In My Kitchen, May 2018. One Cup of Nostalgia

I’ve been procrastinating over this month’s In My Kitchen, concerned that my posts are becoming repetitive and barely newsworthy. I buy very few new¬†products or gizmos: my tastes are simple. My pantry is full of staples that complement things from my garden. My freezer stores the fruit bounty from summer. I bake bread and a weekly cake or dessert. My home cooking is the antithesis of restaurant cooking: I no longer aspire to cook that way. It is informed by the simplicity of cucina povera, Italian country cooking of the past, along with that of¬†Roman trattorie and is becoming more frugal as time passes. And as for things, lovely kitchen things, I’m in the process of de-cluttering and reducing, not gathering more.

Today’s salad pick.

But I’m not quite ready to throw in the IMK towel yet. In My Kitchen has been a part of my blog repertoire for more than four years, providing at least one platform of discipline in my untidy life. When I look back at my old posts, I see some recurring themes and plenty of growth. My first IMK, written in December 2013, concerned decor and green kitchen ware. Back then, I had a two-year old to cook with, (not for- Daisy has always participated in the kitchen) and during those earlier years, a tribe of young grandchildren spent hours in my kitchen, licking spoons and making concoctions, cranking fresh pasta, asking for their favourite barley soup or begging for flathead fish. They’ve featured in some of my old posts, especially Daisy, my little cheffa whose sense of taste and smell developed in my kitchen and herb garden. How I miss those years: required school attendance has a lot to answer for!

New sourdough kid in my kitchen.

The fine art of sourdough bread making came along when Celia, of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, sent me my first packet of dehydrated starter in June 2014. Most of you are familiar with Celia’s generous spirit: she is responsible for perhaps thousands of sourdough home bakers around the world today. Now she’s leading the way in campaigning against waste and plastic in a gentle, non proselytising way. Teaching not preaching.

Yesterdays pick. May 6, 2018. Radicchio, rugola, curly endive, green cicoria. Parsley, wild fennel, dill, red basil, borlotti beans ( 4 kilos) Roma tomatoes, late Adelaide tomatoes, yellow pear tomatoes, zucchini. cucumber, snake beans. I love my garden and she loves me.

When I look back on posts featuring my early sourdough loaves, I have to laugh-they looked so odd and yet they tasted OK. These days, with better technique and the understanding of how dough behaves in my kitchen and overnight in my fridge, my loaves look much better and taste really good: it is a passionate pastime that takes commitment. Somewhere along the way, I met Maree, first through this forum on her occasional blog and more recently through her facebook site, Simply Sourdough Trafalgar¬†which includes regular updates of her latest loaves. Maree’s sourdough bread is wonderfully enticing, she is a sourdough artist. Talk about bread porn! Her experimentation with hand- milled grains is inspiring, as is her energy,¬† running a small bakery and teaching sourdough bread classes. My entry into the sourdough baking community began right here in this very forum, for which I am eternally grateful. These days, I also enjoy passing on this skill to others. I recently spent a week at Peter’s place in Far North Queensland. We spent a few days playing with sourdough, adapting it to his humid climate, and making home-made yoghurt and cheese together. Now he is totally obsessed, baking bread like a banshee and churning out fabulous labneh. His first herby labneh came about from one of his stuffed up yoghurt attempts. It’s the best labneh I’ve ever tasted. Peter, like me, wastes nothing. We are kindred souls in the kitchen. Now he makes all these goodies for his B&B.¬†¬†How good is that? Thanks Peter and Steve for your amazing hospitality and enthusiasm for life.

Frugal is nice. Cicoria well cooked, with garlic, olive oil, chilli and white polenta. In a Roman trattoria, you might find this green alongside some form of protein. I like bitter leaves straight up, a challenge for some.

And so back to my kitchen this month. What’s happening? Red and pink things are pouring into the kitchen from my garden, begging to be cooked into simple dishes and not wasted. Crunchy and bitter radicchio leaves, my favourite salad ingredient of all time, are picked daily, washed and popped into ziplock bags. ( yes, heavy-duty plastic bags that get washed over and over and seem perfect for maintaining crunchy salad leaves ). Pink scribbled borlotti beans ripened all at once this week, some to cook now, some to store, and some to pop aside for next year’s planting, dark red frilly mizuna leaves, tasting a lot like wasabi, tomatoes galore still in early May, chillis to dry for the year, to crush and make into hot chilli oil, the first new red radishes, and plenty of green things too.

All ripe at once, the borlotti of May
Where’s Daisy when I need her to shell?

For those of you who love Radicchio and have a vegetable garden, may I just mention that once radicchio acclimatises to your environment, you will have it for life. Let the bee attracting blue flowers go to seed after summer. The hard bullet like seeds will fly about and become little radicchio at just the right time. Mine pop up everywhere and some of the best ones grow between cracks in the paths. Look underneath the large green leaves for pups. Elongated Treviso leaves like to hide in the dark, producing delicate white and pink crunchy leaves. Pull out a small cluster and another one will appear in its place. So colourful, bitter and bounteous, they make me want to sing like Michael Hutchence. They only need a grind of salt, a drizzle of new oil and a drop or two of balsamic.

Routines and rituals are precious in my morning kitchen. While the bread bakes, I roughly chop up a pile of vegetables and herbs to add to the bottom rack of the oven. It’s a shame to waste all that stored heat.¬†My stock mix includes carrots, onions, garlic, small tomatoes, dark fleshed mushrooms that need using up, mushroom stems, torn bay leaves, a sage leaf and a branch of thyme. These are all glossed with a little EV olive oil and baked for 20 minutes or so. Once caramelised, they come out of the oven and into a stove top pot, along with a little chopped celery, parsley stalks, and two litres of water. After cooking steadily for 25 minutes or so, the stock is strained off and popped into a jar for later use. This is a super rich stock with a deep colour, the smell permeating the kitchen.

Stock ingredients baked before simmering.

If we don’t have soup for lunch, we’re bound to have pasta. This one, Maccheroni Rigati, is coated with a rich tasting creamy red capsicum pesto. Recipe here. The sauce is also wonderful spooned under a nice wedge of grilled fish.

Maccheroni rigati con pesto di peperoni rossi.

Thanks Sherry, at Sherry’s Pickings, for inviting participation in this series. If you wish to join in, follow the link and add your own kitchen story.

 

Risotto Invernale with Radicchio

According to market research, many people prefer¬†recipes that take 27 minutes or less to make.¬Ļ I think my patience level runs very close to this figure. A comforting risotto just fits¬†it into this time frame, so long as you prep most of the ingredients as you go, which to me makes sense; it gives you something else to do while you are stuck beside that pan for 20 minutes or more, stirring, watching, and knocking back the wine you opened to make it.

Garden pickings. Radicchio, cavolo nero, winter’s Tuscan Kale and parsley. Add rice and parmesan to make a fortifying meal.

Risotto is my favourite winter food, especially when the garden provides winter loving treasure such as Cavolo Nero, the dark green Tuscan king of kale, and ruby coloured radicchio, a bitter leafed vegetable that adds colour and crunch to winter meals. As the morning temperatures drop below zero and the ground turns crunchy with white frost, these two plants come into their own. They love a cold snap.

Gazzono brand, Vialone Nano from the Mediterranean Wholesalers, Brunswick.

The other ingredients are fridge and pantry staples. Butter, olive oil, onion, good Italian rice and Parmigiano Grano Padano. Which rice is best for this task? I generally find that the cheaper brands of arborio produce a less appetising result. Although I do enjoy frugality, some cheaper ingredients make for false economy. One kilo of good quality Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice goes a long way.

Chopped radicchio.

Risotto Invernale con Radicchio. Winter Radicchio Risotto. A step by step recipe. Ingredients for two large serves.

  • 1 cup good quality risotto rice (¬†Carnaroli¬†or Vialone Nano)
  • 1 tablespoon EV olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 small red onion, very finely chopped
  • 1/2 small carrot, very finely chopped( optional)
  • vegetable stock, homemade or made with a stock cube, around 3 cups or more
  • dry white wine such as Pinot Grigio
  • a small head of radicchio, finely sliced
  • black pepper
  • grated parmesan cheese, Reggiano or Grano Padano
  • more butter, a good knob

Chop half an onion into tiny dice and add it to a wide pan with a generous slurp of olive oil and butter. Although a diced carrot isn’t generally added to the base of a risotto, a little carrot adds some sweet notes, since radicchio can be quite bitter. As the onion gently cooks, bring a pot of vegetable stock to the boil and let it simmer next to your risotto pan. ¬†I like to have more stock than most recipes suggest, just in case it’s needed. This can be either home-made or made from a stock cube. Open the white wine. Measure the rice. Cut a small head of radicchio into fine strips. Find a small butt of Parmesan cheese and ask someone to finely grate it.

The beginning of a risotto.

Add the rice. One cup of rice makes a generous meal for two people. Adjust the recipe for more people. Stir the rice to coat the grains- the rice will turn opaque Рthen add a big slurp of white wine, ( at least a quarter of a cup, though I  never measure it)  and stir well. At this point, you are allowed to begin drinking, to fortify you for the task ahead.

Step two, add the wine.

Once the wine has evaporated, begin adding the hot stock, one ladle full at a time. There’s no need to stir too vigorously or continually. The heat should be on medium to high, though I generally adjust this up and down as I go. When the stock evaporates, add another ladle, and continue this activity for around 20¬†minutes or so.

Risotto absorbing the stock.

Add the radicchio and the last ladle of stock and stir vigorously for around 5 minutes. The leaves will soften and the dish will become more creamy. Add a grinding of pepper.

Add the radicchio and last ladle of stock

The final and most important step. Add a good amount of parmesan and butter, la mantecatura, then cover and turn off the heat. Let it sit for 2 minutes.

Take off the lid and stir through the butter and cheese vigorously. The dish will become creamy and smooth. Shake the pan backwards and forwards to observe a wave movement ( all’onda) ¬†in the mixture. If you think that the risotto is a little dry, add a small amount of hot stock and stir through well. You are aiming for a soft, creamy and well united dish that has a little wetness.

Serve with more parmesan.

One of the best things I’ve read about cooking in the last few weeks. ¬Ļ¬†https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jun/18/great-recipe-explosion-social-media-does-more-mean-better-instagram-pinterest

When Autumn Leaves

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

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

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

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

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

Borlotti beans prefer Autumn.

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

Baby leaf mix of late Autumn
Heart of darkness radicchio

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

Winter Zucchini and Calamari Mescolanza

There were a few surprises hiding in the vegetable garden when we returned from our long sojourn in Indonesia: a crop of zucchini, some small ruby radicchio, herbs, pumpkin, chilli, and a bundle of borlotti beans. I hung on to the last zucchini of the season until the first day of winter. Now we will be zucchini free until next November. Some may say that’s a blessing! Six months of fecundity and benevolence and six months of none. Ci vediamo in primavera.

To celebrate slicing into the last one, I constructed a dish made from my favourite ingredients: fresh calamari, radicchio, garlic, chilli, good olive oil, wine and squid ink pasta. This isn’t a pasta dish as such:¬†the black tangle of pasta gives a little more body to the dish but doesn’t dominate. The following recipe is an attempt to quantify a spontaneous dish. And, given the absence of winter light, my photos are hazy and dull.

Winter Zucchini and Calamari Mescolanza
Winter Zucchini and Calamari Mescolanza

Zucchini e Calamari Mescolanza  (serves two)

  • two tablespoons EV olive oil
  • half a medium zucchini, very finely sliced
  • 2 fresh calamari, cleaned then sliced thinly *
  • radicchio leaves to taste, shredded roughly
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • one fresh hot chilli, chopped finely
  • one handful of black squid ink pasta (about 60 gr)
  • white wine
  • salt, black pepper

Method

  • Cook the pasta in salted boiling water. Drain, retaining a little cooking water.
  • Meanwhile, heat oil in a large frying pan. You need a lively heat as this is a fast dish.
  • Add the zucchini slices and toss well till lightly coloured and very soft.
  • Add the garlic and chilli, toss well.
  • Add the finely sliced calamari, cook for around two minutes only, tossing as you go.
  • then add the shredded radicchio leaves and toss for a one minute.
  • add a good slurp of wine, reduce a little,¬†then add the pasta to the pan, add a little cooking water, reduce, then season.
  • Serve in wide, heated bowls.*

Notes

* A good fish monger should clean the calamari for you. Don’t bother using the rubber tubes from the supermarket. They will spoil a good dish. Fresh squid is a good substitute and more economical. Don’t throw out the wings. Freeze them and add to another dish later, such as a pasta or risotto marinara. Read the following recipe from ¬†Sandra at Please Pass the Recipe for an economical approach to using seafood scraps.

* Why wide heated bowls? I never used to heat plates and bowls when I was working full-time and coming home to cook for five or more. Since then, I have adopted bowl heating as a matter of course, particularly for pasta, soup and risotto. Imagine making a lovely hot dish and then plonking it into a freezing bowl? The temperature of the food cools almost immediately, whereas a hot bowl acts as a food warmer for the duration of the meal.

For my son Andrew, who recently commented about the heating of bowls, thinking that his mother had finally turned totally anal and lost the plot. He may be right! 

Spring on a Plate. Cucina Povera.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACucina Povera¬†is my kind of cooking. ¬†Historically, as the name suggests, it is the cuisine of the poor, or rather that of the Italian contadini¬†or peasant class, those who relied on their own home grown seasonal produce and preserves stored in the¬†dispensa, but not much else. It also suggests eating what’s on hand- what is available or in season. As Italy is now a very urban society, this style of cooking can be seen, historically, as rural cooking. It becomes cuisine of the wealthy when many different fresh herbs and vegetables are purchased from farmers’ markets to produce a simple Pasta Primavera.

The garden is your best friend: grow food among your flowers, in your front yard, on your balcony, on the nature strip, in containers. Many tasty and nutritious pasta dishes can be thrown together with a handful of wild rocket, herbs or silverbeet (chard). These things grow like weeds. Along with a few staples from the pantry, such as rice, pasta, lentils and dried beans, anchovies and EV olive oil, cucina povera is a few short steps away.

This week’s pasta ingredients are shown in the photo below. ¬†It assumes you have stashed a few little luxuries in the pantry, such as¬†some very good extra virgin olive oil, and a¬†chunk of parmigiano Grano Padano or Reggiano.¬†The other little splurge for today’s pasta recipe is a box of Farro pasta, in this case by Monograno Felicetti. I picked this up at the Mediterranean Wholesalers in Brunswick, and I must say here, that I receive no kickbacks from either of these companies. Substitute any short pasta you have on hand.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI picked some lovely leggy broccoli shoots, a small radicchio, young broad beans/fave, a few baby kale leaves, some fresh oregano and a big silverbeet/chard leaf. Some of the greens were shredded, hand torn or plucked. The picture also shows two small chunks of cheese- fetta and parmigiana. Some goats cheese, or tiny nuggets of gorgonzola, would make a good substitute. Again, use what cheese you have. Not shown, but always assumed, are a few cloves of garlic, smashed up, salt, and olive oil. I often melt a few anchovy fillets for flavour, but not this time- I wanted a pure Spring taste.

Pasta Primavera

  1. Into a big open pan goes a generous glug of oil and a few cloves of smashed garlic.  After a quick stir on medium heat, in go the garden pickings.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  2. Meanwhile, or even before one plays with the garden greens, a big stockpot of boiling salted water is on the go, then Butta La Pasta, throw in the pasta. I count on 100 grs per adult if the dish is un piatto unico, a one course dish.
  3. Within no time, the leaves wilt and the baby broad beans soften. Time for some salt and a few grinds of pepper.
  4. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen the farro spirali pasta is ready, scoop out a little pasta water before draining.
  5.  Add the drained pasta to the cooked vegetables and consider whether to add a few tablespoons of the reserved cooking water to loosen the dish, making a garlicky unctuous sauce. Increase the heat and briefly toss again.  Add lots of ground pepper then crumbled fetta. Feel the creative energy of Spring. Then plate.

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Serve with a golden lick of good olive oil and some grated parmesan.

                                                           Spring on a plate.

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A little footnote. Today my blog, Almost Italian, turns one. Where did that year go? A big thanks to all my friends, followers, and those who read these posts. I really appreciate your support. It encourages me to continue and to learn. Have a look at my post one year ago– it’s a funny looking thing about artichokes. Francesca

 

 

Garden monthly, October 2014

 

Purple flowers everywhere attract pollinating insects.
Purple flowers everywhere attract pollinating insects.

Spring has slowly arrived. September was frosty and windy; only now the fruit trees are beginning to blossom. The ground has been too cold to plant seed, but with a few more hot days and some welcome rain, October will be a busy month. Although the plants won’t notice, an extra hour of light at the end of the day and not¬†the beginning, will be most useful for this gardener.

fave/ broadbean flowers
fave/ broadbean flowers

My tasks include:

  • sow summer crops keeping rotation in mind.
  • planting out the tomato seedlings raised by my son in his hothouse.
  • enriching beds with compost and crumbled cow manure, then mulching.
  • building shade cloth covered fences on the south and west sides to protect the garden in summer.
  • remove dead wood from the strawberry patch and add compost then straw. Look for poly pipe to make a cloche for summer protection.
delicate quince blossom
delicate quince blossom

The most vigorous specimen of Cavolo Nero ( black kale) is now flowering for seed collecting, as well as attracting more bees. I have enjoyed tracking its life through these monthly garden posts. When the seed are harvested, probably in summer, I will have plenty to distribute so contact me if you need some.

Cavolo nero going to seed.  This bush has been going for more than a year.
Cavolo nero going to seed. This bush has been going strong for more than a year.

The overgrown sage bush is in flower, attracting more bees to the garden. When the flowering is finished, I’ll chop it back and make cuttings to pot up. Blue and purple flowers attract bees and other insects, necessary for pollinating summer flowering vegetables.¬†I find that endive lettuce and raddicchio ¬†flowers are the best for this purpose.

Radicchio
Radicchio

I have many out of date seed packets. At the end of Last April, I used old seed to plant a random winter crop garden. I am still eating the produce from that sowing. These seeds will be thrown randomly into a compost rich bed this week. Surprise beds are fun.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Harvest includes silverbeet, rugola selvatica, radicchio, beetroot, broad beans ( the early ones), broccoli side shoots, parsley and lettuce. All these make lovely green feasts and are added to pastas, pies, salads and soups.

garden greens and fetta pasties
garden greens and fetta pasties

This post forms part of the garden share collective, a monthly roundup of vegetable gardens around the world managed by Lizzie. It serves two purposes. It allows you to connect to other food growers around the world, but also forms a useful home garden diary where weather events, seasonal change and particular micro-climates are recorded. If you like growing food, check out the others at the collective.