Another Green Recipe from a Militant Gardener

The word ‘green’ is associated with more connotations than most other colours, including immaturity, rawness, naivety, pale and sickly looking, envy, and the green environmental and political movement, just to name a few. Perhaps some of these concepts are inadvertently connected? As an offshoot of the green environmental movement, some cooking sites loudly proclaim to be ‘green’, a word that has become synonymous with healthy. A quick perusal¬†of these sites will reveal recipes using all sorts of everyday ingredients that are neither ‘green’ nor¬† healthy. ‘Green’ food, just like that other odd term, superfood, has become another marketing tool. Maybe green is the new lite?

Pasta della settimana

As I suggested in a recent¬†post on eating greens, I am enjoying taking the word back to its literal meaning, given that I have a vast array of garden greens to choose from. I can honestly say that most of the things I eat are unavailable in restaurants. I prefer to eat my own concoctions more than ever and have no time for flashy, restaurant styling or plating. I’m after big flavour, freshness and ease of production. My garden greens go in soups, pastas, risotti: they top pizzas, go in salads and stir fries, while the herbs flavour bland foods or star in their own right.

Growing our own food and eating with the seasons is a fifty year old habit, though I think we’ve become better at it with age and more time. My green stories are not meant to promote a romanticised view of country life. Far from it. It’s a lifestyle choice which comes with a fair amount of dedication and is not for the armchair tree changer, the naive or the time poor. The picture of country life, at least in the Italian context ( this blog does, after all, rely on a certain Italianit√† for content and inspiration) pictures a nonna making bread and preserves or a nonno making sausages and eating pecorino and fresh fava beans under an olive tree. There will be home pressed olive oil and maybe an outside fireplace to cook alla brace. This is the stereotypical view of Italian country life, a wonderful food marketing myth. The idyllic notions about cucina povera conveniently ignore the laborious and hard life of the peasant. Italian migration, especially after WW2, took place as a result of desperate poverty in Italy. We can forgive the modern-day Italian blogger who pretends, just a little bit, to be connected to the land and the seasons, writing from the comfort of her own modern apartment or suburban home via a trip to the nearby farmers’ market to check what’s in season. These stories make people feel that their food has authenticity, another marketing tool.

It’s not easy being green. It’s hard work living by the seasons, which involves making vast amounts of compost based on the layering of collected manure, grass clippings, oak leaves, and scraps, as well as saving seed, pruning, netting fruit crops, harvesting gluts of food and giving it away or preserving it, watering, mulching, and ensuring that the fences keep out unwanted pests such as rabbits. The food tastes good because it has been nurtured well.

If you are fortunate enough to have any small patch of land that accompanies your abode, grow herbs that suit your climate, plant some silverbeet (chard) in the flower garden- rainbow chard, with its yellow and red stems looks wonderful. Plant an annual crop of cavolo nero for winter soups. These tall dark green plants look statuesque in a garden bed next to lavender. Why not grow some artichokes in an unused corner of the yard? Their silver leaves are as ornamental as any other exotic plant and they grow like weeds. Pop in a row of radish every fortnight and some soft heading lettuce. Tend to them like children and learn what they need. The old cop-out, having a black thumb, is an excuse for not learning about your own environment or the needs of plants. Agitate to save an old growth forest from logging and learn to grow a few greens at the same time. 

The two pastas shown throughout this story both rely on the same base soffritto shown in the picture below.

As the spaghettini cooks in the pot of boiling salted water, chop some soffritto ingredients. I like to use anchovy fillets, garlic and dried chilli. Heat a good glug of EV olive oil in a wide and deep frying pan and add this mixture, stirring about to break up the anchovy. Add some greens to the pan- I like to use broccoli Calabrese, a side shooting broccoli that is even finer than broccolini and cooks in a minute, a few young leaves of cavolo nero and some immature zucchini cut into the same shape as the other greens. Toss these about for a few minutes, then add a ladleful or two of the pasta cooking water. Raise the heat to reduce the liquid a little. Once the pasta is al dente, drain it and add it to the pan of greens. Toss about and season with ground pepper. Serve in big bowls and dress with grated Parmigiano or more good oil, or leave it as is.

No quantities are mentioned in the recipe. It’s entirely up to you and what greens you use. This recipe only works because the greens in question were picked 20 minutes beforehand. Herbs work well. Lettuce, chicory, chard, shaved young artichoke- whatever you can find or forage.

Simply pink. A few stray small garlic before cleaning. I’ll use this lot while young and ‘green’.

Notes.

  • Brocollini Calabrese seeds can be bought from Eden seeds. Sow these directly into the ground in April ( or towards the end of Autumn). I pick side shoots every second day.
  • Sunny brand anchovies come in 750 gr cans. I buy these at Gervasi supermarket in Brunswick, Melbourne. I haven’t seen them anywhere else in my travels. They are very good and last well, packed under oil.
  • If you grow too many chillies, dry them out and grind them in a spice grinder for the year. You can then decide on your own level of heat. They last in sealed jars forever.

 

Three Years of Almost Italian

It has been three years. No, not since my last confession, but since I started this blog, Almost Italian, although there are some parallels. Just like in that pontifical wooden cubicle, I get to confess some indulgent practices here in the form of eating, drinking and travelling. Like many other bloggers, an anniversary is a time to reflect, despite all the daily, monthly and yearly graphs and statistics provided by WordPress, the daily view bar graphs, views by country, statistics by post, best day of the week and time of day. This information is enlightening and addictive. I am constantly amazed at the success of some posts and the dismal failure of others.

So here are my top three posts:

This lovely tart recipe, written in 2013, continues to be popular with 1,099 views this year. (2,560 in total).

  https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/apricot-almond-cake-with-amaretto-easy-frangipane/

easy
Easy frangipane apricot almond cake
Lilla Pantai at night
Lilla Pantai  by the sea at night. Sanur Bali. One year ago.  Now so busy.

That’s one party, one recipe and one restaurant review. Sounds like a famous blues song involving lots of drinks. All these posts are from previous years, all contain simple and easily found titles, keeping them high on search engines.

The other bit of navel gazing that I have indulged in today are the stories and recipes that didn’t make it onto my blog due to poor photography in low light or sloppy appearance. I am blaming Melbourne’s weather for this. Here is a mosaic preview of some good recipes in the last month with lousy pics.

You, dear reader, get to choose which one of these tasty dishes to redo and post, now that daylight savings has arrived and the light is longer and there’s a chance of eating in the great outdoors again. Open each pic separately, choose the title and tell me in a comment. And thankyou for reading my ‘confession’, subscribing, liking and commenting. Your interest keeps me going. F xxthree-1

The Cough

Day 9 and the cough has become a terrorist. Rasping, lung aching cough, violently rocking the rib cage, reconstructing thought and memory, randomly re-ordering the day’s events. Robber of time, stealer of sleep. Ask me a question I’ll give you a Saint Vitus Dance answer, a voiceless croak or maybe a sign. I don’t know, please don’t talk to me now. A toilet roll trail of debris, the tissues and hankies now long gone, catches the phlegm of one lucky cough, but not of that dry one, not the Dostoevsky special, that searches and scratches and delves deep within then leaves for a minute, hands out a headache, and returns for another gut wrenching go. Stationary diversions blur together as writing, reading and foreign films join into one continuous heated dream as cruel cough moves in for the night, making sleep a permanent nightmare, vitality spilling from every pore and orifice, as dreams become more lurid, aberrant, repetitive. Each cough causes a Candy Crush spill, with long rows of colourful gems flashing in my sleeping mind’s eye, idiotic patterns, reminders of imminent madness, but now Riccardo Scamarcio arrives with his Botticelli stare and I am momentarily transfixed; it’s 1968 and the students are revolting, but then I see that other man’s ugly penis lying inert on a bed, a scene from a repulsive French movie where all the men are bastards. I skip to my book, and the tripe cauldron rises, the overflowing pot steaming with stomach lining and calves’ feet, and I’m trapped in medieval Florence, when suddenly Chris Uhlmann’s interloping fat head appears on the TV screen, intruder in a boring election debate, put him in the tripe vat, will someone say something real¬†now? The cough returns, and the Candy Crush gems explode purple, shattering my dream, and it replays over and over again.

dreaming in patterns
dreaming in patterns

I write posts to keep the terrorist at bay, stories of domesticity, of cakes and travel. They are as fanciful as my dreams.

Reine de Saba Chocolate Cake for Julie

It is with a great deal of trepidation that we meet new friends in person for the first time. When I say ‘friends’, I mean those relationships forged through blogging or other social media. I refuse to call these friendships ‘virtual’ as they feel quite real along the way, and yet there is a certain level of anxiety about finally meeting in the flesh.

Where's the cream, Mr Tranquillo?
Where’s the cream Mr Tranquillo?

Yesterday my friend Julie from New Zealand visited for lunch. I have got to know Julie quite well through her blog, Frogpondfarm, and pursuant comments. She started out posting about her organic garden but as time ticked by and her passion for photography developed, her posts began to reveal so much more, with forays into the starkly beautiful central Otago countryside of the south island, and her fascination with weathered wooden posts and barbed wire, or dried grasses and flowers, and raising chooks. Her photos of early morning walks with her dog along the thundering West Coast beach in the North Island of New Zealand take my breath away. Her vineyards in the south island produce the ambrosial grapes that go into Toi Toi Pinot Noir wine, a year or two before they loll and sway about in my mouth. Toi Toi Pinot Noir is a most pleasing drop, not only for the taste of that dry, cool terroir of the South Island, but reminiscent of the wines of the Beaune area of France too. It is also well pleasing to my wallet. I knew we would get on well- we have too much in common. The four hours went in a flash.

My favourite Pinot Noir, Toi Toi fron New Zealand.
A favourite Pinot Noir, Toi Toi fron New Zealand.

As we strolled through my desiccated summer garden on the way back to the car, she silently gathered a handful of dried seed from a Marguerite daisy bush. Some to spread about and some for her pocket? It was a precious moment, now frozen in my mind, one that no photo could capture, nor words seize. Seeds are the great mementos in life. It is something that I like to do too.

This well-known and timeless cake goes well with Julie, such a beautiful and warm-hearted woman. The recipe comes from Stephanie Alexander but as Stephanie says in her introduction, it was made famous in the 1960s by Elizabeth David. It is rich and moist, yet so simple to make.

Reine de Saba Chocolate Cake, with Berries in Season

Reine de saba - Chocolate and almond cake.
Reine de saba – Chocolate and almond cake with strawberries from the Orto
  • Butter for greasing
  • 125g dark couverture chocolate, (or 70% chocolate ) chopped roughly
  • 1 tbsp strong espresso coffee
  • 1 tbsp brandy
  • 100g softened unsalted butter
  • 100g¬†cup caster sugar
  • 100g of ground almonds
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

Method

Preheat oven to 160C. Butter an 18cm- 20 cm tin and line it with paper. Use a springform tin if you are sure it doesn’t leak, as this cake is fragile and often cracks when turned out.

Combine chocolate, coffee and brandy in a bowl over water or in a double-boiler. Stir when melted and add butter and sugar and mix well. Add almonds and stir in well. Remove bowl from the heat.

Lightly beat the yolks and stir into the bowl. Beat egg whites to soft peaks. Lighten chocolate mixture with a spoonful of whites, then fold in the remaining whites carefully and lightly.

Bake for 40-45 minutes. The cake will test a bit gooey in the centre. Cool completely in the tin before slipping onto a serving plate. Dust with icing sugar.

Reine de Saba, or Queen of Sheba cake.

And a big thanks to lovely Paula for accompanying Julie and driving her out into the wilds here. It was a delight to meet you. You made it all happen

Julie in background, Paula in foreground.
Julie in background, Paula in foreground.

Behind the Fantasy

Dear Reader,

As my blog turned two last week, I thought it might be time to make a confession. These thoughts came to me yesterday as I was writing about Du Fu, the Tang Dynasty poet. As I spent hours indulging in the treasure trove of ancient Chinese poetry now available on the web, I came to the conclusion that I am an escapist. I spend too much time in the land of fantasy. I use blogging to time travel to past centuries or places or to recall some tasty meal I have made and was organised enough to photograph, or better still, that someone else made for me in some other country.¬†And I do so to escape from this….

An overdue renovation. Any one fforr plaster reemoval?
An overdue renovation. Any one for plaster removal?

And the day before that, I was considering making a Lent dish to be eaten in Spring, as it would be, if I only I lived in the northern hemisphere where I think I belong. I was simultaneously researching the background of one of my favourite cookbook writers, Joanne Weir, hoping to weld together a story about the history of pre-Christian Lent diets- Lent meaning spring after all Рwith one of her fine recipes. I made these Greek lentil and bulgur koftas. I was keen to introduce you to the recipe, but then they tasted so bland. Mr T said the Greek potato dish that accompanied them made all the difference. Code for crap koftas. The story about Lent in Spring now remains idle. Perhaps it will re-surface one day.

Lentil Fritters with yoghurt and dill. Bland!
Lentil koftas with yoghurt and dill. Too bland!

And the day before that, I made another sourdough loaf, but the kids came around for a swim, someone opened a bottle of white wine and time just evaporated. The loaf over proved, I shoved it in the fridge overnight, then baked it the next morning and it came out like this, tasting like a worn out shoe.

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Even the chooks might reject this loaf.

For every published post, there are 10 more sitting in the draft pile, left behind because something went wrong, or the photos weren’t up to scratch, or the recipe was a flop or they became too long. Some posts take weeks to write and research, others write themselves and come together quickly. Some are more popular than others and I’ll never know why.

The post below has had 1200 views since it first appeared. Maybe I should just stick to cake recipes? I recommend it to you as the apricot season draws near. It is a reminder of my more pragmatic self.

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https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/apricot-almond-cake-with-amaretto-easy-frangipane/

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Thank you dear Reader for following, reading and commenting. Sometimes you’ll get a gem, and at other times, an ordinary little nugget.

Pear Almond and Amaretto Frangipane Torta. Too Easy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA little anniversary passed by the other day : I published my 200th post on this site, making me wonder whether my blog has a secret life of its own. What started as a journal to record my obsession with cooking and all things Italian, interspersed with the odd travel and garden post, has acquired its own weekly and monthly rhythm and character.¬†I enjoy the weekly travel prompts provided by Ailsa at Where’s My Backpack, and the photographic challenge offered by The daily Post at WordPress. ¬†A month doesn’t pass by without popping into Celia’s ‘In my Kitchen’ at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial and I attempt to record my vegetable garden efforts in the monthly Garden Share Collective. I have met some wonderful folk along the way: my virtual world is a positive and palpable part of my life. These friends have encouraged me to make my own sourdough bread ( Celia) explore new recipe books, taking me out of my comfort zone, thanks to Leah at The Cookbook Guru, acquire wonderful vintage cookbooks due to scholarly accounts by Debi at My Kitchen Witch, visit a most fabulous garden and seaside in New Zealand at Julie’s¬†Frog Pond Farm, read the most enticing recipes by the best cook in Melbourne ( Sandra at Please Pass the Recipe), be amused by Lorraine’s antics at Not Quite Nigella, feel envious of Jane’s energy and her volume of baking at The Shady Baker, reflect on the wisdom and beauty of Ardys desert photographs at Ardysez¬†and the storytelling of¬†Ella Dee. There are¬†so many more, newer friends, too numerous to mention, especially the documenters of Italian life, those residing near Lucca and travellers in that great country.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy top rating post of all time is Apricot Almond Cake with Amaretto. Easy Frangipane quickly followed by In My Kitchen. February 2014 ,

My ostracised posts,those languishing at the bottom end of the stats page, are Travel Theme: World Cups  and Travel Theme: Energy.

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Thanks to you, dear reader, for encouraging me along the way with your comments, ‘likes’ and views. As a way of celebrating, I’m including the original Pear Frangipane Cake recipe as it’s pear season and I believe it is the best version of this cake. I love this cake because it impresses most guests, is easy to make, and doesn’t have a pastry crust, which is a bonus. ¬†Also check out the blueberry version by the lovely Signorina at Napoli Restaurant Alert¬†¬†as well as my raspberry version here.

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Torta di Pere, Mandorle e Amaretto. Pear Almond and Amaretto Frangipane Tart.

Ingredients

  • 125 g softened unsalted butter
  • ¬†150 g of castor sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 50 g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 375 g almond meal
  • 2 Tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
  • Two large pears, peeled, cored and cut into thick wedges
  • 25 g flaked almonds for top (optional)

 Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180c. Grease a 25 cm loose bottom tin. Line base.
  2. Place butter and sugar and eggs in a mixer bowl and beat for 5 minutes until thick and pale.
  3. Stir in the flour mixed with the baking powder, then fold in the almond meal, followed by the Amaretto.  Pour into the prepared tin and smooth top.
  4. Arrange pear wedges over the top, pressing them down so they partly submerge. Scatter the top with the flaked almonds. ( optional)
  5. Bake for 45- 50 mins. Cool in tin.
  6. Serve dusted with icing sugar, cream or mascapone.
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Just Like Parsley

The Italian language is full of colourful idiomatic expressions and over the last 20 years, I have collected many that relate to cooking and food.¬†Essere¬†come¬†prezzemolo,¬†to be like parsley, is a very visual example of this, which roughly signifies ‘ to be everywhere, to¬†be present in different places and situations, or in many institutions, such as parsley, which is widely used in many different recipes. It also means to put oneself¬†in the middle, to interrupt things, to meddle’.

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I am a great fan of parsley and I also enjoy a good simile. What I no longer like, nor even tolerate, is the misuse of the word¬†‘like‘ in the written context. Just like parsley, the misuse of this word interrupts and gets in the way, is common and overused.

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You will probably hear this ubiquitous language filler, stutter, speech impediment, spilling out of the mouths of teenagers. Travelling on trams or trains in teen hour, I become¬†aurally¬†fixated ( not much choice in a crowded tram) with the dreaded ‘like‘ word. It seems that young people today cannot utter a sentence or phrase without copious¬†sprinklings¬†of ¬†‘like‘ between each and every¬†other word. ¬†No, these ‘likes‘ are not used as similes, nor are they expressions of enjoyment or desire. They are not used to compare anything in particular. They have become a speech disorder a little akin to Tourette’s syndrome. I sometimes find myself counting the number of ‘likes‘ that appear in one sentence. The record stands at 19. I ¬†also wonder whether these young people will be able to succeed in interviews, and whether they can turn off the ‘like¬†‘ button when under stress.

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We tolerate this in the young. Perhaps it’s a bonding word, a generational code, despite the stammering effect on expressive language. At what age should one grow out of the¬†‘like‘ phenomena? I ponder this question when I hear the occasional adult hampered by its overuse.

Seeing the word used, deliberately chosen,¬†in writing, such as in popular¬†blogs, makes my ‘like‘ meter go right off the radar.Image

Please make the word go away and save our language from annihilation. Just like parsley, it’s everywhere.

By the way, that parsley salad, straight from Ottolenghi’s ‘Jerusalem’ is a real winner, and what would a lovely salsa verde be without parsley?

Feel free to comment, I won’t bite!¬†grrrrr

Life of an intellectually bereft blogger.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday the power was off all day and my usual pastimes were just not available! Internet, writing, blogging, researching Рthe computer battery only lasts an hour or so; watering the garden, no- we live in the country and our tank water is supplied via an electric pump, vacuuming, no- this is a joke, Mr Tranquillo always does this, baking cakes, cooking farro salad, pasta, no electric oven, no water. And so on.  After a cleaning frenzy, reading and some handwriting in an exercise book (!), I ventured out for a drive and purchased, amongst other things, Vogue Living Magazine ( November/December 2013) . My enjoyment of enforced leisure and the new glossy mag slowly faded after reading the editorial by its Melbourne editor, Anne Marie Kiely.

Anne Marie Kiely opens her article “The War Against Clich√©¬†” with reference to the clich√©d use of language, a topic close to my heart and of interest to many bloggers. She notes the overuse of words such as ‘iconic’, and expressions such as “it’s not rocket science” and “at the end of the day”. Hang on, didn’t Don Watson expose these exact words and phrases in his excellent ‘Weasel Words – Contemporary Clich√©s, Cant and Management Jargon’ back in 2004 and subsequent editions? ¬†Or did Anne Marie just discover this 10 years later? But I digress.

She continues, “clich√©s are the currency of publicity machines, in the full service of capitalist consumption. They are the trend forecasters that have made pattern recognition into the big business of future prediction….They ( clich√©s) are suburban homes hung with hunting lodge trophies. They are the Hans Wegner ‘Wishbone’ chairs made mainstream by replica merchants … they are neo-19th century faces with full beards; library cards printed with business credentials; boxed moths; bottled gardens; flowers as food; pop- up shops; and endless typography installations ( if Eat is essential provocation in the kitchen, will POO do above the loo?). They are Keep Calm and Carry On posters ( a trend as tenacious as teenage acne); bowls of string balls; numbers stencilled onto gym- locker storage; clusters of empty frames; ‘artisanal’ everything………… clich√©s are the intellectually bereft speak of bloggers ( not all, but most) who think that something is good because they like it, rather than something being likeable because it’s good….. Oh, it was so much easier when a clearly defined culture of criticism placed talent in an understandable hierarchy. That was before ‘digital’ went and democratised media and destabilised structure such that all sentiment assumed equal weight.”

Hmmm. All very clever, except that Anne Marie, it seems, as Melbourne Editor of Vogue ¬†Living, is an employee of News Corp Australia. It’s hard to find many ‘publicity machines’ that are not owned by News Corp, ie Rupert Murdoch, in Australia. ¬†Media which (at present) lies outside this insidious monopoly, include privately owned blogs, many foreign newspapers, and a wealth of other online news and resources. I have recently enjoyed reading the blogs of talented writers from Italy and intriguing storytellers from Sydney, press articles from newspapers around the globe, and so on, all free and beyond the clutches of News Corp¬†and its mighty taste sculpting,¬†clich√©d machine. Talented bloggers must present a bit of a threat to the exclusive domain of journalists such as¬†Anne Marie Kiely.

A quick browse through Vogue Living will reveal a cluster of empty frames used as decor, (the back side page of her editorial) large advertisements for Matt Blatt replicas and Milandirect, both companies specialising in knock off designs. I am sure that other clichéd homewares were once featured in Vogue Living before they became suburban and therefore less desirable and exclusive.

As well as Vogue Living, ¬†News Corp¬†owns the following media assets worldwide. ¬†Quickly scroll through this long list of Murdoch media assets¬†¬†and then decide,¬†fellow bloggers, readers, and friends, who has the more ‘authentic’ voice? A humble blogger, talented or not, or Ms¬†Anne Marie¬†Kiely, employee and pawn of¬†News Corp, arbiter of fashion, taste; exclusivist?

*Photo of me doing my Munch SCREAM face again.

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