Produce report July 23: Fruit and vege buys of the week
Celery comes into its own in winter braises and soups. It is indispensable in soffritto (that mix of finely chopped aromatics — celery, carrots, onions and garlic, along with bay leaves and rosemary) that forms the base of so many dishes. And it is useful in salads such as classic coronation chicken and waldorf, where its savoury notes play up the sweetness of apples, grapes and our lovely local walnuts (see recipes on bite.co.nz). Both salads keep well so are good transported to work for lunch the next day. Want something leafy in them? Shred some white cabbage and add that as well, or top at the last minute with watercress, one of the vigorous greens happy to live through the cold. When addin to salads, choose celery’s pale and tender innermost stalks. Finely shred those peppery baby yellow leaves and add them as well.
Try replacing basil with celery leaves to make a winter pesto — add the dark green ones as well as the pale leaves. Finely chopped, celery adds crunch to grain salads and works well with fennel. Sliced wafer-thin, it is delicious in an elegant chicken sandwich. Celery’s flavour and texture softens on cooking so if yours is a household that remains a bit sceptical, serve those stalks in a creamy gratin — but do peel any tough ones to remove the stringy lengths or you won’t be converting anyone at all.
Celery keeps well as long as it is not left exposed in the fridge. Simply slash the bunch horizontally and place both halves in a covered container for less bulky storage. Wash just before use. Celery is high in vitamins B1, B2, A and K along with potassium and phosphorous.
Other good vege buys this week include broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. There are some kumara specials out there so keep your eyes peeled.
Along with navel oranges, local grapefruit and lemons continue their prolific run. Now is the time to preserve them (they can be expensive to buy) to add to grain salads, couscous, tagines and marinades. A little preserved lemon goes a long way. When using, simply wash each wedge to remove the salt and discard the flesh — you don’t use that. Finely slice the skin.
The thin-skinned, sweet and juicy Meyer is the most common lemon variety in New Zealand, followed by the more acidic and paler Yen Ben. An offspring of a standard lemon and a mandarin, the Meyer is not a great keeper so watch out for mould in the fruit bowl which will spread alarmingly quickly. Because most lemons are waxed during packing, this should be washed off first in warm water before using the zest.
Red tamarillo fans, now is the hour. They are unlikely to get cheaper than this.
Peter Gordon’s preserved lemons
Sterilise a preserving jar that has a perfect seal. Choose really good quality untarnished lemons — ideally un-waxed (if you can’t get them un-waxed don’t worry too much, but do try). Wipe them firmly with a warm, damp, clean cloth. Cut any branch off so no “wood” is attached.
Cut them downwards into quarters, from the tip towards the stem end, but keep them in one piece — don’t cut all the way through — leave around 1cm of stem end to hold them together. Pack a generous tablespoon of coarse salt (not fine) into the middle of each lemon, holding them over a bowl as you do it so as not to lose the salt.
Pack them firmly, one by one, into the jar, trying to squash them into all “corners”, which will be hard if the lemons are too firm. Once the jar is packed, sprinkle another 2 tablespoons of coarse salt over the top and pour on enough fresh lemon juice to come to the rim of the jar. Tap the jar gently but firmly on a bench laid with a triple folded tablecloth (to prevent it cracking) to remove any air bubbles.
Seal the jar tightly and place in a cool dark place for four weeks. During that time, gently turn and shake the jar every four or five days to expel any further air bubbles and top up with fresh lemon juice if needed, as air will escape from within the flesh and rind of the lemons, causing a space above the liquid which could bubble and spoil.
Once the month is up, I tend to test the top one and if I’m happy, then I keep the jar in the fridge until the lemons are used up. Bay leaves and a few peppercorns can be added if wished. The lemons should keep 10-12 months.