Festive season freshness

Let simple summer produce be the star of the show at your table during the holidays

MAXIMUM flavour conjured from beautiful ingredients with minimum time spent in sweltering kitchen – that’s what easy summer eating should be about. It’s a simple recipe for the holidays that ensures everyone gets to make the most of the sunshine, stress free.

“In summer there’s just so much abundance and such great produce,” Shayne Mansfield, head chef of Restaurant Botanica at Spicers Vineyards Estate in the NSW Hunter Valley, says. “It’s really about keeping it light and super tasty by letting the produce shine.”

Food at Spicers Vineyards Estate

Vibrant salads brimming with freshness and texture are on high rotation. “Brassicas are still around at the start of the summer and for a family Christmas I like to do a shaved broccoli salad with cashew cream and dried cranberries,” Shayne says.

He makes a nutritious dairy-free nut cream by steeping raw cashews in water overnight, then blitzing them, adding water or a little olive oil for a thick or thinner cream, depending on preference. For extra flavour, dress the salad with a classic vinaigrette (one part vinegar to three parts oil), boosted with a honey flavoured mustard.

A beetroot and goat’s cheese salad is another festively coloured hit.

Food at Spicers Vineyards Estate

“You can’t go past beetroot, goat’s curd and candied macadamia or pecans,” Shayne says. “It’s usually boiling hot at Christmas, so you need to keep it light but tasty.”

He candies nuts by making a sugar syrup from 200g sugar and 150g water.

“Bring this to the boil and when it hits around 130C (use a sugar thermometer to check) put the nuts in and coat them in the syrup.”  Carefully remove the coated nuts with a slotted spoon, place on a lined tray and allow them to cool and harden.

Food at Spicers Vineyards Estate

“Sometimes I also like to add a little cooked pearl barley for extra texture in the salad, but you could use any grain – freekeh, farro or even brown rice would work.”

Shayne favours a buttermilk and sorrel dressing but if you can’t find sorrel, a citrus oil makes a good substitute. Make your own by adding dry citrus peel to olive oil and infusing for a couple of weeks. Just add a swirl to the buttermilk before serving.

At any time of year,  is a firm fan of firing up the barbie. But cooking over charcoal really shines when temperatures climb, because it enables cooks to literally take the heat out of the kitchen.  Vegetables – anything from pumpkin wedges and brassicas to asparagus – all benefit from time caramelising over the coals.

“Coat them in a little good-quality olive oil and some salt and let the produce take center stage,”  he says.

Scollop dish at Spicers Vineyards Estate

“I love spuds done en papillotte (wrapped in paper). Pop the potatoes in tin foil with some garlic, lemon, lots of butter and a little hay and then just whack them on the coals.”

Shayne learned his hay-baking trick working at Spicers Clovelly Estate’s highly regarded The Long Apron restaurant in Maleny, Queensland, under the mentorship of  then Head Chef, Cameron Matthews. Using a little clean lucerne in the baking mix gives potatoes a sweet earthiness he says is hard to beat.

Summer and seafood are another classic match and Shayne’s go-to is a crowd pleaser of chilli and garlic prawns with a cheffy twist. At Restaurant Botanica he uses a beef fat baste to give extra intensity to the briny prawns.

“I make a bisque from roasted prawn shells and add in the beef fat we scoop off when we’re making stock,” he says. “We coat the prawns while they’re cooking and it gives them a lovely smoky, earthy flavour.”

At home, rubbing the prawns in a brown rice miso will give a similar result.

Prawn dish at Spicers Vineyards Estate

On Christmas Day the Botanica team, like so many working in hospitality, will be looking after guests, but after 4pm they’ll gather for an ‘Orphans Christmas’.

Shayne plans to kick off with freshly shucked oysters and finger limes, sometimes known as citrus caviar, from Botanica’s own gardens.

“Finger limes are great with oysters. You can also make a lime leaf granita – using kaffir lime, or regular lime leaves.” A well-stocked charcuterie plate and boiled prawns with cocktail sauce mean guests can mingle and help themselves.

When it comes to Christmas mains, he’s a traditionalist.

“You have to have a roast even though it’s stinking hot,” he laughs.  “Usually it’s pork belly and lamb shoulder. At home I put the lamb in the oven late at night and it fills the house with its lovely cooking aromas.”  This year he plans to glaze the pork belly with miso and pair it with a spicy strawberry sambal accompaniment.

And dessert? “The first thing I think of in summer is Eton Mess,” Shayne says. “That’s my go-to with berries and cream and egg whites (meringue).”

He suggests using a tart crème fraiche instead of sweet cream and a good mix of berries – perhaps mulberries and blackberries, as well as classic strawberries.

Dessert at Spicers Vineyards Estate

As it’s Christmas, a boozy twist on grandma’s old trifle is also on the menu with traditional sponge replaced by a flavoursome almond orange cake that’s well soaked in bourbon, instead of sherry. Bottoms up!


Radishes While it’s traditional to eat the spicy radish and throw away the tops, the peppery leaves are highly nutritious and can also be eaten. Use in stir-fries, or pesto.

Capsicum – Bell peppers are a key ingredient in chicken Romesco – one of Shayne’s top summer picks. Romesco sauce originated in Spain and uses a tasty blend of almonds, roasted red peppers and tomato. The sauce also works well with fish.

Zucchini – Versatile zucchini can be used raw, steamed, baked and fried. Whip up a traditional French Provencal summer treat of ratatouille, together with capsicum, eggplant, tomatoes and garlic.

Pineapple – Pop chunky slices of pineapple on the barbecue and grill until the fruit caramelizes and sweetens further, intensifying in flavour, for an easy summer dessert.

Watermelon – Try a cooling Greek salad of watermelon chunks mixed with salty Greek feta and fresh mint for the ultimate summer refresher

Mango – The main summer mango varieties include juicy Kensington Pride (Bowen), Calypso, R2E2 and Honey Gold.

Words by Fiona Donnelly.