Falafel and the Living is Easy

Falafel tends to make a more frequent appearance in my kitchen during summer, probably because it pairs so well with most of the summer vegetables in the garden: it can be made well in advance, before the day’s heat sets in. It is also the ultimate budget meal- one packet of split dried fava beans goes a long way. Not chick peas I hear you say? While I’m quite happy with my chick pea/Israeli/Lebanese version of this famous snack, these days I prefer Egyptian falafel, more accurately known as¬†ta‚Äôamia.

Dried split fave beans after soaking for 24 hours then draining.

Lunching well for less than one dollar per head is also very appealing. Frugal opulence, thanks to the hours we spend in the orto, tending herbs and vegetables. When it comes to home-made falafel, the most costly ingredient will probably be the deep-frying oil. I usually make a hummus or tahini dressing to pair with them as they do need the wetness of a good sauce or dip. Serve with a salad of shredded Cos lettuce, finely cubed cucumber, spring onions, mint, and salt tossed about with a little oil and lemon juice.

Crunchy falafel made from split fava beans. Buy these beans at a Middle Eastern shop for around $4 a kilo,

This recipe serves 4. Or two with leftovers for later.

  • 250 g dried split fava beans, covered in cold water and soaked overnight or up to 24 hours.
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 5 spring onions, finely sliced including all the green section
  • ¬Ĺ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp besan flour
  • 1-2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
  • 1-2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • A pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • a small handful of sesame seeds
  • a tablespoon of water to help in blending, if needed
  • Oil, for frying (rapeseed, rice bran or sunflower)

Drain the fava beans and wash thoroughly, especially if the soaking water has begun to foam. Add them to a large food processer along with all the other ingredients except the sesame seeds, water and oil. Blend until reasonably smooth. You may need to stop the motor and rearrange the contents as you go. Use the water if you feel the mixture is too dry. Finally add the sesame seeds and pulse through.

Place the mixture in a covered bowl and refrigerate for at least two hours or until ready to deep fry. I often rest the mixture overnight.

Add enough oil to a small wok or pan, enough to at least cover the falafel balls. Test the oil by flicking in a tiny piece of the mixture. If it sizzles, the oil is ready. Scoop out mixture by the tablespoon and shape with your hands into small balls.¬† Add to the pan of hot oil, making sure that you don’t overcrowd the pan. Adjust temperature of oil if too fast or slow. The falafel should cook evenly and not too quickly. Turn to brown on both sides then drain on paper towel.

falafel bowl

Makes around 22 falafel. Serve with tahini sauce, or hummus and salads.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The secret is out. The best falafel in Melboure can be found at Very Good Falafel, Sydney road, Brunswick, where the hipster version gives the local A1 Bakery Lebanese snack a run for its money. http://www.shukiandlouisa.com/

White Polenta, Fave Beans and Salmon

After my broad bean shelling festival last week, some readers inquired about my culinary intentions for the little shelled gems. A few Spring broadbean treats have emerged from my kitchen of late, though some of the photos leave a lot to be desired. Today’s recipe is based on a dish I had in a restaurant in Oamaru, New Zealand, where they served creamy white polenta with a buttery sauce of local clams and crunchy fried capers. Ever since, I have been very partial to white polenta. I’m not a purist when it comes to polenta instantanea versus 20-40 minutes of aching arm action. Sometimes you have to cheat. Instant polenta is convenient and a versatile neutral tasting base on which to layer intense flavours. This recipe is meant to be¬†flexible:¬†you can use any fish or seafood that comes your way, or, leave it out entirely. Once the beans are shelled, and slipped out of their rubbery casings, the hard work is done.

bags of prepared fave beans, ready for the freezer.
Bags of prepared fave beans, ready for the freezer. The hard work is done.

Polenta Bianca con Fave e Salmone. White Polenta with fresh Broadbeans and Salmon. Ingredients listed for two people.

  • 1 cup instant white polenta
  • stock or water to cook the polenta as per packet directions
  • butter and grated parmigiano to enrich the polenta, to taste
  • 200 gr Atlantic salmon
  • I cup of double shelled broadbeans. ( if you are buying fresh broadbeans, you will need around 1 kilo)
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed and finely chopped
  • butter
  • black pepper
  • fresh marjoram leaves, a few stalks.

    Comfort food. Polenta, fave and salmon.
    Comfort food. Polenta, fave and salmon.
  1. Cut the skinless salmon fillets into chunks of around 6 cm. Season and lightly oil the pieces and heat a solid frying pan.
  2. Make the polenta according to packet instructions. This will come together within two or so minutes. Stir vigorously, then add butter and parmesan cheese. Stir until very smooth, then keep warm on a heat diffuser.
  3. Cook the salmon chunks to your liking. I like mine well coloured on the outside and just cooked through.
  4. Meanwhile, heat a small saucepan and add some butter. Add the garlic, stir for a few seconds, then add the shelled broadbeans. Stir till hot, then add the marjoram leaves and black pepper.
  5. Assemble the dishes in wide low bowls. First lay a bed of the hot polenta, then add the salmon chunks,  then the broadbeans. Add a lemon wedge and a drizzle of your best oil.
    Poelnta Bianca, Fave fresche e Salmone. Buonissimo.
    Polenta Bianca, Fave fresche e Salmone. Buonissimo.

    This is a gluten-free meal that is easy to prepare, though does involve three simultaneous maneuvers. To make the dish vegetarian, leave out the fish, add more butter to the broadbean sauce, and add some shaved parmesan at the end. To veganise the dish, leave out the fish and butter and use very good olive oil and more herbs for flavour.

Older posts on broadbeans can be found in these links below. https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/tagliatelle-with-broad-beans-and-smoked-salmon/  and  https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/italian-product-trial-farro-rice-and-barley-pilaf/

Fave Dei Morti, Biscuits for The Dead

If you’re not Siciliani or Greek, you’re probably wondering what fave or broadbeans have to do with biscuits and the dead. Fave beans are the emblematic dish of death,

“The ancient Greeks saw the black spot on the petals of the broad bean plant as the stain of death and used the beans in funeral ceremonies but refused to eat them. Pythagoras thought that their hollow stems reached down into the earth to connect the living with the dead, and that therefore fave¬†contain the souls of those who have died. The Romans honoured their connection with death but cooked and served the beans as the most sacred dish at funeral banquets.”¬†¬Ļ

Fava( broadbeans) flowering late in my garden.
Fava( broadbean) flowering late in my garden. They look beautiful and a little spooky too.

The day of the dead, I Morti, is celebrated in Sicily on November 2 with Fave dei Morti, little sweet biscuits formed to look like broadbeans,  as well as other sweets such as ossi da morto, bones of the dead, and sweets shaped like human figures. For many Siciliani, a tablecloth is laid out on the family tomb, complete with chrysanthemums, the flowers of the dead, and the family gathers for a picnic. This may sound rather morbid until you consider that on the day of the dead, I Morti, ancestors and relatives sneak back into the living world, back through that fissure in time, to be with the living again.

Fave dei Morti
Fave dei Morti

Given this fine Italian tradition ( not to mention its connection with similar Celtic practices), I went in search of a few customary and very simple recipes, from Siena to Sicily, to leave a few sweet things on the table or the grave, come November 1 and 2.

Fave  Dei Morti

These tiny, crunchy biscuits are easy to whip up and are wonderful dunked in something strong. Despite their simplicity, they taste festive and are very moreish. I need to make another batch for the otherworldly ‘visitors’ on November 1.

  • 100 gr almond meal ( or almonds finely ground to a powder)
  • 100 gr sugar
  • grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbls rum
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 70 gr unbleached plain flour ( AP flour)

Place the ground almonds in a bowl with the sugar, lemon zest, egg and rum. Mix until well blended. Add the spices and flour and stir until the dough is well blended.

Divide the dough into four pieces. Flour a work surface very lightly and roll each piece into a log the width of a finger. Cut into 4 cm ( 1/12 inch) pieces and place them on a baking paper lined tray. Flatten each piece slightly.

Heat oven to 175¬ļC and bake until barely browned, around 16 minutes. Makes around 40 pieces. Dust with icing sugar and store well in a tin.

Fave dei Morti on the mantlepiece for the dead.
Fave dei Morti on the mantlepiece for the dead.

¬Ļ Celebrating Italy, The Tastes and Traditions of Italy as Revealed through its Feasts, Festivals, and Sumptuous Foods. Carol Field. 1990

The Not So Humble Broad Bean Risotto

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABroad beans ( Fave) are often associated with poverty and simple, peasant eating. They grow prolifically and produce a bounty of fresh beans, with plenty to stash in the freezer or dry. The Italians who migrated to Australia in the 1950s and 60s, with “Courage in their Cases,” also had a few dried fave beans sown into the lining, a memento of home and a good luck seed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA When married with quality risotto rice such as Vialone Nano or Carnaroli rice, as well as a small slab of hot smoked salmon or trout, the humble broad bean enters the realms of rich man’s food, la cucina borghese. You decide: keep it cheap and leave out the hot smoked fish and use a cheaper everyday arborio rice, or lash out!

Ingredients ( two as a main, 4 as a small entrée)

  • 1 cup shelled broad beans/fave
  • 1 ¬†small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup vialone nano rice ( or other arborio)
  • 30 gr butter
  • 1 Tbles EV olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • salt/pepper
  • 3 cups vegetable stock, simmering on the stove
  • 75 gr hot smoked salmon or trout, torn in small pieces
  • fresh herbs, such as marjoram, oregano or dill
  • Grana Padano or Reggiano Parmigiano, grated, a generous amount.

    Rich man, poor man ingredients
    Rich man, poor man ingredients

Method

  1. Firstly, boil the shelled broad beans for 3 minutes, drain, then peel by simply squeezing the outer shell, and sliding out the tender, bright green inner bean. Even better, get some little person to help.
  2.  Heat 20 gr of butter and the olive oil in a heavy base pot, add the chopped onion and cook on low until the onion has softened and is golden in colour. Add the rice and stir about until the rice becomes covered and opaque. Turn up the heat to medium.  Add the wine, and stir until it bubbles away. Then add a ladle full of stock, stirring as you go, until the liquid has been absorbed. Continue in this way until all the stock has been used, around 20 minutes or so.  In the last few minutes of this process, just as you add your last stock, add the beans and stir through.

    First stage of cooking risotto.
    First stage of cooking risotto.
  3. Gently stir through the salmon and the¬†chopped¬†herbs, then fare il mantecare. This is an essential step to add creaminess and finish to the risotto. Add the remaining knob of butter and a generous amount ¬†of grated parmesan ( 1/2 cup) ¬†to the rice, stir through to ‘cream’ the rice, then cover the pot, off the heat, and leave for a couple of minutes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAServe on a large round or oval platter, with more parmesan, and serve from the outside, in a circular fashion, which maintains the heat in the centre.

Find other seasonal broadbean recipes from my previous posts using these links: Tagliatelle with Broadbeans and Smoked Salmon  and  Rice, Farro and Barley Pilaf with Broadbeans.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

Spring on a Plate. Cucina Povera.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACucina Povera¬†is my kind of cooking. ¬†Historically, as the name suggests, it is the cuisine of the poor, or rather that of the Italian contadini¬†or peasant class, those who relied on their own home grown seasonal produce and preserves stored in the¬†dispensa, but not much else. It also suggests eating what’s on hand- what is available or in season. As Italy is now a very urban society, this style of cooking can be seen, historically, as rural cooking. It becomes cuisine of the wealthy when many different fresh herbs and vegetables are purchased from farmers’ markets to produce a simple Pasta Primavera.

The garden is your best friend: grow food among your flowers, in your front yard, on your balcony, on the nature strip, in containers. Many tasty and nutritious pasta dishes can be thrown together with a handful of wild rocket, herbs or silverbeet (chard). These things grow like weeds. Along with a few staples from the pantry, such as rice, pasta, lentils and dried beans, anchovies and EV olive oil, cucina povera is a few short steps away.

This week’s pasta ingredients are shown in the photo below. ¬†It assumes you have stashed a few little luxuries in the pantry, such as¬†some very good extra virgin olive oil, and a¬†chunk of parmigiano Grano Padano or Reggiano.¬†The other little splurge for today’s pasta recipe is a box of Farro pasta, in this case by Monograno Felicetti. I picked this up at the Mediterranean Wholesalers in Brunswick, and I must say here, that I receive no kickbacks from either of these companies. Substitute any short pasta you have on hand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI picked some lovely leggy broccoli shoots, a small radicchio, young broad beans/fave, a few baby kale leaves, some fresh oregano and a big silverbeet/chard leaf. Some of the greens were shredded, hand torn or plucked. The picture also shows two small chunks of cheese- fetta and parmigiana. Some goats cheese, or tiny nuggets of gorgonzola, would make a good substitute. Again, use what cheese you have. Not shown, but always assumed, are a few cloves of garlic, smashed up, salt, and olive oil. I often melt a few anchovy fillets for flavour, but not this time- I wanted a pure Spring taste.

Pasta Primavera

  1. Into a big open pan goes a generous glug of oil and a few cloves of smashed garlic.  After a quick stir on medium heat, in go the garden pickings.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  2. Meanwhile, or even before one plays with the garden greens, a big stockpot of boiling salted water is on the go, then Butta La Pasta, throw in the pasta. I count on 100 grs per adult if the dish is un piatto unico, a one course dish.
  3. Within no time, the leaves wilt and the baby broad beans soften. Time for some salt and a few grinds of pepper.
  4. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen the farro spirali pasta is ready, scoop out a little pasta water before draining.
  5.  Add the drained pasta to the cooked vegetables and consider whether to add a few tablespoons of the reserved cooking water to loosen the dish, making a garlicky unctuous sauce. Increase the heat and briefly toss again.  Add lots of ground pepper then crumbled fetta. Feel the creative energy of Spring. Then plate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Serve with a golden lick of good olive oil and some grated parmesan.

                                                           Spring on a plate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A little footnote. Today my blog, Almost Italian, turns one. Where did that year go? A big thanks to all my friends, followers, and those who read these posts. I really appreciate your support. It encourages me to continue and to learn. Have a look at my post one year ago– it’s a funny looking thing about artichokes. Francesca

 

 

Garden monthly, October 2014

 

Purple flowers everywhere attract pollinating insects.
Purple flowers everywhere attract pollinating insects.

Spring has slowly arrived. September was frosty and windy; only now the fruit trees are beginning to blossom. The ground has been too cold to plant seed, but with a few more hot days and some welcome rain, October will be a busy month. Although the plants won’t notice, an extra hour of light at the end of the day and not¬†the beginning, will be most useful for this gardener.

fave/ broadbean flowers
fave/ broadbean flowers

My tasks include:

  • sow summer crops keeping rotation in mind.
  • planting out the tomato seedlings raised by my son in his hothouse.
  • enriching beds with compost and crumbled cow manure, then mulching.
  • building shade cloth covered fences on the south and west sides to protect the garden in summer.
  • remove dead wood from the strawberry patch and add compost then straw. Look for poly pipe to make a cloche for summer protection.
delicate quince blossom
delicate quince blossom

The most vigorous specimen of Cavolo Nero ( black kale) is now flowering for seed collecting, as well as attracting more bees. I have enjoyed tracking its life through these monthly garden posts. When the seed are harvested, probably in summer, I will have plenty to distribute so contact me if you need some.

Cavolo nero going to seed.  This bush has been going for more than a year.
Cavolo nero going to seed. This bush has been going strong for more than a year.

The overgrown sage bush is in flower, attracting more bees to the garden. When the flowering is finished, I’ll chop it back and make cuttings to pot up. Blue and purple flowers attract bees and other insects, necessary for pollinating summer flowering vegetables.¬†I find that endive lettuce and raddicchio ¬†flowers are the best for this purpose.

Radicchio
Radicchio

I have many out of date seed packets. At the end of Last April, I used old seed to plant a random winter crop garden. I am still eating the produce from that sowing. These seeds will be thrown randomly into a compost rich bed this week. Surprise beds are fun.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Harvest includes silverbeet, rugola selvatica, radicchio, beetroot, broad beans ( the early ones), broccoli side shoots, parsley and lettuce. All these make lovely green feasts and are added to pastas, pies, salads and soups.

garden greens and fetta pasties
garden greens and fetta pasties

This post forms part of the garden share collective, a monthly roundup of vegetable gardens around the world managed by Lizzie. It serves two purposes. It allows you to connect to other food growers around the world, but also forms a useful home garden diary where weather events, seasonal change and particular micro-climates are recorded. If you like growing food, check out the others at the collective.