Want to cook with the freshest produce this Spring? Australia’s master of modern Italian cuisine and face behind the Star’s Balla restaurant shares his tips on 5 of the best ingredients to cook with this Spring.
1. Spring Lamb
Spring lamb should be a glowing rosy pink and milk-fed lamb should be pale. Any fat around the muscles should be snowy white.
Spring Lamb is Good With
Bold-flavoured spices such as saffron, cumin, fresh green peppercorns or dried black ones, smoked paprika, cinnamon and cloves; stewed or grilled sweet peppers, grilled or smoked eggplant; garlic and onions; chick peas, lentils, couscous, pine nuts and almonds; lemon, raisins, quince and pomegranate; olives, capers, artichokes, anchovies, tomatoes, potatoes and other root vegetables; coriander, parsley, tarragon and rosemary.
Cooking Tip- Lamb Shoulder
Cut shoulder into large pieces keeping the bone in and braise over low heat until the meat falls off the bone. The connective tissue will break down during the cooking process adding flavour and a gelatinous texture.
Check out these delicious lamb recipes for Spring!
Eggplant should be glossy, firm and unblemished. The slender, deep-mauve coloured Japanese and the plump light purple Italian are well worth seeking out. They tend to be sweeter in flavour where the small, seedy, pea and golf ball sized Thai and Indonesian varieties are deliciously sour and bitter.
Eggplant is Good With
Tomato; zucchini; capsicum; onion; garlic; lemon and lime; chickpeas; capers; anchovy; olives; extra virgin olive oil; flatbreads; chilli; soy sauce; balsamic vinegar; parsley; coriander; mint; oregano; basil; cumin; lamb; haloumi; parmesan; fresh mozzarella, especially from buffalo milk.
Before grilling eggplant, slice and lightly salt it. Leave for 5 minutes then pat dry. This is not to render it less bitter because, generally, our varieties aren’t bitter. Salting does however, draw moisture out of the flesh and helps to cook it evenly.
When buying strawberries, let your nose guide you first of all. Look for fruit that is well coloured and glossy. Any softness on the berry or blemish should be avoided. Turn the punnet over. If there is any “weeping” or “bleeding” the strawberries are probably past their use by date and only good for jam.
Strawberries are Good With
Cream, custard, mascarpone, honey, lemon juice, rhubarb, rose water, pastry- especially puff pastry, butter, vinegar- especially balsamic vinegar, brandy, Port, Muscat, Tokay and Champagne.
For four people take two punnets of strawberries. Wash them gently, quarter them and put them in a bowl. Add a teaspoon of red wine vinegar and 50g of caster sugar. Mix gently and leave it for an hour, covered, in the ‘fridge to marinate. Serve with whipped cream.
When purchasing your artichokes choose the ones that are bright green in colour and that have a tight, closed bunch of leaves. Avoid artichokes that are limp, dry, withered or discoloured. The best flavoured artichokes are the first cut from the centre of the plant and these are found in late Autumn or early Spring. Slow maturing artichokes tend to produce the product with the best flavours.
Artichokes Go With
Pasta, steak, lamb, potatoes, lemon, salad leaves, carrots, celery, parmesan, broad beans, morels, peas, asparagus.
To prepare the artichoke peel off only the harder outside leaves and discard. Remove the stalk by cutting very close to the base of the artichoke, and set stalk aside. Trim around the base to remove the bitter parts. The stalk can be trimmed and eaten.
Some Tips – keep the artichokes in water as soon as trimmed to avoid discolouring due to oxidation. Use the whole artichoke for stuffing or for boiling. In all cases the quality of the artichokes will determine the amount of leaves to be discarded. Discarded leaves can be cooked to flavour stocks to use with artichoke risotto or to make a thick artichoke soup.
5. Broad Beans
Also known as the fava beans, enjoy broad beans while you can as they peak early in Spring and taper off by Summer. They don’t like hot weather and go hard, white and mealy. Look for bring green beans, which are firm to press.
Broad Beans Go With
Eggplant; butter; extra virgin olive oil; onion; celery; red wine vinegar; pine nuts; olives; tomatoes; Sicilian capers; flat-leaf parsley; tarragon leaves, salad leaves; buffalo mozzarella; fetta; ricotta; mint.
Pod them first then peel away the tough casing around the seed. Blanch for a few minutes in salted boiling water. Drain and toss with butter or good extra virgin olive oil and serve as an alternative to peas. The young leaves of the broad bean plant can also be either raw or cooked like spinach.