Produce report: January 22
It’s dream time out there in the produce aisle. Quality is great across the board and for once we won’t be grizzling about cost (well, we won’t unless we crave pricey pumpkin and maybe kumara too). Small blips, there’s loads more fruit and veg to enjoy instead.
Capsicums and sweetcorn are must-haves now and cucumbers are plentiful too – they were 50 cents each at the Avondale market at the weekend. While you are scouring the stalls, look out for cheaper chillies, bright new-season radishes and local snow peas, alongside healthy mounds of snake beans. And it’s time to buy up or pick plenty of tomatoes, preserving some in chutneys and sauces. See Jan Bilton’s relish recipe here.
Those tomatoes make great confit too. As Warren Elwin says, slow-roasting them in good olive oil concentrates their sweetness and renders them wickedly flavourful additions to salads and sandwiches, soups, stews and sauces. Plus there’s the flavoured oil to add to cooked dishes and dressings.
Warren piles the sweet confit tomatoes on to toasted bagels which have been spread with goat’s cheese or crème fraiche, spiked with a little lemon zest and horseradish. To serve, he sprinkles them with a little fresh chervil or dill and a squeeze of lemon. Lovely for a fresh-tasting summery lunch.
Remember to store tomatoes at room temperature — if kept under 12C the flavour and aroma will be affected which is why chilled ones are often bland and mealy. Instead, leave them (in a single layer if you can) stem side down, somewhere out of the sun.
It’s time, too, to drag out those eggplant parmigiana and baba ghanoush recipes earmarked in winter — summer’s bountiful days are here right now and eggplants are another very good buy. Eggplant parm aside, try Ray’s version of Italy’s melanzane sott’olio (eggplant preserved under oil). Stored in the fridge, it can be served as an antipasto or with chicken and fish. The leftover oil, like that in the tomato confit above, can be used for cooking, drizzled over bruschetta or in dressings.
If your eggplant hankering involves the golfball-sized Thai green ones, rather than the more common purples, head back to your Asian market where you will find good stocks to add to stir-fries and curries.
Fruit wise, lovely crunchy South Island cherries are at their best. There are only a few weeks left until they disappear again so give yourself a New Year treat. Prices are much lower now and the fruit is really sweet. Cherries belong to the stonefruit family but it’s their relatives – plums, peaches and apricots – which are our fruit buys of the week. Eat as is, grill or bake them and bottle some too for future desserts or breakfast bowls if you have loads (see Jan Bilton’s microwaved bottled apricots.