Produce report: November 28
The first of new season Northland sweetcorn has arrived in store, ready for your summer barbecues and those informal Mexican fiestas. It’s looking like being a bumper crop too — who would have guessed, all that rain and cold! Sweetcorn is only going to get more plentiful, of course, as the season progresses through to its culmination in April.
And, while corn grows in varying shades of cream and gold, it’s good to know that colour doesn’t matter when it comes to sweetness. That said, the darker the colour the more carotenoids there will be and carotenoids act as antioxidants in the body. Barbecue your sweetcorn in the husk or microwave it — for only 2-3 minutes on 100 per cent power. Overcook it and it will be tough. Lastly, don’t hold back on the butter or olive oil at serving time. Carotenoids are fat soluble and better absorbed where there is fat or oil in the meal.
Like sweetcorn, one of the week’s best buys, avocado, is de rigueur in summery Mexican fare. Keep Jan Bilton’s chilli fried eggs with avocado salsa (photographed below) handy for the next few hectic weeks when you want something tasty and nutritious but also quick.
Good vegetable buys this week are snowpeas and sugar snaps, now sold in packs by the Fresh Grower. Try your sugar snaps (or snowpeas) alongside frozen peas or the new-season fresh peas in store. Laurie Black combines them in her chicken stir-fry — another of this week’s speedy end-of-year offerings.
Cherries from Hawke’s Bay have made a quiet arrival. The South Island ones will be with us soon too, to dress Christmassy platters and desserts. Local blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are becoming more plentiful and for that tropical fruit salad or salsa, look out for mangoes from Australia and pawpaws from the Philippines.
Peonies are the flower of the week. Florists Boudica at Farro Fresh say that the variation in the price of peonies partially comes down to size — bigger stems and heads means a bigger price. Colour is also a contributing factor — soft colours are most popular and they get snapped up for weddings.
Pick of the week: Fennel blossom and pollen
Don’t walk past that fennel you see growing wild in your garden or on the roadside … it’s even more useful in the kitchen than you might realise. Sure the fronds are wonderful to bring a mild aniseed flavour to vegetable and fish dishes, to soups and eggs, but it’s the lacy yellow flowers, along with their dried pollen, that have foragers-in-the-know and restaurateurs worldwide waxing lyrical. We spotted packets of the fresh blossoms, along with packets of flowering thyme, at Farro Fresh last week, two crops from Pukekohe artisan growers, Mission Cabana. Add the fresh blossoms with other whole herbs to pickles, sauces, dressings and in flavoured vinegars. Or sprinkle them over salads. For the more adventurous, try baking them in bread or stir through fresh pasta.
Mission Cabana even has a fennel blossom icecream (no machine required) on its website.
And now for the pollen. In summer it could be fun (and impressive) to have a go at harvesting your own but unless you’ve got fennel growing in abundance, don’t expect buckets of the stuff. Pick whole flowers and place them in a bag where, as they dry, you can shake the pollen free. (Fresh pollen is more intense than dried.) If drying your own is a no-go, you can now find hand-harvested Californian fennel pollen in wee bottles on the spice shelf at Farro’s Grey Lynn store. Slightly sweet, it tastes of freshly mown grass with aniseed brightness.
Move over saffron! Here’s how Farro recommends using fennel pollen
• Sprinkle 1 Tbsp over a roast chicken before it goes into the oven.
• Add to ricotta and use to stuff tortellini or, better still, zucchini flowers.
• Mix it with pepper and salt for an amazing bright and zesty sprinkle.
• Sprinkle a little over cooked roast pork.
• Sprinkle over steamed salmon.
• Mix with toasted pinenuts and cumin as a dukkah to sprinkle over meats, salads and seafood.
• Sprinkle over homemade breads just before they go into the oven.
• Mix through a pork-rich meat mix and stuff into a chicken or make your own sausages.
• Add to biscuit dough.
• Add to your pasta dough before you roll it.
• Shred leftover cooked chicken and add a good sprinkle of pollen before you add any grains, seeds or leaves.