Robin Powell May 22, 2012
Juicy ... the first mandarins of the season are here.
The first mandarins of the season are the small, easy-peel imperials. The variety first appeared on a farm in Emu Plains in Sydney's west in 1890. The farmer's name is not recorded but his chance seedling went on to become Australia's most popular commercial mandarin variety. The capital of imperial territory is now Gayndah in Queensland, though the nine-metre-high Big Mandarin is in the rival town of Mundubbera, which is also a big producer of citrus. The first of the imperial harvest appears in April but the fruit develops in flavour and sweetness after hanging on the tree for a while so mid-season fruit is the better buy.
As the weather cools, fishermen look for schools of mirror dory making their way north from Bermagui. Mirror dory live in deeper waters than their higher-priced relatives, the John Dories. These two are known as the ''true dories''. The name refers to their silvery, smooth, shiny skin, which looks like silver leaf and comes from the old French word ''doree'', meaning gilded. They are about the same size; the distinguishing feature between them is the black spot on the John Dory, romantically referred to as St Peter's thumbprint. Some fish shops also sell a fish labelled Pacific dory. This is basa, a farmed catfish imported from south-east Asia without the clean, clear flavour of the true dories. Mirror dory can be baked or deep-fried whole; the thin fillets are delicious poached, steamed or pan-fried.
In Greek mythology, fennel plays a starring role in the beginnings of human civilisation. The Titan Prometheus stole fire from the gods, hidden in a fennel stalk, and gave it to men. The ancient sources don't have much to say, though, about the edible uses of fennel. In contemporary Greek cooking, it is the leaves that are mostly used, to flavour stews, grills and green-vegetable pastries. The Italians, in the 17th century, bred the weedy herb to have the broader, bulb-like stem base we think of as fennel. That's why it is also called Florence fennel or finocchio. Buy fennel with clean, undamaged outer leaves to cut down on waste. If there's a choice, choose one with fresh fronds as well.
WAYS WITH FENNEL
Toss trimmed quarters of fennel and beurre bosc pears in olive oil and roast until fennel is soft and pears are caramelising. Arrange on baby spinach or watercress leaves, top with toasted pecans and drizzle with a dressing of white wine, honey and olive oil.
WHAT TO BUY
Apples Granny Smiths are tart and sweet.
Cabbage Good flavour in the savoy.
Carrots Great flavour and good prices.
Cauliflower Choose creamy white heads.
Jerusalem artichokes Look for firm tubers.
Grapes The last of the crimson seedless are being picked.
Papaya Flavour is good.
Parsnip Delicious addition to the roast tray.
Pecans Fresh from the autumn harvest.
Spinach Bunches are good value.
Sweetcorn Lots around, flavour is good.
Walnuts Look for in-shell nuts.