Ligurian Focaccia with Sage

Salty and oily. Focaccia di Liguria. This one comes with Sage leaves.
Salty and oily. Focaccia di Liguria. This one comes with sage leaves.

Focaccia is one of the culinary delights of Liguria and what better place to try a lovely green oily version than in the Cinque Terre. The five villages of this area, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso, perch precariously along the edge of the Ligurian sea and at the base of steep terraced hills. These towns are connected by a wonderful little train which travels through tunnels carved into the mountains, with an occasional glimpse at the wild sea through gaps in the tunnels along the way. They are also connected by walking trails and by sea.

Left over pizza dough.
Left over pizza dough.

I first tried green oil drenched, salty focaccia in 1985 in one of these towns. Other Ligurian specialties from that era included spaghetti al pesto, spaghetti con vongole and a very young dry white wine that I can still taste. Above the five towns, with colourful houses that tumble down to the sea, a steep walk takes one to a rural district with spectacular views of the coast. In those days, the towns petered out quickly: rural life was still in full swing: steeply terraced vines were well-tended, the tall irregular trellises constructed of hand hewn wood. Vineyards then led to further terraces of olive groves above.

dough placed in rectangular baking dish
Dough is  placed in a well oiled rectangular baking dish. The thicker the better!

I haven’t returned to the Cinque Terre since then- I don’t wish to spoil good memories. The terraces are now, apparently, poorly maintained and the vines untended: there is more money in tourism than farming. The area was also severely damaged by floods and mudslides in 2011. It is very popular and heavily touristed in the Italian summer months. The Cinque Terre National Park and the towns are now a Unesco World Heritage Site: there are attempts to preserve the unique aspects of this area.

Second rise- the dough under a damp cloth.
Second rise- the dough  under a damp cloth for another 40 minutes.
Before baking in a hot ( 220c) oven, the dough is dimpled, then liberally dressed with EV olive oil.
Before baking in a hot (220c) oven, the dough is dimpled, then liberally dressed with EV olive oil.
Focaccia con Salvia
Focaccia con Salvia

I follow Carol Field’s recipe when making focaccia, however I tend to use left over pizza dough that has been rising for another day in the fridge.

  • After returning the once risen dough back to room temperature, I roll it into a rectangular shape to suit the size of my baking tin – in this case, a tin with sides, such as a old fashioned lamington tin.
  • The tin is well oiled, the dough is pressed in with fingers and left to rise again under a damp cloth. The damp cloth trick seems to produce the right moist texture that I recall from all those years ago. The cloth needs to be very well dampened but sit slightly above the dough so that it doesn’t stick.
  • After 40 minutes or so, the dough is dimpled by pressing indentations with your fingers. These will catch the oil. Very therapeutic and a good task for little ones.
  • Lots of Extra Virgin olive oil is applied, followed by salt crystals (coarsely ground sea salt or rock salt), then sage leaves are pressed onto the dough.
  • The focaccia is then baked in a preheated oven, 220c, for around 20 minutes or until it looks done.
  • Cool, remove from tin, and slice into rectangle pieces or slices. I guarantee that the bread will not have time to go stale. It doesn’t hang around for long.

The green olive version from Liguria is also rather nice.

This forms part of Leah’s The Cookbook Guru,  where we are spending a month or two looking at one of my favourite cookbooks, Carol Field’s The Italian Baker.

And I hope it brings back a few travel memories for my three children, who will always remember Signore Andrea P. Poggi, and that screaming cat below the sea wall at Vernazza!

Cafe Bellino and the Demise of the Local Italian Restaurant.

Hand crafted thin crusted pizza at Cafe Bellino, Brunswick.
Hand crafted thin crusted pizza at Cafe Bellino, Brunswick.

Dean Martin sings ‘Cha cha cha d’amour” in the background; locals drop in for a quick chat or a coffee, groups greet each other warmly with ‘auguri‘ or buona sera‘. Introductions are swift- meet Dino or Toni- as working men greet their friends and gather for an antipasto or a hearty bowl of pasta and a glass of rosso. Poking one’s head in to greet the chef at work in the semi open kitchen seems to be the norm. The style is distinctly Italo- Australiano and I feel very much at home here. Front of house is a charming young waiter from Milano, no doubt working on a 457 working visa, like so many other young Italian camerieri in Melbourne, and the pizzas are truly excellent, dare I say, the best I have had in a long while. At $13- $15 for a large hand crafted thinly crusted pizza, they are a steal.  But here’s the sad news. Cafe Bellino in Victoria Street, Brunswick has less than 90 days left to run! Like so many others in the district, the couple responsible for the excellent cooking here is about to retire. The signora is looking forward to spending time with her grandchildren: restaurant life is hard work, she explains. The young Milanese waiter hopes to be able to work for the new lessee, but no one really knows what kind of business will replace the beautiful little Cafe Bellino.

Young Italian Camerierie at Cafe Bellino, Brunswick
Italian Cameriere at Cafe Bellino, Brunswick

It’s a common story around the inner suburbs of Melbourne, as more Italian couples reach retirement age and sell up. A recent closure was Cafe Mingo in Sydney road, when Jo, his wife and helpers retired. Their simple Italian restaurant became home away from home for many. I loved the way that Jo would slide over a complimentary plate full of sweet wafers and a tall bottle of grappa at the end of a meal. Sweet memories. The place has since become an Indian restaurant. It’s always empty, there is no licence and no ambience. It has lost its soul. Last week when we dropped into La Bussola Ristorante e Pizzeria in Lygon Street east, we found that retirement had struck again! La Bussola, home of the simple pizza and cheap pasta, a warm retro space where you could bring your own wine or buy a caraffa di vino da tavola for $10, has become the Compass Pizza Bar. The emphasis is now on the word “bar” as this seems to be how the young Brunswick cafe managers make their money. It’s all about mark up and less about the food. We were ushered into the old retro space but shock horror, a head-phoned  DJ had been installed, playing extremely loud music at 6pm. We were told curtly that our BYO bottle was not welcome, and no, we couldn’t pay extra for corkage or glasses. We promptly left. Another wonderful family run institution had become gentrified and in my humble opinion, wrecked. Crap bottled wine, of unknown source and vintage, was offered at a starting price of $32 a bottle. Most were more costly.

Antipasto selections at Cafe Bellino.
Antipasto selections at Cafe Bellino.

The simple joy of stepping out for a pizza or a bowl of pasta with a shared a bottle of wine is quickly vanishing. I have nothing against licensed restaurants. Most of the old style BYO places hold full licences as well, offering the diner a choice. What disturbs me are the ridiculous mark ups on wine at these new hipster places. Take a bottle of ordinary wine that retails for $8 and mark it up to $35 or more. Why? Isn’t turnover and ‘bums on seats’ more important in these leaner times? Cheap, affordable wine, as well as BYO wine, has made the Melbourne suburban restaurant scene dynamic and lively in the past. These practices enabled families to regularly dine out at their local restaurant, introducing children to restaurant life and the culture of food. Simple places with prices to match. Hipster joints with their huge mark ups on wine will attract only one type of customer, young affluent singles and childless couples. A sad trend indeed, and one that would never happen in France!

If you’re in the area, footloose and fancy free or loitering with intent and in need of a drink, a coffee, or a bowl of something authentically Italian, try Cafe Bellino, 281 Victoria St, Brunswick VIC 3056. ( Just around the corner from Sydney Road). Open from 10 am to 10 pm. Closed on Sunday. You only have 80 days left.

Cha cha cha d’amour
Take this song to my lover
Shoo shoo little bird
Go and find my love

Cha cha cha d’amour
Serenade at her window
Shoo shoo little bird
Sing my song of love

The Italian Balinese. Massimo’s Ristorante, Sanur.

It’s not hard to find a pizza in most towns in the world, and Sanur in Bali is no exception. What is often hard to find is a genuine Italian restaurant. Wood fired pizza ovens have taken off here and there are some rather sad versions being pumped out to satisfy the Western palette, especially along the beach front restaurant strip but also in Jalan Danau Tamblingan, the main tourist drag and restaurant belt.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARistorante Massimo is as close to authentic as you can get. Let’s start with the decor. The walls are covered with photos and paintings of Massimo, as well as images of Massimo with famous people: they fill every spare space on one lengthy wall as well as on the columns throughout the room. To personalise a restaurant that has a large and passing clientele seems particularly Italian, reminding me of a famous Italian pizza chain in Melbourne. There are also many framed black and white photos of Lecce, his home town in Puglia, Italy, assorted other subjects such as Alberto Sordi, in the famous spaghetti eating scene in “Un Americano a Roma“, together with other kitsch prints.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe table service at Massimo’s is fast and efficient. Massimo employs a staff of 30 or more on the floor, in the bar, the gelateria and pizzeria. I didn’t get back into the kitchen area to count the chefs and kitchen staff. The wait staff are very well trained, the best I’ve encountered in Sanur, and, while Balinese, they have picked up lots of Italian brio and style from whoever trained them. The service is fantastic.

Free little starter at Massimo's, Sanur.
Free little starter at Massimo’s, Sanur.
Locally made Two Islands Wine is a resonably priced drop. Made from Australian grapes in Bali.
Locally made Two Islands Wine is a reasonably priced option. Made from Australian grapes in Bali.

The food is good in a traditional way. There are many dishes scattered throughout the menu from Lecce in Puglia, marked with a code, Salentu. For those who have spent time in Puglia, these dishes will bring back memories. Mr Tranquillo had linguine with granchio, fresh crab ( AU $6.90) and I chose Spiedini di pesce alla griglia, three grilled seafood skewers with prawn, tuna and squid, which came with polenta chips and greens. ( AU $7.50).

The pizzas are excellent, the best you will find in this part of Bali. They start at around IDR 65,000 (AU$6.50 or €4.70) and come directly from the wood fired oven. We had a Napoli one lunchtime and found that one pizza was ample to share. Massimo has all bases covered with a relaxed open air bar, a gelateria, and a wood fired pizzeria facing the street, as well as the formal, spacious restaurant. There is also an excellent choice of freshly made tarts and cakes from the little caffe`.

Napolitana alla Massimo

This place is hugely popular with expats, tourists, and also middle class Balinese. It is a cavernous place with inside and outside areas and is always busy. It is advisable to book at night.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMassimo Sacco has been in this restaurant for 10 years, is married to a Balinese woman, and has two children. A real autentico Italiano Balinese. And as for that man in the photo below, Massimo and I both share a love of the old films by Alberto Sordi!

Catering for an 18th Birthday Party. Beginner’s Guide

Back in the day, many of us celebrated our 21st birthday with a big Shebang Hooly Dooly party with birthday cards and cakes embellished with keys ( key to the door symbolising adult independence) pewter tankards (you can ‘officially’ drink now. Oh really?) and other emblematic gifts denoting our newly acquired status as adults. Does this still go on?

Mr Contract Lawyer Tranquillo used to ask this of his 20 something year old students. Who had a 21st birthday party? What did it mean to you and why? He was often met with blank stares. In Australia, 18 year olds can vote, go to war, drive a car, drink, sign contracts, own credit cards, buy houses, marry, and do all the other things expected of an adult. The fact that many ‘adults’ still live at home and behave like children is beside the point. Some will continue at home well into their 30s and, if Australia copies Italian trends, become Mammoni ( mummy’s boys). I note here that there doesn’t seem to be a language equivalent for women.

mini quiche
mini quiche

My  son-in-law, Kyle, who sometimes calls himself ‘that tool in the toolbox’, was inclined to agree with this view, especially after the home catered 18th birthday party held on Saturday for Mischa Belle. There will be no 21st party as far as he is concerned.  And really, why should there be? The event was costly, even with home cooked food and Aldi alcohol. The decor took days to set up. The hire of the security and DJ/photographer cost $800 alone. It was a fun and happy event but not one that should be repeated in a mere three years time. We will see!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACatering for an 18th birthday is full of surprises. This is what I found out:

  • young people do RSVP, especially now that security doormen are employed to check the party list. Great, you will have a fair indication of the numbers and so can cater sensibly.
  • young people come, but they don’t necessarily stay. They arrive in a big tsunami, and then leave a few hours later.
  • young people don’t eat much at parties.
  • if they do eat at all, they prefer simple, recognisable, easy to handle, fodder food. Nothing flash or foody!
  • those who get to stay, the inner circle, drink a lot. Those who drove to the party can’t have a single drink. That may explain the early exodus of some guests. Many walk or come by public transport. They are adults so drop the concern.
  • it’s good to have a few older folk around, at least they eat all the food you have prepared. They also like to drink wine, not shooters. Well, most do…..pass me a Cowboy!
  • a DJ, although expensive, is a good idea even if you hate doof-doof.
  • tell all the neighbours about the party well in advance.
  • having a few cooks on the job, other than the hosts, is a great idea. If cooking, wear sensible shoes. No one will notice your runners, I promise.
  • have a few spare mattresses for the over- nighters and some buckets. I’ll spare you the graphic details.
  • and, remember, they are really kids, despite their new legal status. Be nice and a little vigilant but have fun too.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The catering went well, although our family has a tendency to over cater. This time, not much food was wasted.

  • pizze were made ahead and frozen. Pizze were baked on rectangular trays and cut into squares, producing 16- 20 per batch, depending on tray size. Making the dough in a bread machine makes things easy. As a new dough is mixing and rising – taking 90 minutes- the previous dough is rolled out, anointed with chosen toppings, cooked, cooled, sliced, wrapped then frozen. Repeat this all day until you fall over and yell “Hold, enough” and reach for the wine.
  • Make sure that all the toppings are cut, sliced and ready to go. Also make sure that there is an equal mixture of meat and vegetarian and a dairy free version such as a Pissaladiere. Eight trays will produce a goodly amount. On the night, bring them from the freezer and gauge demand. Leftovers make a great after party pick me up.
  • Mini Quiche. These were really popular with the hungry older adults. Use commercial short crust pastry sheets. These make the job much easier. One packet of five sheets will yield 60 pies, less the ones you eat along the way! Use left over caramelised onion from the pissaladiere, tasty cheese, chives, herbs, hot smoked salmon, pesto, whatever is on hand.  Save the scraps of pastry for a post party jam crostata.
  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • Sandwiches cut into points. Everyday fillings were popular, such as, shredded chicken ( store-bought roasted chicken) with mayo and chives, ham and cheese, hard boiled egg, herbs and mayo. These need to be made on the day and boxed in airtight containers. Search out a bakery that will cut a block loaf of white bread into sandwich slices. Have you noticed the size of the supposed sandwich slices from Coles bakery bread? They are just too fat for dainty point sandwiches. This was a major disappointment, and as the sandwich maker and general caterer, really annoyed me. Never again! At least bakeries can adjust their slicing machines. There were 17 slices to the Coles packet, often with one wasted as it was partly crusted. My chooks enjoyed the waste.  So 16 slices of bread alla Coles =32 points x 4 packets of sliced bread= 128 points. Most of these were eaten, and those with mayo were better, given the nature of that bread.

    Lots of sandwiches to go
    Lots of sandwiches to go
  •  Sausage Rolls are always a winner and, predictably, they all disappeared. They were made using a traditional recipe and did not include carrots or any other vegetable matter except onion. Commercial puff pastry – 9 sheets to a packet and one kilogram of sausage mince – produced 148 mini sausage rolls with one sheet of puff pastry left over.  My daughter- in- law hoovered a few before the party!
  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • About that Costco purchased pre-made stuff. One packet of tiny pre-made blini at around $6.00 were disappointing and inedible, despite their lovely mascapone and smoked salmon topping. The pre-made frozen arancini were not good either. So it’s back to ‘made from scratch’ for this old party animal!
Rach does the blini. Where's the dill?
Rachael does the blini. Where’s the dill?

There were lots of other treats. Some beautiful stuffed mushrooms, met with disdain by the young adults, but welcomed by the older ones. Lots of helpers with cooking- thanks Sunshine, and bar people extraordinaire- Rachel B and Co. Lots of cleaners and sweet makers and dancing queens.

Happy Birthday Mischa Belle! Ma chère petite fille and to you too Rachael, daughter and best friend.

  • mischa party
    The birthday girl and her oldest friend.

Pizza Dell’Orto. Cheap Eats.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
One of my New Year’s resolutions included a desire to eat more frugally and to shop less.

My aim is to produce meals that cost close to $1.00 per person on a regular basis. Can this be done with a large pizza for two?  The following costing is based on my free garden produce, which at this time of the year, is dominated by the prolific zucchini crop, followed by cucumbers, tomatoes and basil.

A casual table setting under the trees.
A casual table setting under the trees.

A Pizza dell’ Orto is my favourite vegetable garden pizza in summer, especially on a hot evening, in giardino, outside under the trees.

The following costing is pretty accurate, without pedantically weighing the olives, anchovies and so on. I buy Extra Virgin Australian olive oil,  Cobram 3 litres @ $24.00 a tin), Italian anchovy fillets in oil@ $11.00 for 750 gr and Laucke bakers flour @$11.00 for 5 kilo, pitted black olives @ $16.oo a kilo,and Mozzarella cheese, sliced finely @ $11.00 a kilo.

The dough.  ( recipe found here),

  • 500 grams of strong bakers flour = $1.10.
  • dried active yeast, Olive oil, salt=3o cents.
  • half of the dough is used to make a large 35 cm/15 inch pizza for two . The rest is stashed for tomorrow’s foccaccia.
  • total cost of pizza dough= 70 cents

The Tomato Sauce

  • Can of tomatoes, Italian brand, 60 cents.
  • Home grown garlic and oregano.
  • Half used on pizza. The rest of the sauce is stashed for another use.
  • total cost= 30c

    Mr T grills the zuchini and cooks the sauce.
    Mr T grills the zucchini and cooks the sauce.

The topping.

  • 10 thin slices of Mozzarella, around $1.00
  • anchovies from bulk jar and pitted black olives, a handful, around 50 cents.
  • Garden produce includes zucchini, cherry tomatoes, basil.
  • total cost= $1.50

Total Cost for this Pizza= $2.5o

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATime.

  • grilling the zucchini and sauce, 10 minutes.
  • weighing and mixing the dough, 10 minutes
  • rising time ( summer),1.5 hours.
  • cooking time, 15 minutes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The little children and their parents visit often over the lazy summer months. Five large pizzas are enough for a family meal for 8 adults and 5 young children. I usually work on 3- 4 slices per adult and 2-3 slices per child. One of the family favourites is a pissaladiere, the budget South of France model and a pepperoni version for the meat lovers, which is a slightly more costly version.

Feeding my Pizza loving family costs around $15.00 so long as I have the ingredients on hand. The only items purchased from the duopoly chain of Australian  supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths, were the flour and the yeast.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Flattery will get you a Pizza.

Flattery will get you everywhere, or is that nowhere? Flattery is often associated with obsequiousness or false praise. But for the hard-working cook, a little flattery, a little praise, or just a heartfelt ‘thank you’ goes a very long way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I remember those who dine at my table, the ones who say ‘thank you, I enjoyed that, it was really tasty’. I don’t care if they are telling the truth, although I sense that they are. I also remember those who either say nothing at all, or proceed to tell me how they, their wife or the restaurant up the road, makes a delectable version, remaining oblivious to the presence of the food on their plate and in their mouth.  I distinctly recall laboriously making a rich, buttery pastry for a summer Charlotte, filling it with spiced plums and apples, and ‘taking the plate’ to a friend’s house to share with him and the assembled others, who had arrived plate- free, for lunch.  As the host ate, he recalled the quince tart made by a mutual friend, whose pastry was so much shorter and how delectable it was. This story was related at length with a big spoonful of my **tart in his big ** mouth. I tried to disguise my annoyance, but I have never forgotten that incident. Another chap, enjoying a three course meal with us, spent the time breathlessly talking about his wife’s superb cooking and the wonderful things she makes.  No praise for the meal, and only a meagre parting thanks. Don’t you hate that?

Then there is my lovely niece, Louise, who came to stay recently, and commented on every dish she ate – the yoghurt and stone fruit breakfasts, the home-made but stale bread, the soup, the Flamisch, the pasta, the broadbeans.  She made proper Maeve O’Mara noises – Mmm, Ahhhh, followed by lovely text messages the next day. “Can you text me a slice of your sourdough,” was her latest amusing message. She is an excellent cook herself and certainly doesn’t need any guidance from me, but she requested my recipe for pizza dough. Since she is such an appreciative guest as is her hungry nine month old bambina, I am finally posting it. Warning, the recipe is short, but the post is long.

Pizza dough from Carol Field’s Italian Baker, with a few variations.

Ingredients for Two Large Pizze

This dough is made in a stand mixer, and lists by cups then in grams. I prefer to weigh. You can make it by hand or in a food processor. Use cold water if using a processor. If using a bread making machine, use the dough setting and cold water,  adding the water first.

  • 1 3/4 teaspoons/5 g active dry yeast
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups warm water/320 g
  • 1/4 cup/ 55 g olive oil
  • 3 3/4 cup/5oo g unbleached all-purpose flour*
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons /7.5 g sea salt.

Stir the yeast and sugar into the water in the mixer bowl; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oil with the paddle. Mix the flour and salt and add to the yeast mixture. Mix until the dough comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead at medium speed until soft and satiny but firm, about 3 minutes. Finish kneading briefly by hand on a lightly floured surface and form into a ball.

Rising and Baking.

  1. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat with the oil, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until not quite fully doubled. Depending on the weather, and the room temperature, this may take up to two hours.
  2. Shaping and second rise. Shape the dough with a rolling pin or by hand. Knead the dough briefly and gently on a lightly floured surface, for 1-2 minutes. Divide the dough into two ( this amount will make two large pizze).  Roll each piece into a ball on a floured surface then flatten to a thick disk. The easiest way to shape the dough is with a rolling pin*.  Roll out thinly, leaving a cornicione, a thicker edge along the rim to keep the sauce in. ( The Cornicione is a favourite of babies, gastronomes and dogs named Bill).

    My favourite rolling pin, bought in an asian Grocery for $6.00.
    * My favourite pizza rolling pin, bought in an Asian Grocery for $6.00.
  3. Place the dough on large trays dusted with semolina or polenta and let them rise another 30 minutes, covered with a towel. Dress the pizze with your favourite topping.  Turn oven to full ( 250c), and wait until the oven reaches that heat which may take 30 minutes.  Cook for around 20 minutes. You can usually smell when the pizza is ready. It is done when the crust is crisp and golden brown. Remove from the oven and  brush the crust edge with a little olive oil.

My Notes.

  • Either place the dough on trays dusted with semolina or polenta, OR, roll the dough out on non stick paper and let them rise on the paper. This allows the trays to be heated in the oven, then you lift the dressed pizza onto the super hot trays.
  • If using a pizza stone, you need to work out a way of transporting your wobbly pizza base to the stone. The simplest way is to make it on the paper, carry onto the stone, then slide out the paper at the 15 minute point when the pizza has firmed up.  As I tend to cook two pizzas at once, the pizza stones seem like hard work to me. I simply use the ‘cooking paper method’ on pre heated trays.
  • * Flour. So much has been written before about flour. I am not a fan of Farina ’00’ flour for Pizza, although I think it has a place for making fresh pasta and tarts. I’m adding an extract by Carol Field here, who discusses flour types as used in Italy:

Flour in Italy commonly comes from the species Triticum Aestivum, which is divided into two major varieties, soft wheat and hard wheat, (grano tenero) – and from which all bread is made.

Durum hard grain ( grano duro), or Triticum Durum, a different species, is the hardest wheat grown and is usually milled into semolina. It is a golden grain that has a higher protein and gluten content and is used almost exclusively for pasta production.

The Italian baker has five grades of grano tenero to choose from, although they are classified not by strength and protein content like ours but by how much of the husk and whole grain have been sifted away. The whitest flour has the least fibre. The lower the number, the more refined and whiter the flour, so that of the five categories, “00” is the whitest and silkiest flour, “0” is a bit darker and less fine, since it contains about 70% of the grain, and “1” is even darker. Darker and courser is “2”.

For all the talk of the prevalence of whole grain in the healthy Mediterranean diet, only a fairly small percentage of Italian breads are made with whole wheat (Pane Integrale)…Millers simply take refined white flour, stir in a quantity of bran, and pronounce it whole wheat.

The Italian Baker, Revised. Carol Field. P 18

  • It is good to know a little about flours when we bake. I always use a local flour by Laucke mills ( South Australia) for Pizza baking. Wallaby Flour is described as a Bakers Flour due to the high 12% protein content. I check the date and make sure it has been recently milled. Laucke mills also produce an Australian ’00’ flour, a stone ground, organic wholemeal flour and Atta flour, the latter being great for Indian bread. A range of bulk wholemeal flours may be found at NSM in Brunswick, Victoria and a range of spelt and unusual flours at Bas foods, Brunswick, Victoria. I like the idea of eating local products: the wheat grown and processed in Australia means it is fresher and, as Italians are not averse to chemical use, purer. ’00’ type flour is too refined for Pizza but my dear friend Rachael uses it successfully by adding semolina to the mix, which would give it more strength via the higher gluten content. Sometimes I add 20% spelt flour to the mix for variation but I am mindful that a little extra water may be needed. Playing with different flours is always interesting and all recipes evolve over time.  But, like Olive Oil, buy the local product.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thank you and a little praise goes a long way. Mr T receives praise for all his hard work, grass cutting and maintenance in the gardens and paddocks. He praises me for the food he eats. We take nothing for granted.

 

The Outback and The Black Sheep of Burra

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On the way to the Flinders Ranges and the South Australian outback, it is customary to stay in the historic town of Burra. In the past, and I mean less than ten years ago, Burra was a sleepy historic town: attractive, but definitely ‘olde worlde’.  Today, the town is buzzing with new energy. More old houses in the back streets are being restored, the Burra Hotel has a new publican and chef , and the arrival of an Italian Osteria in an old tin shed is an exciting addition to the town. One can sense the brio!  Given that Burra is only 200 kilometres from Adelaide, it was bound to happen.

The Burra Hotel: Micheal the new manager is bound to do well.
The Burra Hotel. Michael, the new manager, is a friendly chap with vision.

After setting up camp at the central but extremely basic camping ground in town, we wandered the historic streets of Burra in search of a cleansing ale, or to be precise, a cleansing Coopers Pale Ale.  This search wasn’t long or arduous. The Burra Hotel is centrally located  and has had a makeover since our last visit, but still retains that old pub feel,  that is, spruced up but not gentrified. Michael, the new publican, had just taken over some days before and he certainly enjoys a chat. The menu looked great, and we would have stayed, but something caught my eye on the way : this sign, on this shed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

An osteria, La Pecora Nera, in the middle of a little outback town? A beacon in the twilight. Off we trotted after our beers to find a packed and thriving authentic pizzeria and osteria complete with domed wood fired oven and a noisy, convivial atmosphere. We were seated at one of the larger communal tables. Wine is displayed on the wall shelving, so it’s a matter of choosing one and taking it to the table. Our 2009 Mt Surmon Nebbiolo from nearby Claire was the perfect wine for the occasion.  ( $35.00)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter ordering, a plate of rustic wood fired bread, drizzled with good oil, arrived at the table. Really good bread, really good oil. Then a Pizza perfetta arrives, a Napolitana with a fine, thin crusted base, ( $17.00) large enough for two.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We ordered a delicious cheesecake to share and then the lovely Clare did the rounds of all the tables with her limoncello bottle.  It’s mid week and no one wants to go home.

Clare and her partner Paolo run this successful osteria: Paolo is the pizzaiolo and Clare makes everyone happy with little extras. It is indeed authentically Italian. Suddenly we feel like guests at her party.

Clare of La Pecora Nera
Clare of La Pecora Nera

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI can’t wait to go back to Burra, but next time for a longer stay, to walk around the town at leisure and to stay in a little renovated Cornish miner’s cottage.

My Italian Baking Bible.

Ciabbats cool. They don't last long in this house.
Two  Ciabatte cool. They don’t last long in this house. Trying to capture that slipper look.

There is one cookbook that keeps finding its way back to the kitchen bench, the big table, and the couch. Sometimes it likes to come to bed too. The Italian Baker by Carol Field is definitely my favourite cookbook, or perhaps I should say, book!  It is a bible and just a joy to read. I am suggesting to Leah that this inspirational book should become her Book of the Month for the Cookbook Guru.

Prawn Pizza
Prawn Pizza

Why do I love this book so much? Let me recount the ways.

  • It is well researched. Field spent more than two years travelling throughout Italy to capture regional and local specialties.
  • The opening chapters discuss bread making in Italy, ingredients, equipment and techniques. The discussion on flour is very informative.
  • The recipes include traditional breads, festive breads, torte and dolci ( biscuits and cakes) as well as chapters on modern varieties.
  • Instructions are clear and easy to follow. Measurements are given in metric, imperial and cups. Separate instructions are noted for mixing by hand, mixer and processor.
  • I love that she employs traditional ‘biga’ starters.  Less yeast and slower to make means easier to digest!
  • The photos are few; there is no celebrity chef talk.
  • The Italian proverbs and sayings regarding bread would appeal to any Italophile.
  • Before each recipe is a wonderful short prologue.
A traditional walnut cake made by the older folk in Vaireggio, Toscana
A traditional walnut cake made by the older folk in Viareggio, Toscana

Here is a shortened excerpt from the  prologue for Pane Toscano.

“Tuscans have been making this saltless bread for many centuries. Dante even referred to it in the Divine Comedy. Anticipating the difficulties of his exile from Florence, he speaks of them figuratively, “you shall learn how salty is the taste of another’s bread’. P 84.

All rather wonderful. Time to read Dante’s Inferno. In the meantime, I plan to cook every recipe from this book, a rather ambitious idea,  given that I don’t eat many sweets and only a little bread each day. In the meantime, I propose this book to the cookbook club, and to all readers in search of an inspirational baking book.

These photos show a few things that I have made in the last few weeks. I plan to post a ‘new’ recipe from this book before the month is over.

Torta Rustica do Noci e Caffè
Torta Rustica di Noci e Caffè

 

 

 

Pizza Wars. La Porchetta, Greensborough

Is the Pope a Catholic? This is the response that comes to mind when the waitress asks us if we would like our pizza with anchovies! We always order Pizza Napolitana because of the anchovies, so the question strikes me as very odd.  Yes, please!  Anchovies are the best thing about  pizzas. Young chef Daisy loves anchovies and usually picks these off first, followed by the olives, savouring all that saltiness, before eating the plain doughy remains.  Her favourite outing is a train ride, followed by a pizza at – La Porchetta! Some of you may be thinking – Pizza Industriale and you would be right. La Porchetta is a pizza chain franchised throughout Melbourne, often making more headlines for gangland or mafia activity than for pizzas. Providing a large family style restaurant setting, it fits my policy of reviewing all pizza restaurants in Melbourne. There may be thousands so its a mission of some proportion. Humble and famous are included.

Although La Porchetta has a formulaic approach to their menus, some branches do better than others,  with new chalked menu offerings. The Greensborough branch does it well. The pizza menu also offers two styles- Traditional and Artigianale.  Artiginale/ artisan is to Pizza what bespoke is to Kevin McCloud’s house renovations. As far as I’m concerned, I am the only one in Melbourne making truely artigianale pizza, but I digress. I am yet to try one of these supposed hand crafted numbers from La Porchetta!

We ordered a large Napolitana, $14.50, and a half litre of house wine, $7.50. The retro styled carafe of cask wine was light and dry and suited the occasion. Cheap and cheerful.

My ratings. Setting- 5, pizza- 5, value for money- 10, the Irish waitress who loves kids, gives them stamps and coloured pencils and does tricks, 100.

ImageImageImageImageImage

These are considered some of Melbourne’s better Pizza restaurants. I am keen to try them all. http://www.goodfood.com.au/good-food/top-10-eat-out/a-guide-to-melbournes-best-pizza-20130507-2j49d.html

Pizza Wars. La Bussola Bistro

It doesn’t pay to be the Number 1 Pizzaiolo here in Australia; your business premises might be subjected to midnight shootings by jealous gangland members. Peaceful Melbourne, frequently named the world’s most livable city, has an underbelly. Our local Mafia members, like elsewhere, are all interconnected to fresh markets, Italian restaurants, and money laundering, you name it. The recent shootings of the Woodstock businesses ( http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/gangland-dispute-believed-to-be-behind-pizzeria-shooting-20131031-2whuv.html ) meant that Mr Tranquillo and I decided to eat our pizza at a less notorious pizzeria last Friday night. I am one of those greedy people who likes the pizza straight from the oven, not steamed in a delivery box, so my search for Melbourne’s best Pizza restaurant ( a dangerous mission!!) will not include delivered pizza.

La Bussola ( the compass) has been around for ever and is one of my favourite haunts for pizza. Situated in the super cool end of Lygon Street – Brunswick East – it has not succumbed to the gentrification of pizza. No wood fired oven. No minimalist decor. No young smart wait staff in black, no reviews by food critics. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA La Bussola Cafe sells honest pizza ( and pasta) like the good old days. The base is thin and nicely charred. The toppings are traditional. The Pizzaiolo is tired and often grumpy, as he spins each pizza disc in the air, then returns back to his corner and newspaper. His wife, a smiling presence, makes the pasta. A family sized pizza ( 35 cm) is $17.00 with a generous but not gluttonous amount of topping. It’s a BYO restaurant, with a $1.50 per person surcharge for corkage or you can buy some very cheap house wine, which is cask wine served in re- cycled wine bottles!! This makes for a very cheap night out for two – $10.00 each with own wine.  No wonder it is so busy on a Friday night. Most of the other customers were eating pasta, which averaged around $11.00 per piatto.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But wait for the decor! We are talking RETRO heaven. I love the brown tiles, the mustard coloured pay phone in the corner, the arches, the faux brown wood panelling. Straight out of Madmen. This authentically retro restaurant should be subjected to heritage listing!

This place is an institution with locals and is deservedly popular. How should I rate it? 10 for traditional pizza styling, 7 for the actual pizza, 8 for location, 10 for remaining a truly un- gentrified, cheap and retro island in the midst of a trendy sea.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
La Bussola
319 Lygon St
East Brunswick
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia