In My Kitchen, October 2014

In My Kitchen, I am surrounded by things starting with the letter ‘B’. No, this is not an episode of Playschool or an eye spy game, although there have been a few bambini hanging out in my kitchen lately.  It all happened by chance I promise you. And thanks to Celia, host of this monthly event and bread making enthusiast, I seem to have caught her bread making bug.

The ceiling is beamed, the floor is brick, and there’s a Breville on the bench. Big bowls are often left standing on the bench, waiting for some more bread dough, while my starter, who lives in the fridge, (who is affectionately known as Celia), begs to be fed. The ‘Feed Me’ instructions are left on the fridge door.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABread dough. I’m slowly learning about very wet doughs and hydration. This one looks too wet, but still made a reasonable loaf of bread. Thanks to Celia’s bead making tutorials, help is close at hand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABig Bucket. This empty plastic bucket turned up at the Whittlesea Monday market last week. I should have bought more: at $2.00 a piece, they are a steal. Large enough to store all the odd flours. The baker’s white flour has its own big bin.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABoys Art on the fridge. This arty stage doesn’t last long, so must be embraced. Hiding their iPad helps! Blink, and they’ve turned into teenagers.


Books, old and new. The four oldies were found in a second-hand store and I once owned three of them. Talk about deja vu. For under $10.00 for four, it cost the same price as a new magazine! Now I am re-visiting my cooking past.


Three new books:

Book 1, Local breads by Daniel Leader, purchased via the excellent book buying search engine,, which sorts books for sale throughout the world, listed by lowest price first, delivered.

Book 2, The Handmade Loaf by  Dan Lepard, bought from the  Book Grocer,  in Brunswick, a shop too hard to pass by.

And book 3, yet another Ottolenghi cookbook bought cheaply at Big W.


Biscuits. School holidays means baking biscuits with the bambine and the little blokes. The girls made these last week and the simple recipe is here.


The brandy was bought duty-free. Purely for medicinal purposes. It invariably ends up in all sorts of cakes and custards and so lives in the kitchen, unlike its other friends who have their own hiding place.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll the ‘B’ veggies arrive in Spring. Some pickings here include beetroot, broad beans, brocolli and borage. If I include them by their Italian names, the biete ( silver beet) and the barbabietola ( rhubarb) are in abundance too.





My Favourite Soup. An all year silverbeet recipe.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen Leah nominated Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook for this month’s Cookbook Guru title, I was in two minds. Don’t get me wrong. I went through a Marcella Hazan stage from the late 80s  and I believe she has influenced my cooking profoundly. I was studying Italian at the time and her discussion of things like the importance of ‘soffritto’ and ‘salt’ changed my cooking style. At the time, Marcella became my cooking mentor,- I loved the sound of the Italian titles; the two obsessions in my life, Italian language and cooking, complemented each other so well.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In those days I owned two other cookbooks written by Marcella. They preceded her The Classic Italian Cookbook which I don’t enjoy as much. So I am sure you won’t mind if I share my favourite soup recipe, taken from her earlier work. This recipe is a family favourite: we have adapted it along the way but it is still close enough to the original. Marcella, I recall, flavours the oil with whole garlic cloves and then discards them. I chop it and keep it all- it flavours the stock beautifully. It has become our ‘chicken soup’, a pick me up.  I have attempted to list quantities here: normally it’s a handful of this, a bunch of that and a couple of cups of beans. The beauty of the soup relies on fresh ingredients and it costs almost nothing to make. The costly items are the Parmigiano cheese and good quality oil.

Zuppa di Bietola e Fagioli Bianchi.

(or less romantically, Silverbeet and White Bean Soup)


  • one small branch of fresh rosemary, stripped, chopped.
  • 5 Tbles EV olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic or more, finely chopped.
  • 6 fillets anchovies

Make a soffritto with these ingredients in a large pot. Melt the anchovies down in the oil, stirring well, being careful not to over colour the garlic.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

  • one large bunch silverbeet
  • 500 gr cooked cannellini /great northern beans ( from 300 dried)
  • salt
  • two small handfuls of macaroni/digitali/small shaped pasta
  • grana padano/reggiano parmigiano cheese
  • best EV olive oil for serving.

Wash and trim the silver beet. Finely slice, including the stems, and add to the soffritto, stir around and coat with oil till they wilt.
Add beans. Add enough water to barely cover ingredients. Cook on a steady heat for around 5 minutes. Add pasta, some salt, and cook until the pasta is al dente.

A balanced mix of green and white
Attempt to obtain a balanced mix of green and white in the cooking pot.

Adjust salt, stir some grated parmigiano through the soup.  Serve with a little stream of fine oil and extra parmigiano.

This is a piatto unico, a one course meal, with good bread.  Serves 4-6.


Outback Road Trip via Serafino Winery, McLaren Vale

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAre we there yet? Still trying to make it to the outback, it was necessary to pass through  McLaren Vale,  one of the many notable wine growing districts of South Australia and certainly worthy of another diversion. With 74 cellar doors open for tasting, is it possible to drive through this town, without sampling a wine or two?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter setting up camp, we wandered along a section of the inviting walking track, the Shiraz Trail, and whoops, found ourselves in the vast estate with winding driveway that enters Serafino winery and restaurant. It was early evening. The Serafino restaurant, like some Pavlovian experiment, seemed to be beckoning us to its door. My semi feral camping appearance, hat not fully disguising unruly hair, allowed me to emerge from this spell. We wisely turned back to our little home on wheels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next morning, all scrubbed up and ready to face a new day, we drove up the fabulous driveway, past the lake with friendly geese, and entered the Serafino cellar for a quick wine tasting. The young attendant informed us that morning wine tastings were a good idea as the palate was still untainted! Excellent news.  At 10.30 AM, I felt justified, if not virtuous, by sampling a few of the range on offer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe wines are listed in categories, from Serafino Terremoto (the big reds)  and Reserve wines, followed by lighter styled vintages. I always lean towards the Italian varietals and was pleased to see their ‘Bellissimo’ range included  Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Fiano, Pinot Grigio and the Spanish variety,Tempranillo. I am a big fan of Nebbiolo, knowing only a few companies making an Australian version, so this was a little heavenly moment. Thankyou Bacchus.  Given the offer of free postage, a few cases were ordered and sent home. I joined the Serafino wine club, and even though I missed the chance to enjoy the restaurant, I am a happy camper.


We tried two other wineries, dropping into Hugo Wines to pick up a couple of aged Shiraz, and a bottle of their award-winning olive oil, then we were safely on our way. Only the Clare wine growing district ( home of divine Riesling ) could lead us further astray before making it to the outback, but we had happily spent out wine dollar in McLaren Vale.


It is worth reading Serafino (Steve) Maglieri’s story of migration from Campobosso, Italy in the 1960s, as a young man with little English and $20.00 in his pocket. Another remarkable Italo- Australiano!



Travel Theme: Inviting

Along the River Arno, Florence, Italy, there are many inviting spots away from the tourist crowd.

Il fiume d'Arno
Il fiume d’Arno

The gold shops of the Ponte Vecchio are inviting. I’m just looking, thankyou! Sto solo dando un’occhiata. But I suspect the shop assistants already know this!

I negozi d'oro lungo ponte vecchio, Firenze
I negozi d’oro lungo ponte vecchio, Firenze

Grazie Ailsa for the chance to find inviting things in Florence this week.

Outback Road Trip via the Fleurieu Peninsula.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore heading off into the outback, another bountiful district led us astray. It first announced its beauty with its flowering fields of canola, quickly followed by unfenced acres of orange groves and distant orchards of pink flowering stone fruit. The Riverland district of South Australia is blessed with good soil and irrigation water from the Murray. There are also more camping opportunities in this district as the bushland surrounding the Murray is a declared reserve, with large sandy banks and steep white cliffs.

Other distractions include historic towns, such as Strathalbyn, with well-preserved stone buildings dating from the 1850s, well-tended parks,  dramatic churches, antique shops and cafes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We obtained more supplies for our illusive outback trip : a large Kent pumpkin and a five kilo string of blood oranges, which juice so colourfully :’vampire’ juice. Roadside farmers’ stalls are numerous and economical.  

Heading down further into the Fleurieu Peninsula, agricultural plenty gave way to other forms of oral fixation in the name of good restaurants.

Highly recommended is the award-winning Victory Hotel overlooking Sellicks beach. The menu here is excellent and the seafood local and fresh. I ordered half a dozen Coffin Bay oysters, which came with red wine jelly, an excellent foil to the salty sea hit. They were so good, I immediately ordered another six. ($25.00 a dozen).

Fresh briny oysters at the Victory Hotel
Fresh briny oysters at the Victory Hotel, Sellicks Beach, Saouth Australia

These were followed by Myponga Beach salt and pepper squid, (e $15/ m$25.50 ) as fresh as a daisy; I was in fishy heaven and would happily have remained at this hotel for a few days to eat my way through the menu. If you are travelling in the district, don’t miss this place.

A tangle of locally caught squid, simply fried. It's all about the freshness here.
A tangle of locally caught squid, simply fried. It’s all about the freshness here.

Nearby in Port Elliott, the Flying Fish Cafe does a roaring trade.  Situated directly on the sandy beach, the views are worth the slight detour. The cafe is divided into two sections, the fish and chippery and the a` la carte restaurant. The fish is fresh and well prepared. It was a Tuesday lunch time and the place was jumping.

The Flying Fish Cafe, Port Elliot, South Australia
The Flying Fish Cafe, Port Elliot, South Australia
Grilled Red Snapper, roasted sweet potatos, cherry tomatoes, balsamic.
Pan fried red snapper, roasted sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes, balsamic, around $30.00

We didn’t make it to the nearby Star of Greece Restaurant in Port Willunga, and it’s probably just as well since our slight detour into the Fleurieu was taking much longer than we envisaged.

Due to the temptations offered along the way, the outback was becoming a place of myth and legend.



Chocolate Crunch for a Dancer and a Chef

Two little girls, like chalk and cheese. The eldest, dark eyed, slender and tall; she is a dancer. Her little sister, blue eyed, pale and short: she has announced that she is a ‘cheffa’. They arrive early and gather some eggs for breakfast. The dancer choreographs the cooking while the cheffa sniffs things and picks the parsley. The tall one has salt and no parsley, the little one insists on black pepper and lots of herbs.


This old fashioned slice has been around forever and should appeal to their differing tastes. I remember eating this as a child and it was the first thing I ever made as a teenager. It incorporates a healthy breakfast cereal, coconut and cocoa and is simple and fast to make.  Children love to crunch up the vita brits, the first step in this recipe. They share the tasks readily: my job is to find the ingredients in the chaotic pantry and melt the butter.

Chocolate Crunch 

Heat the oven to 180c before commencing.

  • 3 vita brits ( or other wholewheat breakfast biscuits)
  • 1/2 cup (120g) sugar
  • 1 cup (150g) self-raising flour
  • 1 cup dessicated coconut
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa
  • 150g butter, melted


  • 1  cup icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • knob of butter
  • a little milk.

Break up the vita brits until you have fine crumbs. Mix in the other dry ingredients. Add the melted butter. Stir well until all the dry ingredients have been moistened, using the back of a tablespoon.

Grease with butter a rectangular tray 26cm by 16 cm. Tip in the biscuit mixture. Press the mixture in and flatten with the back of a spoon, removing all air pockets.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Icing. Heat the butter and mik. In a small bowl, mix the sugar and cocoa together, then pour in enough of the milk/butter mixture to make a firm, not too runny, icing. Pour the icing onto the warm slice, ‘a small puddle of wet chocolate’ in dancing terms, and then spread evenly over the slice.  Cool and let the icing set. Cut into small squares when set and store in an airtight tin. It keeps well but is more likely to be eaten quickly by the dancer, the chef and their elders.


Camping, Cuisine and the Murray River

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn his foreword to Steve Strevens’ book, ‘Slow River’, Stefano de Piero attests to his appreciation of the slowness and strength of the Murray River, noting that words like ‘mighty Murray’ are too clichéd. Stefano continues to quote poet and scholar Paul Kane, who describes the Murray in this way,

“The Murray, a river of work, cutting its way through time and all resistance: here broad and reflecting, there deep and gorgeous in confinement- scoriated limestone valleys of imagination – and stillness too, in swampy backwaters and billabongs, where the traveller, the river’s reader, can paddle about and muse on the curious vicissitudes of Nature’s Muse, who is like a river, only she is her own source of plenishment, whereas the Murray- refreshed by loss- is both less and more.” Paul Kane, 1995.

I have tried on a few adjectives too and I keep coming back to ‘elemental’ and ‘primordial’ to describe this river and its beautiful surrounding bush. Although not many of us are in the position, like Steve, to take a ‘tinnie’  (a small aluminium boat) down the Murray from source to sea, we can appreciate its wonder and hypnotic attraction by camping along its banks. 
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne evening, a posse of around 20 pelicans came bobbing along, appearing as if from nowhere from a nearby fork in the river. For the first 10 minutes, like obedient troupes, they stayed in a neat line as they travelled upstream. Bills up and down in unison, they hugged the banks of the river for some time. Then, as if commanded by an invisible force, they simultaneously spread out in a wide circle, a choreographed show, and the hunt was on. Fishing time! Amidst the white troupe, one small dark cormorant had joined the gang.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHuman daytime activities consist of walking and photography, noting the variety of flora and bird life, and watching the ever-changing moods of this slow river as it passes by.  Other pastimes include reading books about the Murray ( see below), fiddling with the solar panels, and considering whether it’s time for another cup of tea or something stronger. Big decisions. The days are sunny and the nights are frosty in early September so a camp fire is recommended.  From November through to May, camp fires are banned due to the risk of bushfire.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt times, a houseboat cruises by. The nearby Lyrup Ferry service operates 24 hours a day: it is a free service and one simply pulls up, presses the red button, and out comes the ferryman to take you and your car over the short stretch of river. Of course, I couldn’t stop singing Chris de Burgh’s, “Don’t pay the ferryman, don’t even fix a price, don’t pay the ferryman, until he gets you to the other side, ah ahh ahhahaah”.  South Australia retains some fine traditions.

Handsome and on call Ferryman at Lyrup.
Handsome and on call Ferryman at Lyrup.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the late afternoon, food is prepared and the fire is lit. Mr T chops onions, garlic and ginger: he is my favourite kitchen hand. Tonight’s feast includes a Keralan fish curry, loaded with fresh curry leaves found in the excellent Indian shop in Mildura. Alongside is an Aloo Gobi stir fry- a simple little cauliflower and potato dish with added Kalonji seeds. I put Kalonji seeds in many things these days, especially flat breads.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next day, a big shared Szechuan soup for lunch with wongbok cabbage, tofu and chilli hits the spot and at night, my favourite, jaffles cooked in the fire. Food tastes so good in the open air.

Szechan soup, tofu, wongbok, chilli, spring onions
Szechuan soup, tofu, wongbok, chilli, spring onions
Jaffles cooked in the fire.
Jaffles cooked in the fire.

Camping by the river is one of the best ways to enjoy the Australian bush, especially in September when you have the place to yourself, along with the birds, and the silence of the slow Murray River. As the night descends, it’s time for a glass of local wine and perhaps a hummed tune, ‘Take me to the River’ ,after the wine has disappeared.

Two excellent books on the Murray River:

Slow River, A journey down the Murray, Steve Strevens, Allen and Unwin 2006

The River. A journey through the Murray- Darling basin, Chris Hammer, Melbourne University Press, 2011

Abandoned Cottages of the Outback, Sunday Stills.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe history of settlement of the outback, South Australia, particularly around the Flinders Ranges, is intriguing, especially if you have travelled north of Quorn or Hawker and noted the many abandoned stone cottages.  Idealistic farmers, many with German background, hoping to make their fortune in wheat growing, took up large tracts of land in this semi desert area, believing that ‘the rain would follow the plough’.

The basic premise of this theory was that increased human settlement in the region and cultivation of soil would result in an increased rainfall over time, rendering the land more fertile and lush as the population increased. The theory was widely promoted in the 1870s as a justification for settlement in the Great Plains of America and was also used to justify the expansion of wheat growing on marginal land in South Australia during that period.¹ Despite the warnings of  climatologist, George Goyder² in 1865, farmers continued to believe this fallacy and took up land north of Quorn, near the Flinders Ranges in South Australia.

Today we can witness hundreds of ruins and shattered dreams along the highways and small tracks in this area, as recurring droughts eventually drove these settlers away. Their abandoned hand-built stone houses are hauntingly beautiful, set amidst plains of grey-green saltbush, red sandy earth, with a backdrop of purple escarpments and ranges. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Thanks Ed,of Sunday Stills, for this week’s prompt. ¹. 2.

Hunza Pie to the Rescue. Silverbeet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring the 70s, a little paperback vegetarian cookbook – Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé – was all the rage.  It was a political book, the first to argue an environmental approach to vegetarianism, that ‘world hunger is not caused by a lack of food but by ineffective food policy.’  As a cookbook, it took a rather scientific approach to food, and emphasised combining grains and nuts with sesame seeds and so on, to provide sufficient protein. It was hugely popular at the time and marked a shift in my cooking, from the earlier influence of Elizabeth David, to a wholefood approach. Since then, my cooking has acquired many layers of influence, all coming together in the food of today, but a little of that simple wholesomeness remains.

some simple ingredients
some simple ingredients

As I consider the rampant forest of silverbeet/chard/bietola in the vegetable garden, a classic dish from this era springs back to mind, the Hunza Pie, along with faded memories of our old Kombi van heading towards the then undeveloped hippy havens of Byron Bay and Mullumbimby, and us, dressed in flared jeans with something to smoke.

pie asssembled
pie asssembled

If you also are inundated with silverbeet, I recommend this wholesome classic to you. It might be a tad hippified, but it’s still good.

25 minutes in the oven
25 minutes in the oven

Hunza Pie, the old way.

The Pastry

  • 150 gr wholemeal plain flour
  • 75 gr butter
  • pinch of salt
  • one egg yolk
  • two tablespoons of icy cold water.

The filling

  • 6 or so large stems of silver beet, stems and leaves cut up separately
  • half a small red onion, chopped finely
  • 100g cooked brown rice ( do this as you make the pastry)
  • 130 gr tasty cheddar cheese
  • one egg
  • pepper

Make the pastry by whizzing the flour and butter in a processor, then adding the egg yolk, process, then add a bit of the water until the pastry comes together in a ball. Pat out flat, and wrap in cling wrap to rest in the fridge for an hour.

Remove pastry. Prepare and grease an 8-9 inch pie dish or quiche tin, roll out the pastry and lay it in the tin. Trim the edges. As this is a simple rustic dish, there is no need to blind bake the pastry. The filling is fairly dry so the case is able to cook crisply
in one go.

Cook the chopped silver beet stems in ample salted water for 8 minutes, then add the chopped leaves for another two minutes. Drain well and squeeze dry. Mix the silver beet in a bowl with the remaining filling ingredients, holding back some of the cheese. Fill the pastry shell, smooth the top, then sprinkle the reserved cheese on the top.

Preheat oven to 220c. Add the pie and turn down oven to 175c ( fan on) and bake for 20-25 minutes. Serve with a salad. Serves four. Leftovers make great work and school lunches.



Sunraysia Farmers’ Market, Mildura and Italianità


You don’t have to look far to find Italianità in Mildura and the surrounding district, Sunraysia. Many of you may know of the famous restaurateur from Mildura, Stefano de Piero, not only noted for his fine cuisine at the Grand Hotel some years ago, but also through his series, ‘A Gondola on the Murray’ and various cookbooks. Not so many know about the thousands of  Italo -Australiani who contribute to the farming community around the district.  Although first generation Italians now make up less that 2% of the population, second and third generation Italo- Australiani make up a significant proportion of the population and have contributed much to the town, its culture, agriculture and the arts.


A quick tour around the Sunraysia Farmers’ Market, held every first and third Saturday of the month, will provide you with some irresistible provisions for touring the district. An important consideration, when buying fruit and vegetables, is to take into account any State border crossings. As Mildura sits in Victoria, close to South Australia and New South Wales, quarantine laws demand that one must forfeit most fruit and vegetables on entering another State.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This is enforced by officials upon entering South Australia and through signage and the voluntary depositing of goods on entering Victoria and New South Wales. The borders can be confusing upon entering/leaving the Sunraysia district which seems to have some extraordinary quarantine lines within Victoria itself. It’s all about protecting South Australia and the Sunraysia district from fruit-fly.


Some demographics from a past census will show that 353,000 Italian migrants arrived in Australia in the post war period, from 1948 through to 1970. Most of the Italian born are now aged over 60. They have kept alive many of the farming traditions learnt from pre-war times and this is particularly evident in preserving techniques and salame making.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe wine industry in the Sunraysia district makes up 80% of all Victorian wine grape production. The highways linking Mildura with Swan Hill are lined with farms selling wine, olive oil, citrus fruits, avocados and vegetables. If you haven’t had a chance to visit the farmers’ market, there are plenty of roadside stalls with honesty boxes selling all kinds of fresh produce, on both sides of the Murray river in each state.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA