I’m always pleased to see the first of the season’s broad beans piled high on a shelf in the market – they’re a herald of spring. The very best broad beans are usually the first of the season – super fresh, bright pale-green, small and sweet tasting. My first purchase of broad beans is usually served raw, with Murray River salt flakes, extra-virgin olive oil and a young Pecorino Toscano to nibble on with a glass of Soave before dinner. Heaven.
Choose pods that are heavy for their size, unblemished and firm. Select the smaller pods – if they’re left to grow too large, broad beans become very starchy and lose their beautiful sweetness. Storing them for too long increases their starchiness too, so it’s best to use them soon after you buy them. If you’re a green thumb, they’re very easy to grow and are one of those vegetables (along with peas and corn) that are amazing freshly picked. Although their season is brief, they can be frozen as raw beans quite successfully.
Broad beans can be cooked in their shells – I find this adds a textural component and a slight bitterness which I like – or they can be cooked and double-peeled, pop them out of their skins by making a slit with your fingernail and squeeze them out.
I love them tossed through pasta with finely grated lemon rind, garlic, parmesan and extra-virgin olive oil with a hint of chilli and parsley. Try blanching them in boiling salted water, then coarsely crushing them with a mortar and pestle with ground cumin, garlic, paprika and oil – the resulting paste is great with labne and warm Arabic bread, or spooned over grilled chicken. At their freshest and best, they need nothing more than good salt and French butter to sing.
I find it interesting that until very recently almost our entire pineapple crop went to the Golden Circle cannery, just north of Brisbane, for canned pineapple, juice, baby food and drinks. Remember the ’60s? Ham steaks with pineapple and cheddar were considered the height of exoticism in their day. How far we have come.
I have always associated Queensland with pineapple farming, but the pineapple, native to South America, is grown in only a surprisingly small area of the state, mainly on the coastal strip between Cairns and Brisbane.
Until quite recently, Australians have mainly grown a variety called the smooth cayenne – a smooth-leafed variety bearing large fruit that are high in acid. While this is perfect for the cannery, it’s disappointing in juiciness and flavour when sold fresh (which may go some way to explaining why Australian fresh pineapple consumption is quite low on the international scale). About 10 years ago, the pineapple industry went through a revolution of sorts and started trialling different varieties for the fresh market. These exciting new varieties – the delicious Bethonga Gold among them – have very sweet, golden flesh and are juicy and refreshing.
The exterior colour is not a good indicator of ripeness and, contrary to popular opinion, plucking a leaf easily from the crown isn’t either. The best way to choose a ripe pineapple (they don’t ripen after picking) is to choose fruit with green spikes, no bruising and a strong ripe pineapple perfume.
As a kid, I loved pineapple fritters, and I still like to cook pineapple, although now it’s more likely to be thickly sliced and lightly poached with vanilla bean and sweet wine, served on a custard tart or with ice-cream. One of my favourite desserts is coconut ice-cream with thin slices of raw Bethonga Gold pineapple and caramelised palm sugar syrup cooked with lime leaves and a splash of coconut cream.
The avocado tree has really taken off in Australia; while it’s best suited to tropical climates, this large evergreen grows as far south as Victoria. Once established, the avocado is relatively maintenance-free and bears many frui
Strawberries, cumquats, grapefruit, lemons, mangoes, oranges.
Artichokes, Asian greens, asparagus, broccoli, capsicum, cucumbers, garlic, lettuce, onions, peas, silverbeet, spinach.
Atlantic salmon, bay prawns, big-eye tuna, coral trout, eastern rock lobsters, goldband snapper, longfin eels, ocean jacket, Spanish mackerel, spanner crabs, Sydney rock oysters.