Is the Pope a Catholic? This is the response that comes to mind when the waitress asks us if we would like our pizza with anchovies! We always order Pizza Napolitana because of the anchovies, so the question strikes me as very odd. Yes, please! Anchovies are the best thing about pizzas. Young chef Daisy loves anchovies and usually picks these off first, followed by the olives, savouring all that saltiness, before eating the plain doughy remains. Her favourite outing is a train ride, followed by a pizza at – La Porchetta! Some of you may be thinking – Pizza Industriale and you would be right. La Porchetta is a pizza chain franchised throughout Melbourne, often making more headlines for gangland or mafia activity than for pizzas. Providing a large family style restaurant setting, it fits my policy of reviewing all pizza restaurants in Melbourne. There may be thousands so its a mission of some proportion. Humble and famous are included.
Although La Porchetta has a formulaic approach to their menus, some branches do better than others, with new chalked menu offerings. The Greensborough branch does it well. The pizza menu also offers two styles- Traditional and Artigianale. Artiginale/ artisanis to Pizza what bespoke is to Kevin McCloud’s house renovations. As far as I’m concerned, I am the only one in Melbourne making truely artigianale pizza, but I digress. I am yet to try one of these supposed hand crafted numbers from La Porchetta!
We ordered a large Napolitana, $14.50, and a half litre of house wine, $7.50. The retro styled carafe of cask wine was light and dry and suited the occasion. Cheap and cheerful.
My ratings. Setting- 5, pizza- 5, value for money- 10, the Irish waitress who loves kids, gives them stamps and coloured pencils and does tricks, 100.
Cup day for many Melbournians is as big as Christmas. It’s not just about the horses, or the lovely Spring weather, the State holiday, or the frocks. Cup Day marks the beginning of our festive season; it’s a carnival and I love it! Always occurring on the first Tuesday of November, many Melbournians take advantage of this and enjoy a four day holiday. Not much point in going to work or school on the Monday is there? Oaks Day, or ‘Ladies Day’ follows on the Thursday- which provides another excuse for a party with all your amiche, preferably wearing an OTT hat and drinking more vino frizzante.
Mr Tranquillo doesn’t particularly care for Cup Day. He dislikes gambling, is not interested in horses, it’s a mug’s game as far as he is concerned. He and I belong to that old Australian cultural divide- Scottish/Irish, Presbyterian/Catholic, wowser/splurger, squatter/working class. These class and religious divisions have largely disappeared from multi- cultural Australia, hooray, but can re-emerge on Melbourne Cup Day here in our little Castello. I’m the card-playing, dancing mad Irish woman when it comes to Cup Day and he becomes the sensible, taciturn Scot. Whilst I run about writing silly lists for finger food, Mr Tranquillo calmly works on the gardens. It’s party time again and it will stay that way for at least two months. We can all breathe a sigh of relief on New Year’s Day when I put my Irish party monster to rest.
My search has begun for Italian sounding horses for the Corsa di Cavalli, the ‘big horse race that stops the nation’. There are ten races on the day, and my rule is that the horse must have an Italian name. It’s a kind of system for a once a year gambler. Some beautiful sounding cavalli con nomi italiani are running this year. Bella Roma, Pelicano and Lampedusa just to name a few but in the big race, the Melbourne Cup, Dandino, Fiorente and Ruscello are my hot tips for this year’s Melbourne cup. But please don’t follow me, my “Italian name” approach to betting is rarely successful!!
The party food prep for Cup Day is a dress rehearsal for the whole mad season. Bite size portions -stuzzichini- will enable the guests to sip champagne, check the form guide, eat, manage bets online, and watch the horses parade on the TV, simultaneously. My first little finger food offering, Pesto Arancini, will be served with a sugo di arrabiatta – a chilli laced tomato sauce and caper berry on piccolissimo plates. The beauty is that they can be made ahead of time, frozen and reheated on the day. There will be nine other mini piatti to go with each race. Can I take photos of each dish on the day? I don’t think I’m that dexterous.
Heat oil in a large heavy based saucepan. ( ideally cast iron ) Add the onion and gently cook for a few minutes until soft. Add the rice, tossing till coated, then add the hot stock, stir a little, then put the lid on, turn to low heat, ad cook for around 20-25 minutes. There is no need to make a serious risotto style dish for Arancini. Cheat!
Transfer the rice to a bowl and while cooling, add the pesto. Stir, let cool completely, then chill overnight.
Take a heaped tablespoon or so of the mixture, and roll into balls. Push a little cube of mozzarella ( or other melting cheese) into the centre and re-shape, roll in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs. Chill again.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan, cook the arancini in batches for a few minutes until crisp and golden brown, Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel to drain. When cool, place the balls on a baking tray lined with non-stick paper: freeze until solid. Then remove and pop into plastic storage bags.
When required, heat the oven to 180c ( 400 F), and reheat, covered with foil for 15 minutes. Serve the arancini with arrabbiata.
* I use an everyday arborio rice for this dish, saving the good stuff, Vialone Nano and Canaroli, for risotto.
Photos. The arancini is stages of production. My balls are a bit larger than I wanted! Onto a tray for initial freezing. Into stand up plastic zip lock bags once frozen. Re-heated in the oven ( 180c) for 20-25 minutes. Served with arrabbiata sauce and a caper berry.
It doesn’t pay to be the Number 1 Pizzaiolo here in Australia; your business premises might be subjected to midnight shootings by jealous gangland members. Peaceful Melbourne, frequently named the world’s most livable city, has an underbelly. Our local Mafia members, like elsewhere, are all interconnected to fresh markets, Italian restaurants, and money laundering, you name it. The recent shootings of the Woodstock businesses ( http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/gangland-dispute-believed-to-be-behind-pizzeria-shooting-20131031-2whuv.html ) meant that Mr Tranquillo and I decided to eat our pizza at a less notorious pizzeria last Friday night. I am one of those greedy people who likes the pizza straight from the oven, not steamed in a delivery box, so my search for Melbourne’s best Pizza restaurant ( a dangerous mission!!) will not include delivered pizza.
La Bussola ( the compass) has been around for ever and is one of my favourite haunts for pizza. Situated in the super cool end of Lygon Street – Brunswick East – it has not succumbed to the gentrification of pizza. No wood fired oven. No minimalist decor. No young smart wait staff in black, no reviews by food critics. La Bussola Cafe sells honest pizza ( and pasta) like the good old days. The base is thin and nicely charred. The toppings are traditional. The Pizzaiolo is tired and often grumpy, as he spins each pizza disc in the air, then returns back to his corner and newspaper. His wife, a smiling presence, makes the pasta. A family sized pizza ( 35 cm) is $17.00 with a generous but not gluttonous amount of topping. It’s a BYO restaurant, with a $1.50 per person surcharge for corkage or you can buy some very cheap house wine, which is cask wine served in re- cycled wine bottles!! This makes for a very cheap night out for two – $10.00 each with own wine. No wonder it is so busy on a Friday night. Most of the other customers were eating pasta, which averaged around $11.00 per piatto.
But wait for the decor! We are talking RETRO heaven. I love the brown tiles, the mustard coloured pay phone in the corner, the arches, the faux brown wood panelling. Straight out of Madmen. This authentically retro restaurant should be subjected to heritage listing!
This place is an institution with locals and is deservedly popular. How should I rate it? 10 for traditional pizza styling, 7 for the actual pizza, 8 for location, 10 for remaining a truly un- gentrified, cheap and retro island in the midst of a trendy sea.
319 Lygon St
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
When is a pesto not a pesto? When its made from every other vegetable on the planet except basil. Some folk argue that any nut, vegetable product, garlic and oil can be processed into a pesto. Witness artichoke pesto, pumpkin pesto, coriander and cashew pesto, beetroot pesto, mint pesto and so the list goes on. What is it about this word, pesto, and why is it applied to every paste, dip, condiment and spread on the supermarket shelves and in cookbooks? Pesto comes from the verb pestare, to pound, as does the pestello, or pestleused to pound it. When we think of pesto, Liguria and Genova come to mind, followed by thoughts of fragrant basil, pine nuts, garlic, and a good parmigiana or pecorino or both. Lets preserve the word for the real thing and use good old English words, such as paste, for the imposters.
A simple pesto recipe for the basil season.
2 Tablespoons pine nuts
4 small garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 teaspoon course sea salt
one large bunch of basil, leaves stripped from stalks
finely grated parmesan, grana padano parmigiana, around 1/2 cup or more.
Add the first three ingredients to the food processor. Grind to a paste, then add basil leaves. When sufficiently mushed up, add oil slowly to mix while running motor. Add parmigaina to taste by hand. Taste, season, adjust with more oil or cheese. Serve with pasta, add to arancini, toss with steamed green beans or new potatoes, drizzle over grilled fish.
Marcella Hazan, who passed away on September 29, was my cooking muse. I feel that I knew her well. She fulfilled the role of Italian aunt, she was my Zia from Venice and Florida.Her voice was often bossy but sensible. In the late 1980’s, I owned two small cookbooks by Marcella, all text, no glossy pictures, with recipe titles and indexing in Italian before English (unlike her modern editions). Some of my favourite recipes came from these two volumes and they have become part of my extended family‘s repertoire too. Young chef Daisy can smell Zuppa di bietola e fagioli bianchi as soon as she walks in the door. Marcella not only taught me how to cook down to earth Italian food, but also my first Italian words, soffrito and battuto. No Ciao bella and Va bene for me– it was always about the cooking. From this little beginning, came a degree in Italian, some translating, lots of travelling to Italy, and Italian friends. Marcella completely changed my life. Although sadly I no longer own the modest dark green and maroon cookbooks, my versions of her recipes live on.
Marcella advised, in a forthright manner, on the importance of using salt, so I dedicate my little Italian salt container to the memory of Marcella.
Its a baking day today, the wind is howling, the grey sky looks threatening and young chef Daisy is here to assist. “Lets make some cookies, Daisy”. ” BISCUITS” comes the cry from a nearby room, ” not cookies”. One way to ruffle Mr Tranquillo’s feathers is to use American terminology, especially in front of children. Australian linguistic traditions are slowly disappearing, and the lovely word biscuit is under threat. “Ok, OK, biscuit, biscotti, whatever.” I know he is right.
These yummy biscuits are similar to Anzacs but are softer and uglier like Brutti ma Buoni, my favourite Italian biscotto. They are simple and quick to make, and store well.
1 and 1/4 cups plain flour
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup castor sugar
1/2 cup sultanas
1/2 cup dried cranberries, or chopped dried apricots, or other dried fruit.
150 gr unsalted butter, melted
2 Tb Golden Syrup
1 Tb water
1/2 teas bi-carb soda
Preheat the oven to 180c or a little less for fan forced.
Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Melt the butter with the golden syrup and water in a small saucepan. Add the bicarb soda to this wet mixture. Stir briefly then add to the dry mix. Roll into balls and place on two long biscuit baking sheets lined with non stick paper. Leave on tray for 5 minutes, then move to cooling rack.
Bake for around 18 minutes in the centre of the oven or until golden brown.
Variations include adding chopped macadamias and so on, keeping the proportions the same.
It’s artichoke season and I can’t find many people who love to eat them as much as I do. Our resident Italian guest, Albé, dislikes them, and my numerous family members, whose visits usually require a mass catering event, or the raiding of the cellar for a reasonable bottle of vino, don’t enjoy them. Mr Tranquillo hates them intensely.
Back in 2000, our travels took us to Naples to visit the brother of my dear friend Olga. During that time, we were invited to lunch at the apartment of her cousins, right near the Galleria Umberto. The table was set impeccably, the hosts were gracious and also quite ancient. The whole event was ” molto elegante“. But we forgot to mention the most important thing- that we were vegetariani , and along with the language, age and cultural divides, this would become an embarrassing hurdle.
First course was a simple Pasta Napoli. We were going well. Then came the polpettini di fegato. Liver meatballs, lightly crumbed and sauted. Mio Dio! Other expressions, involving the Madonna also came to mind. Mr Tranquillo turned a lighter shade of green and then quietly mentioned his dietary issues. A whole ball of buffalo mozzarella landed on his plate as a substitute. I ate the liver balls, with some trepidation, but found them quite tasty and tried to focus on the concept of bella figura.* Along came the next course – scallopini di vitello, veal schnitzels, served with a simple green salad. I also ate these, and focused this time on the Dalai Lama: I was almost enjoying this meat fest. Mr Tranquillo once again sheepishly declined, and was offered a freshly prepared giant carciofo. Knowing how much he hates artichokes, but also feeling very embarrassed and quite uneasy about insulting our gracious hosts, I gave him THE LOOK which indicated, “You will eat every bit of that maledetto artichoke and you will look like you are enjoying it!” He ate it.
Back to the back yard and my giant artichoke plants. My dear friend Helen looked at them admiringly as I cut two long stems of artichokes from the bush, complete with their soft grey/green side leaves. She mused, décor or to eat, examining them carefully, whilst pondering a far more sensible question than that of Hamlet. Décor she decided. Well, I’ve done decorating with artichokes, and no more waxing lyrically about the plants’ architectural beauty. Today I plan to eat them, by myself, just me.
La ricetta per carciofi in memoria della mia cara amica, Olga D’ Albero Giuliani – Artichoke recipe in memory of my dear friend Olga.
Leave a small portion of the stalk and peel it. Prepare the artichokes by removing all the sharp spiky leaves, pulling them off, one at a time. When the plant looks much smaller and no sharp bits remain, cut off pointy top half then cut into quarters and remove all the hairy choke from the centre. Drop each one into acidulated water as you go. When all are ready, choose a heavy based pan, big enough to hold the prepared artichokes. Add extra virgin olive oil, garlic, sauté for a few seconds, then add drained artichokes. Sauté again for a minute or so, add some lemon juice, a little water, and salt to taste. Cover and cook on low heat, making sure that they don’t burn or catch, until tender. Eat out of the pan, if desperate, or if you can find some friends to share them with, add to an antipasti platter.