When Autumn Leaves

Autumn is many seasons rolled into one. Gone now are the Keatsian days of early Autumn, that abundant time when the garden finally comes good with the fully blown fruits of an earlier season’s hard work. Then my mornings were filled with preserving: now I sweep and rake fallen leaves and gather ‘morning wood’, dry sticks and kindling to store for lighting fires. I often think of Lao Tzu when sweeping. An old black and white ink print on rice paper rises again to haunt me, flashbacks of Nepal, Swayambhunath and Francis, friend and Nepalese expat who helped revive the lost art of Tibetan ink printing during the 70s. Daoist, peaceful, impressionistic, the memory of this print and the act of sweeping helps clear the brain.

Daily raking and sweeping. Melia Azederach sheds early and often.

Autumn’s cold snap, a preparation for things to come, is followed by days of sunshine and warm weeks, a glorious Indian summer, confusing some plants and encouraging others to linger. Chillies have re-flowered, fruit tree buds are swelling: all in vain I’m afraid.

May 26: Borlotti beans are flourishing but I’m keeping an eye on them.

Just as I begin to indulge in the melancholy that comes with late Autumn, along come the Borlotti beans in their splendid pink scribbled coats and plump promise. I’ve been watching them and feeling them for weeks. One of their alternate names in Italian is Fagioli Scritti, a more vivid and appropriate title for this colourful and useful bean. I grow the tall variety and usually plant them late in the season. They are adapting to our microclimate as the same seeds are picked late and saved from year to year.

Borlotti beans prefer Autumn.

The cheery colour of pink tinged lettuce is also a mood changer. All the lettuces are better in the cold: cos and romaine, curly endive, bitter escarole, the butterheads and the soft oakleaf varieties, rugola, each one delicious on its own but more so when mixed. Large pink radishes and the ‘heart of darkness’ radicchio are now in their prime. Beautiful colours painted by cold.

Baby leaf mix of late Autumn
Heart of darkness radicchio

This version of Autumn Leaves seems to suit this season. It makes sense of nostalgia, missing and parting more than the crooning versions of the 50s, although the original French version, Les Feuilles Mortes, written in 1945, is also rather charming.

Aldo’s Spaghetti alla Puttanesca with Pesce Spada

“Come on Friday night when we’ll have Spaghetti Puttanesca with added Pesce Spada,” cajoled Aldo, the waiter, host, and sometime cook of the old Abruzzo Club. Aldo ran that vast dining room floor like a master of ceremonies. He conned all the kids with tricks and riddles, charmed the coiffed Nonne with flirtatious compliments that only Italian men do so well, and had a ready risqué joke for the tables of older men. For us non Abbruzzese, he tantalised us with the promise of authentic Italian cuisine, future dishes, specials from the kitchen that weren’t yet listed on the menu. When Aldo and his son left the Abruzzo club, we never returned. The soul and life of that place left with them. Nothing would ever taste the same again. Good food is more than the sum of its ingredients.

When I came across a small slab of Swordfish at my favourite little market recently, I thought of Aldo and how he might make this dish. It’s a substantial pasta dish and requires a little more preparation than that required by a busy Puttana.

Friday night Fish and Pasta, forget the chips.

Aldo’s Spaghetti Puttanesca with  Swordfish. For 2 greedy serves, 3 regular.

  • 200 gr swordfish or pesce spada
  • 200-220 gr spaghetti
  • a small bunch of oregano
  • a pinch of sea salt flakes
  • 3  cloves garlic
  • EV olive oil, a goodly amount
  • 1 can of tomatoes, drained of juice, large pieces roughly chopped.
  • a small handful of pitted black olives, halved
  • 2 teaspoons of salted capers, soaked in water
  • black pepper
  • finely chopped parsley

Method

  • Make the marinade for the fish. Using a small mortar and pestle, add the garlic and salt and begin pounding, then add the oregano leaves, around 2 tablespoons, and continue pounding till a green paste is formed, then add around three tablespoons of olive oil.
  • Cut the swordfish through the centre, ie horizontally, to make two thinner pieces. ( most swordfish is usually sold in very thick slabs- by slicing horizontally, you should have two equal portions of around 1 cm in thickness). Chop these into small chunks of around 2 cm. Place in a small bowl and mix in half of the marinade. Leave for around 1/2 hour on bench.
  • Bring a large pot of water to the boil, salt well. Add the pasta and cook according to packet directions.
  • Meanwhile, heat a large frying pan to medium-high and add the remaining marinade to the pan. When hot, add the cubes of swordfish and toss around until just cooked. Don’t let the fish overcook as it tends to become quite tough.
  • Remove the fish and set aside. Add the chopped tomato pieces to the same pan, add a little juice to get the sauce moving but don’t flood it with juice as this dilutes the flavour of the other ingredients. Add the chopped olives and drained capers. Sir about until hot, then add the cooked fish. Add a little pasta water to loosen the sauce if necessary.
  • When the pasta is cooked just al dente, drain, then add to the sauce, tossing about to amalgamate the ingredients. This second cooking in the pan makes the spaghetti really hot and brings the all the elements together. Add the chopped parsley and serve in a preheated pasta serving dish.

The Abruzzo club, Lygon Street East, Brunswick is now called 377 On Lygon. The restaurant has had a makeover. If you’ve been there recently, let me know how it went.

Old Fashioned Blankets

When little people are tired or pretending otherwise, I offer them a “Special Blanket”. They never say no. Adults are quite partial to them too and not only in winter. They are extremely old-fashioned but seem to go well with my eclectic decor. Soft and warm, they wrap, cocoon and protect, like being tucked into bed, and are reminders of a simpler time when people still made clothes and knitting was part of winter and warmth. Security and nostalgia all knitted up in these coloured squares made from discarded skeins.

Hand made Nana Rugs
Handmade Nana Rugs

My special blankets were donated to me after the Black Saturday Bushfire of 2009. Soon after that awful disaster, Australian women from across the country began knitting squares: some did this alone, many more did so in knitting groups. The squares were then collected and sewn or crocheted together by another team, often with an attached hand sewn cotton label and a few kind words. There were thousands of these blankets made and distributed in 2009. Mine are treasured, well used and loved. Although it’s now six years on, they are also symbols of generosity and kindness, values that should never become old fashioned. Thank you dear knitters and crocheters.

Ailsa’s travel theme this week at Where’s My Backpack is old- fashioned. Now, where’s my Special Blankie?

 

In My Kitchen, July 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn my kitchen is an Australian colonial kauri pine dresser and in the top drawer is my collection of antique cutlery.

This drawer full of treasure threatens to disgorge its heavy contents whenever I yank it open.  Despite the disorder, this drawer makes me feel simultaneously happy and nostalgic. I think of my grandmothers, old fashioned soups, puddings and Sunday family gatherings. My modern cutlery, by contrast, is simply functional, quotidian and dishwasherable. It evokes little!

Although still on the road in Asia, I couldn’t miss the chance for a simple little post on Celia’s monthly round of IMK. See Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for more world kitchens, cookbook recomendations and gadgets.

 

 

Nostalgia and an Excellent Bonne Bouche

This month the fans and  followers of the Cookbook Guru  are looking at ‘Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management‘, first published in 1861 and re-printed many times since then. The book makes fascinating reading and is available online in its original form. The first section of the book provides insight into household management during Victorian times and the remainder, the bulk of the book, records recipes and seasonal approaches to ingredients.

Photos copied from the original Mrs Beeton.Image

Many aspects of this work surprised me. Firstly, her approach to recording recipes and the indexing is quite modern. In this sense, Mrs Beeton paved the way for later seminal recipe dictionaries. Secondly, Mrs Beeton was only 21 at the time of publication, and would have been too young to acquire this depth of knowledge and wisdom, as well as the cooking experience required for such a tome.  A little digging reveals that most of the recipes in the book were copied from elsewhere.  One thinks of Mrs Beeton as a matriarchal, stern, and pragmatic Victorian woman so it is surprising to find that she was so young, dying at the age of 28 after childbirth complications. Her story makes intriguing reading.

beeton 2

Thirdly, the book struck many familiar chords and transported me back to the tastes, flavours and cooking of my childhood, back to the land of English and Irish food, with its economical stews, meats and puddings. It is a land I rarely visit now, dominated as I am by the food of Italy and Asia. My taste buds are Mediterranean, my location is closer to Asia than anywhere else, but my genetic food memory is still intact. Reading Mrs Beeton has brought on a deep sense of nostalgia and pining for the comfort foods of my past. It is a winter sensitivity and one that I am prepared to indulge in when the wind howls outside and the sun is too shy to appear.

Growing up in suburban Melbourne in a time when Anglo food was the only food known to us, we had our own Mrs Beeton living next door. Mrs Ferguson or ‘Ferga’ for short, a prim and pragmatic woman, with a tight perm and an eagerness to chat, was wonderful source of budgetary advice for my young mother in the 1950s.  Ferga introduced her to the economical principles of Mrs Beeton, ie, that every meal should have a cost per person and that everyday meals should have a firm budget.  My Nanny ( along with Pop) lived in a bungalow in our backyard, due to her health problems. She was also a kind of Mrs Beeton.  She was a great cook, using plenty of lard in her puddings and making beautiful barley soups, scones and other treats.  She was round, affectionate, and fairly un- Victorian in manner. I used to go on shopping errands for her- mainly to purchase a packet or two of Turf or Craven-A cigarettes. The smokes didn’t help her health!

Below- My Nanny in dance costume, around 1910.

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As a child, one of my favourite spreads was Anchovy Paste. The brand Pecks comes to mind. It was cheap and pink and came in a tiny jar. It made a welcome change from Vegemite or jam.  The thought of this fishy paste bounced back into my life as I read Mrs Beeton’s amusing words on the topic:

“When some delicate zest,” says a work just issued on the adulterations of trade, “is required to make the plain English breakfast more palatable, many people are in the habit of indulging in what they imagine to be anchovies. These fish are preserved in a kind of pickling-bottle, carefully corked down, and surrounded by a red-looking liquor, resembling in appearance diluted clay. The price is moderate, one shilling only being demanded for the luxury. When these anchovies are what is termed potted, it implies that the fish have been pounded into the consistency of a paste, and then placed in flat pots, somewhat similar in shape to those used for pomatum. This paste is usually eaten spread upon toast, and is said to form an excellent bonne bouche, which enables gentlemen at wine-parties to enjoy their port with redoubled gusto. Unfortunately, in six cases out of ten, the only portion of these preserved delicacies, that contains anything indicative of anchovies, is the paper label pasted on the bottle or pot, on which the word itself is printed…. All the samples of anchovy paste, analyzed by different medical men, have been found to be highly and vividly coloured with very large quantities of bole Armenian.” The anchovy itself, when imported, is of a dark dead colour, and it is to make it a bright “handsome-looking sauce” that this red earth is used.”*

So now for some real Anchovy Paste. A simple little recipe which I plan to freeze and use on my return from Asia in two months time. I will pop it on some bruschetta, or let it melt over a fine fish, or perhaps stir it through a bowl of pasta.

Mrs Beeton’s Anchovy paste

227. INGREDIENTS.—2 dozen anchovies, 1/2 lb. of fresh butter.

Mode.—Wash the anchovies thoroughly; bone and dry them, and pound them in a mortar to a paste. Mix the butter gradually with them, and rub the whole through a sieve. Put it by in small pots for use, and carefully exclude the air with a bladder, as it soon changes the colour of anchovies, besides spoiling them.

Average cost for this quantity, 2s.

POTTED ANCHOVIES are made in the same way, by adding pounded mace, cayenne, and nutmeg to taste.

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My Version of Anchovy Paste

  • 24 fillets of anchovies.
  • 125 gr butter
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped.
  • chopped herbs to taste

Pound the anchovies and garlic in a mortar and pestle, then incorporate the butter ( or whizz in a food processor).  Roll the paste into logs. Use some now ( yum) or section off  into segments and roll in foil, then wrap in plastic zip lock bags, label and freeze for later.Image

Average cost for this quantity in 2014. $1.25.

I buy anchovies in bulk at $10.00 for a large tin of 720 gr. ( you can never have too many anchovies). I used unsalted butter at around $1.60 per 250 grams.  Mrs Beeton would not approve of the addition of garlic but she would like my budgeting approach.

Thanks Leah for the chance to indulge in these memories and for bringing this book to our attention.

* As I am following a web copy, my referencing is imprecise with regard to page numbers of quoted text. Apologies to the academically inclined.