Produce report: November 20
Oval and waxy and with a character all their own, Oamaru’s jersey benne potatoes are true Christmas stars and they are arriving in stores now for summery meals and salads. Jersey bennes will lower in price slightly as the season progresses but they are never exactly a bargain buy. Still, they are very special! No need to peel them early in the season, although sometimes as the potatoes age, the skin can taste slightly bitter, so you may want to remove it then.
As with all spuds, store them in a cool, dark, dry place and do not refrigerate — this can change the flavour. Handle with care. Potatoes look hardy but can bruise easily. Wash them just before eating. Try Bevan Smith’s perfect spring salad: he serves his jersey bennes with lovely fresh asparagus, soft-boiled eggs, capers and anchovy herb oil with loads of mint, tarragon, chives and parsley.
Fresh peas in the pod have arrived in supermarkets and in farmers’ and produce markets for the Christmas lead-up too. Although they will be available until February, supply is always limited. Use these babies as soon as you buy or pick them. Although they will keep refrigerated for about a week, they taste best when only a day or two old. That’s because the sugars quickly convert to starch so they will become floury and less sweet as they age.
Look for firm green pods that are not too full, with peas that are fairly uniform in size. Peas are an excellent source of fibre and one of the best vegetable sources of protein.
Lovers of ong choy will be pleased to see the seasonal return of this hollow-stemmed, Asian water spinach (morning glory) at their local market. When buying, look for fresh green leaves and crisp green stems. Store in the fridge in a damp paper towel and use within a day or two, in a stir-fry as a side dish.
Look out on your market travels (and in Farro stores) for mild-flavoured courgette flowers. So yummy stuffed with ricotta or goat’s cheese and then dipped into batter for frying or leave out the stuffing and tempura them instead. They can also be tossed in olive oil until wilted to be added to pasta dishes or add them raw into salads.
Farro has both the male and female flowers which come from Pukekohe. The female has a miniature courgette at its base and the more slender-stemmed male doesn’t, which means you can pick most of these if you have them growing. Do spare the lives of some of them, though, so that the pollen can be spread for future harvests. The male contains stamens in the centre of the flowers and these should be removed (gently uncurl the petals to get to them).
Courgette flowers don’t last once picked so buy them and cook them on the same day or use them within two to three days with fridge storage. To ensure the picked flowers don’t wilt, wrap them in a damp towel in a zip-lock plastic bag and store them in the crisper section. When buying, choose flowers that look fresh, not brownish and wilted. Next time you have some, try this ricotta and parmesan-stuffed courgette flowers recipe.
Fruit wise, strawberries are our buy of the week. Lemons are still very affordable (can’t say the same for limes) and blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are getting more plentiful. You get to choose this week between imported pomegranate arils, available in punnets, or the whole fruit. Strew the seeds over a salad or on to the lamb skewers below to bring a Middle Eastern touch to your next barbecue.