After a long cold winter, spring is always eagerly anticipated. And this is just as true for our growers and producers. As the days get longer and warmer, some seasonal favourites, like asparagus and strawberries, will start to pop up at the market.

Irene Cummings from Greenfern Asparagus says, “Being a seasonal stall holder, I am always blown away by how welcoming all the regular customers are and impressed by the number of people who regularly come out to support the markets.”

Armed with beautiful organic asparagus, including white and purple varieties, Irene is often asked how she cooks them. “My usual reply,” Irene says, “is by bringing a fry-pan of salted water to the boil and then placing the spears in for two to three minutes, depending on the size, and serving quickly with a knob of butter, or squeeze of lemon juice. I like the spears to have a ‘bite’ to them.”

When buying asparagus Irene’s tips are to look for fresh bright spears that are firm and not floppy with tightly furled tips. Keep refrigerated with butt ends either wrapped in wet paper towels or stand up in a jar with a little water at the bottom. When preparing, snap or slice the tough ends off (these can be used to flavour soups or stocks).

One of Irene’s favourite asparagus recipes is an asparagus and halloumi salad she got from a Canadian friend.

Halloumi and Asparagus Salad
serves 4–6

Salad

2 bunches asparagus, ends trimmed
1 tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste
200g Over the Moon halloumi, sliced
100g slivered almonds
microgreens from Earth Stewards and Backyard Jem

Brings a large pot of salted water to the boil. Cook asparagus for about 2 minutes then remove.

Heat butter in a large frying pan to a high heat. Sear the asparagus all over, seasoning with a little salt and pepper. Remove and place on a platter.

In the same pan cook halloumi for a minute each side and then place on top of asparagus. Brown almonds in the pan and sprinkle on the platter.

Top with a few microgreens and drizzle with dressing. Serve warm.

Dressing

¼ cup flavourless oil
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp lemon juice

To make the dressing place all the ingredients in a small jar, place the lid on and give it a good shake.

Irene says the recipe was first published in Viva but instead of maple syrup sweet chilli sauce was used in the dressing.

Fresh asparagus also goes beautifully with strawberries (available at the market from Kane’s or The Strawberry Farm from late October), smoked salmon (from Rakia Salmon) and of course beautiful free range eggs (from Roto-o-rangi Free Range Eggs).

 

This season try

White Asparagus – or ‘white gold’ to many of the Europeans who grew up eating this delicacy. Grown in covered tunnel houses with no light coming in, these albino-like spear lack the chlorophyll that gives the green version their colour.

Shannon Wright from Backyard Jem thinks farms are at their prettiest in spring with blossoms blooming and new shoots emerging. It’s a busy time though, with much of the focus getting seedlings in the ground for much anticipated summer crops. Think tomatoes, courgettes and cucumbers.

Shannon says, “We still have flavourful brassicas like cauliflower, red cabbages and broccoli that sweeten with the cool crisp mornings and frosts. Spring carrots are being sown with the soil starting to warm along with loads more baby greens, ready for those that now crave the fresh, crisp, tasty dishes associated with warmer days.”

Shannon suggests easing into salads in spring using abundant produce like broccoli, carrots and kale while you wait for lettuce leaves and tomatoes to come into season. Here are a few of her suggestions

 

Mix fresh broccoli florets with julienned carrots or beetroot and chunks of avocado. Create a fresh dressing with fresh orange juice, grated ginger and garlic and some olive oil and mix through. Top with some sesame seeds and, if you like, coriander leaves.

Or

Mix shredded cabbage (red for colour) and kale, and grated carrot with sliced oranges and squeezed lemon/lime juice along with a tasty olive oil or vinaigrette. Serve with toasted seeds or nuts if you so choose.

Labour Weekend in late October is both the time to plant your tomatoes and drag out the BBQ.

Jen’s Plants, Mrs Greenjeans Seedlings and Sheryl’s Plants will all have a wonderful range of tomato seedlings for you from early spring, from the heavy croppers to some interesting heirloom varieties.

Luckily for us, while we wait for these seedlings to grow, Rivendell Gardenz have worked their magic and should have tomatoes ripe and at the market by October and you have to try their brown tomato. Their own cultivar, it not only looks sensational, it tastes sensational too.

If the BBQ is your focus for Labour Weekend, make sure you check out new stall holder, Smokin Weasel Sauce Co for some chilli sauces to drizzle over those snags from Soggy Bottom or Tofs.

 

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