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 fruit, so if you’ve been letting a seed sprout in a glass of water, it might be worthwhile planting it just to see what happens.
It’s important to note that the fruit doesn’t ripen on the tree, but once it reaches maturity it’ll soften gradually after picking. They’re best stored at room temperature and will take a week to 10 days from picking to ripen fully. Once they’re ripe, they don’t keep long and don’t store well in the fridge, so eat them as soon as you can.
The avocado has a very high oil content, but it’s a healthy natural oil. It’s also very high in protein for a fruit and has a large amount of minerals and vitamins. Many varieties of avocado are available throughout the year, but the Hass and Reed are at their peak in spring. The Hass has dark green skin that changes to dark green-purple when mature, with yellow, creamy flesh and a nutty, subtle flavour. One of my very favourite avocados is the beautiful smooth glossy-skinned Reed, with buttery flesh and exquisite flavour. It can grow to a very large size and is in season now.
I never cook avocado, but I love to take a ripe yet still firm fruit, cut it into little squares and dress it with finely diced chilli, lime juice, coriander leaves, freshly grated coconut and fish sauce and serve it with just-cooked crab. I also like to thinly slice some tuna and avocado and spoon over a dressing of mirin, pickled ginger, soy and rice wine vinegar, and top it with toasted sesame.
Yellowfin tuna is a very large, highly migratory fish that swims in schools throughout tropical and subtropical waters. A powerful swimmer, it’s capable of very high speeds. Its diet is broad, including other fish, crustaceans and cephalopods such as cuttlefish and squid. Its flesh is paler than that of its cousin, the revered southern bluefin tuna (prized for its superior quality and colour, particularly among Japanese diners, but severely depleted and considered critically endangered).
It is a mild-tasting fish with a delicate flavour, well-suited to eating raw or cooked. If I see an outstanding piece at the market –I mean an immaculate-looking piece, dark with a sheen to it and a deep red blood line – I like nothing more than to serve it that day, very simply and often raw. This usually means thin slices dressed with the best salt, extra-virgin oil, lemon juice or red wine vinegar, fried capers, Ortiz anchovies and coarsely chopped parsley. Crusty bread or perhaps a dollop of homemade mayonnaise finishes this off nicely. Moroccan flavours work well too. Make a chermoula paste from coriander leaves, parsley, cumin, paprika and garlic to rub into the fish before grilling it and finishing it with a squeeze of lemon. Or you can make a salmoriglio dressing. Coarsely crush fresh oregano leaves in a mortar and pestle with a little garlic, anchovies, lemon juice and extra-virgin oil. This is great with quickly seared or grilled yellowfin steaks.
When grilling tuna, I think it’s best cut into thick steaks (about a finger’s thickness is perfect) and cooked quickly on a very hot grill – 30 seconds each side should do the trick – so that it’s still pink in the middle. Above all, take care not to overcook it; dry tuna is a crime, and such a waste of this magnificent fish.
The fresh flavours of vibrant broad beans, just-caught tuna, buttery avocado and sweet pineapple herald warmer weather, writes Brigitte Hafner.