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

In My Kitchen, May 2017

A cavalcade of cakes marched through my kitchen recently. Three of the children had their birthdays within days of each other. This called for three distinct cakes, each created with the child in mind. The test, when they arrived for the belated birthday party, was to see if each child would recognise their own cake. Fortunately, each one did. Noah immediately announced that the bundt cake with Malteasers on top was his. I guess it looked a bit more blokey than the other two. Charlotte avowed that the chocolate double- decker cake with raspberry M&Ms was hers, and Daisy sat right in front of the carrot cake dressed with buttercream icing and edible butterflies. Plain cakes hid underneath all the trimming as none of the kids enjoy rich cakes. The festive toppings provided cheap drama, with a few selected sweets and a packet of Dr Oetker’s edible paper butterflies, which taste just like communion hosts, prompting me to stick out my tongue to receive my magic butterfly, a gesture totally lost on the happily gathered.

A scramble for candles. Start singing happy birthday before I sing ” The roof is on fire”.

Before dinner, each child lined up to have their height marked on the kitchen wall. This narrow wooden panel was commenced eight years ago. I would like to remove or cover the dated pine boards in my kitchen but it would necessitate the removal and relocation of this historic family document. Knowing me, nothing will happen. I’m grateful to have a big kitchen. First of all, the shoes come off, then the old wooden ruler is removed from a kitchen drawer. Serious concentration follows as the assembled witnesses cajole the child to stop cheating. Adults enjoy this activity too. Jake sets the benchmark at 195.58 cm, knocking off Adam at around 190.5 cm until Nick snuck onto the wall recently at around 193.04 cm. Daughters threaten to pass their mothers, cousins compete too often with their incremental markings, grandparents are teased about shrinking. No one can get anywhere near the fridge or kitchen while this important ritual is taking place.

The lower and busier end of the height measuring panel.

One of the birthday cakes was made in this heavy metal Bundt ring tin made by Kaiser. I fancy old heavy cookware designed to last forever. This one turned up in a second-hand store for $2.99. Love at first sight.

Vintage Kaiser Bundt Tin

The great outdoors continues to provide an array of produce for my kitchen. Olives are having a very good year in Victoria this year. My own trees have finally come good after five or so years. When I drive around the suburbs of Melbourne, I often see olive trees laden with olives and hope that someone will pick and preserve them.

One of our olive trees, planted by Alberto. Still young but doing well.

One kilo of black olives ready to brine. There are still a few kilo of green olives remaining. To pick or not to pick….green olives, that is the question.

A walk down the long driveway to the old pine trees revealed a small flush of Saffron Milk Caps, commonly called pine tree mushrooms, which will inspire tonight’s forager’s feast. Now to take a walk to the back of our property to find more hidden treasure. They are often found submerged in a mulch of pine straw: their saffron coloured heads push through as they grow larger. Tread carefully in mushroom season.

Saffron Milk Caps.

A well camouflaged saffron milk cap or pine mushroom.

While picking the mushrooms, my inquisitive friends, the Dexters, had a few words to say. Auntie Derry is my favourite. A little bit bossy, too Irish and short, just like me. I don’t want my pets to end up in somebody else’s kitchen, but sadly some might. To be truthful, we are overstocked.

Auntie Derry and the boys.

The Basil Genovese hangs on, but will keel over with the first frost. An old-fashioned pesto, made with a mortar and pestle, dressed a few dishes this week. It tastes so vibrant.

Pesto. Simply made, no fake additions.

Linguine with prawn, pesto and late season cherry tomatoes.

When it comes to food, my IMK posts tend to focus on garden produce. My vegetable garden inspires my cooking, its produce is central to the kitchen. As the years go by, I find that I am buying less and less, thanks to consistent composting, manure from my Dexters and the establishment of a unique micro climate in my veggie patch. At last I am home again. It has taken a while.

French radish. See my last post here for roasted radishes and greens.

This month, Sherry from Sherry’s Pickings is taking over the hosting of this monthly series. Good luck Sherry. This is a great little series, with very few ‘rules’ as such. Basically you write a kitchen focused post each month and link it to the host’s page. It is a very pleasant writing and photographic exercise and I recommend it to all bloggers old and new. For me, it’s a way of journaling life in my kitchen.

 

Winter Routines and Pasta d’Inverno

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have to be honest, coming home from a long holiday in the tropics to Melbourne hasn’t been easy. It’s not just the cold weather.  The first week back home has been hectic, full of dinner catch ups, missed family birthdays involving cookathons, garlic planting, entertaining our Italian guest, visiting and cooking for Mother, a football match to attend, and more. The days just seem too short, yet a mountain of tasks towers ahead. I am looking forward to a slower pace and some space to catch up with things.

Although I don't follow football, I admire these girls who play so well for their local team, Hurstbridge.
Although I don’t follow football, I admire these girls who played so well for their local team, Hurstbridge.

Cold weather routines are slowly re-emerging. Vegetable stocks go on the stove, barley or beans are soaked as I mull over the next week’s budget meals.

On sunny days, the low-lying sun streams through the north facing windows, warming the house in the middle hours of the day, reminders of the effectiveness of passive solar energy in house design.

Mr T gathers dry kindling and wood from the shed to feed our two wood stoves. Last night’s left over hot ashes become roasting beds for Autumn eggplants.

On our second day back, a late crop of pine mushrooms popped through the deep litter of pine needles, providing a tasty topping for bruschetta. Alberto searched for more along the ridges but found none, only the toxic Fairy rings of Fly Agaric. Foraging for food is always such a pleasure.

Annual crop of Pine Mushrooms for Bruschetta.
Annual crop of Pine Mushrooms for Bruschetta.

Although a few days remain before Winter officially commences, today’s pasta, Pasta d’Inverno or winter pasta, is a nourishing dish to go with these times of low light and slow pace. Quantities suitable for two hungry people.

  • 200 gr orecchiette pasta (de Cecco brand is my current favourite)
  • 3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive oil.
  • 3 onions, sliced finely
  • 3 anchovies, roughly chopped
  • one small branch of fresh rosemary
  • 1-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • finely sliced cauliflower, around one quarter of a head.
  • grated parmesan cheese, plenty
  • pasta cooking water
  • parsley,finely chopped.

Method.

Boil a large pot of water for the pasta. Salt well and then add the orecchiette and cook according to packet instructions.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a medium-sized frying pan. Add onions and cook very slowly and gently until they soften and almost melt, without colouring, then add the garlic and anchovies. Stir these about for a minute or so: the anchovies will vanish into the onion mixture. Add a small amount of freshly chopped rosemary.

Add the sliced cauliflower to the onion mixture and toss about for a few minutes until it is softened. Slicing cauliflower allows it to cook faster than small florets. I like the way it disappears in the sauce.

When the pasta is nearly cooked, remove at least a cup of the pasta water. Add this to the onion mixture, turning up the temperature to reduce a little. Stir in a few tablespoons of the grated parmesan to thicken the sauce.

Drain the pasta and add to the pan to amalgamate well with the sauce. Add the finely chopped parsley.

Serve in heated bowls, adding more parmesan at the table. There should be plenty of unctuous sauce to mop up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA