Really, it’s springtime

Spring “officially” starts in Australia on 1 September, apparently because the colonial soldiers were so desperately hot in their woollen jackets they couldn’t bear to wait until the vernal equinox, when it was properly Spring, to be allowed to wear their hot weather uniforms. It’s never really seemed right to me, so I’ve always waited until the equinox on 22 September to begin the new season.

Early Spring’s not that fancy if you pretend it’s three weeks earlier than it actually is. As Cath wrote at the beginning of the month at The Canberra Cook, even the real early spring was still pretty grim pickins if you were growing your own food. Because I mostly shop at Choku Bai Jo, I mostly eat fairly local and fairly seasonal food. I haven’t eaten a tomato (except for some cherry tomatoes) for months and months and months. But we’re inching closer, and now the Spring foods I’ve been missing are starting to appear.

All of a sudden the shops are full of asparagus and strawberries. The early bearing Camarosa strawberries that CBJ has for $3.50 aside, all the strawberries I’ve had have been pretty pale imitations of a ripe strawberry. Not to mention harbingers of the endtimes, which are fast approaching {⇐ Evidence}

We planted some asparagus crowns last year, and looky! Unfortunately that picture shows our entire asparagus crop for this year, thanks to the chickens. But what a spear!

I don’t much like that skinny asparagus that some people fancy, as I find they can be stringy. So when I saw nice big bunches of fat asparagus at 3 for $5 last week, I pounced.

Asparagus and Sorrel Tart

I used my standby Nigella Lawson pastry, and a modified quiche-type filling because it is really not that long until we’ll be in our bathers. If your bathers still fit or for any other reason that pleases you, use cream instead of the evaporated milk.

The case needs to be baked blind so that the base doesn’t puff up or turn into a big soggy mess. Preheat the oven to 200° and cook the pastry case with a weighted piece of foil or baking paper. You can buy ceramic or metal pie weights, or use dried beans, rice, etc. You can re-use the beans but they end up with a coating of butter and you should reserve them for this purpose. After 15 minutes, take the paper and weights off, and cook for five more minutes. Turn the oven down to 170&#176 to cook the tart.

Rich Shortcrust Pastry – from Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat

Purchase a freezer large enough to take the entire bowl and blade of your food processor. Do not overfill the freezer. Put 120 g cold diced butter and 240 g plain flour in the processor bowl, and put the lot in the freezer for ten minutes. Put a little glass of iced water in the fridge with a dash of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.

Process the butter and flour until it looks like slightly damp uneven sand. Leave it on running low, and drop a big fat egg yolk through the feeder tube. When it’s incorporated, add the cold water very slowly until just before the mix forms a big cohesive lump. Yes, just before that bit. What a helpful instruction, hey? What you have to do if you’re new to making pastry is get it wrong once, and after that it’s a doddle. Then you whack it on the bench, form it into a fat disc, wrap in a plastic bag and pop it in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.

When you take it out, roll it out on a floured board and line your pie tin (you can use a dish with a removable bottom or a pie dish, whatever’s handy). This will make enough for a 20 – 23 cm pie with some pastry left over, which you can freeze. Then put the whole thing, pastry and dish, in a plastic bag and put in the freezer for at least half a hour. It will go straight into the oven from the freezer to bake blind.

Vegetables and Filling

You can use your own veggies of choice here, of course. I used asparagus, sorrel and some broad beans I had hanging about.

Firstly I broke off the asparagus ends and trimmed the last third (you can see them up in the header). You need a good strong peeler or a small knife. I bought this one from the local Vietnamese grocer because it was called a “barbarian blade”. I think you’ll agree that is an excellent reason to make a purchase, and it also turned out to be a totally bitchin’ peeler.

My three bunches of fat asaparagus came to about 375 grams after trimming and peeling. I used to think it was a bit of a wank to trim asparagus, but then I worked out (derr) that it allows the asparagus to cook evenly. I blanched the spears in some lightly salted boiling water, shocked them in some ice water, and then wandered off to do other things. From here, you can chargrill, roast, stir fry or pick up and eat asparagus. For a tart, you can either chop in short sections, about 2 cm or so, or chop each spear in thirds. Smaller pieces make for prettier slices, but I still like longer bits.

Sorrel can be tricky to get, but it’s just delicious. Eating it raw can be a bit astringent, but melt it (and it really does melt) in some butter and it turns into a beautiful dun coloured, sharp and intense citrussy puddle. It’s sold bagged at CBJ, and each $2 bag has about 100 grams or so. I used one.

I also had some podded broad beans, just a large handful that were left over from dinner the night before.

You can make a rich creamy eggy custard, in which case you get to call dinner a quiche, or you can very thoroughly mix 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks with about 375 ml (one and a half cups) of light evaporated milk (NOT condensed milk). The quantity will vary depending on the size of your dish and the volume of your fillings. Don’t be stingy.

To assemble and cook

Lay the cooled veggies and sorrel puree in the pastry case. Pour over the not-custard and sprinkle over about 70 grams of finely grated Gruyere cheese. Or whatever cheese you like. Try and get it nice and full, but not overflowing. That’s bad. Bake at about 180° for about 30 minutes. Leave it to cool, and eat it just warm. It’s very good with strips of roasted red capsicum in a sharp dressing.

10 thoughts on “Really, it’s springtime

  1. I get so excited about asparagus too, Zo (though maybe not as excited as I get about globe artichokes – which I refuse to eat until this time of year when they properly/naturally start to come into season.) But you know, in Melbourne (according to haute society etiquette of probably 50 years ago!) one never eats asparagus before Melbourne Cup Day, dahhh-ling.

  2. I bought this one from the local Vietnamese grocer because it was called a “barbarian blade”. I think you’ll agree that is an excellent reason to make a purchase…

    *nods sagely*

    Shirley there can be no excellenter reason.

    That’s a damn fine-looking not-quiche, Zoelicious, and I’m very impressed that you resisted the urge to draw a smiley face on’t.

  3. If you buy a little pot of sorrel from the herb section of the gardening shop or kmart and put it in a spot where you get some sun you will never, ever be short of lemony tangy greens. Neither will you struggle for snails, but that’s another story.

  4. Oh, yes. Barbarian Blade. Love it.

    That strawb is very strange, isn’t it?

    Bloody love this stage of spring. But I wish I could not kill sorrel. For something that is essentailly a weed, I do a damn fine job of destroying the stuff. Shame, ‘cos I love that tartness. Lovely, Zoe.

  5. Yumz.

    Sorrel rules, asparagus rules, and I’m gonna rush out and find me one o’ them Barbarian Blades post haste.

    Spring is sprung alright. Just popped out the door this morning and boy howdy was there a crop of aphids on me roses. Curse you lazy ladyboids! Snap to it!

  6. my asparagus just popped out of the ground this weekend – sorry, wanted to boast, or at least express my relief that the $30 packet of crowns I planted have some go in them after all

  7. We’re so lucky here, near Koo-Wee-Rup aka Asparagusland. It’s so cheap in the shops this time of year.

    Because the season’s so short, I don’t bother much with cooking it IN things; I can hardly get enough of asparagus steamed with garlic butter, or steamed or raw with vinaigrette, though of course it finds its way into the stir fries as well.

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