Spring Gardening and Green Recipes

‘Eat your greens’ was a familiar reproach from the elders around my childhood dinner table, as the boiled beans lay listlessly on the plate at the end of a meal. My father tried to lighten the mood by inventing riddles to encourage or distract the young diners, “Beans were made for queens”, or rhymes about historical events. There was nothing appetising or appealing about cooked greens in the Australian kitchens of the 1950s and 60s. All the culinary devotion was given to the meat, the centre piece of all our meals except on Fridays. The range of greens was fairly limited and included beans, peas, cabbage, brussel sprouts and lettuce, that is, iceberg lettuce. Broccoli, broccoletti, cima di rape, kale, cavolo nero, fennel, asparagus, broad beans, radicchio, bok choy, chinese broccoli, choy sum, wong bok and the vast variety of lettuces came to Australia much later. Silverbeet appeared occasionally, always served under a blanket of bechamel. Parsley was the main herb grown, the curly variety used to decorate scrambled eggs or a casserole, never featuring in its own right as a pesto or in tabouleh. Basil Genovese was still to make itself known and loved, followed by Thai and Greek basil. And then came Japanese herbs and leaves, shiso and mustard greens, mizuna, as well as the wild pungent rocket, rucola selvatica, that pops up everywhere, anise, coriander, lemon grass, the green tops of turnips and radish, the leaves of pumpkins, and the chicory family of greens.

All the greens of the world have their moment of glory in my garden and I would be lost without them. Most grow wild now. They are the star of many a dish, or are the inspiration for others. My green garden is most prolific in Spring and now, as I pull out the last of the broad beans, and watch the parsley and silverbeet bolt towards heaven, I’ll share a few simple green recipes.

Silverbeet and haloumi cheese fritters in the making.

These silverbeet and haloumi fritters were popular for lunch. They are fast and easy to prepare. I’m tempted to call them gozleme fritters as the taste is similar to the filling of a Turkish gozleme. Some oil softened onion could be a good addition to the mix. I always keep a tub of brined Haloumi in the fridge and find that buying it bulk in a Middle Eastern store is economical. A big tub lasts a year.

Silverbeet and Haloumi Fritters

  • 180g haloumi cheese, coarsely grated
  • 2 cups silverbeet, finely shredded
  • 2 Tablespoons mint, finely shredded
  • 1 lemon, finely zested
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 2  Tablespoons EV olive oil

Grate the haloumi on a box grater ( large hole) into a bowl. Remove the white stalks from the silver beet and finely shred then add to the bowl. (Save the stalks for a soup or gratin). Add the mint, lightly beaten eggs, and flour. Mix well. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Scoop large tablespoons into the pan, and slightly flatten as you go. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Gently turn to brown both sides and place them on a plate with paper towels to absorb the oil. Serve with a lemon wedge or yoghurt.

Smashed fava beans, haloumi, mint and lemon.

The broad beans starred in many a recipe during Spring, but this dish, also using haloumi, was popular.

Smashed Broad Beans with Haloumi, mint and lemon.

  • up to 1 kilo broad beans
  • 150-200 g haloumi
  • one garlic clove
  • sea salt, black pepper
  • EV olive oil
  • mint
  • lemon wedges

Shell the beans and cook briefly in a pot of boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Drain and submerge them in cold water to stop the cooking. Remove the skins by popping the green centres out between your thumb and forefinger. (This is an easy but tedious task, and one I hand over to my kitchen hand, Signore Tranquillo, who is an uncomplaining soul.) Smash most of the beans in a mortar and pestle, adding some finely chopped garlic, salt and pepper and a dash of olive oil. Meanwhile fry rectangular pieces of haloumi in hot oil. They don’t take long to turn golden. Prepare the serving dish with salad leaves, then the smashed fava beans, then the fried haloumi and torn mint leaves. Place lemon  wedges on the side.

Broad beans getting gently smashed, leaving a few whole.

I have a few more wonderful green dishes to share with you dear reader, but am waiting on one of my taste testers to give her final verdict on my latest silverbeet invention. Until then, addio, and happy green cooking and I mean that literally.

My girls grazing in a large grassy orchard. They love our leftovers and hang around along the fence line waiting for their daily greens. The eggs taste sensational. Greens and eggs go well together.
Last of the broadies and broccolini Calabrese which keeps on giving.

Fig Semifreddo, a Magic Dessert.

I have a backlog of good recipes to share with you, dear reader, as I’ve been rather quiet on that front for a while. Thanks to a flurry of small luncheons and dinner parties, I was compelled to lift my game and search out dishes that might even excite my own jaded appetite. In sharing them with you, I also benefit by adding them to a safe place for the future, my recipe file. Most of these new recipes involve seasonal fruits, especially figs.

The fig season has given us one month of sweet eating. Every day I take an old hand-woven basket down to the orchard and carefully select a few ripe specimens. They continue to ripen on the bench for another day, but the window of opportunity passes quickly. Other than scoffing them down with some soft gorgonzola dolce and toasted walnuts, I’ve been hunting and collecting the best fig recipes for desserts, jams and sweet/savoury salads. 

We have two varieties in our garden- the commonly grown Brown Turkey fig and the green-skinned White Adriatic fig, sometimes called the strawberry jam fig, in reference to its sweet jelly like red flesh, excellent flavour and flesh quality. Both have their place, although I have a preference for the Adriatics. The leaves make great serving platters, or are useful for covering up various body parts or embarrassments. They are easy to grow, don’t need pollinating or pruning, but prefer a non windy site and plenty of water in late Spring and Summer. If you have room, I recommend that you plant one, if only for the thrill of making figgy desserts.

Fig semifreddo with poached figs and amaretti biscuit.

I’ve only recently discovered the joys of making semifreddo since the demise of my ancient ice cream maker. I might just stick with this faster and easier concoction in the future. The following recipe is a beauty, especially for those who are blessed with a productive fig tree as well as lots of home laid eggs.

Semifreddo di Fichi /Fig Semifreddo

Ingredients

350 g fresh figs
125 g brown sugar
7 egg yolks
100 g caster sugar
350 ml whipping cream
3 tsp fresh lemon juice

Method

  • Wash the figs, remove the stems (keep the skin on) and finely dice. Place them in a non-stick pan on a high heat, stirring constantly. After a few minutes add the brown sugar. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and allow the figs and brown sugar to caramelise for around 20 minutes until you have a jam-like consistency.
  • Stir in the lemon juice and remove the pan from the heat to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, add the 50 ml of cream and gently work it into the jam.
  • In a stand mixer with whisk attachment, whip the egg yolks on high for 10-15 minutes until they triple in volume. Add the caster sugar slowly, ensuring it is well mixed with the eggs. The mixture should be quite thick.
  • In a clean bowl, whip the rest of the cream to soft peaks. Then slowly fold the cream into the egg mixture, being careful not to lose the volume.
  • Gently fold the fig jam into the cream.
  • Place a large sheet of cling wrap over a plastic or metal container. I used a bread loaf tin, measuring 24cm L by 11 cm W and 10 cm D. Pour the cream into the container, filling to the top, leaving the cling wrap to hang outside each side. Cover well with tin foil and place in the freezer for at least 12 hours. You can make this dessert a day or so ahead.
  • About 10-15 minutes before serving, take the tin out of the freezer and flip it upside down onto a long tray before slicing it.

Adapted from a recipe found on Mondo Mulia

Make a compote of lightly poached figs. Remove the figs after a few minutes of poaching then reduce the sauce then strain it. Serve with the semifreddo.

Poaching liquid for figs.

  • 2 cups water
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons brown or granulated sugar
  • ½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeded (optional)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 8 or so figs

Further reading on figs here and here.

Plum Clafoutis, a Light Summery Pudding

Another day, another plum recipe. Will my pile of plums ever shrink! This classic Clafoutis recipe is based on Julia Child’s cherry Clafoutis. As the cherry season never really got into full swing this year, I found this plum version to be a wonderful substitute. When fruit other than cherry is used in a Clafoutis, such as pears, apples, plums, prunes, blackberries or other berries, it is called a flaugnarde. I can see a fig and blackberry flaugnarde coming my/your way soon. This plum version resembles that lovely winter dish from Brittany, Far Breton. Left over Clafoutis makes a wonderful breakfast.

left over clafoutis for breakfast
Left over Clafoutis for breakfast, re-warmed

Ingredients

  • 500 gr firm, ripe plums
  • 1¼ cup milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract ( or 3 teaspoons or 15 ml)*
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1/3 extra cup sugar
  • icing sugar for dusting

Directions

Preheat oven to 180ºC. Cut plums in half and sprinkle with some sugar. Set aside.

Place all the ingredients except the last 1/3 cup sugar in a blender in the order they are listed. Cover and blend at top speed for 1 minute.

Butter the base and sides of a low sided 8 cup gratin dish. Pour in a shallow layer (1.2cm) of batter and put in a moderate oven for a few minutes until a film of batter has set in the bottom of the dish. Remove from heat. Place plums over the batter and pour on the remaining batter; smooth the surface with the back of a spoon.

Bake in the middle rack of the oven for about an hour, or until the Clafouti has puffed and browned on top. Check with a toothpick to that it comes out clean. Sprinkle the Clafouti with icing sugar before serving. Serve with runny cream or ice cream.

before adding the runny cream.
Before adding the runny cream.

*About Tablespoons. As Julia child was an American chef, she would have used an American Tablespoon, naturally. But did you know that American tablespoons are smaller (15 ml)  than Australian tablespoons (20 ml) ? 1 American tablespoon = 3 teaspoons, whereas 1 Australian tablespoon = 4 teaspoons.

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Plum Clafoutis at time of the day

See my earlier post on dried cherry clafoutis here, which employs a very different method.

Waiting for Cherries. A different Clafoutis

One of the joys of Christmas, as far as our seasonal food calendar goes, is the arrival of fresh cherries in abundance. The season usually peaks in mid to late December but this year they are appearing more slowly, thanks to a very cold Spring. The plump, expensive boxes have hit the shelves, but I am still waiting for the big flush, when cherries appear in luscious piles on fruiterers’ tables, dark, plump and cheap, the Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailer cherries, to hang over ears or slurp out of the bag before reaching home, as well as a few kilos to preserve in Brandy, or to stud a Clafoutis.

A comforting little pudding.
A comforting little pudding.

In the meantime, this unusual recipe for Cherry Clafoutis caught my eye. It utilises dried sour cherries, reconstituted in Cognac. Or perhaps the Cognac caught my eye first, a Christmas life saver of a drink for those who feel a little stressed.

Preserved Cherry Clafoutis.

  • 150 ml pouring cream
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 2 eggs
  • 85 gr caster sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • 25 gr ( 1/3 cup) plain flour, sifter
  • icing sugar to serve
  • clotted cream, or mascarpone whipped with cream, or just cream, to serve

Preserved Cherries

  • 60 gr dried cherries
  • 100 gr white sugar
  • 3 ml Cognac

For preserved cherries, combine dried cherries in a saucepan with sugar, Cognac and 150 ml water and cool on low heat for 7-8 minutes until liquid is syrupy. Watch that the liquid doesn’t turn to toffee.

Preheat oven to 180C. Heat cream and vanilla bean in a saucepan over medium heat, bring to boil, remove from heat and cool. Remove vanilla bean. Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar until light and creamy. In a separate bowl, whisk egg white until soft peaks form, then add the cream mixture and fold to combine. add the flour and fold in, then slowly beat in the egg mixture.

Spoon cherries into a lightly buttered and sugared 6 cup ovenproof baking dish. Pour batter over cherries and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Serve immediately, dusted liberally with icing sugar and with cream.

The cherries are in hiding.
The cherries are in hiding.

This version of clafoutis is very light and more like a souffle in texture, so it is best to eat it straight from the oven, though I must mention that it is rather nice at 6.30 am, eaten straight from the fridge, which is the quiet hour when I like to write and eat leftovers. The recipe is also handy for all other seasons, and may suit the cherry- deprived in the Northern Hemisphere. Of course you can use fresh cherries or ones you preserved from last year.

close up of clafoutis
The heart of a clafoutis

**The recipe is from a Gourmet Traveller Annual Cookbook and is attributed to Peter Gilmour.

And now for a song plant/ear worm for the day. Just change the chorus from Sherry Baby to Cherry Baby when you make a classic cherry Clafoutis.

Eggs with Dukkah. The Perfect Lunch

Have you noticed that eggs are back in fashion and are considered the perfect protein, high in all the omega numbers and good for you? The belief that eggs equal cholesterol is now discredited and considered to be another food myth. Knowing the source of your perfect protein is important though. Choose eggs from suppliers that give their hens a good time, with the run of a grassy paddock, and a varied diet of organic feed. It’s worth spending an extra dollar or two on these parcels of total goodness.

I don't need no money, fortune or fame. I've got all the riches, baby, one man can claim. Well, I guess you'd say What can make me feel this way? My girl (my girl, my girl) Talkin' 'bout my girl (my girl).
I don’t need no money, fortune or fame. I’ve got all the riches, baby, one man can claim.
Well, I guess you’d say, What can make me feel this way?
My girls (my girls, my girls), Talkin’ ’bout my girls….

Eggs make the perfect lunch or quick dinner and are very satisfying, especially for those folk who follow a vegetarian diet. Lunch time egg specials include hardboiled eggs sprinkled with Dukkah, or rosemary salt, or draped in a parsley pesto, or chopped through a salad of endive leaves then tossed in a garlicky mustard dressing. I love them cracked onto a bed of peperonata in a little rustic terracotta dish, then baked in the oven till set. Hard boiled eggs make for a simple tomato based Indian curry, served with rice. The Chinese chefs in Yunnan province stir fry them with tomatoes then add some soya sauce, while the French poach them perfectly and place them on top of a butterhead lettuce salad, with croutons and a good dressing. Two eggs tossed with a generous handful or two of finely chopped parsley and a grating of good pecorino or parmigiano makes a fast little lunchtime frittata. Made them paper-thin, then roll them up and serve in slices for a Spring starter.

small lunches
small lunches

Making dukkah once a month is a cheap way to add oomph to a lunchtime egg.

  • ¼ cup of whole almonds (or hazelnuts or macadamia)
  • 2 Tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1½teaspoons peppercorns
  • ½ teaspoon dried mint
  • ½ teaspoon fine salt

Serve with extra flaked salt and EV olive oil at the table.

Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the nuts and toast until browned and fragrant. Transfer to a small bowl. Repeat with the other seeds and peppercorns, toasting each separately and allowing them to cool completely. Put the peppercorns in a mortar and pestle and pound until crushed. Add the nuts and seeds, along with the mint and salt and crush to a course consistency. ( I used  almonds and a coffee grinder for the nuts, then ground the toasted seeds, as they cooked, one at a time in the mortar).

Peel the eggs. Sprinkle with Dukkah, drizzle with oil, and add a tiny bit of flaked salt such as Maldon salt to taste.

Dukkah will keep in a well sealed jar in a cool place for up to one month. Cool!

Freshly made Dukkah.
Freshly made Dukkah.

The following method produces the most edible boiled eggs. A bit of care makes all the difference.

  • Put the eggs in a saucepan of cold water eggs, covering them by 2.5 cm/1 inch.
  • Bring the water to a rolling boilSet the pan over high heat and bring the water to a boil, uncovered.
  • Turn off the heat and cover the pan. As soon as the water comes to a boil, remove the pan from heat and cover the pan.
  • Set your timer for the desired time. Leave the eggs in the covered pan for the right amount of time. This depends on whether you want soft-boiled or hard-boiled eggs. For slightly runny soft-boiled eggs: 4 minutes. For custardy yet firm soft-boiled eggs, 6 minutes. For firm yet still creamy hard-boiled eggs, 10 minutes.
  • Eat them hot or submerge the eggs in a few changes of cold water for a minute or two before cracking and peeling. They last for 1 week in the fridge, unshelled.

Recipe for dukkah from Super Natural Every Day,  Heidi Swanson. Ten Speed Press.

How to cook the perfect hard boiled egg adapted from a guide here.

Easy Mix Lemon and Almond Syrup Cake

When the young ones ask me which football team I follow, I always reply ‘The Seagulls’. They look bewildered as there is no major AFL (Australian Football League ) team with this bird as their logo. I quickly follow this with an explanation, that I barrack for real seagulls, the birds that land on the grounds during a match and annoy players, lest they think it’s time to send me off to the funny farm. I am not a football fan at all. In fact, it bores me to tears – please feel free to substitute that other very Australian colloquial phrase which refers to ‘a state of being during which one is without feces’.

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After the cake has rested a little, pour on the lemon syrup.

On rare occasions, I allow myself to watch ‘the footy’. It is usually forced upon my consciousness during the grand final season, when all sorts of non footy followers suddenly convert. Not me. I allow myself snippets of the game to waft over me, but would rather be the tea lady – or the beer/wine/cake/biscuit gatherer- during the broadcast.

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Cake ready to slice.

My mother, born and raised in Footscray, the original home of the Bulldogs team, was excited and anxious during the grand final this year. We had joined her to watch the big event, especially given that the last time her team won was in 1954. That’s pre- TV, a very long time to wait for a victory. She mentioned a few names of the players, the much-loved captain of the Bulldogs who retired earlier this year due to injury, my eyes were glazing over, and another one she referred to as ‘The Package’, a player who was bought for a large sum but who wasn’t living up to expectation. I kept calling him ‘The Packet’, at which point, the assembled football devotees suggested I should take a nap. I was happy to grab my smart phone and head to the backroom for a surf and a snooze.

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Lemon almond cake, cut into Middle Eastern shapes.

I woke up for the last 12 minutes, and enjoyed the match thoroughly. I can recommend this approach to my fellow football- loathing friends: just watch the last 12 minutes- that’s when the real action happens. You won’t have missed a thing.

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The lemon zest candies a little when cooking down the syrup, adding to the glazed surface.

I made this lemon cake for the day. As it turned out, it was a celebratory cake – the Bulldogs won. I can recommend this cake for its excellent keeping qualities ( up to one week in the fridge) and for its simplicity. It is now my favourite lemon syrup cake and can easily be adapted to gluten- free. The recipe comes from Mix and Bake by Belinda Jeffries. I have made minor adjustments to the method.

Lemon Almond Syrup Cake

  • 50g plain flour ( or GF flour if required)
  • 200g almond meal
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 190g castor sugar
  • 250g unsalted butter, at room temperature cut into large chunks
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ tsp almond essence
  • 1½ large lemons, finely zested

Lemon Syrup

  • 150g of castor sugar
  • 2 lemons zested ( or one large)
  • 125ml of lemon juice
  • 250ml of water

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 160c or lower for Fan Forced. (150c FF worked well for me). Butter a 20cm – 24 cm square cake tin and line the base with paper. Butter the paper and dust the tin lightly with flour.
  • Put the flour, almond meal, baking powder and salt into a food processor. Whiz them together for 20 seconds, then tip into a bowl.
  • Add the butter and sugar to the food processor and whiz them together until they are light and creamy. Scrape down as you go, then add in eggs, one at a time, until creamy. Stop the processor, add the vanilla, almond essence and lemon zest and blitz for another 10 seconds or so.
  • Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in the food processor and pulse until they are mixed. Do not over pulse. Scrape the sides to make sure all is well mixed.
  • Scoop out the mixture into the prepared tin and flatten surface. Bake for around 50-55 minutes or until a fine skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Check after 30 minutes and if browning too quickly, cover the top with tin foil.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the lemon syrup. Place all ingredients into a pot over a high heat. Stir until all sugar is dissolved. Then stop stirring and allow it to come to boil. Let it bubble for 10 – 12 minutes or until it looks thicker and like syrup. Then off heat and set aside. Keep warm.
  • When the cake is ready, place the cake in the tin on a wire rack for 10 mins. Invert onto the rack and remove the paper. Now brush with the lemon syrup. I used all the syrup as the cake happily absorbed it but the original recipe advises using half and serving the rest of the syrup alongside the cake. If using all the syrup, the cake will be very moist and very lemony.
  • The cake stores well for about 1 week in the fridge. Warm it slightly before serving if from the fridge. Other lemon and lime cakes from my blog can be found in the links below.
  • Limoni di Mama.
    Limoni di Mama.

    https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2016/05/25/lemon-lime-and-poppy-seed-cake-with-books/

    https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2016/06/30/lemon-ricotta-and-almond-cake/

https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/easy-lime-syrup-cake/

Get My Swan Costume Ready. School Holiday Pavlova

It’s school holiday time in Melbourne, with kids in the kitchen and mess everywhere. The girls wanted to make something sweet but both have radically different tastes. After some negotiation, a pavlova was agreed upon, after some squabbling about suitable toppings. Before we grabbed the electric beaters, a detour through history into the life of Anna Pavlova was fun, something I had never thought about much before their visit. As Tchaikovsky played in the background, we admired all the beautiful old photos of Anna Pavlova in her divine longer tutus and portraits of her with her pet swan, Jack.

Anna Pavlova with pet swan, Jack
Anna Pavlova with pet swan, Jack. Photo from Pinterest.

We discovered other wonderful facts about Anna’s life, including her last words on her death-bed, “Get my Swan costume ready.” This is now our secret code for beating up egg whites or dying like a swan, which ever comes first.

kids in the kitchen
Kids in the kitchen sculpting a Pavlova

Pavlova is an easy dessert for young cooks to whip up. It doesn’t matter if it cracks or turns out misshapen. It will still taste great. Just crack and separate the eggs for them and hand over the electric beaters. They love watching the whites whip up into a big fluffy tutu. Once the eggs are standing up, the younger child adds in the sugar until the boss (me) says they are ready. Add a little cornflour, white vinegar and vanilla and let the kids do the sculpting on a papered tray.

Basic 4 egg Pavlova Recipe ( serves 6-8 )

  • 4 egg whites ( room temperature)
  • pinch of salt
  • 250 g caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • few drops of pure vanilla

Preheat oven to 180°c. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Draw a 20 cm circle on the paper. Beat egg whites and salt until satiny peaks form. Beat in sugar, a third at a time, until meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle over cornflour, vinegar and vanilla and fold in lightly. Mound onto paper lined tray and flatten top and smooth the sides. Place in the oven, immediately reduce heat to 150° c and cook for 1¼ hours. Turn off the oven and leave pavlova to cool. Invert pavlova and pile with chosen topping.

From Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion

While the meringue cooks and cools, it’s time to make the topping. I usually settle for whipped cream and brandy macerated strawberries or, in season, passionfruit. Daisy was happy to settle for this mundane option but not Charlotte. After rejecting a few of my suggestions, including a lemony custard, she decided on a chocolate mousse filling!! Warning, the following photos of this chocolate mousse pavlova may make you want to utter those dying swan words sooner than expected. This is a pavlova for kids and the young at heart.

Pavlova filled with chocolate mousse.
Pavlova filled with chocolate mousse.

Fast Chocolate Mousse Filling.

  • 200 gr packet of cooking chocolate, 45% solids.
  • a dash of rum or brandy
  • 4 egg yolks
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • some whipping cream to loosen.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the boiling water. Loosen with a little brandy or rum.

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until very pale and thick. Add gradually to the bowl of melted chocolate.

Beat the cream until thick, then add to the chocolate mixture. Stir in well then set in the fridge.

A cake like this calls for some pretty floral cups.
A cake like this calls for some pretty floral cups.

PS. The chocolate mousse topping was ridiculously rich. from Charlotte 🙂

Anna Pavlova and jack the swan
Anna Pavlova and Jack the swan

Take Three Eggs

Eggs are always in season around here, though the number increases dramatically during Spring. I’m now gathering around 15 eggs per day, requiring some strategic marketing as well as more baking. My grandmother, with regard to the economy of keeping chooks, used to say, ‘put in a shilling and get back sixpence’, and I often think this is true. Fresh egg pasta is one simple way to reduce the stash.

Cenci or rag Pasta
Cenci or rag pasta

Take three eggs and crack them into a bowl over 300 gr of plain white flour, do a little mixing, some kneading, some waiting, followed by some cutting, and within one hour, you have enough pasta to feed a crowd. Of all the transformations that happen in my kitchen, pasta making is high up on the list, running a close second to the mystical and semi- religious transfiguration of flour, salt and water into bread.

An assortment of pasta shapes from one batch of dough.
An assortment of pasta shapes from one batch of dough.

I often use a softer flour for pasta making, such as an Italian doppio zero ’00’ flour but really, any plain white flour is just as good. After measuring the flour, add it to a bowl, then crack 3 large eggs into the centre and mix well. There is no need to make a little volcano of flour on a flat bench with eggs cracked into its crater. Volcanoes are messy things and explode in unexpected ways. Use a bowl. I usually have an extra egg yolk on hand, in case more moisture is needed to bring the dough together. I don’t use water, salt or oil. Just flour and eggs! After the dough comes together, knead well on a floured bench for around 10 minutes. As you knead, the dough will turn silky and more elastic.

assembling the spinach and riicotta caenneloni
Assembling the spinach and ricotta cannelloni. The pasta squares must be cooked briefly in boilings salted water before assembling.

I often cheat, and who doesn’t, by mixing the dough in the food processor, then when it forms a ball, I remove it to knead on the bench. There’s no getting out of the kneading: it is the only tedious part of pasta making so turn the radio on. (Did I hear you sing that old song, ‘who listens to the radio, that’s what I’d like to know.’? Has Jon Faine become a shock jock? Turn that man off and play some Puccini instead.)

Spinach and ricotta cannelloni
Spinach and ricotta cannelloni. Don’t overdo the tomato element.

Take the ball of kneaded dough and flatten into a disc, then wrap it in plastic and leave it for at least half an hour to relax and further hydrate. It won’t hurt to let the dough rest for longer so you can go out at this point, saving the fun part for later.

Hand cranked pasta machines: a basic and economical kitchen tool.

Attach your pasta machine to the bench. Flour up some cutting boards and tea towels. Cut one sixth of the pasta dough and feed through the machine at its widest setting. Fold it in half then feed through again. This makes the pasta sheet wider. Then continue to feed the pasta through the rollers, lower the setting cogs down a notch each time, stopping at number two. This part of pasta making is best shared with a helper.

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Two trays of cannelloni: one for four and the smaller one for two.

Now you get to choose the shapes you want. My last week’s batch produced enough pasta squares for two trays of cannelloni, some cenci or rags which I love to add to soup, and a pile of cappellini, a finely cut spaghetti. Three eggs. Three hundred grams of flour. Three meals. It really is much simpler than my long winded description and the results are worth the effort.

I followed Stefano de Pieri’s recipe for Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni, from his Modern Italian Food, 2004, which is reproduced here, unchanged. Sometimes it’s good to follow a recipe for a dish that you think you know well. You might learn some new tricks. I always use a heat diffuser when making besciamella or white sauce as it has a tendency to catch. And you will need to cut around 20 squares from your fresh pasta batch for this amount of filling.

Ingredients

300g spinach
1 tablespoon butter
500g fresh ricotta
2 eggs
100g parmigiano reggiano, grated, plus an extra handful
salt and pepper
200g  home made egg pasta

Bechamel Sauce

150g unsalted butter
100g plain flour
1.5 litres hot milk
freshly grated nutmeg

Method

  1. To make the béchamel sauce, melt the butter and mix with the flour. Cook a little but without browning. Stir in the milk, bit by bit, mixing with a wooden spoon. Initially the mixture will be like a gluggy lump but as you add the milk it will break down more and more. Cook it gently for 20 minutes or more, taking care that it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Add nutmeg to taste. This recipe should yield a fairly soft sauce, which is what we want. If it is too thick add more milk or water. If you think you have some lumps in it, pass it through a fine sieve and everything will be all right.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and blanch the spinach, drain and squeeze dry. (I far prefer using proper bunches of spinach, rather than ready-trimmed little spinach leaves.) Roughly chop the spinach.
  3. Heat the butter in a large pan and briefly sauté the spinach. In a separate bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, grated cheese, salt and pepper. Stir in the spinach and mix well.
  4. Roll the pasta through the last setting on your pasta machine and cut the sheets into sections about 10 cm wide. Cook the pasta sheets in plenty of boiling salted water, then plunge into a bowl of cold water. When cold, place on a tea towel to dry.
  5. When you are ready to cook the cannelloni, preheat the oven to 180°C. Spread a third of the béchamel sauce over the bottom of a baking dish. Lay the pasta sheets on a work surface and spoon some filling along the centre of each. Roll up to form fat cigars. Arrange the filled cannelloni in the baking dish and spread the remaining béchamel sauce over the top. Sprinkle with the extra cheese and bake for around 15 minutes until the top is bubbling and golden.
  6. If you like, you can introduce a tomato element to this dish. Spoon a few tablespoons of home-made tomato sauce over the béchamel before topping with the extra grated cheese. Don’t overdo the tomato though, as the acid can rather dominate the flavour.

Next Post- what I made with the Cenci Pasta.

In My Kitchen, May 2016

In My Kitchen there is lunch. Unless I am out and about, I prefer to eat well at lunch time, followed by something light for dinner. This month’s post looks at some of my lunches over the last few weeks. Simple food, good bread, made from the best ingredients- what more could I ever want?

Cos Lettuce, anchovy and garlic, hard boiled eggs.
Cos Lettuce, anchovy and garlic dressing, hard-boiled eggs, sourdough bread

The garden and chooks provide most of my ingredients, though as the season turns, the garden pickings are becoming slim.

Pasta and peas
Pasta and peas

Whenever a pasta dish calls for pancetta, speck or lard, I use anchovies as my pescatarian substitute which provides the salty flavour base.

A foccaccia or a pizza?
A foccaccia or pizza?

There are still a few cherry tomatoes hiding in the garden along with wild rocket. They land on a simple foccaccia, along with potatoes and garlic.

eggplant bake
eggplant bake

My de-constructed eggplant parmigiana is a quick lunch. The new season’s eggplants don’t need salting or de-gorging.  Stir fry them quickly in ample olive oil, toss them in left over tomato passata, add basil and lots of cheese, maybe some cooked ditalini pasta to bulk it out, then into the oven it goes for 10 minutes.

An omeltte and a glass of wine
An omelette and a glass of wine

I once owned an Elizabeth David book entitled, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine. Memories of this book inspire our once a week lunch special- with scattered parmesan cheese and herbs through the rolled omelette. Add salad, bread and a glass of wine!

Leek risotto
Leek risotto

We now have self-sown leeks everywhere and can rely on them in any season. My favourite way to use them is in a risotto, using home-made veggie stock. They are also great cooked with potatoes then mashed with butter. A vichyssoise without the liquid.

Inspired by Celia, I now make little rolls to eat or freeze. Take one portion of risen sourdough, spread out, add toppings- here we have olives, rosemary, a little oil- roll up, then slice into 12 scrolls, and let rise again and bake.

seasonal chilli
seasonal chilli

Our chilli always arrives late in the season and keeps producing well until late winter. Most will be dried. Chilli recipes are most welcome.

Thanks Maureen at The Orgasmic Chef for hosting In My Kitchen. Press that link to see what’s happening in other kitchens around the globe.

Tuscan Easter Buns, Pan di Ramerino

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What happens on Boxing Day in Australia? Yes, you guessed it, the hot cross buns show up in the supermarkets, a good three or more months before Easter. I have not succumbed to a single premature Pasquale bun to date, despite the array of warm specimens offered to me by my extended family on camping weekends. Good humoured accusations fly, about being a born- again hypocrite, as I, a non- Christian, patiently wait for the traditional bun eating day. I am rather fond of tradition and religious rituals of many persuasions. Now is the time to make and eat hot cross buns.

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This year’s offering is a traditional Tuscan Easter bun recipe- Pan de Ramerino– a recipe that has been around since medieval times although adapted over the years. They were once eaten on Holy Thursday so I am eating mine tomorrow, though I may sneak one today as they cool on the rack. It is interesting to note that these buns are now popular all year round in Tuscany, not just at Easter. Just goes to show, it’s hard to keep a good bun down.

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The recipe comes from Carol Field’s The Italian Baker, who attributes the recipe to a Florentine baker, Giovanni Galli. It is very lightly sweetened: the combination of rosemary oil and raisins is a delightful and aromatic combination. The buns are not as cloying as the ones I know.

Pan di Ramerino, Rosemary and Raisin Buns

Makes 12 buns

The ingredients are listed in cups/spoons OR grams.

  • 3 ½ teaspoons/10 g active dry yeast
  • ¾ cup/180 g warm water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • ¼ cup/55 g olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • 2/½ tablespoons/35 g sugar
  • 3¾ cups/500 g unbleached plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon/5 g salt
  • 3-4 sprigs rosemary
  • 2/3 cup/100 g golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup/75 g apricot glaze

In a large bowl of a stand mixer, stir the yeast into the warm water. Let stand until creamy. Add the eggs, the egg yolk, 2 tablespoons of the oil, and the sugar and mix thoroughly with the paddle. Add the flour and salt and mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Change to the dough hook and knead at low-speed for two minutes, then at medium speed for 2 minutes more. The dough should be elastic and supple.

First Rise. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap or a plastic bowl cover and let rise until doubled.

Shaping and Second rise.

While the dough is rising, sauté 2 rosemary sprigs very briefly in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Toss the rosemary out after it has flavoured the oil. Add the raisins and sauté very briefly in the oil. Remove from the heat and add 1 chopped fresh rosemary sprig to the mixture. Cool then add this mixture to the dough and knead, using the mixer, until well incorporated.

Cut the dough into 12 pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Place on a baking paper covered baking sheet and cover with a towel. Let the rolls rise until doubled, or about 1 hour.

Reshape the buns, which will have slumped a little, into definite balls. Brush the tops with oil. Slash a deep double cross or tic-tac-toe pattern in the top of each bun. Let the buns rise again for another 10-15 minutes.

Baking. Preheat the oven to 200º. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the buns to a wire rack and brush the tops with an apricot glaze.

Glassa di albicocca/ apricot glaze

  • 2/3 cup good quality apricot jam
  • 2- 3 teaspoons water or fresh lemon juice

Heat the jam and water in a small heavy saucepan over moderate heat until the mixture comes to a boil, then strain through a sieve. Use the glaze while still warm.

Buona Pasqua a Tutti.

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