Produce report: March 27
It’s time to hunt out chestnuts – in season through to May. While you can often buy them through supermarkets, specialty stores and greengrocers, there are more chestnut trees out there than you may realise, so look out for them at farm gates, pick-your-own orchards or at your local farmers’ market.
Highly perishable, chestnuts are 50 per cent water. Unless they are to be eaten soon after harvest, they should be refrigerated or frozen to prevent them drying out. They are high in vitamin C and potassium and contain protein but no fat or oil.
Chestnuts grow well in New Zealand and we are not plagued with diseases or pests common overseas, so most trees here are never sprayed. However, we do grow a different variety to those in Europe and, while the flavour and texture is the same, our nuts are trickier to peel.
When collecting your own chestnuts also be aware that edible chestnuts are not the same thing as inedible horse chestnuts, which have a flattened, smooth top. Edible chestnuts have a pointed top. Before cooking, it’s important to cut an X-shape into the flat side of the shell. If you don’t, your chestnuts will very likely explode — messy and potentially even dangerous. (I once bit into one straight from the oven, having no idea then about the need to cut through the shell. The chestnut exploded in my mouth. The result was a few days of extreme discomfort, to say the least.)
After piercing the shell, chestnuts can be microwaved, boiled or roasted. Boil them whole in water for about 30 minutes, cut in half when they are cool enough to handle and scoop out the flesh. Boiling results in a smooth texture that’s good for a soup, for instance.
To roast them, cut your X, soak the chestnuts in a bowl of water for 15 minutes to help create steam and keep them moist, and then, X-side up, roast in a 200C oven for 15 minutes. Peel, salt and enjoy. Oven-roasted chestnuts have the best flavour if you want to eat them straight away or chop them into a stuffing mix.
Peel as soon as they are cool enough to handle. The shells harden when cold. If you want whole nuts, peel off the inner skin (pellicle) too, as it can be bitter.
Avocados are nearing the end of their season (big sobs from avocado toast brekkie fans). Although we’ve had a good run with them, the heavy rain and wind a few weeks back hasn’t helped supply, which will dwindle further until mid-May. New season fruit starts again mid-June.
The first of the tamarillos have arrived in limited quantities. The season extends until October with the peak in July and August so there’s plenty of time to enjoy them.
Feijoas are slowly becoming more plentiful in supermarkets but have yet to make a big appearance at farmers’ markets. As with tamarillos, expect to pay higher prices until the season gets into full swing.
Look out for golden delicious apples, which are as good cooked as they are raw – lovely in Viva’s golden delicious cake with brazil nuts and lemon glaze.
Yellow spaghetti squash are back in store – good news for pasta lovers keen to cut their carbs. Even better, they don’t require a spiralizer to create ‘noodles’. Cut your squash in half, remove seeds and place both halves, cut side down, in a baking dish. Cover with foil or pour a little water around the base of the dish to create steam. Roast for 30 minutes until a knife can pierce the flesh easily. Turn squash over and shred and then serve as you would pasta.