It's time to leave the warming, weighty dishes of winter behind as spring conjures up desires for pretty frocks, sunshine kissing bare shoulders and vibrant, fresh produce that heralds a new season that hints at the summer months just ahead.
We asked six people who work in the food industry what they look forward to when the warm tickles of spring arrive.
Liz Egan, executive chef and co-owner, Becco.
Spring, for me, is the excitement of beautiful baby broad beans. My father grows gorgeous rows and rows of them at Wantirna Estate Vineyard, enough for all the extended family to feast on. I look forward to arriving home after work and finding that my sister has left a big bag on my doorstep.
We sit around and pod them, blanch and then (to the horror of my father) double peel them. In a salad with pecorino and young celery leaves, in a simple pasta of prawns, garlic, chill and chervil, or with red onion, parsley and best quality tinned tuna as a lovely little antipasto or on crostini – we eat them every day until their (too short) season is over and we’re warming up for summer.
Simon Benjamin, co-owner, Bar Lourinha.
The joy of eating broad beans far outweighs the labour that is involved in liberating them from what looks like a very comfortable place to grow up. Once popped from the first casing, the beans then have to be blanched to soften another protective layer. The broad beans arrival at market is generally a much better indication of the imminent and much anticipated arrival of spring than the calendar. Broad beans make a great snack on their own, but with some torn fresh mint, salt, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil, they make a ridiculously simple salad, so much greater then the sum of its parts. The earthy, nutty flavour and chalky texture of broad beans are a perfect contrast to the bright zingy punch of the lemon and mint.
Wasabi and Garfish
Steve Hay, Victorian officer, SeaNet.
It's the surprise that wasabi creates that makes it so good. There's the heat and then the pleasant comedown with a resultant clarity on the palate. It's great with all kinds of seafood and excellent in a Bloody Mary.
I have to mention seafood and it would have to be garfish. Try it Southern Euro-style, on the barbecue with lashings of lemon, olive oil and black pepper.
Miranda Sharp, co-ordinator, Melbourne Community Farmers Markets.
I drive home through the dense, dark volcanic soil of West Gippsland, which produces over 90 per cent of Australia’s crop of asparagus. I love watching those paddocks transform each season, and at the moment they are a sea of green spikes dotted every few centimetres for miles. We’ve got a little patch in our veggie garden and I’ve just picked the first treat of the season. It amazes me just how quickly each spear shoots up each day. They weren’t ready to pick this morning, but a little sun and there they are for dinner! It’s as if you can watch them growing.
Simple is best with asparagus; steamed and served with brown butter, wrapped in prosciutto and barbequed, or tiny tips with tortellini in broth are my family’s favourites.
Tasmanian Sea Urchin
Akimi Iguchi, co-head chef, Kumo Izakaya.
In Australia, spring seasonal ingredients are often thought of as fruit, vegetables and herbs. In Japan people also know spring as the best season for seafood – it is at its most delicious. Seafood is just as seasonal as other foods in Japanese culture. While winter is renowned for many delicious types of seafood, other seasons also have their highlights. Understanding the seafood seasons in Australia has been tricky for me as the seasons are opposite between the northern and southern hemisphere and the biodiversity of seafood and the market are also different. In Japan, sea urchin comes into season in the middle of summer. In Australia, sea urchin comes into season from October through to December. In spring, roe has the best flavour. Right now Tasmanian sea urchins have just come into season and have a beautiful, rich sweet taste. Sea urchins are one of the most prized and expensive seafoods for sushi and sashimi. So now, every spring, I look forward to Australia's most delicious sea urchins.
Bamboo Shoot (Takenoko)
Eriko Hamabe, co-head chef, Kumo Izakaya.
The fresh bamboo shoot is my favourite spring vegetable in Japan, even though it can be a little hard work to remove the bitter, harsh taste from the fresh bamboo shoot. After you dig it out, you cut the tip and peel a few layers of the outer woody skin. Then you place it in cold water with rice bran and bring to the boil. Boil for at least an hour, or until the shoot is tender and leave it in the water overnight until cool. Then peel and enjoy!
I like to eat them as fresh sushi, takenokogohan (cooked with rice), mixed with a miso vinaigrette, stir-fried or just braised. The bamboo shoot is a versatile vegetable; you can cook it however you like. Unfortunately, it's hard to get fresh bamboo shoot in here Australia, but you can buy whole bamboo shoot frozen from Japanese greengrocers. These one are very easy to handle and can skip all preparation. So, try them with chicken and rice with light soy sauce, or simply cook with soy sauce, mirin, and bonito flake. Enjoy the spring!