Garden Monthly, January 2015

Summer gardening in Melbourne is an Yin/Yang experience. We need the heat to bring on the tomatoes, basil and beans: too much, and the plants suffer badly from heat stress. The temperatures soared last week to over 40c for two days: this is a taste of what’s around the corner. Melbourne can often experience heat waves of 44 degrees celsius for four days in a row, followed by cooler days in the 30s. On extremely hot days when north winds gust at over 50 km an hour, we self- evacuate in line with the Victorian policy of Leave and Live, which I have mentioned in a previous post. On these days, the garden hangs on, just.

Tomato News. My triffid tomato, the miniature yellow pear, is still growing madly and is covered in hundreds of baby fruit. I will definitely save this seed. My son planted some weird black tomatoes, the seed bought on eBay. They look like some awful deadly nightshade cross between a potato and a tomato. They are still too young to eat so wait for the reports in February. There are six plants so ‘fingers crossed’. The Rouge de Marmande, my favourite tomato, were planted a little late so these fruits won’t appear on the table until February. I forgot to plant a green zebra tomato this year. What an omission; I will miss their green stripes in the the tomato salad bowl.

mini yellow pear tomato.
mini yellow pear tomato.
Spooky black/purple tomato.
Spooky black/purple tomato.

It is definitely the year of the cucumber. I had some old seed to use up a few months ago, and voila, they all came up.  Although not fond of apple cucumbers, I am investigating using them in some lovely Yunnanese dishes, with loads of chilli. I only notice two Lebanese cucumbers for green munching and pickling.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The strawberries are producing continuously, thanks to the netting which has 20% UV shadecloth, and the addition of mulching with pine needles. At last a use for the dreaded pine trees that inhabit our 20 acre block.

The task of sifting the seed has begun. I found this fabulous sifter in Bas Foods in Brunswick, near Melbourne. A ceelik , I think it is Turkish in origin.

I have saved my own Cos and Red leafed lettuce for years. It germinates in any season and there are always hundreds of seedlings to give away, thus keeping the strain going. The cavolo nero dried seed pods needed splitting open by hand. Seed saving is one of the real pleasures of gardening, knowing that you have selected the best specimen for your own micro climate.

Garlic cleaning has begun. Last year the garlic lasted for 12 months without shooting, thanks to correct storage in the dark, in an airy container. This year, I plan to store them in these old Chinese steamer baskets, covered with hessian, in the larder.

The garlic crop was disappointing in size due to lack of rain in winter and early Spring. Our total rainfall this year was 587mm, compared with 670 mm in 2013 and 711 in 2012. As we are in the midst of an El Nino cycle, watering needs to happen more consistently in Winter and Spring, especially as garlic requires it to fatten up. Winter can often be our driest period. We forget this, thinking that cold equals wet!

I leave all the radicchio to go to seed as the flowers do their job attracting bees and insects for pollinating the tomatoes, pumpkin, cucumber and so on. And their cornflower blue is so stunning.

radicchio flower- bee attractor.
radicchio flower- bee attractor.

Jobs to do: Net the grapes. Mulch the tomato and pumpkin beds, create another green shade cloth bed for lettuce. Remove old seeded silver beets.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s a gardener’s source of inspiration at Lizzie’s The Garden Share Collective every month. Check it out.

Zucchini Pasta for Vigilanti

Tagliatelle, with robust flavours from the Mezzogiorno.
Tagliatelle, with robust flavours from the Mezzogiorno.


It is always exciting when the first zucchini of the season appear. That initial joy occurred one month ago. We are still happy about the little flushes, but it pays to be vigilant. Turn your back, and the zucchini turn totally phallic. Large zucchini also sap the life out of the plants, slowing the fertility. It pays to pick often.

This recipe is similar to the classic Orecchiette con Broccoli e Acciughe but substituting zucchini for the broccoli. It tastes like the Mezzogiorno, a robust pasta from the south of Italy.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tagliatelle con Zucchini e Acciughe-  Tagliatelle with zucchini and anchovies.

Recipe ( for 2 )

  • 200 g tagliatelle egg pasta
  • 3 medium zucchini, grated
  • Extra Virgin Olive oil
  • 6 anchovy fillets
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped finely.
  • chilli flakes
  • freshly ground black pepper.
  • fresh parmesan to serve

Method.

  1. Grate the zucchini on a box grater or with a grating disc on a food processor. Squeeze out the juice lightly.
  2. Heat a medium-sized frying pan, then add oil- around 2 or 3 tablespoons. Add the garlic and anchovies, heat and melt the anchovies, then add a sprinkling of chilli flakes to taste. Then add the grated zucchini, toss around well for a few minutes.
  3. Cook the tagliatelle nests in ample salted water. Drain, retaining a little moisture on the pasta. Add the pasta to the zucchini and toss around.
  4. Serve with torn basil leaves and grated parmigiana.

    The grated zucchini are tossed in a pan with oil, garlic, anchovy and chilli
    The grated zucchini are tossed in a pan with oil, garlic, anchovy and chilli

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

 

 

My Favourite Soup. An all year silverbeet recipe.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen Leah nominated Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook for this month’s Cookbook Guru title, I was in two minds. Don’t get me wrong. I went through a Marcella Hazan stage from the late 80s  and I believe she has influenced my cooking profoundly. I was studying Italian at the time and her discussion of things like the importance of ‘soffritto’ and ‘salt’ changed my cooking style. At the time, Marcella became my cooking mentor,- I loved the sound of the Italian titles; the two obsessions in my life, Italian language and cooking, complemented each other so well.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In those days I owned two other cookbooks written by Marcella. They preceded her The Classic Italian Cookbook which I don’t enjoy as much. So I am sure you won’t mind if I share my favourite soup recipe, taken from her earlier work. This recipe is a family favourite: we have adapted it along the way but it is still close enough to the original. Marcella, I recall, flavours the oil with whole garlic cloves and then discards them. I chop it and keep it all- it flavours the stock beautifully. It has become our ‘chicken soup’, a pick me up.  I have attempted to list quantities here: normally it’s a handful of this, a bunch of that and a couple of cups of beans. The beauty of the soup relies on fresh ingredients and it costs almost nothing to make. The costly items are the Parmigiano cheese and good quality oil.

Zuppa di Bietola e Fagioli Bianchi.

(or less romantically, Silverbeet and White Bean Soup)

Ingredients

  • one small branch of fresh rosemary, stripped, chopped.
  • 5 Tbles EV olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic or more, finely chopped.
  • 6 fillets anchovies

Make a soffritto with these ingredients in a large pot. Melt the anchovies down in the oil, stirring well, being careful not to over colour the garlic.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

  • one large bunch silverbeet
  • 500 gr cooked cannellini /great northern beans ( from 300 dried)
  • salt
  • two small handfuls of macaroni/digitali/small shaped pasta
  • grana padano/reggiano parmigiano cheese
  • best EV olive oil for serving.

Wash and trim the silver beet. Finely slice, including the stems, and add to the soffritto, stir around and coat with oil till they wilt.
Add beans. Add enough water to barely cover ingredients. Cook on a steady heat for around 5 minutes. Add pasta, some salt, and cook until the pasta is al dente.

A balanced mix of green and white
Attempt to obtain a balanced mix of green and white in the cooking pot.

Adjust salt, stir some grated parmigiano through the soup.  Serve with a little stream of fine oil and extra parmigiano.

This is a piatto unico, a one course meal, with good bread.  Serves 4-6.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ode to Garlic and a Simple Bruschetta

There are hundreds of Italian proverbs dealing with garlic. Some deal with the puzzo or stench of garlic: others sing its praises. My favourite is  L’aglio è il farmacista del contadino –Garlic is the peasant’s pharmacist.

Image

The benefits of garlic:

  • Throughout history in the Middle East, East Asia and Nepal, garlic has been used to treat bronchitis, high blood pressure,TB, liver disorders,  rheumatism, diabetes and fevers.
  • According to many studies, garlic is widely used for several conditions linked to the blood system and heart, including hardening of the arteries, high cholesterol, heart attack, coronary heart disease,  and blood pressure.
  • garlic is said to lower levels of osteoarthritis in women. Image

The list of health benefits goes on and on. I add garlic to nearly every savoury dish I cook, but raw garlic has greater health properties. Add raw garlic to guacamole, babaganouge, humous, salsa verde, aioli, garlic butter, salad dressings. Slice it raw onto pizza, fish, tomatoes. Or make some bruschetta.Image

To celebrate this season’s garlic crop, dried and carefully plaited by Alessandra, I am making some simple bruschetta, using the best sourdough bread from St Andrews Bakery and a premium Cobram extra virgin olive oil. Slice the bread thickly, brush with Extra Virgin olive oil, and grill in a ridged pan, pressing down to get nice charred marks. Remove, rub with lots of galic, and add more oil.

Image

“Non piangere” – disse l’aglio alla cipolla. “Non fiatare” – rispose la cipolla.

“Don’t cry” said the garlic to the onion. “Don’t breathe” replied the onion.Image

If everyone ate garlic, no one would detect the smell on others. However , chewing parsley leaves or eating yoghurt will neutralise the smell.

Image

Are you a garlic devotee?