Produce report March 19: Fruit and vege buys of the week
Our fiery lantern-shaped habaneros and jalapenos (the most common variety sold in New Zealand) have all suddenly ripened at home, despite a very slow start, and we are popping them in the freezer for later in the year. Chillies freeze very well but will also keep for three or four weeks at room temperature — they may start to shrivel but can still be used.
If your supply is coming from your garden, choosing varieties with a shorter growing season (not our habaneros) also means they will have finished fruiting by the time the colder weather comes.
To check a chilli’s heat, first touch the tip of your tongue on the pepper and wait a minute. If it burns, the chilli is very hot. If you feel nothing, cut off a tiny piece, tentatively eat it and decide how much to use from your reaction! In general, the smaller the chilli, the hotter it will be. Narrow, dark and pointy all indicate heat too. A chilli’s intensity also changes as it ripens.
The chilli’s relative, the vitamin C-rich capsicum, has been good buying this summer but the season ends in April. Although they are available all year, prices will start to climb. Keep your capsicums in the fridge in the vegetable crisper.
Warren Elwin combines both chillies and capsicums in his aunt’s sweet chilli sauce, which is great in stir-fries or on fish. He makes enough for eight 150ml bottles. This is how he goes about it: Seed and chop (a food processor makes this easier) 1 kg red capsicums, including fresh red chillies — the amount according to heat and taste. Place in a large saucepan with optional finely chopped garlic and ginger, 3½ cups white vinegar, 1 tsp salt, 4 cups sugar and 1 cup jam sugar. Cook until thick. Pour into hot sterilised bottles.
Freeze thyme in snaplock bags (no need to pull the leaves off the stems). With sage, pull off the leaves, chop them and pop about 1 Tbsp into ice cube trays. Fill with water and freeze. Remove frozen cubes to a snaplock bag and when you want to use them, add them directly to soups or stews. Let the cube dissolve and strain away the liquid if you don’t want the water in the dish too.
It’s time to hunt out chestnuts — the season has just started and will go through to late April (or so).
Though you can often buy them through supermarkets, specialty stores and greengrocers, look for chestnut trees around you if you live in an old established neighbourhood; and ask your neighbours nicely. Farm gates and farmers’ markets are also good sources. Look for pick-your-own orchards too — try Chestnut Traders in Helensville. Why not make a day of it: there are picnic tables in the orchard on a first come-first served basis.
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. For tips on preparing and cooking them, see That Old Chestnut.
Ditto parsnips which tend to get a bit woody and scarce in summer. While you will need to remove tough centres and peel large parsnips, young ones do not need peeling. As well as being great additions to the roasting pan, they are positively divine mashed with cream, and they make great chips, as Aaron Brunet shows in his popular baked parsnip fries with cashew aioli recipe.
Because blueberries have only a few weeks to go until their season finishes, we are eating them up. They star in the slice below. Frozen berries can also be used.