In winter a cook's thoughts turn to long slow braises and roasts. The oven warms the kitchen and fills the house with comforting smells that seem to help keep the chill out. Root vegetables are indispensable. Along with the year-round options of potato and carrot, sweet potato and pumpkin, beetroot and onion, winter brings bitter turnips and swedes, nutty parsnips, and versatile celeriac.
Celeriac has a celery-like flavour. Roast it in chunks, but also try it pureed instead of potato mash, or pureed and thinned to an elegant soup, topped with parmesan crisps or a knob of creamy blue cheese. Celeriac also makes the classic French salad, remoulade. Coarsely grate and mix with a mustardy and lemony mayonnaise: delicious with a pan-fried scallop. Just one thing to be aware of – celeriac browns on contact with the air so if you're not cooking, dressing or eating immediately, dunk the peeled and chopped chunks into acidulated water.
The brassica family also shines through winter. Brussels sprouts, suddenly in the spotlight as a chef's favourite, have always been deliciously versatile. They are eaten whole, halved, quartered, shredded or as single leaves, and can be steamed, pan-fried in butter or oil; stir-fried with Asian flavours, or rolled in olive oil and roasted. They go well with walnuts and hazelnuts. Savoy cabbage, the pale green crinkly leafed variety, is at its sweetest when the weather is coldest, and other good brassica buys include bunch broccoli. When the main stem of broccoli is cut, the plant shoots at the sides. Some growers harvest these side shoots and they are sold in big bunches. Search them out though winter.
The cold season's true vegetable treasure is the truffle. Truffles build flavour and fragrance after a good heavy frost. Truffle hunters and their dogs set out on winter's frostiest mornings to dig up the black gold. Major truffle growing areas in Australia include the regions around Goulburn in New South Wales, Canberra, Tasmania and Western Australia. Truffles can be bought online.
In the fruit bowl in winter, the citrus is king. Mandarins are first to ripen, followed by navel oranges. Navels are too delicious just to consign to the juicer. Use them in salads (they are especially good with thinly sliced fennel, parsley and black olives) or simple desserts, or bake them in custards, steamed puddings and cakes. Late in winter blood oranges and Sevilles join the citrus harvest. Sevilles are very bitter and make the best marmalade. Blood oranges are best juiced to show off that gorgeous berry colour. Use the juice in desserts, or to celebrate winter in a cocktail!
The autumn-harvested apples and pears remain good and crisp through winter, and the fruit bowl is also filled with produce from tropical north Queensland. There are carambola (star fruit), passionfruit, mangosteen and guava to enjoy.
However winter's big sweet treat is the strawberry. The strawberries grown in Queensland over winter are relatively new varieties, bred to be their best during the short but warm days that make the Sunshine Coast one of our favourite winter getaways. The best of the short day varieties is Camerosa. It's a big, fragrant strawberry, red all the way through and with an intense sweet flavour. Delicious.
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