start planning a life free from silverbeet. The fields will soon be filled with cute, frolicking little lambs – which incidentally also means that you’ll be adding mint sauce to your shopping list.
Along with lamb, spring’s verdant basket of seasonal vegetables will be crowding the stalls at farmers’ markets and your local supermarket. With this in mind – and in the hope of providing a little culinary inspiration – let me share what I am planning for this beautiful bounty.
MAKE A SEASONAL PESTO
Whether you call it a pesto, a hummus or a dip, in-season vegetable purees can be spread on toast, tossed through pasta or used as a sauce for fish or grilled meats.
Try making a broccoli pesto. Puree lightly steamed florets with grated pecorino, an anchovy and a garlic clove, along with a drizzle of olive oil and a couple of ice cubes. To make it creamy, mash in some avocado and lemon juice rather than too much olive oil. Use this instead of avocado for your toast in the morning so you don’t have to snub your nose at the mortgage.
Other great breakfast pestos to try include blitzing peas with a little ricotta, olive oil and almonds, and then stirring in some finely chopped mint, or blanching asparagus and whizzing it with garlic, pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil. Season both with a little salt and lemon juice.
IT’S ALMOST SPRING PASTA
Anticipate the new season (and the arrival of Italy’s classic primavera or spring pasta) by making an “almost spring” pasta using the produce that is currently coming into season.
Fry rounds of leeks in olive oil. When they have softened, add trimmed and halved green beans, equal lengths of asparagus and some peas (fresh or frozen). Heat until the colour changes to a brighter green, then remove from the pan. Toss a good splash of white wine into the pan and reduce by half. Return the veg, the cooked, drained pasta and a splash of the starchy pasta water. Toss to emulsify. Season with salt, a little lemon zest and black pepper.
This sauce is great with farfalle and totally sensational with the fresh spinach pici pasta that we made a few months ago. You’ll find the recipe at delicious.com.au. Serve with grated parmesan, fresh ricotta or some finely shaved, salted ricotta.
MAKE SOMETHING SOUPER
As the weather gets warmer, you can go for a slightly lighter style of soup as long as the intensity of flavour isn’t compromised.
Try a Portuguese caldo verde, made with smoked pork hock and all the leafy greens that are currently caught in the revolving door between the two seasons, such as silverbeet, kale, cabbage and spinach. You can mash in a few potatoes for a creamier texture and more body, but you shouldn’t need to if you just use some of the stock from cooking the pork hocks.
STEP UP YOUR STIR-FRY
Asian greens are coming into season now. So take some gai lan (Chinese broccoli), and halve lengthwise. Fry minced garlic and grated ginger slowly and gently with a little oil until golden. Place the greens in the pan, cut side down. Cover and cook slowly until they turn bright green. Splash in soy and move around to coat. Cook until the soy goes sticky and the cut side of the vegetables coat and catch.
Serve the veg layered on top of steamed white fish fillets with sliced chilli and spring onions, or just add slices of lap cheong, spring onion and a handful of peeled prawns at the end of cooking. Serve this bulkier version with steamed brown or jasmine rice.
FAREWELL WINTER WITH A ’ROOT
A beetroot, that is. We are coming to the end of winter and that’s reason enough to celebrate by roasting the last of the pumpkins and beetroots to go into a warm salad.
Wrap beets in foil and place in a 200°C oven for an hour. After 15 minutes, add finger-thick slices of pumpkin, sprayed with oil. Cook until soft and catching at the edges. Warm some marmalade with a splash of orange juice and spiced with a little cinnamon and ground cardamom. Brush this over the pumpkin. Return to the oven to set the glaze. Remove the beetroot and, when cooled a little, unwrap the beets, rub off the skin with the foil and chop into chunks.
Serve beetroot and pumpkin on a warmed platter of buttered couscous topped with olive oil-tossed pistachios, crumbled feta, and mint and parsley leaves that are tossed in orange juice.
If you need meat, grilled lamb chops are perfect. You can even coat them with a dukkah of crushed pistachios, cumin seeds and coriander seeds.
SEASON’SEATINGS Matt Preston's trofie with nasturtium and macadamia pesto. Find the recipe on delicious.com.au