Australia’s master of modern Italian cuisine, Stefano Manfredi, shares his tips on 5 of the best ingredients to cook with this spring.
Most chefs will agree that cooking with the freshest produce is the best and most foolproof way to get the most out of your meal.
Making sure the dish is full of flavour and the most perfect colours and textures, can all be helped by using fresh produce in your cooking.
Here, Stefano Manfredi shares his five favourite Spring ingredients you should be cooking with.
1. Spring Lamb
When buying lamb, make sure you look at the colour. Spring lamb should be a rosy pink or quite pale. The darker and browner the lamb, the older it is. Any fat around the muscles should be snowy white.
When looking for meals to make with lamb look to use seasonal spices like saffron, cumin, smoked paprika, cinnamon and cloves. Lamb also goes well with mediterranean fruits and vegetables like eggplanet, capsicum, anchovies, tomatoes, olives, capers and artichokes.
If you want to roast your lamb, roast with root vegetables, seasoned with tarragon and rosemary.
If cooking lamb shoulder, cut the 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.
Look for eggplants that are glossy and firm. The slender, deep-coloured Japanese eggplant and the plump light purple Italian are well worth seeking out as they tend to be sweeter in flavour, whereas the small, pea and golf ball sized Thai and Indonesian varieties are deliciously sour and bitter.
Before grilling eggplant, slice in half and lightly salt it. Leave for 5 minutes then pat dry. Salting draws 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.
Enjoy with cream, custard, mascarpone, honey and lemon - especially with puff pastry and a glass of champagne!
For four people use 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 are also great roasted, but you can also use them in pastas and salad.
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 aside. Trim around the base to remove the bitter parts. The stalk can be trimmed and eaten.
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 are perfect for Spring salads, with ricotta or feta, parsley and 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 eaten raw or cooked like spinach.