An abundance of summer produce leads Rohan Anderson to his inner vegetarian - and an epiphany with cauliflower
Summer! It really is here! It's not only the veil of bushfire smoke that indicates the height of the Australian summer, it's the produce in the vegetable garden that's a dead giveaway.
There are many places in Australia where produce can be grown almost every day of the year - the central coast of NSW comes to mind - but here in the central highlands of Victoria the conditions are not as favourable. It's imperative that I grow all those warm-loving vegetables while the sun is shining.
There is a glitch in this system though. The window of opportunity for the summer season is a handful of months; three, maybe four, depending on the weather. The idea is to plant as much as you can in the space you have available. The outcome is almost always a glut of produce. Vegetables are funny, time-wasting things: at first I plant the seed, then it's all waiting. Waiting for signs of germination, for strong growth; watching if the transplant will take; waiting for the first flowers, the formation of a bulb deep in the soil. It is all centred around the passing of time.
But like all things, its time will come to an end. And in most cases, it all comes at once. A trickle and a hint and then a thunderous explosion of food arrives. Zucchini that reach maturity daily, tomatoes in their thousands, carrots, beetroot and baskets of corn. It's brilliant and stupid at the same time.
I find there are weeks of eating just vegetables, maybe with the odd hint of chorizo or jamon. Autumn and winter, when I do most of my hunting, is meaty season. But for now, I cherish and welcome my inner vegetarian - and this seasonal reality that for so many of my adult years I had missed. I love that I have to wait a year to eat eggplant, or tomato. I love that certain varieties of fruit and vegetables are only around for a few months a year, eventually replaced by something new in season.
Many seasons ago (in my previous life) I would never have eaten a great variety of veg - some green-leaf salads, tomatoes, the odd zucchini, perhaps. Since I've been a home grower I've embraced the variety of veg. Can you believe that I never ate broccoli? Madness. Its such a fresh, green-tasting plant!
Maybe my palate was woken by what I was experimenting with growing; maybe I started to teach myself to cook with more of a spirited nature. But for whatever reason, I'm glad my eyes (and mouth) have opened. My body, my mind and - according to some recent research - my sex drive are all happier for it.
I'm also thankful for constantly discovering foods that in the past I didn't enjoy. These past few weeks I've been experimenting with cauliflower. Previously I would only eat it smothered in some cheap sauce at a Chinese restaurant, but now I've discovered a way to cook it that makes me look forward to seeing it on the plate. Roasted cauliflower just seemed weird, but embracing the weird can garnish good results. So into the oven it went.
Chopped into rough chunks, tossed with some olive oil and salt, I roasted the cauliflower for about 40 minutes on medium-high, checking it periodically (I also took that opportunity to give it a toss, making sure of excellent olive oil coverage). The cauliflower eventually browned, and even blackened. I snuck out a little piece and tasted it. Nice and nutty, and that cauliflower texture had softened. I gave it a whizz with a stick blender, added a handful of fresh parsley from the garden, grated in a cup of cheese, squeezed in some lemon and seasoned with salt and pepper. Finally a vigourous mix with a spoon and the mash was ready. It tasted great!
If you commit to a lifestyle of eating locally and seasonally, you'll know that you have to embrace some new foods. Seemingly simple experiences like the cauliflower event add yet another ingredient to the home cook's repertoire; a set of opportunities for exciting new meals. Cauliflower. I still can't believe it.
• Read more from Rohan Anderson on his blog, Whole Larder Love. His book of the same name is published by Penguin.
Photo: After feasting on vegetables, Rohan Anderson declares: 'My body, my mind and ... my sex drive are all happier for it.' Photograph: Rohan Anderson