Lemons grow pretty much everywhere in Australia. Our main varieties are the Lisbon, the eureka and the Meyer, which tastes quite different because it is a hybrid of an orange and a lemon. Lemons need a lot of sun and very little care; they make the perfect backyard tree (even if you don’t cook with them, you’ll have a year’s supply for gin and tonics). The fruit can be picked when they’re almost full-sized and still green, but are most flavourful when picked bright yellow and fully ripe. They can keep for up to several weeks if stored in the fridge.
I couldn’t do without lemons in my cooking. They invigorate food, add colour and make the most beautiful desserts such as lemon soufflé, lemon posset, or lemon and sugar crêpes. Combined with butter, eggs and cream, they make a wonderful lemon curd to plop in tarts or spread on toast.
Although lemons are available year-round, I appreciate their uplifting effect more during the colder months. A squeeze over roast lamb, a dab of preserved lemon in chicken stuffing or a saucy lemon pudding are the ideal antidotes to a rainy Sunday afternoon. Now is a good time to preserve lemons in salt so they’ll be ready when winter sets in; they’ll sit on your kitchen shelf like little jars of sunshine. I like to flavour my preserved lemons with fresh bay leaves and cinnamon quills.
This is an understated vegetable but can be beautifully presented if cooked with a little imagination and a delicate hand. I have fond memories of warm cauliflower cheese served with lamb, and my mother’s salad of cauliflower, dressed with olive oil, vinegar, parsley and caraway seeds. I have seen some lovely baby cauliflowers in the markets now and also a green variety – the broccoflower – which tastes just like an ordinary cauliflower yet keeps its unusual colouring.
It’s pretty easy to choose a good cauliflower. Look for a tight white head with no blemishes and avoid cauliflowers with creamy or browned edges or ones that have a strong smell or a loose, floppy head. This usually indicates that they are not fresh enough or are too mature to be nice to eat. I prefer to break my cauliflower into large florets before cooking them in salted water – I find they cook more evenly that way. I think the key to cooking cauliflower well is not to overcook it, especially since the longer you do, the more it smells like boiled cabbage and takes on an unsavoury flavour.
Cauliflower makes a fine gratin, broken into florets and just cooked, then laid in a pan with a thin layer of béchamel sauce, flavoured with bay and nutmeg, a sprinkle of Gruyère and some dobs of butter; it’s a wonderful accompaniment to steak or roast chook.
Alternatively, top the gratin with garlicky parsley crumbs, lemon zest and pine nuts. I love to sauté cauliflower in butter with shallots, perhaps with potato, before blending it with a splash of cream into a soft, delicious purée. I have even thrown large florets of cauliflower, dressed with salt and olive oil, in with my roast chicken. They come up wonderfully crisp and golden.
I love to see a pile of quince sitting on the dining room table. They look so elegant and their old-world scent perfumes the room. Quince originated in the Mediterranean and the Middle East but they’re also successfully grown in cooler climes such as England. There are many different varieties grown in Australia, but they don’t seem to be marketed by their variety.
When buying quince, choose ones that are golden, scented and unblemished. Keep in mind that although they are a hard fruit, they still bruise surprisingly easily. I love cooking quince and watching them turn a deep, ruby shade of red. Quince are delicious in puddings and tarts or simply served with a homemade custard or with bircher muesli for breakfast. They make a divine conserve to have on toast, or a paste to enjoy with cheese, a lovely jelly or roast pork. Quince also make a great pickle – with red wine, sugar, peppercorns, bay leaves and coriander seeds – to accompany terrines and ham. My favourite way of cooking quince is to quarter them, lay them in a deep tray and slowly bake them in a light sugar syrup, scented with orange peel, star anise and honey, for four to five hours at 120 degrees. The longer you cook quince, the deeper their shade of pink. I always add the peel and cores from the quince, wrapped in muslin, to the mix because it helps the fruit keep their colour.
I’ll admit it’s not one of the prettiest vegetables, but this oddly lumpy, bulbous member of the parsley family, which tastes a bit like celery, is capable of many beautiful dishes. It can be cut into small cubes and fried like chips in olive oil to accompany steak; roasted and puréed into a beautiful creamy soup with chicken stock and crème fraîche, finished with chives and croutons (pictured); or simply cut into wedges, boiled in salted water and then roasted with butter and salt as an accompaniment to roast meat. Choose a celeriac that is small to medium in size (I find large celeriac can be too woody) with green stems. Cut the outside layer away with a knife just before cooking because its creamy white interior will brown in contact with the air. This can also be avoided by putting cut pieces in acidulated water, although I only bother with this if I’m making a purée and want to keep the creamy colour. Celeriac rémoulade, raw celeriac very finely cut and dressed with a mustard-spiked mayonnaise, goes beautifully with lobster or aromatic poached chicken.
It’s not strictly a seasonal thing but I think that as the months turn cooler we naturally want to eat food that is richer. Personally, I love a bit of offal, especially liver. Now is a particularly good time to be eating calf’s liver because veal is plentiful. I am very fussy about where I buy liver – my Italian butcher always has excellent veal liver and knows just how to slice it so that it’s the right thickness. You want it just thin enough so that it cooks quickly but remains pink inside. In Fergus Henderson’s book, Nose to Tail Eating, the introduction sums up my thoughts on cooking offal: “Nearly every part of nearly everything we eat can be delicious in the hands of a patient and talented cook – something most good cooks… have known for centuries.” Try sautéing chicken livers with butter, sage and onions and a splash of Marsala, then serve them on crostini, or indulge in a little duck liver ragù with rosemary, red wine and pappardelle. On the other hand, you can’t go wrong with grilled calf’s liver and a few drops of aged balsamic vinegar.
Zesty lemons, the scent of ruby-red quince and a heart-warming bowl of celeriac soup are the perfect antidotes to a rainy Sunday afternoon, writes Brigitte Hafner.