What are they?
A sprawling ground plant (Tropaeolum majus), with peppery, saucer-shaped leaves and bright, trumpet-shaped edible flowers. We take nasturtiums for granted because they pop up on every street, but they're currently having a ''moment'', as chefs use them as wraps, with raw fish dishes, and in delicately composed salads.
Where are they?
At Melbourne's seasonally inspired Saint Crispin, chefs Scott Pickett and Joe Grbac take unopened nasturtium flower buds, lightly salt them and then pickle them in their own strawberry vinegar to serve with soft, pink salmon. "They are amazing texturally as you get the petal's soft pillowy mouth feel," says Grbac. "The flavour of the raw bud can be astringent, but the strawberry provides a floral earthy overtone."
Jason Saxby of Sydney's Osteria di Russo & Russo grows and forages for nasturtiums, serving the leaves and flowers with house-made ricotta, confit and raw heirloom tomatoes, aged balsamic, and balsamic rye crumbs. "It's such an intense, herbaceous flavour," he says. "I also love using the leaves as the base for a small amuse-bouche of grilled lamb tongues and bagna cauda [a Piedmontese anchovy-garlic dip], as if they were betel leaves."
Why do I care?
Because it's a member of the mustard family, high in vitamins B and C, and a natural antibiotic - or because they're just gorgeous.
Can I do it at home?
Yes, grow your own from seed, or ask your neighbours for some, preferably unsprayed (they're everywhere once you start looking).
Vietnamese rice paper lets the flowers shine through like happy little faces. These are vego, but tuck in prawns or leftover roast chicken if you prefer.
1 carrot, cut into matchsticks
half mild red chilli, cut into matchsticks
half cucumber, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp rice vinegar
50g dried rice vermicelli
12 x 20cm rice paper rounds (banh trang)
12 nasturtium leaves, unsprayed
24 nasturtium flowers, unsprayed
a few green lettuce leaves, torn
2 spring onions, cut into matchsticks
handful of mint leaves
handful of Asian basil leaves
nuoc cham or sweet chilli sauce, for dipping
1. Toss the carrot, chilli and cucumber in the sugar, salt and vinegar and set aside.
2. Pour boiling water over the vermicelli in a heatproof bowl and leave for 10 minutes or until soft. Drain well and toss with the carrot, chilli and cucumber.
3. To assemble, dip one rice paper round into a shallow bowl of hot water for 5 seconds, and place on a clean bench.
4. Place two nasturtium flowers face-down on the lower third of the rice paper. Top with a nasturtium leaf, lettuce leaf, some noodles and carrot, chilli and cucumber, spring onions, mint and Asian basil. Roll up tightly, tucking in the ends, and serve with nuoc cham or a dipping sauce of sweet chilli sauce and rice vinegar, and extra lettuce leaves for wrapping.
Saint Crispin, 300 Smith Street, Collingwood, 03 9419 2202
Osteria di Russo & Russo, 158 Enmore Road, Enmore, 02 8068 5202.
Nasturtiums are available from Darling Mills Farm, contact darlingmillsfarm.com.au for details on farmers markets.