Flattery will get you a Pizza.

Flattery will get you everywhere, or is that nowhere? Flattery is often associated with obsequiousness or false praise. But for the hard-working cook, a little flattery, a little praise, or just a heartfelt ‘thank you’ goes a very long way.

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I remember those who dine at my table, the ones who say ‘thank you, I enjoyed that, it was really tasty’. I don’t care if they are telling the truth, although I sense that they are. I also remember those who either say nothing at all, or proceed¬†to tell me how they, their wife or the restaurant up the road, makes a delectable version, remaining oblivious to the presence of the food on their plate and in their mouth. ¬†I distinctly recall laboriously making a rich, buttery pastry for a summer Charlotte, filling it with spiced plums and apples, and ‘taking the plate’ to a friend’s house to share with him and the assembled others, who had arrived plate- free, for lunch. ¬†As the host ate, he recalled the quince tart made by a mutual friend, whose pastry was so much shorter and how delectable it was. This story was related at length with a big spoonful of my **tart in his big ** mouth. I tried to disguise my annoyance, but I have never forgotten that incident. Another chap, enjoying a three course meal with us, spent the time breathlessly talking about his wife’s superb cooking and the wonderful things she makes. ¬†No praise for the meal, and only a meagre parting thanks. Don’t you hate that?

Then there is my lovely niece, Louise, who came to stay recently, and commented on every dish she ate – the yoghurt and stone fruit breakfasts, the home-made but stale bread, the soup, the Flamisch, the pasta, the broadbeans. ¬†She made proper Maeve O’Mara noises – Mmm, Ahhhh, followed by lovely text messages the next day. “Can you text me a slice of your sourdough,” was her latest amusing message. She is an excellent cook herself and certainly doesn’t need any guidance from me, but she requested my recipe for pizza dough. Since she is such an appreciative guest as is her hungry nine month old bambina, I am finally posting it. Warning, the recipe is short, but the post is long.

Pizza dough from Carol Field’s Italian Baker, with a few variations.

Ingredients for Two Large Pizze

This dough is made in a stand mixer, and lists by cups then in grams. I prefer to weigh. You can make it by hand or in a food processor. Use cold water if using a processor. If using a bread making machine, use the dough setting and cold water,  adding the water first.

  • 1 3/4 teaspoons/5 g active dry yeast
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups warm water/320 g
  • 1/4 cup/ 55 g olive oil
  • 3 3/4 cup/5oo g unbleached all-purpose flour*
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons /7.5 g sea salt.

Stir the yeast and sugar into the water in the mixer bowl; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oil with the paddle. Mix the flour and salt and add to the yeast mixture. Mix until the dough comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead at medium speed until soft and satiny but firm, about 3 minutes. Finish kneading briefly by hand on a lightly floured surface and form into a ball.

Rising and Baking.

  1. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat with the oil, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until not quite fully doubled. Depending on the weather, and the room temperature, this may take up to two hours.
  2. Shaping and second rise. Shape the dough with a rolling pin or by hand. Knead the dough briefly and gently on a lightly floured surface, for 1-2 minutes. Divide the dough into two ( this amount will make two large pizze).  Roll each piece into a ball on a floured surface then flatten to a thick disk. The easiest way to shape the dough is with a rolling pin*.  Roll out thinly, leaving a cornicione, a thicker edge along the rim to keep the sauce in. ( The Cornicione is a favourite of babies, gastronomes and dogs named Bill).

    My favourite rolling pin, bought in an asian Grocery for $6.00.
    * My favourite pizza rolling pin, bought in an Asian Grocery for $6.00.
  3. Place the dough on large trays dusted with semolina or polenta and let them rise another 30 minutes, covered with a towel. Dress the pizze with your favourite topping.  Turn oven to full ( 250c), and wait until the oven reaches that heat which may take 30 minutes.  Cook for around 20 minutes. You can usually smell when the pizza is ready. It is done when the crust is crisp and golden brown. Remove from the oven and  brush the crust edge with a little olive oil.

My Notes.

  • Either place the dough on trays dusted with semolina or polenta, OR, roll the dough out on non stick paper and let them rise on the paper. This allows the trays to be heated in¬†the oven, then you lift the dressed pizza onto the super hot trays.
  • If using a pizza stone, you need to work out a way of transporting your wobbly pizza base to the stone. The simplest way is to make it on the paper, carry onto the stone, then slide out the paper at the 15 minute point when the pizza has firmed up. ¬†As I tend to cook two pizzas at once, the pizza stones seem like hard¬†work to me. I simply use the ‘cooking paper method’ on pre heated trays.
  • * Flour. So much has been written before about flour. I am not a fan of¬†Farina ’00’ flour¬†for Pizza, although I think it has a place for making fresh pasta and tarts. I’m adding an extract by Carol Field here, who discusses flour types as used in Italy:

Flour in Italy commonly comes from the species Triticum Aestivum, which is divided into two major varieties, soft wheat and hard wheat, (grano tenero) – and from which all bread is made.

Durum hard grain ( grano duro), or Triticum Durum, a different species, is the hardest wheat grown and is usually milled into semolina. It is a golden grain that has a higher protein and gluten content and is used almost exclusively for pasta production.

The Italian baker has five grades of grano tenero¬†to choose from, although they are classified not by strength and protein content like ours but by how much of the husk and whole grain have been sifted away. The whitest flour has the least fibre. The lower the number, the more refined and whiter the flour, so that of the five categories, “00” is the whitest and silkiest flour, “0” is a bit darker and less fine, since it contains about 70% of the grain, and “1” is even darker. Darker and courser is “2”.

For all the talk of the prevalence of whole grain in the healthy Mediterranean diet, only a fairly small percentage of Italian breads are made with whole wheat (Pane Integrale)…Millers simply take refined white flour, stir in a quantity of bran, and pronounce it whole wheat.

The Italian Baker, Revised. Carol Field. P 18

  • It is good to know a little about flours when we bake. I always use a local flour by Laucke mills ( South Australia) for Pizza baking. Wallaby Flour is described as a Bakers Flour due to the high 12% protein content. I check the date and make sure it has been recently milled. Laucke mills also produce an Australian ’00’ flour, a stone ground, organic wholemeal flour and Atta flour, the latter being great for Indian bread. A range of bulk wholemeal flours may be found at NSM in Brunswick, Victoria and a range of spelt and unusual flours at Bas foods, Brunswick, Victoria. I like the idea of eating local products: the wheat grown and processed in Australia means it is fresher and, as Italians are not averse to chemical use, purer. ’00’ type flour is too refined for Pizza but my dear friend Rachael uses it successfully by adding semolina to the mix, which would give it more strength via the higher gluten content. Sometimes I add 20% spelt flour to the mix for variation but I am mindful that a little extra water may be needed. Playing with different flours is always interesting and all recipes evolve over time. ¬†But, like Olive Oil, buy the local product.

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Thank you and a little praise goes a long way. Mr T receives praise for all his hard work, grass cutting and maintenance in the gardens and paddocks. He praises me for the food he eats. We take nothing for granted.

 

Pasta for Tired Cooks. Bigoli in Salsa

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASometimes I feel too tired to cook and just want to sit in my garden and be waited on! Sadly there are neither cooking fairies here nor any take away food shops nearby. In times like these, a simple recipe is called for. Bigoli in Salsa, pasta with onions and anchovies, is one of these. Believe me, even if you aren’t fond of anchovies, they vanish in the sauce, imparting a thick saltiness. I happen to be very fond of the little salty fish.

Bigoli in Salsa is traditionally eaten on the evening before the Venetian festival of La Festa del Redentore on July 19th, an event that commemorates the end of the year-long plague that struck Venice in 1575, killing 50,000 people.

Bigoli pasta is very similar to spaghetti, only a little thicker, and available only in and around the Veneto.  Casareccia makes a comforting and redeeming substitute.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARecipe

Bigoli in Salsa/Pasta in onion and Anchovy sauce. For two as a main.

  • 2 large brown onions, sliced
  • 2-3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 anchovy fillets
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • salt, pepper,
  • finely chopped parsley
  • 200 g casareccia or other pasta. ( 1oo g¬†per person)

Heat heavy based frying pan and slowly cook the onions in oil for at least 10 minutes. Watch it like a hawk as the onions must soften, not brown or caramelise. Or use a heat mat to slow down the cooking.

Add the anchovies and squash into the sauce. Add the wine, salt and pepper, and continue cooking very slowly for another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile cook the pasta in ample salted water until al dente, then drain.  (Never rinse the pasta after cooking, as this destroys the starch which helps the sauce adhere.) Add the pasta to the pan of onion sauce and turn around a little, adding the parsley.  Serve.

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I like mine plain while Signore Tranquillo likes his with shaved parmigiano, reggiano or padano.

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A Farewell to Broad Beans. Frittata di Primavera

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At some ungodly hour this morning, still half asleep, I heard my mother’s voice saying, ¬†‘Don’t¬†make a rod for your own back.’ ¬†At the time, I was considering the long list of jobs in the vegetable¬†garden for the day ahead. Rod for my back? ¬†Yes indeed.

In Spring, the garden turns into the dictator of this little kingdom. The broad beans must come out today, the potatoes were dug out yesterday, a rather disappointing crop due to frosts in June. All the silver beet plants are now towering over me as they all simultaneously go to seed. They must be dug out and handed over to the chickens, reminding me that next week, the greens will be few in our kitchen.  There are lettuces and cucumbers to transplant, more crops to sow, and a piece of metal rio (metal building mesh) would be very handy to make a shady wall for the rhubarb. The fruit trees need netting, the tomato plants staking!  Just as one languishes in the land of plenty, along comes that dictator to deliver the rod. Or am I stuck in some bygone land of Catholic penance?

Non Capisco una Fava!
Non Capisco una Fava!

Many meals come my way gratis, thanks to l’orto, the veggie garden. This is the upside of our peasant labour, and when I eat this way, I feel that it’s worth all the effort. Last night’s Frittata is an example. I gathered all the ingredients from the garden, added some eggs from our chickens and made a 10 minute meal that was alive with taste, and rather healthy too.

Frittata di Primavera -Fave, Patata e Rugola

Spring Frittata with Broad Beans, Potato and Rocket.

This recipe takes only a few minutes to throw together if you have already cooked and peeled the broad beans, which is discussed previously here.

  • 4 -5 small new potatoes, yellow fleshed
  • 1 cup of broad beans
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon smoked hot paprika
  • a large handful of rugola/rocket
  • Extra Virgin olive oil ( Australian oil is an excellent choice if you happen to live here)
  • vinegar di Jerez ( Sherry vinegar)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Method

  • Boil the new potatoes in their skins, until just done. Roughly chop.
  • Heat a small non stick pan and add a good glug of olive oil.
  • Add potatoes, turn around in the oil, add a pinch of salt and the paprika, and cook till golden.
  • Add the chopped garlic, turn about for a minute, then add the double shelled broad beans.
  • Beat the eggs with a little more salt and pepper, then pour over the vegetables.
  • Lift up the edges of the frittata, allowing the unset egg to run back under, turning the pan as you go.
  • When the frittata looks almost done, except for the wet top, pop it under a hot grill for a minute or so to set.
  • When done, invert onto a plate, using the plate as a lid over the pan.
  • Top with rugola/rocket, which has been¬†dressed in olive oil and sherry vinegar.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

Silver Beet Paneer: Curry for a Cold Snap

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe have been forced back indoors. Today, at the height of Spring, a cold front blew in¬†and the temperature plummeted to 8.5 celsius. That’s Melbourne for you.

Yesterday afternoon was a different story. I felt like Mortisha in my Melbourne black: the hot sun beat down on my layered clothing, making the post- prandial walk quite uncomfortable. For those readers who live anywhere in the world but Melbourne, I should mention that Melbournians favour black dressing.

We had lunched at the Woodlands Hotel, a quirky hotel with an unusual menu, in Sydney Road, Coburg. We were merrily celebrating a birthday and enjoying a post- Bali get together when I noticed Madame Rosalie’s curry, a play on that Indian classic,¬†Muttar Paneer, only substituting silverbeet and broad beans for the peas. What a brilliant idea! These seasonal vegetables have reached plague proportions in my garden. Today I’m making a silver beet¬†Paneer curry, then next week, the Muttar Paneer, substituting broad beans for regular peas, using the same curry base as below.

Silverbeet Paneer

Ingredients.

  • A big bunch of young silver beet
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or ghee
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely¬†chopped
  • 2cm piece of ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 120 ml thickened cream, (or whey from paneer¬†or yoghurt¬†making, as well as some cream)
  • 200gr paneer, cut into 2cm square cubes, either purchased or homemade.

Method.

Strip leaves from silver beet and add to a large pan, and add a little water. (Use stalks for another recipe). Cook quickly until the leaves are wilted but still vibrant looking. Drain, and squeeze out as much moisture as you can.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Meanwhile in a heavy based pot, heat oil or ghee, then add onion, garlic and ginger and cook until the onion has softened. Add the chopped tomato, and spices (except garam masala) . Stir for 30 seconds, then add a little whey or cream to loosen. Add the silver beet leaves, salt and sugar, and the rest of the cream.  Cook on low heat for a few minutes, stirring. When cooler, use an immersion blender and puree the mixture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAReturn to the stove, heat gently, then add the chopped paneer and the garam masala. Swirl through a little more cream when serving.

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This dish is ample for four, with rice, assuming that there is another dish, such as dhal or another curry, and raita.

Just like the cucina povera of Italy, Indian food costs little to make. The ingredients came from the garden or the pantry. ¬†The blow out was the purchased paneer. ¬†Next time, I’ll make my own.

Footnote: this tastes even better the next day!

 

Spring on a Plate. Cucina Povera.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACucina Povera¬†is my kind of cooking. ¬†Historically, as the name suggests, it is the cuisine of the poor, or rather that of the Italian contadini¬†or peasant class, those who relied on their own home grown seasonal produce and preserves stored in the¬†dispensa, but not much else. It also suggests eating what’s on hand- what is available or in season. As Italy is now a very urban society, this style of cooking can be seen, historically, as rural cooking. It becomes cuisine of the wealthy when many different fresh herbs and vegetables are purchased from farmers’ markets to produce a simple Pasta Primavera.

The garden is your best friend: grow food among your flowers, in your front yard, on your balcony, on the nature strip, in containers. Many tasty and nutritious pasta dishes can be thrown together with a handful of wild rocket, herbs or silverbeet (chard). These things grow like weeds. Along with a few staples from the pantry, such as rice, pasta, lentils and dried beans, anchovies and EV olive oil, cucina povera is a few short steps away.

This week’s pasta ingredients are shown in the photo below. ¬†It assumes you have stashed a few little luxuries in the pantry, such as¬†some very good extra virgin olive oil, and a¬†chunk of parmigiano Grano Padano or Reggiano.¬†The other little splurge for today’s pasta recipe is a box of Farro pasta, in this case by Monograno Felicetti. I picked this up at the Mediterranean Wholesalers in Brunswick, and I must say here, that I receive no kickbacks from either of these companies. Substitute any short pasta you have on hand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI picked some lovely leggy broccoli shoots, a small radicchio, young broad beans/fave, a few baby kale leaves, some fresh oregano and a big silverbeet/chard leaf. Some of the greens were shredded, hand torn or plucked. The picture also shows two small chunks of cheese- fetta and parmigiana. Some goats cheese, or tiny nuggets of gorgonzola, would make a good substitute. Again, use what cheese you have. Not shown, but always assumed, are a few cloves of garlic, smashed up, salt, and olive oil. I often melt a few anchovy fillets for flavour, but not this time- I wanted a pure Spring taste.

Pasta Primavera

  1. Into a big open pan goes a generous glug of oil and a few cloves of smashed garlic.  After a quick stir on medium heat, in go the garden pickings.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  2. Meanwhile, or even before one plays with the garden greens, a big stockpot of boiling salted water is on the go, then Butta La Pasta, throw in the pasta. I count on 100 grs per adult if the dish is un piatto unico, a one course dish.
  3. Within no time, the leaves wilt and the baby broad beans soften. Time for some salt and a few grinds of pepper.
  4. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen the farro spirali pasta is ready, scoop out a little pasta water before draining.
  5.  Add the drained pasta to the cooked vegetables and consider whether to add a few tablespoons of the reserved cooking water to loosen the dish, making a garlicky unctuous sauce. Increase the heat and briefly toss again.  Add lots of ground pepper then crumbled fetta. Feel the creative energy of Spring. Then plate.

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Serve with a golden lick of good olive oil and some grated parmesan.

                                                           Spring on a plate.

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A little footnote. Today my blog, Almost Italian, turns one. Where did that year go? A big thanks to all my friends, followers, and those who read these posts. I really appreciate your support. It encourages me to continue and to learn. Have a look at my post one year ago– it’s a funny looking thing about artichokes. Francesca

 

 

Outback Camp Kitchen: a New Approach.

Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges
Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges

Setting up a base camp in the outback takes organisation and planning. Supplies are available but they are usually extremely expensive and limited to the basics. While Mr Tranquillo takes charge of things like batteries, the fridge, testing solar panels, and setting up good lighting, I like to plan a functional camping kitchen.

Before leaving home, I tend to pack in this way:

  • tall bottles in one box (extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, tomato sauce, passata, good vinegar, other sauces depending on length of stay).
  • dry goods box, includes, jasmine rice, arborio rice, dry falafel mix, plain flour, atta flour, fast cooking oats, lentils, dried coconut milk, couscous etc.
  • cans box includes, tomatoes, chick peas, borlotti beans, baby beetroot, tuna large and small, other canned fish.
  • breakfast basket¬†–¬†muesli, spreads and jam, tea bags, coffee, small long life milk packets, cups, picnic set, bread board, bread well wrapped ( more important for days when travelling)
  • root vegetable bag, includes a big bag of Nicola chats, onions, garlic, ginger, beetroot, sweet potato, ( carrots best in fridge)
  • car fridge includes fresh milk,plain yogurt, tasty cheese, parmesan cheese, fetta, fresh herbs, fresh vegetables,¬†butter or Lurpak. Fish as found on route.
  • the spice box. (more about this below)

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Along the way, I begin to rearrange these boxes. Despite our camping rule, to do the major cooking prep in natural light, sometimes this isn’t possible as long walks and day trips demand¬†a later start. So a new method of sorting emerges, one based on ethnicity or cuisine.

The indian bag
The Indian/Middle Eastern bag

An example of this approach can be seen with the Indian cooking bag containing:

  • coconut milk powder
  • red lentils ( masoor dhal)
  • curry leaves
  • atta flour
  • chick pea cans
  • besan flour

The spice box is a permanent feature of the camp kitchen and stays in its own compartment in the kitchen, and is regularly refreshed. In it are spices, dried herbs, salts and black peppercorn, whole chillies and stock cubes.

The spice box
The spice box

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis new approach can be seen in action on the day I decided to make some chapatis on an open fire. I simply grabbed the Indian bag and started the chick pea curry on the gas stove, a simple dish involving four steps:

  1. Finely chop onion, garlic, ginger and gently fry in plain oil (canola) till soft.
  2. Add the following ground spices, coriander, cumin, turmeric, big handful of curry leaves. Stir through for one minute.
  3. Add 1 cup of reconstituted coconut milk plus a little extra water to loosen. Stir then cook for two minutes on medium heat.
  4. Add a can of chick peas, drained and well rinsed.
  5. Let cook slowly while making the chappatis. Taste, add salt.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The chappatis are made with atta flour, water and nigella (kalonji) seeds. These were rolled out using an empty Riesling bottle, then cooked quickly on hot wood coal. Asbestos fingers are handy: so are tongs.

Chappatis ready for the fire.
Chappatis ready for the fire.
chappati cooked on open fire, raita, chick pea curry.
Chappatis, raita, and chick pea curry. Please pass the tamarind chutney.

Another Indian treat is a simple potato chat dish. Peel and parboil nicola (yellow fleshed) potatoes. Add Indian spices such as mustard seed, salt, lots of curry leaves, and fry in a little canola oil in a super hot wok over coals. Serve with then a squeeze of lemon if you have one. 

Indian chat, beer snack.
Indian chat, beer snack.

My new organisation also has a wonderful Italian bag -naturally. Basics like cans and sauces stay in the original boxes. 
I am keen to hear from anyone who enjoys packing food supplies for long getaways, especially where there are no shops and electric power is limited.
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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)

Ingredients

  • 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.

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Sourdough with Rye and Wholemeal. A Family Loaf.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARecently I found a Romertopf baking dish at an op shop (thrift store) for the princely sum of $4.00. These turn up frequently in second-hand stores. They have become obsolete in many households due to the popularity of electric slow cookers.  But not for the bread maker. Snap them up!

Celia, of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, inspired me to purchase one. The Romertopf baker enables a high rise, moist loaf, to be made with a fairly hydrated sourdough mix. Don’t ask me about the level of hydration here- I am not that technical, yet.

The dough
Starter,¬†300g , bubbly and ripe, ¬†(read¬†Celia’s starter notes)
bakers white flour 500g
wholemeal flour 200g
rye flour 100g
water 610 g
salt 18g

Total flour weight 800g

The Method

  1. Place the starter in a large mixing bowl, add the other dry ingredients, then add the water bit by bit, mixing by hand until there is a sticky dough and all the dry has been incorporated into the wet. You could also use a wooden spoon.
  2. Let this sticky dough rest in a large bowl for 30 minutes or so.
  3. Attempt to lift, stretch and fold the dough in the bowl. As it was  fairly wet and this was a bit tricky, I tipped the lot into a stand mixer and gave it a slow knead with the dough hook for 3 minutes. The dough was wet but silky.
  4. It then proved in a large oiled bowl, initially for 4 hours ( winter evening). As it wasn’t ready for late evening baking, I put it in the fridge overnight to slowly prove (7 more hours).
  5. The dough was ready at 6 Am.  I then shaped the loaf on a floured board for a final prove, around 1 hour.
  6. As it was growing sideways, and looking ridiculous, I tipped the lot into a Romertopf earthenware baking dish. This had been pre- soaked in warm water, then lined with baking paper. The top was slashed, the lid went on.
  7. The loaf started in a cold oven turned to 220c , for 25 minutes, then 20 minutes with the lid off, then 10 minutes at 175c. The fan was on throughout.

    Slashed and laid in the Romertopf
    Slashed and laid in the Romertopf. Wet and unpromising.

Result. One huge family style loaf, good for sandwiches and general purpose eating. Everyone loves it- it’s disappearing quickly. The Romertopf method gives the crust a golden glow.
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Notes-

  • very moist loaf, open crumb, golden crust, not as sour as I would like it, though sour notes improved on second day. Will do this again, and increase the rye, or introduce spelt.
  • A great family loaf, huge in size and a good keeper. Next time, I won’t use the mixer. In summer, I might attempt the whole rise in the fridge over a longer period.
  • In a discussion with a gifted baker, Craig, I seem to recall his comments about slow proving and that modern bread may be causing digestion problems due to over yeasting and fast proving. I must explore slow proving further.

    Golden crusted loaf
    Golden crusted loaf

Grazie Mille to Celia for introducing me to the Romertopf  method.

Fettucine with Cavolo Nero, the Prince of Winter

Cavolo Nero sounds so much better than Kale, don’t you think? It rolls off the tongue, has romantic connections with Tuscany, where it has been grown forever by the¬†contadini, and it isn’t as trendy as Common Curly Kale with its Commercial Connotations.¬†OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cavolo Nero, ¬†Lacinato, Tuscan Kale, Tuscan Black cabbage, is the Principe d’inverno, the prince of winter. ¬†In winter¬†it¬†is the star of the vegetable garden: ¬†indeed it requires frost to reach its peak of princeliness. In summer, the leaves tend to toughen in the hot sun and even worse, it becomes prone to attack from white cabbage moths. ¬†In winter, it grows like a triffid, reaching for the sky, its only enemy being the white cockatoo, the ¬†Australian gangster parrot. They are easy to grow. ¬†If you don’t have a vegetable patch, consider growing a plant or two in your flower garden to provide height, leafy contrast and architectural drama as well as a source of nutritious green.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My favourite pasta dish is based on Cavolo Nero. It is a five minute wonder dish, requiring  only a few pantry staples along with some freshly picked young cavolo nero leaves.

Fettucine con Cavolo Nero ed Amici.

Recipe for two people

  • 180g¬†Egg Fettucine nests
  • 100 g freshly picked young¬†cavolo nero leaves
  • 4 anchovy fillets
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • a pinch of dried chilli flakes
  • 3 Tb extra virgin olive oil
  • salt/pepper
  • a knob of butter
  • grana padano parmigiana
  1. Prep the ingredients as this is a speedy dish. Strip the leaves from the centre stalk of the cavolo nero.  If large, chop them roughly.  If small and delicate, leave them whole or tear them. Finely chop the garlic. Roughly chop the anchovies.  Grate the cheese.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  2. Cook the pasta in ample salted water until al dente, as per packet instructions. Meanwhile, heat a large¬†frying pan then add generous slug of oil. The oil makes up part of the sauce so don’t be parsimonious here. Add the anchovies, stir to melt them, then add the garlic and chilli, stir about briefly, then add the leaves and toss about.
  3. When the pasta is almost ready, scoop out around half a cup of cooking water. Drain the pasta. No need to drain it thoroughly; the starchy water adds to the sauce.
  4. Add pasta to the pan, along with a little cooking water ( it will disappear into the sauce). Raise the heat to very high, stir about, then add the knob of butter* and a few grindings of pepper.
    The secret last ingredient,  a knob of butter.
    The secret last ingredient, a knob of butter.
  5. Have a hot serving bowl ready, tip the contents into the bowl and serve. Also heat your pasta bowls. Pasta cools too quickly on cold plates.
  6. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

* About the knob of butter. I once ate a fabulous pasta dish at the famous Melbourne restaurant, Pelligrino’s. As the place was packed, I was seated on a stool out the back alongside the chef’s stove. The Italian Nonna tossed the pasta around with its sauce in a small aluminium pan at high heat, then added a knob of butter before re-tossing briefly. This old trick works so well with many wintery pasta dishes.

Antipasto of Egg Salad with Parsley Pesto.

Essere Come Prezzemolo is a handy Italian expression. It simply means to be like parsley, and is applied to people who turn up everywhere, or are always there. ( Steven Fry comes to mind ) Thank goodness parsley is always in my garden as it forms the backbone of many a meal. It flavours stock, is the main star in tabbouleh and it is sprinkled over many a dish, like confetti at a wedding, or a last blessing from the kitchen. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This little salad always gets eaten first at any family gathering.  The young wolves descend on it.It is an economical starter, especially if you grow parsley which is really like a weed. Serve this with another salad, some herbed olives and a tasty bread for lunch.

Mt Zero Biodynamic olives, warmed with oil, garlic and herbs.
Mt Zero Biodynamic olives, warmed with oil, garlic and herbs.

The dish employs winter produce at its peak. Avocados, which are cheap in July and August, come from our sunnier northern states. Parsley is always prolific in the garden but more so in winter as it tends to ‘bolt’ in summer. The eggs are free range organic bantam eggs but any small sized organic eggs you can get hold of will go well as they are the star.

Antipasto di Uova, Prezzemolo e Avocado

  • 6 eggs ( small size)
  • 1 large avocado, or more as required.
  • 1 bunch Italian parsley
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • small handful pine nuts
  • sea salt
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Hard boil the eggs. Meanwhile make the parsley pesto in a mortar and pestle. Throw in the peeled garlic and some coarsely ground salt. Begin pounding. Add the pine nuts and continue pounding. ( Think of your least favorite politician). Add the leaves from the parsley bunch, a bit at a time. Continue bashing away until the parsley is broken down but still a little rough in texture. Add the oil, continue pounding, and add enough to make a green sauce, runny enough to drizzle. Arrange the halved eggs and avocado chunks on a platter, drizzle with the parsley pesto, and add another grinding of salt. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I usually reserve the term pesto for the classic basil pesto which I only make in Summer. This one is so similar, and the green is so vibrant, I’m allowing it to sneak into the pesto category.