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 might be 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 the vegetable 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 carefully 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 technically rhubarb is a vegetable, it is generally enjoyed and regarded as a fruit. However, it adds delicious tang to meat dishes.
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 runny brie in a crisp, warm croissant.
4 eggs, separated
Flaky salt and freshly ground back pepper to taste
4 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
cup sour cream
3 Tbsp capers, rinsed, drained and chopped
Finely grated rind 1 lemon Preheat the oven to 200C. Grease and line a 33cm x 23cm sponge roll pan.
Wash and drain the whitebait then pat dry with a paper towel. Combine with the egg yolks, cream, salt, pepper and 2 Tbsp of the parmesan cheese.
Beat the egg whites, until stiff. Fold 2 Tbsp of the egg white into the whitebait mixture, then gently fold in the remaining egg white so the volume is not lost.
Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until cooked through but still soft. Turn onto a sheet of foil that has been lightly dusted with the remaining parmesan cheese. Cool.
Spread with the 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
cup white wine
2 tsp prepared Dijon-style mustard Using a vegetable peeler, cut 4-6 long strips of rhubarb to use as a garnish. Place aside. Cut the remaining rhubarb into 2cm pieces.
Season the chicken well. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan suitable for the hob and oven. Brown the chicken in batches and place aside.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Pour off the oil from the frying pan. Add the butter and melt. Pan-fry the onions until softened. Return the chicken to the pan. Add the wine and mustard. Cover and bake in the oven for 40 minutes. Stir in the rhubarb, cover and return to the oven for about 25 minutes. Potatoes can be baked at the same time. Serve the chicken garnished with curls of rhubarb. Serves 4-6.
16 medium-thick asparagus spears
cup plain flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
cup each: finely grated parmesan cheese, fine dry breadcrumbs
Canola oil for frying
Snap the ends off the asparagus - they will break off at a natural point. Shave the ends with a vegetable peeler, if preferred.
Dip the spears in the flour, then in the beaten egg, then the 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 the 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
cup each: crushed strawberries, good mayonnaise
1-2 cups wild rocket leaves
3 strawberries, sliced
Freshly ground black pepper to taste Combine the crushed strawberries and mayonnaise at least 30 minutes before serving.
Peel, stone and slice the avocados. Arrange on a platter or plates together with the rocket.
Drizzle with the strawberry mayonnaise. Garnish with sliced strawberries and black pepper.
COPYRIGHT JAN BILTON
- The Marlborough Express