Pizza Cinque Tesori

Pizza night is a weekly event here and, depending on the mood of the creator and the time given to the task, some pizzas turn out better than others. I never fiddle with my dough recipe: as the old saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, but I have revised and simplified the method. Summer pizzas tend to be more reliable given the warm atmosphere, conducive to a faster rise, and the abundant treasure from my vegetable garden. Eating pizza in the great outdoors may also enhance the taste.

Today’s pick

My current favourite is Pizza Cinque Tesori or five treasures. Although my name for this pizza sounds exotic, the topping is quite restrained: it’s the taste of mid- summer. The¬†pizza base is painted with a rustic tomato passata and a little grated mozzarella, then come the five treasures-¬† zucchini ribbons, flash grilled and dressed in garlic oil, a hand full of cooked shrimp, a finely sliced red onion, some capers and basil leaves.

Hand stretched base on baking paper, getting dressed for the oven.

These days I tend to hand stretch my pizza dough. After flattening the dough ball a little, I gently lift and stretch the sides, then let it rest for a few minutes. As the dough relaxes, stretching becomes easier. The dough then gets a long rest on the bench, fully dressed, before cooking. Laying it on kitchen parchment before stretching makes it easy to lift it onto a long rectangular baking tray.

Before baking

My Most Reliable Pizza Dough Recipe, updated and simplified.

  • 5 g active dry yeast ( 1¬ĺ teaspoons)
  • ¬Ĺ¬†teaspoon sugar
  • 320 ml tepid water (1 1/3 cups)
  • 55 g olive oil (¬†¬ľ cup)
  • 500 g baker’s flour or unbleached plain flour (3¬ĺ cups )
  • 7.5 g sea salt (1 ¬Ĺ teaspoons)

Stir the yeast and sugar into the water in the mixer bowl of a stand mixer and leave for a couple of minutes. Stir in the oil. Add the flour and salt to the yeast mixture. Mix, using the dough hook at very low speed at first, then increase to medium speed until soft and satiny but firm, about 5 minutes. Finish kneading briefly by hand on a lightly floured surface and form into a ball.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat with the oil, cover tightly with plastic wrap or a shower cap and let rise until doubled. Depending on the room temperature this could take one to two hours. If your dough doesn’t rise, your yeast may be stale so always check the use by date.

Knead the dough briefly and gently on a lightly floured surface, for 1-2 minutes. Divide the dough into two. Leave the dough to rest another 15 minutes or so, under a cloth or tea towel, before shaping. Hand shape by stretching, resting and stretching again or use a rolling-pin if you prefer neat rounds. If hand stretching, I find it easier to place baking/parchment paper underneath beforehand.

Lift the stretched dough on large trays dusted with semolina or polenta or onto baking paper/parchment and let it rise for another 30 minutes, covered with a towel. Dress the pizza with your favourite toppings.

Oven temperatures and functions vary with from oven to oven. I use the pizza function on my Ilve, which heats the lower half of the oven higher than the top, at 250 c FF. I also use the lower rack for faster browning of the crust. This takes 8- 10 minutes. Using a regular fan forced oven, pre- heat to 250c and place on the centre shelf, drop the temperature to 220 c and bake for around 15 minutes, then check on the base.

 About flour for Pizza. Information for Melbourne, Australia

I tend to use Baker’s flour, which is stronger than plain white flour, for my pizze because I have a ready stash. Plain unbleached flour works well enough.

  • Wallaby Baker’s flour by Lowan comes in 5 kilo lots and is readily available at Coles.
  • I tend to use Manildra Baker’s flour, which comes in larger 12.5 kilo bags and buy this at Bas foods, Brunswick or Costco.
  • Preston Market stocks 12.5 kilo bags of Lowan white and wholemeal Spelt flour.
  • Cervasi supermarket, Brunswick, stocks a fluctuating array of Italian flours as does Psarakos in Thornbury and Bundoora.
  • Always check the milling date¬† as well as the use by date of any flour you buy, and support retailers who stock the freshest flour. Retailers with low turnover often unwittingly sell flour that is close to the use by date.
  • If you wish to try Italian flour Tipo oo, which is a highly processed, refined white flour, the liquid needs to be reduced significantly. I haven’t had much success using that soft flour for pizza, but it’s great for hand-made pasta. Carol Field’s description below is useful for those mystified by the zeros used to describe Italian flour:

‘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, ‚Äú00‚ÄĚ is the whitest and silkiest flour, ‚Äú0‚ÄĚ is a bit darker and less fine, since it contains about 70% of the grain, and ‚Äú1‚ÄĚ is even darker. Darker and courser is ‚Äú2‚ÄĚ. 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)‚ĶMillers simply take refined white flour, stir in a quantity of bran, and pronounce it whole wheat.¬†The Italian Baker, Revised.¬†Carol Field. p 18.

Pizza Cinque Tesori

Easy Green Soup

This is an old stand- by soup, made when I need to charge my batteries. It requires minimal thought and is adaptable, relying on 3 basic elements: onion, potato and a pile of greens. This week’s green soup was made from zucchini, silver beet ( chard), parsley and basil. In winter, I make it with half a bunch of celery and add a few dark leaves for colour. The outside, often discarded, green leaves of an iceberg lettuce make an excellent addition. Peas go well. Any soft, non- bitter leaves will do. I don’t usually use a recipe but today, I am attempting to add quantities. It’s a great recipe for beginners in the kitchen as well as worn out cooks too.

Super Green Soup

  • 400 gr potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 200 gr onions, peeled and roughly chopped
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 kilogram of greens, such as, zucchini, silver beet leaves and stems, outside leaves of an iceberg lettuce, young Cos lettuce leaves, parsley, celery, basil etc, roughly chopped or torn.
  • 1 vegetable stock cube

Optional. Cream

Add the chopped potato and onion to a pot. Add a good pinch of salt and cover with water. Cook for 10 minutes, then add all the greens. After another 10 minutes, check that everything is soft. Don’t overcook or you will lose the bright green colour. Puree with a stick blender, return to pot. Add the stock cube. Add some cream if you don’t feel too purist. Serve with chopped chives and ground pepper.

It is easy being green.

 

Bruschetta 101

Bruschetta is a celebration of seasonal ingredients. It could be a simple version with newly pressed olive oil or a summer version with vine – ripened tomatoes. On the surface, it is an uncomplicated Italian antipasto dish and yet it is so often misunderstood and easily stuffed up. The key to good bruschette is the quality of the ingredients.

Some freshly picked tomatoes and basil.
Some freshly picked tomatoes and basil.

Let’s start with the pronunciation. I am sure I have posted on this topic before, but as Bruschetta is the most mispronounced culinary term in Australia, with wait staff leading the way, it is worth another go. Phonetically, the word can be divided into three parts: Broo- Skeh- Ta. There is no SHHH sound in the middle, as sche in Italian makes the SKE sound. ( sce or sci makes the shh sound). The next thing to note is that there is a subtlety to the sound of the¬†broo part of the word. American speakers of Italian invariably turn this sound into Brew, whereas the sound is much closer to Brook or lies somewhere between the two. Here’s a little sound bite that might assist:

http://inogolo.com/pronunciation/bruschetta

This season's garlic.
This season’s garlic.

Next the bread. The best bread to use for this dish is a rustic and fairly dense white bread such as Pane di Casa or Sourdough ( not ciabatta- too holey- and not fluffy French breadsticks). As the word Bruschetta is derived from Bruciare, to burn, and Bruscare ( Roman dialect) to roast over coals, an open charcoal grill or BBQ achieves both these outcomes best, especially if serving simply with garlic, new oil and salt. Many family run trattorie throughout country Sicily and Campania have a small open fire in the wall near the kitchen for cooking alla brace. For the home cook, the nearest version is to use a heavy cast iron ridged grill over a gas flame. Also keep in mind that the size of each bruschetta should not be too large. The diminutive ending –‘etta’- suggests something small and dainty, not a boat-sized toasted thing. Bruschette are not the same as Crostini. Crostini are small rounds of bread baked in olive oil in the oven and are much harder and crunchier.

Grilling the bread for Bruschetta.
Grilling the bread for Bruschetta.

About the toppings. Bruschetta is a classic example of a dish where less is more. Originally, the dish consisted of bread, oil, and garlic. If you have some new season freshly pressed olive oil on hand, I recommend you go no further, other than rubbing the grilled bread with garlic. In tomato season, a topping of garlic, tomato and maybe a little basil, is just right. This is not a dish for imported winter tomatoes that have sat in storage for eons. I also find hydroponic tomatoes extremely disappointing in flavour. If you are shopping at a farmer’s market, ask how they are grown before buying seasonal tomatoes. If they look completely regular in size with neatly cut stems, chances are they are hydroponically grown. Choose those that have grown organically and in the open air. The best tomatoes to use for this dish are Roma or Egg tomatoes. The flesh on these is much firmer and they are not so wet and seedy. ¬†My photos show Rouge de Marmande tomatoes, which are very tasty but a little too mushy for this dish.

a little salt brings bruschetta to life.
A little flaked salt brings bruschetta to life.

Adding other non-Italian things, such as fetta cheese, is a real distraction from the simplicity of this dish. Australian cafes have a ‘dog’s dinner’ approach to Bruschetta presentation, shoving too much stuff on top. Some celebrity chefs, like Ottolenghi, also have a tendency to muck around with classic dishes. Keep it simple and authentic, especially if you happen to have top ingredients.

Assembling the bruschetta
Assembling the bruschetta

This tomato Bruschetta recipe is based on an old classic by Anna Del Conte.¬Ļ The recipe serves 8 people. Halve or quarter according to your numbers.

  • 6 sun ripened firm tomatoes, preferably Roma or Plum tomatoes
  • a handful of torn fresh basil leaves or a few pinches of freshly dried oregano
  • 8 slices of good crusty bread, cut 1cm thick
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • flaked salt
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.

Blanch and skin the tomatoes, cut them in half  and remove most of the seeds. Dice the flesh into 1.5 cm cubes. Tear the basil into small pieces, or if using dried oregano, strip from the stem and crush it finely in your hands.

Grill the bread on both sides then rub with the garlic. Cut each slice in half to make them easier to eat. ( or thirds, depending on the size of your slices).

Spoon on some tomato cubes and some torn basil over each slice and sprinkle with salt. Drizzle on the oil and serve at once.

Small bites of Brushcetta con Pomodori
Small bites of Bruschetta con Pomodori

Another approach is to mix the chopped tomatoes, chopped garlic, oil and dried oregano together and to let the mix steep for 10 minutes. Try it both ways and see which way you like it. The salt at the end brings out the flavour.

‘Con il passare del tempo ed il continuo mutare della cucina napoletana, da molti anni si possono assaggiare in tante versioni condite con creme e pat√© di peperoni, funghi, zucchine,piccoli tocchetti di melanzane, mozzarelle, scamorze e salumi vari.’

With the passing of time and the continuing changing of Neapolitan cuisine over the years, you can taste many versions dressed with pate or pesto of pepper ( Red capsicum), mushrooms, zucchini, small chunks of eggplant, mozzarella, scamorza and various salami.  Again, use one seasonal ingredient or meat and keep the topping simple.

¬Ļ Anna del Conte Entertaining All’ Italiana, Bantom Press 1991. This beautiful book presents seasonal menus. This recipe appeared as an antipasto in a summer luncheon for 8 people, and was followed by freshly made Tagliatelle with Mozzarella, Anchovy fillets and Parsley, a side dish of Pepperoni in Vinegar, and finished with Walnuts, Grapes and Parmesan. Traditional, classic food that is not over fiddly.

Dal giardino.
Dal giardino.

Soupe au Pistou in Languedoc- Roussillon, France

A window in the village of St Michelle D'Euzet, Languedoc
A window in the village of St Michel D’Euzet, Languedoc

It was a hot September, more than 30 years ago, in that little village in Languedoc- Roussillon in southern¬†France, where I first made this soup. We had rented a 17th century stone house in the centre St Michel d’Euzet, a tiny rural commune surrounded by acres of vineyards. The town consisted of around 500 residents, a basic √©picerie, one bar, a boulangerie, the source of our daily baguette supplies, and a wine co- operative. It was the season of the vendanges or wine harvest: little beaten up orange and red coloured ap√© trucks would arrive all day at the co-op, loaded with red grapes, ready to be machine crushed into the local cheap wine, the vin de pays that kept the locals ( and us) very happy. The narrow streets were stained magenta as lazy wasps buzzed about in the heat and the heady smell of diesel mixed with grape juice filled the air.

Our 17th century stone house in the village of San Michelle D'Euzet. It became the party house.
Our 17th century stone house in the village of San Michel D’Euzet. It became the party house for travelling Australians.

The old stone house included a generous cave, a mezzanine level with a small kitchen, living room and main bedroom, and an upper level with two tiny bedrooms and a small balcony. Along with our family of five, we squeezed in many other travelling Australians during our month there. They slept in the cave, or ground floor cellar/ bike storage area on a mattress on the floor, or in one of the little rooms on the top story.

San Micheelle in Lan
San Michel in Languedoc

The house faced the place de ville and was opposite the town bar, a meeting place for young and old and popular with the local teenagers. Our kids would spend the late afternoon hours there playing¬†football jeu de machine, with the French kids, on a noisy metal soccer machine table. Sometimes, later in the evening, we would hear young French romeos calling out to Rachael from below, ‘Come down Rachael, I lerv you’ as young lads with heavily accented English would practice their courting skills on our 14-year-old daughter.

Soupe au Pistou
Soupe au Pistou

Cooking for nine or more during that idyllic Autumn was based on fresh supplies gathered twice weekly from the nearby markets at Pont Saint Esprit or Bagnols Sur Ceze. At those markets, the elderly farm women taught me about the Coco Rouge ( fresh borlotti beans) and the Coco Blanc ( fresh white haricot beans), often sold a little rotten as the beans were really ripe and faster to cook. Another local village woman sold me mountains of basil each week. I think we lived on Soupe Au Pistou for a month, along with baguette, jam and brie.

 Soupe Au Pistou, Provençal vegetable Soup with Basil Pesto ( Serves 4)

  • EV Olive oil
  • 2 leeks, washed well, and sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced.
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

Heat some oil in a heavy based soup pot, then sauté these vegetables until tender, then add,

  • fresh borlotti beans (coco rouge), already shelled and cooked till soft
  • 2 small zucchini, diced
  • chopped autumn tomatoes, such as cherry tomatoes, or a can of diced tomatoes, drained.
  • a hand full of green beans, sliced or fresh white beans, coco blanc, if you can get them.
  • 2 litres of home-made vegetable stock.
  • some small pasta, a couple of small handfuls, of shapes such as digitali ( small macaroni) or broken pasta.

Cook until the pasta is al dente, or around 10 minutes.

Season the soup, then add a tablespoon or so of home-made pesto, and stir it through. Serve soup with a dollop of pesto on top and some shaved parmesan cheese.

soupe
Soupe au pistou
Today's garden pick, April, 18, 2016
Today’s garden pick, April, 18, 2016, inspired this soup. Late tomatoes, leeks, zucchini and basil.

The house photos were taken in 2011 when we returned to San Michel d’Euzet. It hadn’t changed at all.

For Andrew, Rachael, Jack, Sunshine, and Poppy- the kids who had a wild time on bikes exploring the Gard region in 1985.

Moulin Rouge. Retro Tomato Soup.

Since I’ve been making this soup, the tomato glut is no longer a double-edged sword. Requiring no special tomato peeling and seeding or fine chopping, I can get this soup going quickly and come back later to a bit of arm gymnasium, via the hand cranked Mouli. I have simplified the recipe so that I can remember the balance of ingredients, then whip it up at whim with consistent retro tasting results. Almost every ingredient has the number three in it. This quantity serves 8 – 10 people. Make a big load when you have a tomato glut or meet one in a Farmers Market. It freezes very well.

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Moulin Rouge Tomato Soup

Moulin Rouge Tomato Soup Рa retro styled soup, loved by children and elders alike.

  • 3 kilos fresh vine ripened tomatoes. ( I used Rouge de Marmande tomatoes which have a fabulous depth of flavour and give off lots of juice )
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large onions, chopped
  • 3 small carrots, or around 300 gr, peeled and chopped
  • 3 small celery sticks, chopped
  • 3 or more large cloves garlic ( more is good!)
  • 3 cups vegetable or chicken stock, or use water and a stock cube
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 torn bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons finely ground pepper, white pepper is best with this soup.
  • 3 tablespoons chopped basil

Choose a large heavy bottomed soup pot. Heat the oil then add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook on medium heat, stirring often to soften until the onion turns a  pale golden colour. Add the chopped tomatoes, stir about and let them give off their juices for 5 minutes.  Then add the tomato paste, stirring through, then the stock, bay leaf and salt. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer on low with the lid off for 40 minutes of so.

Remove the pot from the heat. Lay a mouli over a bowl so that it sits neatly when the arms are extended. Sit the bowl on a tea towel so that it is stable. Ladle a cup at a time and turn the handle, pressing though as much as you can to extract colour and sweetness from the tomato, carrot and onion residue. You may need to pour off the pureed soup back into a clean and empty soup pot as you go, given the quantity. Don’t attempt to process or blend this soup- the flavour comes from the pressing.

Mouli
The pressing in action

When all the pureed soup is back in the pot, reheat, adding freshly ground pepper and chopped basil.

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Thick, Red and Retro

We like our soup straight, but adding cream gives it a different texture which is comforting on a cooler day.

Moulin Rouge Goes Flash

  • briefly chargrill some sea scallops, halve them and place them in the centre of the soup before serving.
  • serve with fingers of toast spread with tapenade.
  • or with olive oil oven baked crostini, spread with gorgonzola, then briefly grill.

    red fix
    A popular red fix for a big weekend, sometimes known as the Cure.

 

 

Minestra di Verdure Estive/ Summer Vegetable Soup

I like to eat soups in the height of summer, not necessarily cold soups, but light minestre of vegetables in season. They are thrown together and take around 20 minutes to cook, using whatever is abundant in the garden.

Summertime soup
Summertime soup. Keeping photos real with lots of red slurp.

This vegetable soup is similar to the French Soupe au Pistou in many ways, but I am waiting on the garden’s fresh borlotti, i fagioli scritti,¬†and green beans, before I go down that Proven√ßal path.

Ingredients.

  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 1 garlic, finely chopped,
  • 2 tablespoons EV olive oil
  • 4-5 chopped Roma tomatoes
  • 1 medium zucchini, finely sliced
  • 1 can of drained and well rinsed chick peas or white cannellini beans
  • ¬ľ¬†jar of home-made or purchased tomato passata
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • small¬†broken¬†pieces of Mafaldine (flat ribbon) pasta or other dried pasta on hand
  • salt and pepper
  • freshly made pesto from a handful of basil leaves, two cloves garlic, salt, olive oil and pecorino, bashed to a pulp in a mortar and pestle. (Leave the nuts out when serving with soup.)
  • grilled bruschetta to go with¬†the soup.

In a large heavy pot, add a generous slurp of olive oil and gently cook a sliced onion and a chopped garlic until soft but not coloured. Then add the vegetables as listed, stirring each new addition for a minute or so as you go. When they are almost cooked, after around 15 -20 minutes. add the some broken pieces of Mafladine and cook until the pasta is al dente. Season well. Serve in wide bowls with a dollop of freshly made basil pesto.

Paranzo All'aperto.
Pranzo all’aperto. Minestra di verdure estive.

The pasta Mafaldine was named in honour of Princess Mafaldine of Savoy, daughter of King Vittorio Emmanuele 111, and is also known as reginette or “little queens”.

In My Kitchen, January 2016, the No Cooking Edition.

My Kitchen and I are not on speaking terms at the moment. This morning I mentioned in passing to Mr Tranquillo that perhaps I should start cooking again soon, and, true to form, he replied, “why bother?” The post-Christmas lethargy has set in and I notice that many of my friends have also turned into sloths, talking fondly about their bed or books, sea breezes drifting through open windows, or bird song at dawn.

Breakfast. Home grown tomatoes and basil, torn bocconcini, olive oil, salt.
Breakfast Caprese. Home grown tomatoes and basil, torn bocconcini, olive oil, salt.

The weather in Melbourne has been hideously hot, requiring simple meals, left overs or take aways. Fish and chips around the pool, a pasta dressed with zucchini, basil and left over smoked salmon, an omelette and a glass of wine, a peach and a cuddureddi biscuit for breakfast, a cup of tea and chocolate in bed with more books. Life in the slow lane.

Bed, books and Chocolate
Bed, books and chocolate

The first important improvement to our kitchen is a self-closing fly screen door, installed three days before Christmas. Not only does it keep insects out, but I love the old-fashioned sound of a flywire door closing.¬† A soft wooden clunk. It’s a summery sound, inviting one outside and into the evening air of the verandah, or back inside, away from the hot north wind.

A softly banging flywire door.
A softly banging flywire door, installed by my son Jack, a very practical man, assisted by Mr T.

My garlic crop has finally been cleaned and stored: it hung about on the kitchen verandah for 6 weeks and begged to be safely housed in a darker, cooler space with circulating air. I didn’t plait this year’s lot – but bundled and tied them with string, such is my aversion to anything requiring thought or energy. We harvested over 200 bulbs so no Vampire visitors for us. Early garlic is delicious rubbed on grilled bread with EV olive oil, or whole bulbs baked in olive oil in the oven, then squeezed out of their papery skins, sprinkled with smoked sea salt, and popped into the mouth. The taste of organically grown Australian garlic is superb.

garlic 2015
garlic 2015
garlic 2015
garlic cleaning and sorting, 2015
Loose bulbs to use now.
Loose bulbs to use now.

This beautiful swarovski crystal bookmark made by Celia dangled from a vase on the mantlepiece on Christmas day. Now it hangs from the armoire key where I keep my¬† precious things, spirits that we never drink, and other collectables. The armoire is my Black Swan. I found it in an op shop in Coburg shortly after the bushfire of 2009, when I was on the hunt for new furniture. There it stood, at half price, looking for a new home. Another customer egged me on, a Frenchman who wanted me to buy it because he didn’t have room in his house but could vouch for its authenticity. Then followed the saga of moving it, storing it and moving it again. Made of solid oak, with wire fronted windows ( to deter theft by the maids?), the armoire weighs a tonne, is beautiful crafted, with finely engineered brass springs on the doors, little screws to remove the glass panels, and hand carved panels. Bespoke you might say. My kids hate it.

Celia's Crystal drop on Armoire door
Celia’s Crystal drop on Armoire door
In My Armadio
Armoire, Armadio, crystal cabinet, grog cupboard.

Whenever I see these long, hot Turkish peppers for sale in Brunswick, I always buy them. I will cook them soon, I’m getting there. I leave them whole and braise them with middle eastern flavours and serve them with couscous or a bulgar pilaf and yoghurt.

Turkish Hot Peppers, grown in Mildura,bought in Brunswick.
Turkish Hot Peppers, grown in Mildura, bought in Brunswick.

In the build up to Christmas, we unearthed a few tables and chairs from the shed to seat thirty guests. This lovely oval oak table didn’t return: we found room for it and hope it can stay.¬† Now we have a table for two with a view.

A table for two
A table for two, with a view.

Happy New Year friends, I hope you are also enjoying a lazy spell and that 2016, when it begins in earnest, will be joyous and productive.

This year, Maureen from The Orgasmic Chef has taken over the post of host for In My Kitchen. It’s a monthly international event where like-minded folk share their kitchen stories. I’m afraid my post deviated a little from the kitchen this month.

Francesca xx

Garden Diary, March 2015

I know, dear readers and my good friend Helen, that I have mentioned my tomato glut in many other posts but I must mention two particular tomato varieties that featured in my vegetable garden this year. Firstly, the miniature yellow pear, which quickly became a triffid and bore fruit throughout December (unusual in Melbourne) and continues to do so. I attempted to weigh the crop but soon tired of this chore- many have been left on the vine as I couldn’t keep up with them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next tomato I promised to report on was the black-skinned tomato that my son grew from seeds purchased on eBay. They did eventually turn red and are in no way related to the more desirable Krim or Black Russian but go by the name ‘Indigo Rose’. ¬†They are blue tomatoes engineered at the Oregon State University. They are prolific, long keepers and medium-sized but sadly, they lack true tomato flavour so I won’t be growing these next year.

Indigo Rose Tomatoes
Indigo Rose Tomatoes

My favourite tomato, Rouge de Marmande cropped poorly this year and the Roma has called it quits already and it is only March! The season has been odd- one very hot spell in December, followed be a cool summer. Even the basil is slow.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe cool summer has meant an abundant supply of strawberries : they have produced continually for months and early self seeding of radicchio, rainbow chard and cavolo nero. You win some, you lose some with each season.

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self sown cavolo nero ( Tuscan kale- black kale )
self sown cavolo nero ( Tuscan kale- black kale )

This year Alberto tied up the leeks and spring onions onto stakes. Their seed is now ready. They make great architectural statements in the veggie patch.

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I have recycled lots of household junk. This basic clothes airer is used to support cucumber vines. The legs bury nicely into the soil.

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I saved my disintegrating pool lounge chairs and turned them into shade houses to protect lettuce seed and young seedlings from drying out. I sow directly into the ground.

Frame of pool lounge covered in shade cloth.
Frame of pool lounge covered in shade cloth.

And here’s the pillow end of the old pool chair, ready to provide some instant shade wherever it’s needed. ¬†No land fill, no tipping fees- just re-purposed junk.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo do list:

  • remove shade cloth from the hooped frames now that the weather has turned mild.
  • make more compost
  • sow autumn vegetable seedlings, lettuce, carrots, spring onions, brocolli.
  • transplant self-sown seedlings as keeping them in the same bed will deplete them of goodness. Crop rotation makes sense.
  • remove bird nets from raspberry beds and cut back some of the canes.
  • pick all the grapes.

A good visitor to my veggie patch is this little ladybird beetle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe veggie patch has also benefited greatly from the manure provided by our cows and hens. Here is young Dougie Dexter begging me for another cow lolly ( acorn). ¬†I would like to sell him and his cousin Oh Danny Boy but I don’t want them to end up on a BBQ!

Dougie Dexter
Dougie Dexter

Not only does this post from a monthly record of food gardening activities, it also features in the Garden Share Collective, kindly coordinated by Lizzie. Follow the link to see other amazing gardens throughout Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom.

Zuppa Estiva di Cozze. Summery Mussel Soup.

As the season reaches its peak, the tomato glut becomes a mixed blessing. I have grown tired of the early yellow varieties, enjoying this months flush of Rouge de Marmande and Roma. With a little home grown chilli, a bunch of basil, some garlic and a bag of black local mussels, a soup is born and la vita è bella, as we lunch in the garden on a still, hot day.

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Black Mussels are a sustainable and cheap seafood in Victoria, retailing for around $6.00 a kilo, and are grown in the cool clean waters of Port Arlington and Mount Martha in Victoria. They are sweet and briny, unlike their large, green lipped New Zealand cousins which tend to be fibrous and tough. Tasmanian black mussels are lovely too.

I found this summer soup in The River Cafe Book by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, but have made some adaptations along the way.

Zuppa Estiva di Cozze РSummer Mussel Soup. 

  • 2 kilo of mussels, cleaned
  • 100 ml olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, 1 chopped, 2 sliced finely.
  • 1 large bunch basil, stalks removed
  • 1 small chilli, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1.5 kilo ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped, all juices and seeds retained
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

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  1. Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy based saucepan, add the garlic slivers, and cook gently until golden. Add half the basil leaves and the chopped tomatoes and cook, stirring over a fierce heat, until the tomatoes break up and reduce a little. This should take around 15 minutes.
  2. In another large, heavy saucepan, fry the chopped garlic in the remaining olive oil until golden, then add the mussels and a few basil leaves and the remaining, reserved tomato juice. Cover, and cook on a high heat, shaking as you go, until they are open. Remove them as soon as they open and leave to cool. Remove most of the mussels from their shells, retaining a few for serving.
  3. Reduce the mussel/tomato stock for five minutes, then strain it through muslin into a bowl. Add some or all ( to taste) into the tomato sauce. Reheat the sauce and reduce a little.
  4. Add all the mussels to the sauce, add the rest of the basil and season well.

Serve in big bowls accompanied by a simple Bruschetta.

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An unexpected surprise! The stock in step 3 is not retained in the original River Cafe recipe. It is just too good to waste. From now on, when opening mussels for any dish, I intend to use this combination of tomato juice and garlic, instead of wine, and retain a batch of stock in the freezer for another dish.

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Urban Myth.

Don’t discard those unopened mussels.¬†The advice to “throw away mussels that refuse to open”, began in the 1970s when there were concerns over some European mussels being dredged from polluted mussel beds. This advice has been repeated without question by chefs and in many ‚Äėhow to cook fish‚Äô cook books since then. See the following:

Local Mussels.
Local Mussels.

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Pesto Imposters.

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 pestle used 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

1/2 cup or more of extra virgin olive oil

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.

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