In My Kitchen, April 2021

This month’s In My Kitchen post takes the form of a small, April journal, interspersed with photos of ingredients and dishes that entered or exited my kitchen recently.

Tagliatelle with mushrooms- swiss browns, porcini and fresh shitake. Autumn bowl.

At the Beach, Easter ’21

I’m lying on a comfy bed inside my caravan on Good Friday afternoon. The day is hot and still, though the cooling sea air finds its way through the windows and ceiling extractor, making a little lie down even more enticing. The small space is darkened by blockout curtains: it’s womblike, cocooning, soothing. Someone is tuning a guitar in the distance, followed by a sampling of acoustic bluegrass notes. Wattle birds make scratchy chatter in the nearby banksia trees. It’s not quite #vanlife because it’s a caravan and I’m probably disqualified anyway. I think it must be the small space that is so appealing about a van, reminiscent of the cubby houses I used to build in my childhood, with planks of old timber, worn blankets smelling of shed and dusty hessian bags.

It’s olive time at home, and although we have netted, the cockatoos find their way in.

There’s not much to do except walk, read, write or plan the next meal. Fortunately, some good things, like hot cross buns, were made at home and brought to the beach camp to share with others. This year’s hot cross buns were a big hit with me, and I’m a very fussy customer. Over the years I’ve attempted quite a few different recipes and I may have finally found one to suit my discerning palate. The two recipes I used this year were similar with regard to ingredients but differed in technique. I’ve learnt quite a few things along the way, and am happy to say that the 32 buns were all eaten, with praise offered by my appointed samplers, Daisy and Helen. Sourdough buns last much longer than yeasted buns. Cinnamon affects the rising action of sourdough so should be added later, or at least after an initial autolyse. Butter is better added in chunks rather than melted, and is also best added at the end of the mix. In hindsight I preferred using a stand mixer for the dough over the hand built version, given the wetness of the mix and the delay in adding the butter. An overnight proofing in the fridge makes the dough much easier to shape. Allow 24 hours once you begin your mixing and monitor ambient temperature: around 23c-24c is ideal. I’ve finally invested in a thermometer/hygrometer, an important tool in the bread making process. I may make some Not Cross Buns to practise my technique throughout the year.

Mark 1. Fruit soaked in vanilla, lots of cubed butter added at end. Machine mixed, 10 hour ferment, long second proof due to colder kitchen. Not sure about the vanilla soak.
Mark 2. No vanilla, no mixed peel,. Hand mixed. 20 hour ferment. Quince glaze was too sticky.

If you’re not into sourdough, yeasted hot cross buns are fast and easy to make, assuming you have a hungry horde to feed, as they don’t keep very well. Why bother making your own buns? The answer partly lies in the image below, taken from a Coles packet of HC buns. Bakers Delight and Brumby’s buns are also loaded with numbers too, with 27- 32 listed ingredients. Small independent bakeries are more likely to make buns without a bunch of numbers: they are more expensive but then, they’re meant to be an annual treat. Real butter goes on top of a good bun, not a mixture of oil, dairy and numbers, known as spreadable butter.

Coles Hot Cross Bun Info

Help indeed.

The best shared meals at the beach are fairly well planned. We either decide on a particular cuisine or theme. Indian nights are good value, with family members bringing their favourite curry, which drives nearby campers mad with desire as the onions and spices slowly cook. Pizzas done in the Baby Q Weber work well but are very slow, giving new meaning to the notion of slow food. I usually bring 8 balls of 48 hour fermented dough from home for our beach pizza night, but supermarket pizza bases work well enough when desperate. My favourite flour for pizza, buns and bread is Wholegrain Milling’s organic stoneground baker’s flour which I buy wholesale in 25 kilo bags.

A 25 kilo bag of organic premium white bakers flour via Terra Madre wholesalers has finally arrived. These big food safe bins will hold 20 kilos and come with a good airlock lid. The remaining five kilos are decanted into an everyday container with handle.

April 11. Thoughts from the couch on a wet Sunday.

I’ve been reflecting on the idea of the anti-cook, and whether I might become one. You know those days when a bowl full of numbers in the form of a packet of Indomie, a popular Indonesian instant noodle brand, is all you can imagine. Adding a chopped spring onion is going too far down the road of kitchen mess. Or a cup of instant miso soup for an overdose of salt, the zen answer to bonox. There’s no shortage of good food here: I have a garden full of it. But putting it all together requires a herculean effort as well as a desire to eat well. No one told me that one of the side affects of the Covid Jab is loss of appetite and a disinterest in wine. This is outrageous! Why didn’t they tell me on the carefully printed side effects sheet? Along with kitchen apathy comes a keen desire to spend more time in a horizontal position watching streamed TV series. An Easter Lindt chocolate or two and a heat pack are my new daytime friends. If you’re over 50, join the club and suffer a few days of sloth and achy joints, or perhaps smoke one, but don’t become vaccine reticent. That packet of Indomie has 17 mysterious additives which are more likely to cause more blood clotting than the Astra Zeneca Jab. An anti- cook I may become, but I’ll never be an anti- vaxxer. I’m part of the herd, and hopefully part of the solution.

Mid Autumn pickings.
Those quinces are still waiting for me to get off the couch.

Thanks once again Sherry for hosting the IMK series. At present I like writing more than cooking and so my contribution may seem a little curlballish, or googly to use an old cricket term, but that’s life. Go to Sherry’s Pickings for more inspiring world kitchens.

In My Kitchen. May 2020.

There’s something very fishy going on in my kitchen. Yesterday, I finally braved the big scary world beyond the front gate and went in search of fresh fish at my favourite market, 30 kilometres away. The weather was chilly, with rain and sleet and a predicted top temperature of 10ºc. Swaddled in my trusty feather padded puffer jacket, mask and disposable gloves, Mr Tranquillo commented that I looked like a protagonist from a Scandi Noir series. The mask idea was a flop, making my glasses fog badly. The choice was clear, blindness or corona virus angst, fish or no fish as I eyed off the well fitting masks on the faces of other shoppers around me.

Next trip to the market, I’m wearing this to scare off other shoppers.

I had been yearning for fresh fish and had lost count of the days and weeks without it. Along the way, I had tried some very ordinary frozen stuff, and did visit the lacklustre display of pre-cut flaccid fish fillets at a nearby supermarket. I left empty handed. There’s something annoying going on during this health and economic crisis. Australian fishermen pay dearly for licences to fish our clean waters. Their life on the sea is arduous and often dangerous. But due to the closure of restaurants, much of our finer fish is frozen then exported overseas. Meanwhile, Australians are often reduced to buying sub- standard imported frozen products, often farmed or fished in questionable waters, while the major supermarkets offer mundane products, bought at a national level, bearing no relationship to the local seasonal offerings at all. If there’s one message in all this, is is support your local fishmonger. There aren’t many of them left. They are trained at selecting and purchasing, handling, gutting, boning, filleting, and selling local fish. There are no fishmongers employed by supermarkets and the choice is limited. Avoid frozen imported fish at all costs. You have no idea how it was fished, the working conditions of the fishermen, or the toxic state of the waters.

Crabs lying in wait- Linguine with chilli crab.

The Preston Market offers 6 fishmongers, small businesses that have continued to serve the public during throughout this lockdown period. One of my favourites is Nick the Fishmonger. The boss there knows exactly what his customers love and buys local fish early each morning at the wholesale market and then fillets them to order. Yesterday’s display drove me demented with desire. Each fishmonger has his/her own specialty and you get to know each one personally: the smiling Vietnamese lady on the corner, who has been there for the last thirty years, the ‘Aussie’ crew next door, who source local squid from nearby waters, the Greek guy around the corner who sources Mt Martha mussels. I came home with fresh blue swimmer crabs, flathead fillets, a kilo or more of squid, and some huge, frozen tiger prawns from South Australia. All these are now stashed in portion sizes in my freezer, though the crabs have been earmarked for today’s linguini, crab and chilli, while some of the flathead fillets and squid became yesterday’s fritto misto. I’m in heaven. It was worth the wait.

Fritto Misto. Portami in paradiso.

 In my kitchen, like many others, I’ve been doing more cooking than usual. Supplies have been delivered by guardian angels and if there’s one up side to this self isolation business, it has been the sharing of shopping trips. My daughter visited a well stocked Indian grocery two weeks ago. As she toured the shelves, she messaged photos to me: I felt like I was shopping alongside her. She returned with bags full of pulses and chickpeas, fresh spices and ghee. Another friend, Helen H, was heading down to Psarakos, a busy store a few suburbs away, a 30 minute drive. She returned with a giant wedge of Grana Padano parmigiano, big enough to see me out. My eldest son calls every two days and checks to see if we need basics from the supermarket. Fiona dropped off a bag of freshly gathered wild pine mushrooms. My granddaughter found a source of Baker’s flour, some passionfruit, and happily collects our wine order from Nillumbik Cellars, where they specialise in Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio from the King Valley. Thank you angels.

For all other activities In My Kitchen, I’ll let the pictures below do the talking. Thanks Sherry of Sherry’s Pickings for hosting this round up each month.

The last of the apple pick, Tome Beauty.
Walnut sourdough bread and Meredith goat cheese
Ricotta, orange and almond cake, Recipe on last month’s blog
Muttar paneer, recipe on last month’s blog
Pakora. recipe on last month’s blog

Cooking Siciliano and the Oregano Festival

I can’t imagine a garden without herbs. Or cooking without herbs. Or life without herbs. If I were marooned on a desert island and had just one food request, I would choose fresh herbs. And if then forced to choose only one herb, the answer might well be oregano.

Dried oregano from last week’s pick.

Although a perennial herb, oregano has distinct seasons. It shoots up in Spring, producing tall hard stems with bracts of pale mauve flowers. It’s best to harvest these stems once in full flower and hang to dry. If you’ve ever bought a packet of dried wild Greek or Sicilian oregano, you’ll notice that the flowers are favoured. By harvesting the mature stems, the plant will reinvigorate for summer and beyond. It is alive in winter, but not so productive.

Today’s pick, ready to hang.

Every time I gather bunches of oregano and string them up, I can almost taste the savoury crunch, salty sea air, pizza, fish, pickled olives, capers and the Mediterranean all rolled into one little sensation. I first tasted this herb in 1968, the year I first ate pizza. A few years later, as a cash strapped student with two infant children, my favourite weekly treat was a bag of oregano laced olives from the little Greek grocery shop on the corner of Canning Street. I am still searching for that same taste, that excitement that transported me away from my childhood diet of bland British/Australian cuisine, and into the firm embrace of Cucina Mediterranea.

Dried oregano, bagged for the ‘export’ market and oregano salt,

When making a simple pizza sauce (with garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and tomatoes, fresh or canned) I invariably choose to add dried oregano. When cooking fish, a simple fillet of flathead, a snapper or a pesce spada alla siciliana ( swordfish), oregano usually stars in the sauce. Its earthy, slightly bitter flavour bonds well salt, garlic and oil. Fresh oregano, olive oil and vinegar is a perfect dressing for a warm potato salad or is the final blessing, along with a squeeze of lemon, on fried saganaki or halloumi.

Pan fried flathead, dusted in seasoned riceflour, cooked in EV olive oil, dressed in salmoriglio.

I often feel enslaved by my food memories, though it’s a pleasant kind of servitude. One other vivid recollection involving oregano is the day I first tasted Salmoriglio, that famous Sicilian sauce and marinade. We were sitting in a little restaurant in Palermo. It was late Spring in the year 2000. The decor spoke of that era- terracotta paving on the floor, Mediterranean tiles on the walls, and colourful Italian made platters and plates. We ordered Pesce Spada, grilled swordfish, dressed with Salmoriglio. It came with oven roasted potatoes and grilled red peppers on the side. To this day, it is the fish sauce of choice.

Flathead alla Siciliano.

Salmoriglio

There are a few variations on the theme of salmoriglio. Some recipes add capers or anchovies. I think the following recipe comes closest to that taste true of Palermo. It can be a sauce or a marinade for vegetables. The sauce is best used straight away or within 24 hours. I made it last night for a sauce to go with pan fried flathead fillets, and today I used the remainder to marinate some zucchini and tiger prawns, which were then grilled.

  • 6 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, removed from woody stems
  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • course sea salt flakes to taste
  • juice of one large lemon
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 6 tablespoons EV olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons hot water

Mash the leaves with a pinch of salt flakes and garlic in a mortar and pestle. Pound well to amalgamate into a rough paste. Add the lemon peel and oil. Continue to pound then add the lemon juice and a little hot water, mixing well to make the sauce creamy. You can gently warm this sauce if you wish. If you make it in a food processor, the sauce will have a dense consistency and will not be so rustic or tasty.

Gamberi e Zucchini alla Griglia con Salmoriglio.

Oregano Salt Recipe.

  • 1/4 cup of dried oregano leaves
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt crystals.

Grind in a coffee or spice grinder and store in a jar. Add to baked vegetables, fresh tomatoes, Greek potatoes.

So what food would you choose on your desert island dear reader? My choice of oregano assumes that I will also have a fishing rod.

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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.

Got any bread?

A duck walks into a bar and asks: “Got any Bread?”

Barman says: “No.”

Duck says: “Got any bread?”

Barman says: “No.”

Duck says: “Got any bread?”

Barman says: “No, we have no bread.”

Duck says: “Got any bread?”

Barman says: “No, we haven’t got any bread!”

Duck says: “Got any bread?”

Barman says: “No, are you deaf?! We haven’t got any bread, and if you ask me again and I’ll nail your f ***ing beak to the bar you annoying f***ing duck!”

Duck says: “Got any nails?”

Barman says: “No”

Duck says: “Got any bread?

I always think of this duck joke every time I pull more fresh loaves from the oven or when I see a family of wild wood ducks taking a fancy to our swimming pool. Both trigger a “Got any Bread” moment, but with entirely different emotions. At least it’s a lot better than the typically imbecilic jokes contained in Christmas bon bons. Who writes these Christmas jokes and why do we feel so compelled to read them aloud?

But you can keep your hat on.
You can leave your hat on!

Today’s festive olive bread is a super easy yeasted bread bound to stay moist. While dark looking and rustic in appearance, due to the olives, rosemary and olive oil worked into the dough at the first kneading stage, it is still a light bread. The recipe comes from Maggie’s Table.* I like the simplicity of this version, especially when time is precious at Christmas. You can make these lovely loaves in less than two hours with lots of resting time in between to indulge in a Christmas drop or two.

Olive and Rosemary Bread/ Pane con Rosmarino e Olive

15 g or 1 ½ teaspoons dried yeast

1 teaspoon castor sugar

300 ml warm water

500 g unbleached strong flour (bakers flour)

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup freshly chopped rosemary

190 g pitted kalamata olives

Combine yeast, sugar, and warm water in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Leave for 5 minutes. Then add the flour, salt, rosemary and olives. Mix with the paddle till the dough comes together, then swap to a dough hook ad mix for a few minutes. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead gently for another five minutes. The dough is meant to be quite moist and sticky, however you may need to add a little extra flour along the way. Turn into a clean and lightly oiled bowl and brush the top with a little olive oil. Cover the bowl and leave until doubled in size ( about 1 hour).

Divide the mixture into two portions and shape into loaves. Brush a baking tray with olive oil and leave the loaves to rise, covered, on the oiled tray for a further 20 minutes. Meanwhile heat the oven to 220c FF. Bake the loaves for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 180c and bake for a further 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before cutting. Makes two loaves, one for me and one for the freezer.

 

*Maggie Beer, Maggie’s Table, Penguin 2005.  Gifted to me by the Richard’s family after the fire. Thanks Christine and Peter.

 

Antipasto of Egg Salad with Parsley Pesto.

Essere Come Prezzemolo is a handy Italian expression. It simply means to be like parsley, and is applied to people who turn up everywhere, or are always there. ( Steven Fry comes to mind ) Thank goodness parsley is always in my garden as it forms the backbone of many a meal. It flavours stock, is the main star in tabbouleh and it is sprinkled over many a dish, like confetti at a wedding, or a last blessing from the kitchen. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This little salad always gets eaten first at any family gathering.  The young wolves descend on it.It is an economical starter, especially if you grow parsley which is really like a weed. Serve this with another salad, some herbed olives and a tasty bread for lunch.

Mt Zero Biodynamic olives, warmed with oil, garlic and herbs.
Mt Zero Biodynamic olives, warmed with oil, garlic and herbs.

The dish employs winter produce at its peak. Avocados, which are cheap in July and August, come from our sunnier northern states. Parsley is always prolific in the garden but more so in winter as it tends to ‘bolt’ in summer. The eggs are free range organic bantam eggs but any small sized organic eggs you can get hold of will go well as they are the star.

Antipasto di Uova, Prezzemolo e Avocado

  • 6 eggs ( small size)
  • 1 large avocado, or more as required.
  • 1 bunch Italian parsley
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • small handful pine nuts
  • sea salt
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Hard boil the eggs. Meanwhile make the parsley pesto in a mortar and pestle. Throw in the peeled garlic and some coarsely ground salt. Begin pounding. Add the pine nuts and continue pounding. ( Think of your least favorite politician). Add the leaves from the parsley bunch, a bit at a time. Continue bashing away until the parsley is broken down but still a little rough in texture. Add the oil, continue pounding, and add enough to make a green sauce, runny enough to drizzle. Arrange the halved eggs and avocado chunks on a platter, drizzle with the parsley pesto, and add another grinding of salt. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I usually reserve the term pesto for the classic basil pesto which I only make in Summer. This one is so similar, and the green is so vibrant, I’m allowing it to sneak into the pesto category.