There’s a decided sense of summery romance that stone fruit conjures for me; the sweet, distinctive perfume and velvety skin of an apricot, sweet-sour cherry juice running down your throat, the almost-impossible juiciness of a ripe nectarine.
All these are in season right now in Australia, where the sunny weather is seeing nectarine, peach, apricot and cherry trees bowed down with fruits – the perfect time for the launch of the Now! In Season campaign, by the Australian government, Victoria State government, and Horticulture Innovation Australia.
The campaign, launched last month, will run throughout the year. It’s all about eating well by eating in season – when produce is available as well as at its best – and so will feature different produce as the seasons change.
Right now, it’s the stone fruits in the spotlight, right up until March; table grapes will show up in stores from March to May, then citrus fruits from August to October.
“Fruits like these are part of our everyday in Australia,” said Brett Stevens, Commissioner to South-East Asia for the government of Victoria.
Growing up in Victoria, Stevens recalls picking and eating fresh fruit in season as one of his best memories.
“Everyone has fruit trees there. We had a cherry tree, and I remember having to compete with the cockatoos who wanted to eat the fruit too!”
“At Christmas, every Aussie home will have a bowlful of cherries at any celebration. They’ve become such a part of the festivities simply because they are in season.
“Today though, many consumers are conditioned to expect everything all year round, and we just want to demonstrate to people the difference it can make to enjoy a fruit when it is picked at the right time – when it is ripe,” he said.
“Nutritionally, this is also when they are at their best. Plus, they are cheaper when in season, as they don’t incur the cold storage facility charges as much.”
With 871 tonnes of Australian fruits imported by Malaysia in 2015, there’s no questioning their popularity here. And the campaign looks to educate consumers not just about what’s in season, but how to pick and eat it (including handy tips such as: look out for small white spots for the sweetest nectarines, buy cherries with the stems attached, and eat apricots only when any green spots have disappeared).
For the campaign launch, chef-owner of Breakfast Thieves, at Art Printing Works (APW) in Bangsar, came up with some lovely dishes starring some of the featured fruits. Brandon Chin, who also co-owns the original Breakfast Thieves in Fitzroy, Melbourne, has worked and lived in Australia for 15 years.
One of his first jobs was working at laneway dining pioneer Punch Lane, where his very first job was to hull cherries for the desserts – about 10kg worth, every two days!
“We’ve always worked closely with seasonal produce in Melbourne; it’s really just about celebrating what nature has to offer,” he said.
He spent years learning the valuable lessons of working with seasonal produce in the markets, the kitchen and from working closely with producers.
Here, he shares three of his recipes showcasing stone fruits.
“As a chef, it’s all about balance, so I use the acidity and sweetness of peaches against the fattiness of lamb, for instance,” he said. “When you cook with fruits, you can enhance the flavour of a dish without adding a lot of sugar.”
Smoked Salmon Mousse On Brioche With Poached Nectarines, Herbed Mascarpone & Pickled Cucumber
smoked salmon mousse
150g smoked salmon
40ml lemon juice
50g Greek yoghurt
50g cream cheese
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
Earl Grey poached nectarines
1 litre water
3 Earl Grey tea bags
3 sprigs thyme
1 orange, zested
1/2 cup honey
1 Japanese cucumber
2 tbsp salt
4 slices brioche
100g unsalted butter, melted
salt, for sprinkling
70g unsalted butter, softened
1/4 tsp finely-crushed garlic
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
1 tsp finely-chopped chives
1 tsp finely-chopped dill
1/2 tsp finely-chopped parsley
To make mousse
Place smoked salmon and half the lemon juice in a food processor for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the yoghurt and cream cheese and blend for 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and remaining lemon juice. Transfer to a bowl and chill until required.
To poach nectarines
Bring water to boil in a large pot. Lower heat and add the tea bags, thyme and orange zest. Cover and allow to infuse for 20 minutes.
Remove tea bags and bring the liquid to a boil again. Stir in the honey and add the nectarines. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove nectarines from the pot and allow to cool slightly.
Discard all solids from poaching liquid, and simmer until reduced by half.
When nectarines are cool enough to handle, gently slip the skin off and discard. Set the fruit aside.
To prepare cucumber
With a mandolin, slice the cucumber into thin ribbons. Place the cucumber ribbons in a colander and sprinkle them with salt to extract excess moisture. Set aside for 20 minutes. When cucumber is soft, roll it and place it in container to chill until required.
To prepare brioche
Preheat oven to 160°C. Cut the brioche into bite-sized pieces. Brush the brioche on both sides with melted butter and sprinkle with salt. Bake till golden brown, then set aside to cool.
To prepare herbed mascarpone
In a small mixing bowl, blend mascarpone and butter. Mix in crushed garlic, salt and pepper. Blend in the herbs and continue to mix until all ingredients are combined. Store in a covered container till required.
Spread some herbed mascarpone on a brioche crostini. With a warmed teaspoon, form a quenelle of smoked salmon mousse and place on top of mascarpone. Form the cucumber ribbons into rolls and place some on the crostini, then cut the nectarines into pieces and add a few of those. Garnish with ebiko and cherry tomatoes.
Note: The herbed mascarpone can be used as a sandwich spread instead of butter.
Lamb Rissoles and Couscous Sliders with Charred Peaches, Caramelised Onions & Cucumber-Mint Raita
1 cup couscous, rehydrated
500g minced lamb
4 tbsp chopped mint leaves
1 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup almond flakes, roughly chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup plain yoghurt
1 cucumber, seeds removed
1 tbsp shredded mint leaves
a pinch of salt
olive oil, for cooking
1/2 cup syrup
2 limes, juiced
1/2 bunch mint, leaves only
5 brioche burger buns
To make lamb rissoles
In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and mix until well-combined. Divide the mixture into 100g portions and mould each into a patty with wet hands. Lightly oil the patties, then cook in a non-stick pan for 4 minutes on each side. Remove the pan from the heat. Allow the lamb patties to rest in the pan while preparing the other elements for this dish.
To make raita
Dice the cucumber and season with salt, then place it in a colander. Set aside to drain for 20 minutes. Place the yoghurt, cucumber, mint and salt in a bowl. Stir to combine. Chill for 30 minutes.
To make charred peaches
Just before serving, cut the stone fruit into wedges. Lightly char the peaches in a pan with a light drizzle of olive oil, then mix in the syrup, lime juice and mint. Remove from heat and set aside for a few minutes to allow the syrup to infuse with the peaches.
Using the same pan that you cooked the lamb in, warm the patties, adding 1 teaspoon of butter and basting the patties with the pan jus. Lightly toast brioche burger buns, then spread with a generous spoonful of raita, and add a lettuce leaf, a lamb rissole and some charred peaches for each.
Coconut Chia Pudding with Vanilla Poached Apricots, Cherry Compote & Granola
(4 to 5 servings)
coconut chia pudding
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
70g chia seeds
1 vanilla pod, halved lengthwise
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup caster sugar
3 strips fresh lemon zest
1 pinch salt
600g firm, ripe apricots, halved and pitted
salt and pepper, to taste
35g shredded coconut
125ml vegetable oil
40g unsalted butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp ground cinnamon
500g rolled oats
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
330g cherries, pitted
120ml freshly-squeezed orange juice
100g caster sugar
gula Melaka, for shaving
micro mint leaves, for garnish
orange zest, for garnish
To make pudding
Mix both ingredients in a small mixing bowl, then pour the mixture into an airtight container. Chill overnight.
To poach apricots
Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod into the pot and add the pod itself, water, sugar, zest and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, uncovered, over high heat. Allow to boil for 1 minute.
Carefully add in apricot halves, then reduce heat and simmer, turning over once. Poach for 2 to 6 minutes – until fruit is tender but still holds its shape, and skin remains intact.
Transfer the apricot halves to a large, shallow bowl and allow to cool for about 1 hour, till they reach room temperature.
To make granola
Preheat oven to 160°C.
Place the coconut, oil, butter, syrup, honey and cinnamon in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, until combined.
Mix the oats, seeds and nuts on a baking tray, then pour the syrup over, stirring to make sure every-thing is well-coated. Roast for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
Remove from oven, and allow to cool. The granola can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 month.
To make compote
Place all ingredients in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Simmer until cherries are softened and start to release their juices, about 15 minutes.
Continue to simmer until the liquid is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat.
In a highball glass, place a portion of coconut chia pudding, then shave some gula Melaka over. Place a large spoonful of cherry compote in the centre of the glass, then layer 2 spoonfuls of granola on top. Cut the apricots into bite-sized pieces and place on top of granola. Finish with micro mint leaves and orange zest.