Spring is a time for freshening up menus with delights such as rhubarb, asparagus and strawberries. The rhubarb in my garden - after such a wet winter - has long, plump, red stalks. And a friend has provided fresh whitebait for my favourite roulade. Divine!
The official whitebait season runs from August 15 until November 30 (or September 1 until November 14 on the West Coast). Whitebait is a Kiwi favourite. The tiny species are the young of five native fish collectively known as galaxiids. They spend six months at sea and then make their way up rivers and streams. Whitebait is a special treat, one that may become endangered as species run low.
Asparagus has made a slow start this spring, but what I've tasted is chock-full of flavour. Freshly picked asparagus has the best taste and maximum goodness. If the buds on the ends have started to open, it is a sign that it was picked when it was too mature and it may be tough. If the white ends extend too far up the stem, then the asparagus was picked too early.
To store, wrap asparagus in wet paper towels and place in a plastic bag. Store the unsealed bag in the refrigerator. Use as soon as possible, before the asparagus turns bitter.
Strawberries and rhubarb marry well: lightly poach together in a medium syrup; use in crumbles; or turn into jam.
Although rhubarb is technically a vegetable it is generally enjoyed as a fruit. But it can add delicious tang to meat dishes - check out the Braised Chicken & Rhubarb recipe.
Strawberries need little embellishment: drizzle with good-quality balsamic vinegar and serve with mascarpone; mash and combine with whipped cream to top pavs, fill meringues or eclairs; or serve with a slice of brie in a crisp, warm croissant.
4 eggs, separated
1/4 cup cream
Flaky salt and freshly ground back pepper to taste
4 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
3/4 cup sour cream
3 tbsp capers, rinsed, drained and chopped
Finely grated rind 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 200C. Grease and line a 33cmx23cm sponge roll pan. Wash and drain whitebait then pat dry with a paper towel.
Combine with egg yolks, cream, salt, pepper and two tablespoons of the parmesan cheese.
Beat egg whites, until stiff.
Fold two tablespoons of egg white into whitebait mixture then gently fold in the remaining egg white so the volume is not lost. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until cooked through but still soft. Turn on to a sheet of foil that has been lightly dusted with the remaining parmesan cheese. Cool.
Spread with sour cream. Sprinkle with capers, lemon rind, salt and pepper. Carefully roll up. Carefully wrap in foil and chill in the refrigerator.
To serve, cut into 2cm slices. Excellent served with blanched or parmesan-crusted asparagus and lemon wedges.
Serves 8 as a starter or 4 as a main course.
BRAISED CHICKEN WITH RHUBARB
400g rhubarb stalks, trimmed
Flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6-8 large chicken drumsticks
2-3 tbsp rice bran oil
3 medium red onions, sliced
3/4 cup white wine
2 tsp prepared Dijon-style mustard
Using a vegetable peeler, cut four to six long strips of rhubarb to use as a garnish. Place aside. Cut remaining rhubarb into 2cm pieces.
Season chicken well. Heat oil in a non-stick frying pan suitable for hob and oven. Brown chicken in batches and place aside.
Preheat oven to 180C.
Pour off oil from the frying pan. Add butter and melt. Pan-fry onions until softened. Return chicken to pan. Add wine and mustard. Cover and bake in oven for 40 minutes. Stir in rhubarb, cover and return to the oven for about 25 minutes. Potatoes can be baked at the same time. Serve chicken garnished with curls of rhubarb.
16 medium-thick asparagus spears
1/2 cup plain flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup each: finely grated parmesan cheese, fine dry breadcrumbs
Canola oil for frying
Snap ends off asparagus - they will break off at a natural point. Shave ends with a vegetable peeler, if preferred.
Dip spears in flour, then in beaten egg and then combined parmesan and breadcrumbs.
Pour enough oil into a saucepan or frying pan to come at least 1cm up the side of the pan. Fry spears in batches, until crisp and golden. Drain on paper towels.
Great served as an accompaniment to a meal or as a snack with drinks matched with aioli as a dipping sauce. Serves 4-6.
STRAWBERRY & AVOCADO SALAD
1/2 cup each: crushed strawberries, good mayonnaise
1-2 cups wild rocket leaves
3 strawberries, sliced
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine crushed strawberries and mayonnaise at least 30 minutes before serving.
Peel, stone and slice the avocados. Arrange on a platter or individual serving plates with the rocket.
Drizzle with a little of the strawberry mayonnaise. Garnish with sliced strawberries and sprinkle with black pepper. Serves 4-6