It’s hard these days to actually know what a vegetable’s true season is, as lots of our food is imported. The best way to find out which vegetables are in season in New Zealand is to go to a farmer’s market because they only sell what they are growing or making themselves. Why bother to eat seasonal food? Because it tastes better if it is eaten in its true season e.g. carrots taste best in autumn, tomatoes taste best in late summer, strawberries taste best at Christmas and all the great vegetables like pumpkin, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, silver beet, swedes, cabbages and onions taste best in winter. Farmers markets can be a lot cheaper than regular shops and you get to talk to the people who are growing the food – they will tell you how to cook it and what their favourite recipes are.
A great form of entertaining is to just go to the market with no ideas in your head and see what’s in, then go home, lay it all out on the bench and get creative. You might find local a farmer selling his hogget (brilliant in winter slow roasted with preserved lemons). If you look up you might see fresh free range eggs still warm from the chook’s bottom – delicious poached with spinach for a snack by the fire. If you look sideways you’ll see something you never get in a shop – hand made butter. For dessert you may snap up some home made chocolates and jam to put with the ice-cream.
Leeks are also a great winter vegetable – I find them sweet and lovable, especially when very finely sliced and laid to rest in lots of cream with a little white wine and fresh tarragon or chervil. You know what I mean? Have a glass of chardonnay or pinot gris and try it, maybe on toasted bread. Now that you have understood the sweetness of leeks, it will be easy to make you fall for fresh New Zealand hazelnuts which have only recently been harvested this autumn. They are slightly sweet, creamy in texture and mildly smoky when grilled.
Call your friends over and play with all the seasonal, earthy food you have bought at the market. Leave the cheeses in their paper for the rustic look, slice the hogget at the table on a board and serve the wine in simple water glasses.