Happy New Year, dear friends and readers. We toasted the New Year with Bellini made from fresh peach juice and Prosecco. This cocktail tasted so healthy I could happily drink it for breakfast. Salute.
January is a busy month in my kitchen as the summer crops pour in through the back door. After 9 years in our current abode, most of our fruit trees are now in their prime. To date, I have picked 10 kilo of white peaches. Another few kilo remain while the Mariposa plums are beginning to flush. The zucchini are in full swing- I never tire of a good zucchini soup. Last night’s pizza included a topping of grilled zucchini ribbons and other assorted treasure.
Yesterday’s lunch, La Mouclade, is my favourite way to eat mussels. Melbourne has several mussel farms- one on Port Arlington and the other in Mt Martha. Mt Martha mussels grow in deep clean water and are an organic and sustainable seafood.
Before Christmas I made heaps of cakes, breads and simple bowl meals. I intended to write brief posts on each of these but didn’t have time. The problem is, I love taking photos of food but rarely note down precise ingredients.
Some new Weck jars, found in Aldi, are perfect for making levain for sourdough. I baked like a banshee during December. A new favourite is the cranberry and walnut bread, especially when toasted for breakfast. Fortunately I froze about 8 loaves of different varieties, giving me a little bread making breathing space this month.
This is the month when things move outside. Daisy liked this Pizza Bianca and was impressed with the taste of capers.
Thanks Sherry, at Sherry’s Pickings, for hosting this series. Once again, may I say that it’s a great way to focus on all that happens in the kitchen, the engine room of the home. May the domestic gods and goddesses shine on you all this month.
The orchard, summer’s sweet fulfillment, beckons each morning, before the heat sets in. With the passing of the month, more heavily laden boughs bend with the weight of fruits of the season. Long gone are the peaches, young berries and cherries of early summer: now is the time for slow maturing fruit, apples, pears, quinces, figs and plums. Today the ruby-red fleshed Satsuma plums announced their turn to be picked: not as sweet as the Mariposa plum of early January, but a close relative and a very good keeper.
Picking fruit is a kind way to wake up. I ponder the efficacy of the netting, and the man who meticulously netted, as I reach in to gently press the fruit, testing for perfect ripeness. An abundant season thanks to good spring rain, purple plums press against each other, nudging siblings for space on the bough, beautiful cheeks full of dark juice. As the basket fills, recipes come to mind- sweets of all kinds and savoury concoctions too, jams to put down for rustic winter crostate, spicy Chinese sauces, and poached plums to eat with yoghurt or labne.
I’ve made this tart often, and in the past with pears, apricots and cherries. It’s a seasonal standby. The apricot version is my most popular recipe on this blog. I’ve never had much success with growing apricots and so that version is a rare treat. Commercial apricots are picked too soon and never seem to fully ripen, tasting wooden and sour. This plum version is colourful and not too sweet. When choosing plums, make sure that they are juicy, fully ripe and are red fleshed. I should stress that they are not poached beforehand, but gently pressed into the top of the almond frangipane batter before baking.
Torta di Mandorle e Prugne con Amaretto. Italian Almond and Plum Cake with Amaretto.
125 g softened unsalted butter
150 g castor sugar
50 g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
375 g finely ground almond meal
2 Tablespoons Amaretto liqueur ( brandy works well enough here)
red fleshed plums, such as blood plums, fully ripe, enough to fill the tart
25 g flaked almonds
Preheat oven to 170 FF. Grease a 25 cm loose bottom tin and line with baking paper.
Cream butter and sugar in a stand mixing bowl, then add eggs one at a time and beat for 5 minutes until thick and pale. If the mixture curdles, throw in a little of the measured flour.
Stir in the flour mixed with the baking powder, then fold in the almond meal, followed by the Amaretto. Pour into the prepared tin.
Arrange halved plums over the top and lightly press down so they are partly submerged. Scatter the top with the flaked almonds.
Bake for 45- 50 mins. Cool in tin. Gently un-mould.
In summer, this tart keeps well in a covered box in the fridge. I reheat the slices a little before serving.
Another day, another plum recipe. Will my pile of plums ever shrink! This classic Clafoutis recipe is based on Julia Child’s cherry Clafoutis. As the cherry season never really got into full swing this year, I found this plum version to be a wonderful substitute. When fruit other than cherry is used in a Clafoutis, such as pears, apples, plums, prunes, blackberries or other berries, it is called a flaugnarde. I can see a fig and blackberry flaugnarde coming my/your way soon. This plum version resembles that lovely winter dish from Brittany, FarBreton. Left over Clafoutis makes a wonderful breakfast.
500 gr firm, ripe plums
1¼ cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract ( or 3 teaspoons or 15 ml)*
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ cup flour
1/3 extra cup sugar
icing sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 180ºC. Cut plums in half and sprinkle with some sugar. Set aside.
Place all the ingredients except the last 1/3 cup sugar in a blender in the order they are listed. Cover and blend at top speed for 1 minute.
Butter the base and sides of a low sided 8 cup gratin dish. Pour in a shallow layer (1.2cm) of batter and put in a moderate oven for a few minutes until a film of batter has set in the bottom of the dish. Remove from heat. Place plums over the batter and pour on the remaining batter; smooth the surface with the back of a spoon.
Bake in the middle rack of the oven for about an hour, or until the Clafouti has puffed and browned on top. Check with a toothpick to that it comes out clean. Sprinkle the Clafouti with icing sugar before serving. Serve with runny cream or ice cream.
*About Tablespoons. As Julia child was an American chef, she would have used an American Tablespoon, naturally. But did you know that American tablespoons are smaller (15 ml) than Australian tablespoons (20 ml) ? 1 American tablespoon = 3 teaspoons, whereas 1 Australian tablespoon = 4 teaspoons.
See my earlier post on dried cherry clafoutis here, which employs a very different method.
Have you noticed that filo pastry sheets tend to deteriorate once you have opened that skinny little plastic sleeve? I often find myself carefully rolling left over sheets back into their bag and box, only to find them dry and brittle a week later. After making a large Spanokopita for our Greek themed night for the weekend beach camp, I was determined to use the remaining 6 sheets quickly. Waste really annoys me.
This simple plum and semolina tart tastes surprisingly light and not unlike a Plum Danish. The filo pastry sheets are layered into a rectangular baking dish, brushed with butter between each slice, filled with semolina cream, then perfectly ripe blood or Satsuma plums are laid on top. It can be thrown together in minutes. As the amount of sugar in the recipe is minimal, I found myself hoovering down two slices for morning tea. It is lovely served warm with cream. A little crunch, a taste of comfortable custard, and the sharp-sweet rush of juicy ripe plum, this dish is not cloying or rich.
Torta con Crema di Semolino e Prugne. Plum and Semolina Cream Tart.
The filo pastry base
Melt a small amount of butter, around 150 gr should be enough.
Choose a suitable rectangular baking dish and butter it liberally. Layer your left over filo pastry sheets into the base of the dish, brushing with melted butter between each layer. Aim for a rustic look- no need to trim the ends too carefully, though the overhanging ends should be buttered.
The Semolina Cream
1 ½ cups milk
60 gr caster sugar
50 gr semolina
3 egg yolks
Add the milk, sugar and semolina to a medium-sized saucepan. Heat over medium heat and whisk until smooth. Cook for a few more minutes until thick. This will occur quickly so don’t move away from the stove. Remove from the stove when thickened, then whisk the mixture again, then add in the yolks. Cool the cream, covered with plastic wrap on the surface to prevent it forming a skin. When cool, add to the prepared filo pastry lined baking dish, smoothing out the surface.
Choose perfectly ripe plums for this dish. Red fleshed plums such as blood plums or Japanese plums are ideal as they ooze their ruby juice into the custard. Cut the plums in half and remove the pips. Lay them on the semolina cream, cut side down, and push them down slightly into the cream.The number of plums needed depends on their size and the size of your baking dish. I used around 10 plums. Sprinkle the surface with a little caster sugar.
Bake in a pre- heated moderate oven ( 180° C ) for around 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the cream puffed and set. Cool a little before serving, though this tart is best served warm.
The idea for this recipe came from one I found here at Cook Almost Anything. Pre- cooking the plums isn’t necessary if you have juicy ripe plums. Try this dessert with other fruits in season.
There is a season, turn, turn, turn, and right now it’s time to pick bucket loads of plums and deal with them. Most fruits have alternate years of bountifulness, with plum gluts appearing every second year. This year’s pear and apple crops look rather dismal in contrast. There are far too many plums to preserve. Some will be halved and de-stoned, then frozen. Others poached and popped into the freezer, ready for winter puddings such as crumbles, cobblers and charlottes. The first crops matured a few weeks before Christmas. Now the Japanese varieties are at their peak. We planted three different varieties 5 years ago- Formosa, Mariposa and Satsuma; all are sweet, dark-skinned and red fleshed, and all have been carefully netted and kept at picking height. My daughter also handed over most of her crop – 7 kilo to be precise. To date, I have made plum sauce, plum and port topping for a Pavlova, plum Clafoutis, and plum muffins, as well as Baked Plums with Labne, my favourite breakfast dish.
To kick off the Sagre delle Prugne, my plum festival, is this simple Chinese style plum sauce. Wonderful with Har Gow dumplings, or smeared on a big fat sausage, used in a Chinese stir fry, or as a substitute for everyday tomato sauce or ketchup. It went quite nicely with this morning’s potato and spring onion cakes.
Multiply this recipe if you are doing a large batch. My last lot of sauce, based on 5 kilo of plums, required a huge preserving pan, a worthwhile investment.
Chinese plum sauce.
1 kg plums, stoned and halved
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely grated
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Chinese five spice
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
Place all ingredients in a large saucepan over high heat. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, for 30 minutes or until plums collapse.
Use a stick blender to blend until smooth, or put through a moulis, pressing well to extract as much as you can from the last skins. I prefer the texture of the latter method. If you think the sauce needs further thickening and reducing, return to the large saucepan and continue to cook down until slightly thicker.
Pour hot sauce into sterilised bottles. Seal, label and date.
Strangely enough, February is the busiest month of the year in my kitchen. It’s also the hottest month in Melbourne, although this year we have been spared ( touch wood) those soaring temperatures of over 40ºC. The kitchen frenzy comes with the flushing of major annual crops such as zucchini, tomato, cucumber, chilli and now plums. It’s a bumper year for plums. I have another 5 kilo waiting for me in the fridge. Our annual beach camp is interspersed with busy times back at home preserving and freezing crops for the cooler months, as well as watering the garden and clearing away the fire hazardous leaves and fallen branches. The Sagra delle Prugne is around the corner.
Meanwhile, we eat simply and cheaply. When not eating zucchini fritters or Moulin Rouge Tomato Soup, I turn to Vietnam for inspiration. Cá nấu cà chua, fish, tomato and dill soup, is perfect for a hot day. I found this recipe last year while in Saigon and now that summer has arrived, I am delighted to make it with my own produce. The fish market at Preston provided the economical red snapper for this dish. Light and sustaining, it tastes like a wet version ofcha ca la vong.
While at the market, I purchased a big pile of local Southern Squid for $5 a kilo. Yes, there’s an hour’s work gutting and preparing these for the freezer but my little ones love fried squid after a swim in the pool. The best day to buy squid is on the day the market opens for the week. In the case of our nearest fish market, that’s Wednesday morning. Squid needs to be super fresh to compete with is pricey relative, the calamari. How can you tell squid from calamari? Australian southern squid, the most sustainable seafood in Australia, has an arrow shaped tail, whereas the calamari has side wings.
At the same fish monger, I bought some fresh river shrimp from the Clarence river in NSW. These are tiny and eaten whole. They make an excellent beer snack with a little lime aoili. A tempura batter, made with iced water, baking powder and cornflour, protects them as they fry. A pre-prepared salt of interest is also a good accompaniment. I used Herbes De Provence with salt, a batch I made before Christmas. I love special salts and am about to make a celery seed salt and one from our chilli flush. These salts make cheating easy.
To mop up the big soups and fried things, one needs a large cloth napkin. These lovely cotton towels, seconds, turned up in a linen shop in Brunswick for $2 a set. I bought them all. They soften and improve with washing.
Last week I celebrated the summer zucchini plague on Almost Italian. This zucchini slice is handy and well known. I added almond meal to the mix for a lighter version. It comes with grated carrot, zucchini, chopped capsicum and herbs.
This hungry lad has finally learnt to make a good tuna pasta in my kitchen. It is an easy dish for a 12 year old to learn. Practice makes perfect Noah.
And what would be an IMK post without my little Cheffa, Daisy, who always drags her stool to the bench to help with anything I am making.
Good food does come at a price around here, not so much in monetary terms but certainly in labour. Thank you kindly Liz, at Good Things, for your gracious hosting of this monthly link up.
Cleaning out the fridge would have to be THE most objectionable of kitchen tasks- a duty better palmed off onto someone else, with generous bribes of unbridledness, or 25,000 frequent flyer points or both. But more often than not, the painful job lands on me. Amongst the buried treasure, wilting vegetables, jars of Chinese sauces past their use by date, half used tubs of mouldy mascarpone and… you know the score…. I found a bag of blood plums, just a little too ripe, but still consumable. Plums are my favourite fruit and I am a little sad when the season comes to an end. This bonanza was my reward. And so was the this lovely Italian inspired cake which soon followed the find.
Torta Rustica con Prugne. Rustic Italian Plum Cake
400 g plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
300 g caster sugar, plus extra for the top.
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
150 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
8-10 plums ( blood plums are the best here) halved and stoned
Line the bottom and sides of a 26 cm round springform cake tin with baking paper and butter the paper well.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Combine 300 g caster sugar and the eggs in a bowl and whisk until the mixture is pale and thick ( use a stand mixer for ease or preparation). Fold in the flour mixture and lemon zest in three batches, alternating with the melted butter, beginning and ending with flour.
Spoon half the batter into the prepared tin, and top with the half the plums, cut side up. Smooth the remaining batter on to top and make a topping with the remaining plums, cut side up. Sprinkle with the extra sugar and bake at 180 C/160 C fan oven for 60-70 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
Leave in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove and slide the cake from the bottom, and let cool on the rack completely. Serve in wedges with cream or ice cream. Serves 8 to 10.
It pays to read a recipe well before commencing. Here I have inadvertently shoved all the plums into the centre, rather than layering them. This made for a wonderful red gooey middle. And now that the plum season is over in Australia, I cannot attempt the layered version until this time next year.
From Splendido, The Best of Italian Cooking. Loukie Werle, 2001
My Kitchen has turned intensely red this month as the tomatoes and plums continue to march through the kitchen, looking for someone to love them. Two varieties of plums peaked today- both red fleshed Japanese varieties, Satsuma and Formosa. Some will be stashed in the freezer for winter clafoutis and crostata.
Plums and almonds
red fleshed Formosa
The tomatoes slowed down a little last week, thanks to the abundant rainfall and cooler weather. Signs of more flushing on the way. We have had one round of passata making and another is due today.
Half a jar of passata, reduced with fish stock, along with saffron and smoked pimenton, went into this fish and mussel soup.
The rest was poured over grilled eggplant layered with parmigiano cheese in a MelanzaneParmigiana, an old stand by.
Others are eaten as is, with their colourful friends, in my favourite little salad bowl from Mission Beach market.
The miniature tomatoes are frozen whole on a metal tray; once they turn into little hard bullets, they are stored in the freezer in zip lock bags for winter.
A lovely Christmas gift from my sister, this griddle pan has grill lines on the heavy lid which sits neatly inside the pan :once both the pan and lid are heated, panini, bread for bruschetta or anything else can be grilled on both sides simultaneously. Can’t wait to use it.
The garden pick today included the first eggplant and red chillies. The zucchini and cucumber continue to impress, the basil is slow this season, and the ducks have discovered some treasure at low levels while the occasional Houdini rabbit comes in for a soft leaf raid. We have an abundant garden as well as plenty of pests!
Thanks Maureen for hosting the In My Kitchen series. Please take a look at other inspiring kitchens through Maureen’s link.
The plums are ready. They are the highlight of summer. My mother likes to remind me every January about the amount of plums she ate during her ‘lying in’ period after my birth¹. Her hospital room window faced a heavily laden plum-tree: she ate stewed plums for 10 days. Perhaps that accounts for my passion for plums- it came through the milk!
I have also been pondering the words plum and plummy in English phrases such as “Speaking with a plum in your mouth” or “He has a plummy accent” and “She has a plum job”. Most Australians would consider a ‘plummy’ accent to be a mark of haughtiness, the term used with disdain in a country relatively free of rigid class distinction. However, if you want to practise speaking with such an accent, pop a small plum in your mouth which will force you to make drawn out “o” noises, with a rather slow and deliberate vocalisation. Another site advises “putting a pen in the mouth, horizontally, forcing you to enunciate your words more and to talk more slowly, giving your words an extra second or two to fully come out of your mouth. Pausing also works, because pausing allows the person you’re speaking to digest all the words you’ve just said.” The assumption here might be that the speaker feels herself to be terribly important and the recipient rather slow and definitely inferior. There you go; proof that those who seek to speak in such a way have soft, plum filled brains. It would be advised, at least in Australia, to lose such an accent very quickly if you don’t wish to be considered imperious, affected and in-bred.
But then who wouldn’t want a plum job? The notion of easy work, perhaps ‘soft’ like a plum, came about to distinguish well paid positions involving little work compared to those involved with physical labour. The term is still used today to denote highly paid work. In the 1600s, ‘plum’ was a British term meaning £1000, a serious amount of money in those days.
It looks like plums have a lot to answer for.
A Plum Dessert, an original recipe influenced by something I may have either read or eaten. Please play with it. The ingredients are few and flexible but the result is delicious.
Fresh Blood plums or Satsuma plums
Nuts and seeds. I used almond flakes, pepitas, sunflower seeds and pistachio
Get a tub of yoghurt and make plain Labne. It is a simple process which will take one day. Cut the blood plums in half and remove the stone. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper and sprinkle with a little brown sugar over the each of the cut plums. Bake in an oven at 180ºC until soft, until it oozes with red juice. Pop the nuts and seeds onto another paper lined baking tray, sprinkle with a tiny amount of brown sugar, and bake for a few minutes the oven. Watch like a hawk. Mine went a bit too brown but I still enjoyed them. If you are sugar phobic, don’t add any, though the juices won’t run so lusciously.
Dollop a generous scoop of Labne onto a serving plate, cover with plums and juice, and sprinkle with the nut mixture. Eat for breakfast, lunch or tea or anytime in between.
¹A 1932 publication refers to lying-in as ranging from 2 weeks to 2 months.It also does not suggest “Getting Up” (getting out of bed post-birth) for at least nine days and ideally for 20 days. In my mother’s time, ( throughout the 1950s) it was 10 days before ‘getting up’ after giving birth.