A Break in the Weather

At last there’s a break in the weather, a cool snap with a little rain. Is it time to rejoice or was that last shower just another drizzle of hope? This summer and autumn have been hot and dry, pleasant weather if you’re by the seaside, but not so kind for those who love their gardens and farms. An omen of what’s to come? To date, we have had around 60 ml of rainfall over the last three months. The tanks and dams are low, the fruit trees are dropping their leaves too early: rabbits crawl up and over fences in search of something green to eat, starting with their favourite snack, the ring- barking of fruit trees before looking for small gaps in the well fenced vegetable patch. The figs look like hard little bullets and have given up the battle.

Midst our paddocks of desiccation, there are some welcome surprises. The quinces are fabulous this year, picked just in time before the birds got desperate. Such an old-fashioned and demanding fruit, I love the way they turn from hard golden knobbly lumps into the most exotic concoctions. How do you describe the flavour and colour of poached quince?

With the sound of the rain on the tin roof, my thoughts turn to food and preserves. Quince jelly, quince syrup, perhaps to use as an exotic base for gin, a torta of ricotta and quince cubes, quince ice cream, the syrup swirled through a softened tub of good vanilla ice cream, perhaps some Spanish membrillo.

Long thin eggplants have been fruiting for months. While not as useful as the fat varieties, they grow more abundantly in our micro-climate.

After chopping the eggplant for a Chinese dish, I noticed their resemblance to the cushions.

The Pink Lady apples are the star this year. We grow 13 varieties of apple, and each has its year. The crop has been well protected by netting, though the desperado cockatoos are beginning to notice. Picked and stored in the fridge, they are reasonable keepers.

With the change of season, I hope to return to my usual pattern of posting and cooking. There will be more recipes coming and anecdotes of one kind or another, simple stories about the beauty of life. As the saying goes, ‘I’ll keep you posted’.

 

 

A Market Walk and Red Lentil Soup with Minted Eggplant

It’s shopping day. Come along with me to the Brunswick Market, not many Melburnians know about it. The uninviting blue concrete facade gives no hint of the treasure hidden within. I’ll lead the way, just follow me down through the windowless cavern, past the Turkish Kebab place on the left ( try to resist their big bowl of red lentil soup or the eggy Shanklish ) and the Iraqi Barber on the right, the one favoured by Mr T for $15 haircuts. In the centre of the hall is an open sided cafe, whose owner set up about 18 months ago. She is now doing well. Her gozleme are as soft as fresh lasagne, stuffed with intense green spinach, and receives my ‘Best Gozleme in Melbourne’ award. We’ll grab one on the way out. She makes other savoury pastries, including potato and onion Borek and Simit, as well cakes filled with almond meal and nuts. There are many other specialty stalls here: a shoe shop and repair business run by a Greek man, a mobile phone fixit guy, run by a Chinese man, a clothing alteration store, a Turkish CD shop, just in case you fancy a bit of belly dancing on the way through, and a clothing store selling nazar boncuğu, those lucky blue eye amulets, hijabs, colourful scarves and outrageous silver embossed leggings.

Shoe repairs, a skill worth preserving.

Here we are at the food section. In the centre is a large Turkish deli, specialising in all sorts of yoghurt, brined cheeses, grains, pulses and condiments such as Pekmez and Biber Salçası. Further along is the Vietnamese fish shop. They also manage supplies for hotels and restaurants so you can order anything you fancy. The fish here is sparkling fresh and they know the source of all species on offer. Ask the lovely woman from Hanoi to shuck six Tasmanian oysters for you then devour them on the spot. Over from the Vietnamese fish shop is the Italian butcher, with his sign, Vendiamo Capretti ( we sell young goat). His pork sausages, full of fennel, chilli and spice, are the best in Melbourne according to my carnivore sons.

Vendiamo Capretti. Baby goats for sale in Italian, Greek and English.

Until recently, there was a Halal butcher shop and a free range chicken shop but both have recently closed. A sign of things to come? Finally we get to Russell’s fruit shop, owned by Turks but staffed by Nepalese and Indians. It’s the busy end of the market where you can find the things that never turn up in supermarkets: knobbly yellow quinces, tables full of cheap pomegranates, ready to split and reveal their bijoux, piles of red peppers, shiny and irregularly shaped, curly cucumbers, every kind of bean- Roman, Snake, Borlotti, lime coloured Turkish snake peppers grown in Mildura, rows of eggplants, long, short, miniature and striped. It’s the antithesis of a modern supermarket.

The Brunswick Market. Every kind of bean.

Part of this walk involves chatting. While buying red lentils at the Turkish deli, I’ve nodded politely as two ladies gave me their different versions of the best way to make Mercimek Köftesi, or red lentil kofte. I once went halves in a kilo of filleted Western Australian sardines at the fish shop. An Egyptian woman told me in detail how she would cook her half. People love to talk about food here. You will also be recognised and remembered. And the hipsters of Brunswick? They mostly avoid the place. I wonder why?

Red Lentil Soup with Minted Eggplant is based on a recipe by Leanne Kitchen. The original recipe ( see below) makes a truck load. I halved the quantities and still had enough for 6 bowls. I also lessened the salt, added 2 tablespoons of Biber Salçası ( Justin Bieber in a jar) and kept the amount of garlic. The original is pale in colour. With the added Biber paste, the soup looks more vivid. Eggplants are now in season, and red lentils are one of my favourite budget foods. Eat well for less.

Red Lentil soup with minted eggplant.

Ingredients

  • 150 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 625 g red lentils
  • 2.5 litres chicken or light vegetable stock
  • 60 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 500 g eggplant ( about 1 large) cut into 1 cm pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 teaspoons dried mint
  • 2/½ teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped, to serve.

Method

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 6-7 minutes or until softened but not brown. Add the lentils and stock, then bring to a simmer, skimming the surface to remove any impurities. Add the Biber Salçası if using. Reduce heat to low, partially cover the pan, and simmer for 40-50 minutes. Add the lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Meanwhile sprinkle the salt over the chopped eggplant in a colander and set aside for 20 minutes. Rinse the eggplant, then drain and pat dry. Heat the remaining oil in a large, heavy based frying pan over medium high heat. Ass the eggplant and cook for 6 minutes turning often, until golden and tender. Ass the garlic and cook for 2 minutes then add the dried mint and paprika and cook for another minute or until fragrant.

To serve, divide the soup among the bowls and spoon over the eggplant mixture and scatter with the fresh mint.

Recipe by Leanne Kitchen. Turkey. Recipes and tales from the road. Murdoch Books Pty Ltd 2011.

Turkish red lentil soup with minted eggplant.

Brunswick Market, 655 Sydney Road, Brunswick. Let’s hope this market survives as the sweep of gentrification and apartment wonderland takes over the inner city.

In My Kitchen, Simply Red, February 2016

My Kitchen has turned intensely red this month as the tomatoes and plums continue to march through the kitchen, looking for someone to love them. Two varieties of plums peaked today- both red fleshed Japanese varieties, Satsuma and Formosa. Some will be stashed in the freezer for winter clafoutis and crostata.

Japanese plums
Japanese plums

The tomatoes slowed down a little last week, thanks to the abundant rainfall and cooler weather. Signs of more flushing on the way. We have had one round of passata making and another is due today.

Sorting tomatoes
Sorting tomatoes

Half a jar of passata, reduced with fish stock, along with saffron and smoked pimenton, went into this fish and mussel soup.

Summer fish soup.
Summer fish soup.

The rest was poured over grilled eggplant layered with parmigiano cheese in a Melanzane Parmigiana, an old stand by.

Eggplant parmigiana
Eggplant parmigiana

Others are eaten as is, with their colourful friends, in my favourite little salad bowl from Mission Beach market.

Simple salad
Simple salad

The miniature tomatoes are frozen whole on a metal tray; once they turn into little hard bullets, they are stored in the freezer in zip lock bags for winter.

A lovely Christmas gift from my sister, this griddle pan has grill lines on the heavy lid which sits neatly inside the pan :once both the pan and lid are heated, panini, bread for bruschetta or anything else can be grilled on both sides simultaneously. Can’t wait to use it.

The garden pick today included the first eggplant and red chillies. The zucchini and cucumber continue to impress, the basil is slow this season, and the ducks have discovered some treasure at low levels while the occasional Houdini rabbit comes in for a soft leaf raid. We have an abundant garden as well as plenty of pests!

Today's pick

Thanks Maureen for hosting the In My Kitchen series. Please take a look at other inspiring kitchens through Maureen’s link.

Involtini di Melanzane. Stuffed Eggplant Rolls.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEggplants are so versatile. I am always excited by their possibilities in the kitchen. Common in Mediterranean and Middle eastern cuisines as well as those of India, China and South East Asia, the spongy flesh of the eggplant readily soaks up other flavours, especially olive oil. Melanzana, the Italian word for eggplant or aubergine, is the most shady looking member of the deadly nightshade family, solanum melongena, and the Italian name, melanzana may follow from this or is derived from mela insana, which, translated into English, means mad apple. The latter may have some validity as most Europeans were fearful of members of the deadly nightshade family (including tomatoes and potatoes) and this particular member looks pretty scary! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It can be purchased all year round but the best specimens arrive in my garden and in fresh produce markets in Autumn. When fresh, as distinct from stored, stashed, sprayed and imported, the flesh is white and seedless – there is no need to salt them at all. My seedlings were sold as the Bonica variety and while slow to mature, they produce lovely elongated but fleshy fruit.

Brush the eggplant with oil and grill. Nice and easy.
Brush the eggplant with oil and grill. Nice and easy.

Last week when Debi at My Kitchen Witch explored the role of breadcrumbs used as condiment (conza)  in Sicilian cooking, I was reminded of a wonderful Sicilian eggplant recipe from one of my favourite books, My Taste of Sicily by Dominique Rizzo. ( Lantern, 2011). This is a gem of a book and I am slowly working my way through it.

Grilled eggplant ready to rock and roll.
Grilled eggplant ready to rock and roll.

I can recommend this little dish if you have all these goods on hand, as I did. Oh happy day! Involtini di Melanzane – Stuffed Eggplant Rolls. Serves six as a side dish or entrée, or 3-4 as a main with another side dish.

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggplants cut lengthways into 1 cm slices
  • 1/4 cup EV olive oil
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • fresh unsprayed lemon leaves ( optional but very desirable)
  • 3 cups tomato passata ( either home-made or purchased)
  • 2 tablespoons grated pecorino

Filling

  • 1 – 2 tablespoons EV olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon salted capers, rinsed and chopped
  • 3 Tablespoons flat leafed parsley, finely chopped
  •  1 1/2 Tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup water
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 cup course fresh breadcrumbs ( I used left over sourdough/ use a quality bread here)
  • 3/4 cup grated pecorino.

Method.

  1. Brush the eggplant with oil, season with salt and pepper and grill on a flat iron stove top griller. Alternately, place on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes or until golden.
  2. For the filling, heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat and saute the onion and garlic for 2 minutes or until softened. Add the anchovy and stir for 1 minute, then add the capers, parsley, tomato paste, and a little water. Season to taste with salt and pepper and cook for another minute. Remove pan from the heat and combine with the breadcrumbs and pecorino: the mixture should have a thick pasty consistency. If the filling is too wet, add more breadcrumbs.
  3. Preheat oven to 180c.
  4. Place an eggplant slice on a chopping board and spoon on a tablespoon ( or less) of the filling. Roll up the eggplant slice and place in an oiled baking dish or terracotta tegame. Repeat with the remaining slices until all used. If there is any filling left, save it for stuffing another vegetable, or just eat it straight out of the pan!
  5. Place a lemon leaf between each roll. Pour over the tomato passata and sprinkle over the pecorino. Bake for 30 minutes.

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Serve hot or at room temperature.

*I served mine with lemon couscous.

*Gluten free version? Consider using cooked arborio rice instead of breadcrumbs.

* Dairy free? Just leave out the cheese.

* No pecorino? Just use parmigiano.

Also see another version of this dish, using ricotta as the stuffing, produced by the lovely Signorina at Napoli Restaurant Alert.

It’s all Greek to Me. Briami Me Fetta

In Autumn, hearty Greek dishes form a harmonious bridge spanning summer and winter. Many vegetables are at their peak, particularly eggplant and peppers (capsicums) and summer vegetables, such as zucchini, still linger.

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I have noticed my Greek neighbour Anna, who loves Olive oil, kasseri and fetta, and fish straight from the Vic Market, cooks differently each Autumn, in keeping with the dietary restrictions of her church during Lent.

For the Greek Orthodox Lenten fasting means abstaining from foods that contain animals with red blood (meats, poultry, game) and products from animals with red blood (milk, cheese, eggs) and fish and seafood with backbones. Olive oil and wine are also restricted. The number of meals on each day is also limited.  Vegetable margarine, shortening, and oils are allowed if they do not contain any dairy products and are not derived from olives.

This is a bit tough! No Olive oil or cheese? Apparently oil may be had on Saturdays and Sundays only. This dish, Briami Me Fetta, Μπριάμ με φέτα, or vegetable casserole with fetta cheese, is not in keeping with Greek Lent dishes. It includes plenty of EV Olive oil and includes a lovely topping of fetta cheese. It is similar to Ratatouille but the layering method makes for a lasagne style vegetable dish, with the potatoes and fetta adding more interest.

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Briami Me Fetta – Vegetable Casserole with Fetta ( Serves 6)

  • 500 g eggplants
  • 500 g zucchini
  • 500 g potatoes ( I use yellow fleshed ones such as Nicola or Dutch Creams)
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 or more cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 425 g can of tomatoes, chopped, undrained
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • freshly ground salt, pepper
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • chopped herbs- parley, dill, oregano
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 250 gr fetta cheese, thinly sliced.

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  1. Preheat Oven to 180c.
  2. Cut eggplants into thin slices. If they are fresh and young, there is no need to salt and disgorge them. If they are older, sprinkle with salt and let stand in a  colander for 1/2 hour or so, then wash and squeeze dry.
  3. Slice the zucchini, onions, peel and slice the potatoes, seed and slice the peppers.
  4. Combine the garlic with the canned tomatoes, tomato paste and sugar in a bowl.
  5. Lightly oil a large oven dish or a heavy metal casserole, Arrange the eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, peppers in layers, seasoning as you go. Then cover with a layer of onion rings, tomato mixture and chopped herbs.
  6. Repeat these layers until all vegetables are used, finishing with tomato and herbs. Pour oil of the top and down the sides of the dish, cover with foil ( and a lid if using a heavy casserole) and bake until vegetables are tender or about 1 1/2 hours.
  7. Remove cover and place fetta on top. Bake uncovered for another 15 minutes.

    Briami served with spelt spirali and spinach
    Briami served with spelt spirali and spinach

Serve with one of the following: crusty bread, small pasta shapes, rice or bulgar pilaf.

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This dish is even better the next day.

Based on a Tess Mallos recipe, The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook.1996

Super Smoky Babaghanouj

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Just as Autumn begins to turn cold and hints at what’s to come, we light our first wood fire and the family menu begins to change. Stock simmers gently on the stove, Anzac biscuits are made, hearty lentil dishes re- appear and eggplants dishes are back on the menu. During the eggplant ( aubergine) season, when they are large, cheap and white fleshed, I am secretly pleased to find a morning fire that is almost spent- save a few red coals and ash. The eggplants are thrown straight onto the coals- and the door to the wood heater is left open.This works equally well in a corner of an open fire.  After some time, I return and flip them over. Super smoky Babaghanouj is on the way.

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After retrieving the charred, blistered eggplants from the fire, slit them open and place in a colander over a bowl to drain. Lunch is some hours away but the flavour base is ready. Image

Today’s Babaghaouj recipe is adapted from Claudia Roden’s ‘Arabesque’. Leah, from the Cookbook Guru, is highlighting Claudia Roden’s recipes this month, in particular, those from the A New Book of  Middle Eastern Food. I have been making it this way for so long now: I have experimented with the addition of yoghurt and other flavours but have settled on this smoky dairy free version, with lots of garlic. I recommend that you give Leah’s a go too, especially if you are not into a strong smoky taste and you like the velvety texture that yoghurt brings.

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The Recipe

  • 2 small eggplants or 1 large one.( weight 650g)
  • 3 Tablespoons Tahini
  • juice of two large lemons
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed.
  • salt to taste
  • 1-2 teaspoons of freshly ground cumin.
  • EV Olive Oil
  • Parsley

After charring the eggplants in your left over fire, (as above), slit them open, drain them, and peel. Remove all the flesh, place in a food processor with the garlic,briefly process, then add tahini paste, process, then the lemon juice and salt to taste. In the meantime, heat a small pan, toast the cumin seeds, then grind them in a mortar. Add to the mixture. Taste. adjust salt or lemon. Swirl out flat on a plate and serve with falafel and other salads. Drizzle with a little EV Olive Oil and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

A couple of notes.

The Arabic term , Baba Ghanoush, means “pampered papa” or “coy daddy”, perhaps with reference to its supposed invention by a member of a royal harem. 

It really is worthwhile grinding fresh spices, if you use them. For me, it’s a chance to break out my baby mortar and pestle.

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Pasta d’Autunno Recipe or Keats in the Kitchen

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Autumn is my favourite season. Crops mature slowly and their full ripeness always reminds me of my favourite poem by Keats. ( see below for memory jolt ). The tomatoes have slowed down, only to be superseded in abundance by glossy eggplants, onions, and chillies. The zucchini persist, with ridiculously rude specimens hiding under leaves, slowing the flowering and fertility of the plants. Basil of all varieties perfume the pick. It’s time for a simple Pasta d’ Autunno.Image

Ingredients ( for two)

  • extra virgin olive oil, large glugs as required
  • two small red onions, chopped into large chunks
  • two or more garlic cloves
  • one long red chilli, roughly chopped
  • one small zucchino, cut into small chunks
  • two large tomatoes, ( 4 small ), as above
  • two large handful of rugola ( rocket)  leaves
  • generous grinds of salt and pepper
  • 200 grams of pasta ( 100 grams per person) I used a short pasta
  • grated parmigiano, reggiano or grana padanoImage

Method

  • Place a grill on the stove top, heat on high, adding a good slurp of oil
  • grill the onions, remove, then grill the chilli pieces, remove, then the zucchini chunks.
  • Meanwhile, heat a small frying pan, add 1 tablespoon of oil, then the sliced garlic, followed by the chopped tomato. Cook until the tomato disintegrates, then reduce heat to simmer.
  • Cook pasta in plenty of salted boiling water until al dente (as per packet instructions). Save a little pasta water.
  • Add the grilled vegetables to the tomato mix, stir through, season well, then add a little pasta water to loosen.Image

To assemble,

Heat a large serving bowl. Add the rocket leaves, then the pasta, followed by vegetable mixture. Toss lightly. Then add some grated or shaved parmigiano.

The grilling of autumn vegetables seems to enhance the flavour. The three processes, boiling pasta, grilling, and frying, can happen simultaneously, making it a 15 minute dish.Image

And now for that Keats poem.

Ode To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cell.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir, the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

John Keats ( 1820)
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