In My Kitchen, June 2021

Here we go again, lockdown number 4 in Melbourne. From whence it came and who’s to blame? That’s the name of the game, again! I can vividly recall the range of emotions and behaviours that accompanied each previous lockdown. During lockdown number one and two, I settled into a new set of routines that were pragmatic and budget centred. We stocked up on beans, pulses and grains, not toilet paper, and got on with the business of surviving safely. We walked more for exercise, and I cooked more for others- soups, pizzas and bread to send to adult children and grandchildren down the road. They often shopped for me: the care went both ways. It was a time of sharing and there was a sense of generosity and reciprocity in the community. And for many, pride in our State leader, along with a sense of common struggle. We would stay safe, we would stay at home and we would get vaccinated once it became available.

This time around, I’m struggling to conjure up the same emotions. This time I’m fearful and angry. Angry at the lies that are told by the fat rogue at the top, our own Trumpian shouting clown, and annoyed at vaccine hesitancy in members of our community, though things are slowly improving on this score. It goes without saying that if more people were vaccinated ( fully) the virus could not shut down a whole community. This time there’s no financial support for our workers, epecially those in casual employment, though some is offered to businesses by our State. And this time, many children, back at home without their school mates and caring teachers, are more anxious. This virus strain is more virulent. I’m still very focussed on life in my kitchen- that one room, along with my garden, is my sanity saviour in the end. 

Every June, my pantry stash of garlic starts sprouting green shoots. In order to extend the supplies to November, when the first harvest of new garlic appears, I’ve resorted to freezing it in handy batches. One of the hacks I found involves peeling and roughly chopping the garlic in a food processor, then popping teaspoons full into mini patty pans, covering with a little olive oil, then freezing them inside a muffin tin. Once frozen, they are removed and placed into zip lock bags and stored in the freezer. Pull out a little round or two and throw into the pan. The only annoying part of this hack is peeling the garlic.

One of the things I never managed to do during lockdowns 1 to 3, was to sort out my lovely collection of serving ware into categories. It was satisfying to put the Asian bits and pieces together so that my Doutsa, as I like to call him, ( kitchen hand in Sichuan) can find them. There are old Vietnamese fish patterned bowls, Chinese oval serving platters, Chinese rice bowls and many delicate little Japanese saucers. All rather out of date but timeless, collected second hand along the way.

The bread making continues. On a Winter’s day, a north facing window is a baker’s best friend. Sunbaking below we have a 500 gr bowl of pizza dough, a large bowl of sourdough wholegrain dough and a starter sharing the ledge with a sleepng Buddha. It does get rather hot, so they are moved once they’ve started to rise.

On occasion I’m left with a spare sourdough loaf, due to a stuff up in pick up or drop off, which is annoying. There are two solutions- make lovely oiled croutons to freeze or remove the crusts, blitz in the food processor, toast in the oven, blitz again, bag and freeze. Waste not, epecially during lockdown. I know I’m going to love these crumbs on top of a vegetable gratin. Much better than a bag of shop bought saw dust.

one loaf of stale sourdough = the best crumbs for the future

The lemon trees are at their best in winter. One of the top priorities is making a batch or two of preserved lemons. I love using the salty peel in tuna cakes, mashed potato and smashed baked potato. Whatever fish you use to make your fish cake, preserved lemon takes them to another level.

Preserved lemons are so useful.
Tuna burger/cake/pattie on a coulis of San Marzano and oregano. ( stash from the freezer) along with a winter salad. We still have tomatoes ripening in the window, and always have tons of garden greens.

Some other dishes that passed through my kitchen recently are pictured below. Some of these will land in my lockdown cookbook that I’m slowly assembling.

Vegie pasties, lightly curried, the vegies bound with a little red lentil dal. The pasta frolla or buttery shortcrust pastry is not my favourite thing to make, but I plan to get over that.
This is one of my favourite pasta dishes, especially when red capsicums/peppers are cheap and plentiful. Sadly I can never grow fat capsicums. The sauce is creamy, based on almond meal. Here it covers Paccheri, a rather large shaped pasta.
I love my Vietnamese clay pot and find it so handy for a speedy dinner. The rice is cooking in the ricemaker, the tofu has been pre-fried. Into the clay pot goes ginger, garlic and spring onions, then some mushroom XO condiment, some sliced mushrooms, greens from the garden, the tofu and the sauces. ( light soy, kecup manis, oyster, water ) and thickened with cornflour just before serving. Extra rice is always cooked for tomorrow’s fried rice.
Yesterday’s plain rice is today’s fried rice. Old school fried rice, includes garden cabbage, supermarket frozen prawn, aromatics.
This is not my cellar. It belongs to Bill Calabria of Calabria Family wines in Griffith. We travelled to Rutherglen and then Griffith for a week, and returned with some tasty and unusual wines. I loved this cellar.

Dear reader, thanks for your support over the last 8 years. I’ve been rather neglectful of my blog and although I have many travel stories to tell and recipes to share, I’m struggling with sitting at the computer for too long. This monthly piece, In My Kitchen, appeases my urge to write, and calms my rather angst ridden brain. Thanks to Sherry at Sherry’s Pickings for continuing to host this blog gathering. It’s the prod I need.

Farewell dear Kim, of A Little Lunch. Your stories of your kitchen life were delightful to read and your comments were always warm and wise. Vale, and deepest condolences to your family from this blogging community across the sea.

In My Kitchen September 2020

The season has been fruitful, especially with an abundant supply of all kinds of citrus, though this colourful presence is slowly coming to an end, with Blood and Valencia oranges the last varieties to pick. In Spring, the trees will return to flower and leaf production for next year. We have around 14 citrus trees but there’s always room for more. Most were planted around 10 years ago, with productivity hampered  by drought, wind, rabbit infestation and severe frost. They’ve now reached a stage of maturity where they can withstand most conditions.

There are two citrus trees producing oddities. These knobbly, thick skinned fruit grow on thorny wild trees. One wild tree used to be a grafted Kaffir lime tree. After dying in the recent drought, it re-sprouted, reverting back to old root stock below the graft. Although incredibly bitter to taste, the fruits are exotic, brightly coloured and decorative. They remind me of the Renaissance fascination with formal citrus gardens and the collecting of rare and unusual specimens. The paintings by Bartolomeo Bimbi and Giovanna Garzani, reveal this fascination for depicting bumpy, disfigured lemons and other rare agrumi. 

On that subject, The Land Where Lemons Grow, by Helena Attlee, documents the history of the Italian fascination with citrus and is a great read. Thank you Beck, at In Search of the Golden Pudding, for recommending this. In terms of food writing, it’s up there with Delizia! An Epic History of Italians and their Food, by John Dickie and Honey from a Weed, by Patience Gray.

Seville Marmalade Orange Cake

In My Kitchen there’s always cake: the peasants have no fear of starving. I make a cake weekly: in this cool weather, it keeps well under a glass dome sitting on the kitchen dresser. I often halve them and send some away to other cake loving peasants. Most double as pudding: a couple of slices gently warmed in the remaining heat of an oven, served with something wet ( cream, icecream, custard) have kept us sane during winter and the lockdown. I’ve now made two versions of the Seville orange marmalade cake, pictured above. The recipe can be found here. The second version pictured below is a classic Middle Eastern orange and almond cake, glazed in marmalade. I think I prefer the first version. Excess marmalade can be used as a glaze in many ways. Maybe a chocolate cake could turn Jaffa-esque when topped with an orange marmalade glaze? Or a little Seville marmalade stirred through a rice pudding? Served with Halloumi? Liquified then added to a G&T?

Middle eastern Orange cake glazed with Seville orange marmalade

The little pasta dish below looks quite plain, belying the richness and intense lemon/orange flavoured sauce hiding within its folds. The sauce includes fine slivers of peel from an orange and lemon, which are boiled to soften, and the juice, a little onion, a knob of butter, cream and seasoning.

Tagliolini alle Scorzette di Arancia e Limone, recipe included in the book mentioned above.

The egg noodles from Mantovanelle come very close to those made by hand at home. These tagliatelline are my favourite comfort food. Cooked in five minutes, this gives you just enough time to quickly construct a sauce. Once the pasta hits the boiling water, my large non- stick wok is fired up and ready to go. In goes the EV olive oil, a little garlic, followed by fresh things from the garden, small stems of broccoli, young leaves of kale, some herbs, a few tiny unshelled broad beans, a dash of wine, perhaps some smoked salmon chunks, a few dashes of cream, seasoning and finally the cooked noodles. It’s a merry little dance around 2 stove jets. When the long lockdown ends in Melbourne, I look forward to returning to my favourite food shops which are further than 5 kilometres from my home. Since early July, strict travel distance rules have regulated movement in Melbourne. This pasta will be at the top of my shopping list.

I love this egg pasta and cannot wait to be allowed to drive further afield to buy more supplies.

Tagliatellini con salmone affumicato e verdure

The winter garden has kept us in fresh greens and now that spring is here, broad beans are slowly appearing.

Garden pickings for a pasta lunch.

Another day, another pasta. Rigatoni paired with a vegetarian ragù. The sauce included some mushrooms, dried porcini, herbs, left over thick lentil soup, a little miso, and tomato passata.

rigatoni con ragu’ di lenticchie

In these times, I often find myself looking back rather than forward. I cannot think of anything at present to look forward to- no short drives in the country, a family gathering, dinner with friends, travels overseas, visits to the city, a Vietnamese meal, a trip to the library- it’s a life without anticipation. Often, our next meal is the highlight of the day. The arrival of a book in the post, or a food order from Mt Zero Olives, is an added bonus. In this era of hard lockdown, the future has become blurred. Last night, as we were eating dinner, a spaghetti cacio e pepe, the conversation inevitably led to Rome. Where did we eat that last Roman cacio e pepe, where would we stay next time, an apartment in Trastevere again ( too busy) or over in Testaccio ( interesting suburb) or in centro? Through reminiscing, we came to the realisation that we would not be returning to Italy, or indeed Europe, and perhaps not to our favourite haunts in Asia. This is not meant to be a maudlin observation: I am a pragmatist at heart. Looking back over some of my old posts has given me a chance to relive some of those travels: like writing a detailed journal, blogging is a worthwhile pursuit in this sense. Unlike Facebook or Instagram posting, blogging provides a permanent and accessible log into the past. In the same way, participating in the monthly In My Kitchen for the last 7 years has produced another kind of documentation. Over the years my kitchen posts have gravitated towards seasonal food and simple dishes. My previous September posts expose another story: I’m usually away. Thanks Sherry of Sherry’s Pickings for continuing this series: it has been an interesting journey.

Sunday Pasties

It often seems like vegetarians miss out on all the fun when it comes to grabbing an instant treat from the local bakery. Here I’m talking about pies and pasties  with lashings of sauce. Most bakeries display one or two meagre offerings – a vegetable pasty, invariably disappointing and bland, with too much pastry that ends up all over your clothes, or the ubiquitous spinach and fetta roll, dried out  from spending too long in the pie warmer, a sad version of something that was once Greek. My local bakery produces a passable vegetable pie that comes with a reasonable amount of wet ‘gravy’. This is the one thing that is lacking from most vego bakery products- they are too dry and indigestible and lack that unctuous gravy that holds the filling together.

Lockdown blues, no cow bell sounds at the front gate. Time to make Pasties.

I tend to make pasties and pies in April, once the sky turns grey and the first fire crackles in the wood stove. Stay at home days, baking days. Pie making is more pleasurable with an assistant, as it’s not a bad idea to make a big stash for the freezer to tide you over the winter, or further months of isolation. One good standby iare these Lentil, Mushroom and Cheese Pasties. They freeze well too.

As is often the case, my recipe instructions are not precise. I don’t tend to weigh and take detailed notes of the things that I make, although I have a general notion of the quantities intuitively. If you end up with too many cooked lentils and feel that the ratio of lentil to mushroom is out, reserve some lentils and use to add to a soup. Cooked lentils keep very well in the fridge. 

Lentil and Mushroom Pasties

Ingredients, Makes 6 large pasties or 12 mini pasties.

  • 3 squares of frozen Puff pastry
  • 1 ½cups of Puy lentils. ( you can use any dark coloured lentils here, but puy lentils hold their shape and marry well with mushrooms)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 Tbs Olive oil 
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 1 -2 garlic chopped ( optional)
  • 2 cups ( approx measurement) mushrooms, quartered ( I prefer those with dark gills as they add more juice and flavour)
  • dried herbs of choice or finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • salt, ground black pepper
  • one small beaten egg for pastry glaze.
  • other additions, such as include left over grated cheese 

Method

  • Preheat oven to 180c. Line two baking trays with cooking parchment, or grease well.
  • Cook the lentils in ample water, adding a by leaf, and cook till soft. Test them as some lentils, especially if old, take a while to soften. Drain the lentils completely, and reserve the juice for another use. 
  • In a large frying pan, heat the oil with the butter and add the onions. Cook on gentle heat till softened, then add the garlic. Cook till soft and translucent. 
  • Add the mushrooms and herbs to the onions. Cook until soft and cooked through, stirring around as you go.
  • Combine the lentils with the mushroom mixture in a bowl. The mixture should not be too runny, but you do want a little gravy.  If you feel the mixture is too wet, cook down further. Season well. Consider adding some grated tasty cheese. Cool the mixture.
  • Defrost 3 sheets of puff pastry and halve these on the diagonal for 6 large pasties. Have more sheets on hand in case you end up with extra mixture.
  • Beat egg for pastry glaze.
  • Add the mixture to the centre of each triangle, spreading a little towards the corners. You want the pasties to be well filled but allow for ease of folding and joining. Wet the edges with a pastry brush and join the seams, pressing down as you go. 
  • Place three pasties on each baking tray and cook until the pastry is golden. Cool them first if you intend to freeze them for later.
  • Serve with an old fashioned chutney and green salad. Or heat, wrap in foil, and take it on your travels, when you’re allowed out.

For Rachael P and her daughters. I’m singing that Tom Petty song, but substituting LOCKDOWN for the Breakdown chorus. Sing along with me while we bake: Lockdown, go ahead and give it to me…….