In My Kitchen, January 2018. Summertime

Boxing day, December 26th, is the most casual and relaxed day of the year: grazing on Christmas leftovers then lolling about on couches or deck chairs under a shady tree, what could be more pleasing? Summer is still benign. The following five days of sloth are Boxing Day extensions before pushy New Year budges in with its commitments, resolutions and calendar reminders. Those fireworks at midnight look and sound like a whole lot of fun to the uninitiated but what they really signify is the end of lazy days. Time to get cracking again folks, says that last fizzer. As it turns out, although I’m technically ‘retired’, January is my busiest month, as the summer vegetable and fruit crops mature and the kitchen turns into a preserving factory. In this small window of opportunity before this onslaught, I’m enjoying pottering about. Sometimes things happen in my kitchen and sometimes they don’t. Can someone kindly pass me a peach and a glass of Prosecco?

While all the peaches came and went, barefoot servants too.

The peach season came and went. There is nothing in the world like the taste of a perfectly ripe peach, plucked from the tree, slightly soft and sun-kissed, whispering I’m ready. Miss Daisy tested the peaches in the days leading up to Christmas, her hand gently pressing the furry blushed spheres, as she reached up high inside the bird netting. She has learnt that when a peach is ready, it will drop into your cupped hand without any tugging. Many were eaten somewhere between the tree and our back door but a few made it into the kitchen. Daisy sat by the pool one day, eating her splendid peach, reminding me that some moments in time are unblemished and glorious. A few peachy shots followed.

Girl with Peach.

Daisy is my cooking muse and I am hers. She has appeared occasionally in my posts over the last four years, mainly because she is almost a kitchen fixture when she visits. We feed off each other. She inspires me with her love of food, perfect sense of smell and curiosity and I inspire her with my creations. She knows the contents of my pantry like the back of her own hand. We make huge messes together which Mr Tranquillo cleans up.

Licking the spoon, licking the bowl, kids in the kitchen, good for your soul.

Chickpeas are making their presence felt in my kitchen since I mastered the use of my pressure cooker. I bought a combination slow/pressure cooker around four years ago but all my attempts at using the pressure cooker function ended in disaster. As it turns out, it had a faulty rubber gasket: I discovered this only when Breville contacted all the owners of this defective product three years after its purchase. It had been sitting in the larder, swanky word for converted laundry space, gathering dust: it couldn’t even be recycled given its dodgy performance and was probably destined for the hard rubbish. Once¬†Breville sent out the new rubber seal, the big black pot has spent more time chugging away on the kitchen bench and all is forgiven. I can now cook a pile of chickpeas, ready to use, within 45 minutes without pre-soaking. Chick peas end up in Middle Eastern Buddha bowls,¬†Indian curries with tamarind and fresh coriander, Italian pasta and ceci soup and of course, hummus.

Cooked in the pressure cooker- from woe to go, 45 minutes.

Just before Christmas, friends gave us a big bag full of perfect mangoes, part of the annual charity mango drive run by the local pre-school. A few left over mangoes went into this mango chutney. It’s tropical, spicy and jammy, but perhaps needs a bit more fresh chilli.

Mango Chutney for Indian days. Grazie Helen e Chris.

Bread making took a festive turn when I made a batch of Celia’s sourdough fruit bread. I used walnuts, sultanas, apricots and dates, and upped the spice a bit. I’m keen to use up the excess dried fruit I bought before Christmas. More of these fruit and nut studded loaves will be made during the early morning hours of January.

Fruit and spice sourdough, randomly slashed! Summer breakfast covered.

Before leaving Pavia in Lombardy last November, Alberto gave me a sack of his own freshly harvested rice, nicely packaged in festive fabric. Grown in the classic rice-growing zone of the Po Valley, the rice was milled in October in Novara, Lombardia. I can’t wait to try it and team it with something from the summer garden.

Il riso d’ Alberto, San Martino Siccomario, Pavia. Ottobre 2017. Grazie Albe`.

When I’m trying to escape the siren song of the kitchen, a fish and chip night is called for. As it’s a 12 kilometer return trip for a take- away, we don’t consider this option often. He drives, I cut up the lemons. On a lucky night, I might even throw a green salad together. Thanks Sherry for hosting the monthly In My Kitchen series. Go to Sherry’s Pickings for an inside view of other world kitchens.

                                                          Buon Anno a Tutti

Flounder and chips, c/o Hurstbridge Fish and Chip shop.  Bring it on.

Inside a Pasta Factory and a Very Italian Soup.

It is hard to imagine a world without pasta. Italian style pasta was unknown to most Australian households until the 1970s, despite the presence of Italian pasta manufacturers here in Melbourne. One of the earliest producers of quality pasta, Nello Borghesi, established La Tosca Company in 1947 in Bennett’s Lane, Melbourne. They eventually moved to a larger factory in Brunswick in 1971.

“Before then, Melbourne’s Italian community were largely the only customers of this fine pasta. By the 1970s many new Italian restaurants emerged: it was, for many families of Anglo-Saxon background, the first time they had tasted real pasta beyond spaghetti or macaroni from a can.”¬†¬Ļ

Dried pasta could be bought in supermarkets, especially around Carlton and Brunswick, but it was still unusual to eat pasta at home regularly, and when it did make a regular appearance, it came only in one form: the ubiquitous Spaghetti Bolognese.

Food Label - La Tosca Salsa Di Pomodoro Tomato Paste, 1950s

‘The Borghesi found it challenging at first to introduce the pasta to the Anglo-Australian consumers. The Italian Australian market also had to be convinced that the product was as good as that which they could make themselves. The pasta would be made in the mornings, then delivered in the afternoons in the family van. It was a very labour intensive process and the whole family would help in the production. Deliveries were made to most Melbourne Italian food outlets and restaurants, such as Florentino‚Äôs, The Latin, and Mario’s. By the 1960s, the clientele grew to catering for weddings and non-Italian cafes, and then the business really took off. In the 1960s, the delivery of dry pasta was replaced by frozen products.”¬Ļ

Food Label - La Tosca Salsa Di Pomodoro Tomato Paste, 1950s

The Borghesi business and I became very well acquainted in 1997 when I decided to take a job at La Tosca Pasta Company in Victoria Street, Brunswick, a suburb of Melbourne. This short-lived factory job was wedged between one era of teaching and another, a time when I felt lost in my search for meaningful work. I took the job thinking that it might be interesting to work in a completely different field, to do some physical work for a change, and that the Italian staff might help me acquire a better grasp of idiomatic Italian. I had finished a degree in Italian, followed by three years translating an autobiography. Without daily interaction in Italian, I feared that I might lose the language. So off to La Tosca I went.


Our working day started at 8 am precisely. We would begin by moving the racks of drying spaghetti, linguine or tagliatelle which had been stored on wooden drying rods in darkened rooms overnight. The pasta was carefully scooped off the rods, taking care not to break any of the brittle strands, and bundled neatly onto the bench for packing. Each stack was then weighed to a precise weight: after a while it was easy to gauge this visually. The pasta was placed in small boxes, ready for the machine to wrap and seal with the La Tosca logo. These packets were then placed in large boxes, twenty to a box, ready for the delivery trucks. The work was relentless and swift: there was no time for conversation beyond the conveying of basic instructions. pasta-labels-2
At 10 am on the dot, a whistle would sound, and a short Neapolitan woman would yell “Andiamo,” let’s go. All activity ceased instantly, machines and work stations were abandoned, the factory floor silenced by the call to coffee. We climbed the narrow stairs in single file and gathered in a cramped morning tea room above the factory floor for a piccolo cafe ristretto, made in an old beaten up aluminium Napolitana by the Andiamo lady. Ten minutes later it was back to work. Huge dough mixers gyrated¬†above, operated by men on platforms, moving effortlessly in a noisy industrial ballet. Other machines chugged permanently in the background- pasta cutters, ravioli stuffers, packing machines-¬†the factory floor was alive with mechanical noise. The strong coffee kept us going for more back-breaking work, boxing, stacking, wrapping, then sweeping, constantly¬†in piedi¬†for the 8 hour working day. ¬†I lasted for about 6 weeks at the La Tosca Pasta factory- the unremitting noise eventually drove me demented, my legs longed for that moment of rest and my back was trashed. I began to consider other forms of paid work.

In that short time, I came to admire the endurance and stamina of these women who had worked in factories since migrating to Australia in the 1950s and 60s, sturdy middle- aged and older women, dressed in sensible and spotlessly clean factory uniforms, standing solidly on concrete floors in stockinged legs and sensible shoes. The work was hard and relentless. They made the pasta that Melbourne came to love.

Napolitana coffee maker
A vintage Napolitana coffee maker

Melbourne’s Italianita¬īcan be found far more easily without taking such drastic steps, as I was to discover. Inner city libraries specialise in Italian film and magazine collections, there is a local Italian newspaper, Il Globo, an annual Italian film festival, numerous Italian regional ¬†and cultural clubs as well as fresh markets, delis, restaurants, and Italian supermarkets. Melbourne’s¬†Italian manufacturing centred around pasta, cheese making, salami and shoes, though this was far more pronounced in the last century than it is today.

Zuppa di Ceci con Maltagliati- Chick pea soup with Pasta Offcuts.

Zuppa di Ceci con Maltagliati

I recently made a large batch of pasta and after cutting the square shapes for some cannelloni, I was left with a nice pile of maltagliati, irregular shaped off cuts. ( I often call these cenci or stracci too ) These little pieces make a wonderful addition to a rustic soup, which can be thrown together in minutes, becoming a meal in a bowl. Like many good Italian recipes, my quantities are approximate. The soup is designed to be eaten at once- any soup with pasta is not suitable to be eaten the next day. The amount below makes three good serves.

Ingredients

  • 2 -3 large garlic cloves, chopped finely
  • one stem fresh rosemary, leaves stripped, finely chopped
  • 4-6 anchovy fillets
  • one dried chilli, finely chopped
  • a generous glug of EV olive oil
  • cooked chick peas- around two cups ( if using canned chick peas, drain off well and rinse off that awful preserving liquid)
  • one vegetable stock cube with water or home-made stock, vegetable or chicken.
  • Fresh pasta offcuts/maltagliati
  • Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • black pepper to taste
  • grated Parmigiano to serve

Using a heavy based saucepan, add the oil to the pan and gently fry off the soffritto, the garlic, anchovy, chilli, and rosemary, pressing the anchovies to a paste as you go.

Add the chickpeas and stock to cover (or water and stockcube). Bring slowly to the boil, then add the pasta pieces. Fresh pasta should cook in two minutes- if the pasta has been left overnight, allow a little longer. Taste as you go. Season with black pepper. Serve with ample parmesan cheese.

Zuppa di Ceci con Maltagliata
Zuppa di Ceci con Maltagliati

Some Melbournian Italian links this month.

¬ĻA brief background on the Borghese family can be found here. https://museumvictoria.com.au/discoverycentre/infosheets/the-melbourne-story/selling-pasta-to-melbourne/

Melbourne’s Immigration Museum holds a vast collection of Italian memorabilia and an extensive library on Immigrazione Italiana in Australia.

Other Italian events in Melbourne: From Volcanoes We Sailed: Connecting Aeolian Generations. Immigration Museum until October 30, 2016.

Italian Salami Festa. Northcote Town Hall, October 9 http://www.italianicious.com.au/news/article/melbourne-salami-festa-tickets-now-on-sale

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”.

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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