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Freshen up: four spring-inspired dishes

Publish Date: 05 Sep 2017

Authored by: Mike McEnearney

Spring can be a great time for new starts, which might mean eating better and being kinder to your body. New book Real Food by Mike by Mike McEnearney reveals how to do just that – without compromising on flavour.

Asparagus, peas and chamomile with ricotta
Serves 4

  • 20 asparagus spears (2-3 bunches), trimmed 
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 100g podded peas, or 200g unpodded
  • 2 handfuls snowpea tendrils 
  • Chamomile flowers and chamomile greens, to serve (optional)
  • 200g baked ricotta, or salted ricotta or regular ricotta
Chamomile dressing
  • 190ml grapeseed oil
  • 1½ tbsp loose-leaf chamomile tea
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 small lemon, juiced

Preheat the oven to 230°C.

For the chamomile dressing, warm the oil, tea and honey in a small saucepan to 60°C, using a thermometer to check the temperature. Transfer the mixture to a blender and blitz for one minute. Strain through a sieve lined with muslin into a bowl. Add the lemon juice for acidity and season to taste with salt and ground black pepper.

For the salad, heat a chargrill pan over high heat. Drizzle one third of the asparagus with olive oil and cook until tender and beginning to blister, 3-4 minutes. Set aside in a large bowl.

Blanch the peas and another third of the asparagus in a saucepan of boiling water until tender and bright green, 2 minutes. Drain, refresh, drain again and combine with the grilled asparagus.

Using a mandoline, thinly slice the remaining asparagus lengthways into the bowl. Add the snow pea tendrils, chamomile flowers and chamomile greens, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Crumble the ricotta over the salad and drizzle with the chamomile dressing.

Medicinal benefit: Ear, nose and throat
Asparagus contain vitamins A, B complex, C and E, all anti-inflammatory. These help the body develop resistance to infectious agents, so they’re great for immunity. It also contains vitamin K, which can help limit neuronal damage in the brain, useful with diseases like Alzheimer’s. It also has high amounts of dietary fibre, which can decrease ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol levels. Chamomile is also an anti-inflammatory and is often used as a relaxing sleep aid and as a treatment for fevers, colds and stomach ailments.

Wine match: 2017 Credaro 5 Tales Pinot Gris
With complex aromas of lychee and pear, this wine has underlying citrus blossom notes. A long and fleshy mouthfeel with lychee and nashi pear on the palate combines with lemon blossom and well-integrated natural acid to provide a mineral finish. – Winemaker Trent Kelly

Baked whole leather jackets, marjoram, capers and lemon
Serves 4-6

Leather jackets are among the unsung heroes of Australian fish. They are often snared as a bycatch while the fishing boats are heading back to shore from an expedition. Other fish that would work well in this recipe are flat fish like John Dory, flounder or sole, or larger fish like halibut and turbot. They will just take a little longer to cook and I would add some white wine to the tray so they are not baking dry.

  • 1kg leather jackets, black skin removed
  • l ½ cup plain flour
  • Extra virgin olive oil for shallow-frying
  • 50g butter
  • 2 tbsp baby capers in vinegar, rinsed and drained well
  • 1 bunch marjoram, leaves picked
  • Squeeze of lemon juice, plus lemon cheeks to serve

Preheat the oven to 250°C and line a shallow roasting tin with baking paper.

Dust the fish with the flour and season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper.

In a large frying pan, heat a little olive oil and fry the fish for about 4 minutes on one side only. Remove the fish from the pan and place them, cooked side up, in the roasting tin.

While the pan is still hot, add the butter, capers, half the marjoram leaves and lemon juice, and sizzle for 2 minutes to form a burnt butter sauce. Pour the sauce over the top of the fish and transfer the tin to the oven for 5 minutes. Remove the tin from the oven and allow the fish to rest for 5 minutes.

Scatter with the remaining marjoram leaves and serve with the lemon cheeks.

Medicinal benefit: Brain and heart
Nutritionally speaking, you shouldn’t underestimate the potency of herbs. Marjoram contains a compound called thymol, which has antifungal and other powerful healing properties. Sage contains rosmarinic acid, which is good for the memory. Parsley contains eugenol, a strong anti-inflammatory and antibacterial compound. Capers are rich in rutin, which helps thin the blood and improve circulation, and contain vitamin B3, which can help lower ‘bad’ cholesterol. Lemons are a rich source of vitamin C, one of the strongest natural antioxidants there is. Vitamin C plays a health-giving role in so many areas – it promotes collagen synthesis, helps with healing, is antiviral and anticarcinogenic and helps prevent neurodegenerative diseases. It can also help with arthritis, colds and fevers.

Wine match: 2017 Rockcliffe Third Reef Riesling
Vibrant aromas of orange blossom and lemon zest with floral notes are echoed in the palate. Fresh citrus and rose petal leads to a crisp lemon finish. The mouthfeel is balanced between natural acidity and the fruit weight.– Winemaker Michael Ng

Grilled spatchcock marinated in creme fraiche
Serves 4

I had this dish once while travelling through France. It was elaborately served with a Sauternes sauce and was delicious. The essence of the dish is to use creme fraiche – the healthy bacteria in it tenderises the chicken and the curds caramelise during cooking. The squeeze of lemon juice is important as it balances the crème fraiche, which makes the chicken very rich.

  • 2 spatchcocks (small chickens, size 10)
  • 200g creme fraiche
  • 1 tsp sea salt flakes
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 lemons, cut into cheeks, to serve
  • To prepare the spatchcock, cut the bird down the backbone to open it out into a butterfly shape. Cut down the other side of the backbone and remove it entirely. Smother the spatchcocks in the creme fraiche and sea salt in a dish and cover. Leave to marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

    Preheat the oven to 220°C.

    In a large, ovenproof pan or baking tin over medium heat, heat a little olive oil and sear the spatchcock, skin side down, for 5 minutes. Turn the spatchcock skin side up and baste with the juices. Transfer to the oven and roast for 20 minutes until cooked through and crisp. You can also cook the spatchcock under the grill or, even better, in a wood-fired oven. (These alternative cooking suggestions have a far more direct heat source and higher temperature, so would reduce the cooking by about 5 minutes.)

    Rest the spatchcock for 5 minutes before serving it with the lemon cheeks.

    Medicinal benefit: Muscles, bones and joints
    Spatchcock is packed with good lean protein, essential for building muscle. It’s also high in an antioxidant called selenium, which helps regulate thyroid hormone activity. Spatchcocks also contain plenty of vitamin B, which helps convert food into energy, as well as phosphorus and calcium to build and protect healthy bones. Creme fraiche is rich in calcium and, with its good live bacteria (similar to those found in natural yoghurt), also has probiotic benefits for the immune system.

    Wine match: 2016 Byron & Harold The Partners Chardonnay

    This wine has lifted aromas of nectarine and cashew, with subtle hints of toasty oak. A focused and linear palate, featuring nectarine and peach with hints of oak, is completed by flinty, nutty undertones and firm, fresh acidity.– Winemaker Luke Eckersley

    Pineapple tarts
    Serves 8

    This recipe can go in many directions. The individual tarts here are the simplest version and, to my mind, the most effective. However, another twist would be to make a pineapple tarte fine. For this you would roll out a sheet of puff pastry, cover it entirely with the frangipane and then cover the tart with very thin, overlapping slices of pineapple. You bake it the same way, but you can cut it into squares or rectangles. In any guise, these tarts are delicious with vanilla ice cream.

  • 1 large pineapple, peeled and cut into 5mm discs, core removed
  • 1⁄4 cup icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
  • 2 sheets quality frozen puff pastry
  • Frangipane

  • 100g butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 25g plain flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • For the frangipane, stir the ingredients together in a bowl until smooth.

    Preheat the oven to 220°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Dust the pineapple pieces with icing sugar.

    Cut the puff pastry into discs 1cm larger than the pineapple discs, and place them on the prepared baking tray.

    Spread the frangipane 5mm thick across the top of the pastry discs, leaving a small border around the edge. Top discs with the pineapple and dust with icing sugar. Bake for 10 minutes.

    Reduce temperature to 180°C and cook for a further 10 minutes or until the frangipane is brown in the centre and the fruit is golden. You can also lift up one of the tarts to check the pastry underneath is crisp. If not, give the tarts more time in the oven until golden and firm.

    Medicinal Benefit: Muscles, bones and joints
    Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, which helps digest food by breaking down proteins. Bromelain also has anti-inflammatory, anti-clotting and anti-cancer properties; regular consumption of it helps fight against arthritis, indigestion and even worm infestation. Pineapple is also an excellent source of vitamin C, required for collagen synthesis in the body. Collagen is the main structural protein in the body and crucial for maintaining the integrity of blood vessels, skin, organs and bones. Pineapple also provides vitamin A for healthy skin and vision, folates for cell reproduction and potassium for balancing body fluids

    Wine match: Hobbs of Barossa Ranges Tin Lids Dessert Viognier
    This intense wine bursts with citrus blossom, limes, pineapple and marmalade on the nose. Ripe and thick, dense in texture with a sensuous silky mouthfeel. Expect citrus, lime, honeydew, pineapple and cumquat flavours in this well-balanced wine that also has a long, clean finish. – Winemaker Peter Schell, and Greg and Allison Hobbs

    This is an edited extract from Real Food By Mike by Mike McEnearney, published by Hardie Grant Books (RRP $45) and is available in stores nationally. Photography ©Alan Benson

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