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Food

Seasonal Salad

Ignore the importance of salad leaves at your peril. They’ve been known to make or break many a meal.  

I prefer to eat my salad as the French do, that is, after the main course, before the cheese, with my fingers. There is something entirely visceral about picking up the delicate leaves one by one, in appreciation of the careful attention that has come before. The metallic tines of a fork appear to me the quickest way to erode that joy.

With such simple pleasures, it is always a game of the finest details. Your choice first hangs on their freshness, as there is nothing more depressing than a bowl of wilting leaves. Once you have sought out the best-looking specimens at the market, you can start making more exciting decisions: are you looking for crunch or delicacy; bitterness, citrus or peppery notes; a creamy sauce or simple vinaigrette? 

Remember, these leaves are often the vehicle for other flavours and, just as it is with wine, this is a game of matching weight for weight, in this case leaves to the dressing. The crisp form of cos and iceberg will hold up against a creamy sauce; while more delicate leaves and fresh herbs will make better friends with a gentle vinaigrette, something agrodolce with a balance of sweet and sharp; leaves from the chicory family (endive and radicchio) have an innate bitterness and pair well with an anchoïade or even blue cheese and nuts; while peppery rocket loves the salty bite of a little parmesan.

Once home, your leaves need a gentle touch – this is a task for a lover, not a warrior. Salad leaves must be diligently picked, carefully washed (and dried), and dressed at the very last minute, with just enough dressing to kiss the leaves, not drown them. It is only then you’ll have a salad worth its own place at the table!

Beyond the salad bowl, there is a bounty of beautiful leaves that love a little time in the frying pan. Cos, braised with the sweet spring peas and bacon is a favourite served with chicken; while endive can be cut in half and allowed to caramelise in a hot pan with a little butter and lemon juice, the cooking will help mellow the bitterness – it is brilliant with game. 

Wilted greens can also take a starring role in a meal. All along the Mediterranean, the tradition of seeking the wild leaves and herbs that grow in the hills and quickly cooking them has led to beautiful pastas, egg dishes and pies. We have our very own, largely underrated, native spinach found in the sandy soil along the coastline known as warrigal greens. These leaves require blanching or light cooking to remove a poisonous compound (only dangerous in large quantities, but best avoided!). Once blanched, they have a delicate flavour and texture, and can be used in a wild weed pie or omelette to great success. 

In a restaurant kitchen, working through the large boxes of leaves is often a task assigned to the apprentices. They must carefully check each leaf for damage and bugs before thoroughly washing them. It must be done each day and can take hours. I recall pointing out to a friend of mine, the head chef at one such kitchen, that this must become a little tiresome. He (correctly) chastised me, explaining that while the leaves may not seem exciting, one bruised leaf would show they didn’t care, one bug would ruin an entire meal, one grain of dirt would ruin the mouthful. The lesson is in the detail, as is the reward.

Select and store

Seek out beautiful, fresh salad leaves. Pick through them carefully before washing them in cold water – a little soak will also help to revive tired leaves. A salad spinner is an important friend here, as moisture will repel oil. An alternative is to lay the leaves out on a dry tea-towel and pat them dry.

Salad leaves love

Extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, onion, cream, cheese, nuts, honey, garlic, mustard, salt, pepper, lemon, herbs, radish, egg.

Great salad recipes to try by Lyndey Milan: 

Tuna and quinoa poke bowl

Crisp pork belly with Asian salad

Burrata spring salad

Spiced chicken with blood orange and date salad

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Food
More pork on your fork
Words by Mark Hughes on 10 Aug 2015
One of my favourite scenes in the TV show, The Simpsons, is when Lisa is telling her dad Homer that she is no longer going to eat meat.

“What about bacon?” asks Homer.

“No,” replies Lisa.

“Ham?”

“No.”

“Pork chops?”

“Dad, those all come from the same animal.”

“Heh heh heh. Ooh, yeah, right, Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.”

It might have been a great punchline on TV, but in reality Homer was pretty spot on. The varied cuts of pork and the vast ways to cook them has seen pork become very popular with Australians. But it hasn’t always been this way. Statistics show that 50 years ago it was beef and lamb that dominated the dinner plate; pork, and chicken for that matter, were barely a blip on the radar. One of the key reasons why this has changed is also the same reason why we are drinking table wine instead of fortifieds, and that is immigration. Our once predominant English-inspired dinner of meat and three veg has thankfully been complemented by a succulent array of delicious dishes. Think spaghetti Bolognese, pasta carbonara, chorizo paella, char siu – all of which, incidentally, feature pork; and that is not even thinking about breakfast (bacon and eggs) or, for that matter, lunch; ham and salad sandwich, anyone? Kitchen tradition Peter Haydon, marketing manager for Australian Pork , says tradition has played a huge role in shaping our food preferences and hindered his job in promoting pork. “People grow up to cook the meals their parents cooked,” he says “That was steak and veg, lamb chops, roast beef.” Decades ago Australian Pork had great success with the ‘get some pork on your fork’ campaign – many of you reading this will still have that phrase indelibly inked on your memory, and while that brought attention to the ‘other white meat’, it only did some of the job. “The next challenge was teaching them how to cook it,” says Peter. For the past decade, Australian Pork have marketed PorkStars – a collection of well-known chefs such as Manu Feildel , Giovanni Pilu , Alessandro Pavoni , Dan Hong, Chui Lee Luk – all of whom have shown Australians how to cook pork via events and recipes. Manu explains that pork played a huge role in his upbringing in France, learning different cuts and the many ways to prepare them. It is this knowledge that he hopes to pass on through his recipes.   “Food has always played a big part in our lives, my dad was a chef, so was his dad,” says Manu. “One of my uncles is a ‘charcutier’, so he’s an expert with pork and making pork products, such as salamis, pâtès, rillettes, and his own specialities, so pork has always been part of my diet. “I believe that pork is more versatile than any other animal,” states Manu. “You can eat everything from ‘nose to tail’. Roasts, stews, pan fried, deep fried, confit. Charcuterie, and things you not think about, like intestine for sausage skin, blood for black pudding, head for terrines, trotters, tail, ears, and more. “Creating recipes with pork is endless and it is a great match with other ingredients. It pairs beautifully with fruits such as apple, prunes, apricots, so as a chef, you can let your imagination run wild.” The science of eating Manu is also brand ambassador for Murray Valley Pork , part of the Rivalea group and Australia’s largest pork producer. They sell their extensive range of pork products exclusively through butchers and see the affable chef as a great way to promote their brand and also to continue to educate Australians on how to cook pork. “Manu’s reputation as an acclaimed chef has been instrumental in growing awareness of the brand,” says Sean Barrett, marketing manager with Murray Valley Pork. “We work together to communicate the same message: the best quality taste and experience when it comes to pork.” To this end, over the past 15 years Murray Valley Pork have invested heavily in addressing many concerns of consumers, from animal welfare to issues such as dryness, colour and pork taint, to create a better quality product. “There’s a cultural misconception that pork needs to be served well done, however more consumers are understanding this is not the case,” says Sean, who explains that they use a number of techniques including moisture infusion to ensure their pork doesn’t dry out from cooking. “It is easy to cook, which means everyone can produce a great result This guarantee of a soft, tender and delicious meal every time significantly increases consumer confidence in cooking pork.” Well-fed welfare Dr Rebecca Morrison, animal welfare programs manager at Rivalea, details how the company has also set the benchmark in providing the best care of their stock. “Rivalea commits to ‘care for every pig, every day’,” she says. “For instance, instead of pregnant sow stalls, our pregnant sows are now housed in social groups. This ensures that the sow is able to move freely within group housing and is able to perform natural social behaviours. More than half of our pigs are reared in straw-bedded housing systems. “Other programs include loose farrowing systems, group weaning of sows and environmental enrichment for animals. This humane treatment ensures the end product is of the highest quality.” It is these points that Manu believes will see pork continue to grow in the market and is the reason why he chose to work with the brand. “Murray Valley Pork produces the highest quality of meat,” he says. “They do this ethically and responsibly. And I love the consistency, sweetness and tenderness across all of their cuts.” Check out Manu's delicious pork recipes with our wine matching suggestions Pork, peas and asparagus risotto
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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