Sweet Plums in Summer and an Old Tart Recipe

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.

satsuma plums

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.

Picking plums in the cool of early morning

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

Torta di Mandorle e Prugne con Amaretto. Italian Almond and Plum Cake with Amaretto.

Ingredients

  • 125 g softened unsalted butter
  • 150 g castor sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 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

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 170 FF. Grease a 25 cm loose bottom tin and line with baking paper.
  2. 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.
  3. Stir in the flour mixed with the baking powder, then fold in the almond meal, followed by the Amaretto. Pour into the prepared tin.
  4. Arrange halved plums over the top and lightly press down so they are partly submerged. Scatter the top with the flaked almonds.
  5. Bake for 45- 50 mins. Cool in tin. Gently un-mould.

    Torta di Mandorle e Prugne

In summer, this tart keeps well in a covered box in the fridge. I reheat the slices a little before serving.

Links to my my previous plum concoctions.

Poached plums with labne and nuts and seeds

Plum Clafoutis

Plum and Semolina Cream Tart

Rustic Italian Plum Cake

Chinese Plum Sauce

 

Three Years of Almost Italian

It has been three years. No, not since my last confession, but since I started this blog, Almost Italian, although there are some parallels. Just like in that pontifical wooden cubicle, I get to confess some indulgent practices here in the form of eating, drinking and travelling. Like many other bloggers, an anniversary is a time to reflect, despite all the daily, monthly and yearly graphs and statistics provided by WordPress, the daily view bar graphs, views by country, statistics by post, best day of the week and time of day. This information is enlightening and addictive. I am constantly amazed at the success of some posts and the dismal failure of others.

So here are my top three posts:

This lovely tart recipe, written in 2013, continues to be popular with 1,099 views this year. (2,560 in total).

  https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/apricot-almond-cake-with-amaretto-easy-frangipane/

easy
Easy frangipane apricot almond cake
Lilla Pantai at night
Lilla Pantai  by the sea at night. Sanur Bali. One year ago.  Now so busy.

That’s one party, one recipe and one restaurant review. Sounds like a famous blues song involving lots of drinks. All these posts are from previous years, all contain simple and easily found titles, keeping them high on search engines.

The other bit of navel gazing that I have indulged in today are the stories and recipes that didn’t make it onto my blog due to poor photography in low light or sloppy appearance. I am blaming Melbourne’s weather for this. Here is a mosaic preview of some good recipes in the last month with lousy pics.

You, dear reader, get to choose which one of these tasty dishes to redo and post, now that daylight savings has arrived and the light is longer and there’s a chance of eating in the great outdoors again. Open each pic separately, choose the title and tell me in a comment. And thankyou for reading my ‘confession’, subscribing, liking and commenting. Your interest keeps me going. F xxthree-1

Salmon with Spiced Orange Sauce, Spring Peas and Mint

The Spring weather is so wet and cold this year that I’ve been forced to spend far more time indoors. The gardens and summer vegetable planting have been put on hold- again. To compensate, we are having four days of cheffy home cooked meals, little dinners for two that require a degree of concentration, an interesting sauce and some clever assembling at the last-minute. And that, dear reader, means more recipes on this blog. Today’s recipe started off as Duck Breast with Orange Spiced Sauce. I often find myself substituting fish or vegetables in meat based recipes found in good cookbooks, especially if there is a good sauce involved. In this way, each section of the book gets used. You should try this trick. Fresh Atlantic Salmon is probably the best substitute for meat, given that it is fairly robust and holds its shape well and is readily available.

nn
Salmon, spiced orange sauce, Spring peas, mint. Bad low light.

The recipe is for four people. I simply halved it for our little dinner for two. The original used 4 200 g duck breasts, skin lightly scored. I have substituted fresh Tasmanian salmon and used around 160 g per person. This quantity is plenty for one serving, despite the tendency of major supermarkets to cut larger pieces, another reason to adopt a good fishmonger.

Ingredients

  • 4 oranges
  • 4 salmon pieces, ( not tail pieces) around 160 g per piece
  • knob of butter and a little olive oil
  • 1 heaped teaspoon 5 spice powder
  • 1/3 cup ( 80 g) brown sugar
  • 50 ml red wine vinegar
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 cup grand Marnier ( or brandy)
  • 2 cups baby green peas, just cooked
  • mint leaves to serve.

Preheat the oven to 220c. FF

Zest all the oranges, juice 2 oranges and set aside. Remove the peel and white pith from the remaining 2 oranges, then slice them into thin rounds and set aside.

Cut each salmon pieces across into 3 pieces. Combine 5 spice powder with 2 teaspoons sea salt, rub them into the salmon pieces in a bowl and set aside.

Place a large non stick pan over medium heat, add butter and oil to the pan and fry the salmon, skin side down, until quite crisp. Remove the fish and place them on a metal tray in the oven to complete cooking for 5 or more minutes.

Return the pan to low heat. Add the sugar and vinegar to the pan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the cinnamon and star anise, then cook on low for 3 minutes, until caramelised. Add the Grand Marnier or substitute, the orange juice and zest, then simmer for 5 minutes or until thickened. Add the orange slices for 1 minute to warm through.

Cook the peas until just done and keep hot. Tear the mint leaves.

Warm the serving platter and plates. Place the peas on the serving platter, add salmon pieces and any juices from the tray, place the orange slices and mint leaves around the fish, then pour over the hot sauce. Serve it on hot plates.

bb

The rain pours down, the light is low, let’s light the fire and eat well.

Adapted from a recipe found in Delicious, Simply the Best, Valli Little, 2011. p. 18

 

 

 

 

Home Again Recipes. Pumpkin and Haloumi Salad and Nasi Goreng Ikan

After six weeks of travelling, it takes a while to adjust to the rhythm of cooking your own meals, let alone all those other tedious tasks, such as bed making and house cleaning. Where are those fairies who come and clean up? Home cooking routines return more quickly; after all, we do need to eat at least twice a day. After purchasing one packet of inedible bread, the sourdough starter was revived and our breads are back on the table, using a variation of this recipe. I dehydrated my sourdough starter (Celia’s method can be found here) back in July, but then discovered that one very kind sir kept my fridge dwelling starter, Sorella, alive, replenishing her each week while visiting to feed my other animals.

Sourdough loaves, one for now, one for the freezer
Sourdough loaves, one for now, one for the freezer.

Home made food tastes glorious, modest yet satisfying and comforting, filling that yearning for more olive oil and cheese that is missing in most Asian diets. And then there’s the wine- beautiful Australian and New Zealand wines at an affordable price. The Spring garden is neglected, with only leeks, celery and herbs ready for picking, while our hens keep pumping out eggs, now far too many for our own needs. It is with these modest supplies and a well stocked pantry of basics ( lentils, rice, pasta, dried beans, olive oil, cheese) that we can eat well for very little.

A garden full of leeks.
A garden full of leeks.

My budget dishes this week included a Flamiche, a leek based quiche, enabling me to make a dent in the leek and egg bounty.  A leek and potato Vichyssoise for the export market (my mother), a lentil shepherd’s pie with Kumara mash, (my $1 per person comfort food), a salad of baked pumpkin with haloumi, the pumpkins left over from last Autumn’s harvest screaming to be used. Haloumi can be picked up in 1 kilo jars at Bas foods for around $10, another pantry/fridge essential for a quick salad. A purchase of 400 grs of Dory fish fillets was stretched over three meals: 200 gr went into a Vietnamese caramel claypot, (still trying to perfect this method of cooking), 100 gr accompanied some fresh mussels in a Pasta Marinara, and the last 100gr added more flavour to a Balinese nasi goreng ikan.

Haloumi and Pumpkin Salad

  • a generous chunk of Kent pumpkin, cut into 5 cm cubes
  • haloumi cheese
  • olive oil
  • salad leaves
  • 1 small cucumber
  • EV olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  1. Toss the pumpkin cubes in a little olive oil, season, then bake for around 20 minutes, stirring or turning over once during cooking.  I often bake extra to stash in the fridge for a pumpkin risotto or a pumpkin and caramelised onion pasta or topping for a foccaccia. Cool the pumpkin.
  2. Cut the Haloumi into strips and fry in olive oil until golden on both sides.
  3. Refresh chosen salad leaves and dry.  Cut the cucumber into long thin edges. Toss the leaves and cucumber in a bowl with salt flakes, a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
  4. Plate the leaves, cover with baked pumpkin cubes, and haloumi strips. Add ground pepper and another drizzle of oil.

    Haloumi and baked pumpkin salad
    Haloumi and baked pumpkin salad

Nasi Goreng Ikan ( Fried rice with fish, Indonesian style)

I became quite fond of this simple dish and ordered it often in a little Balinese Warung by the sea. My version includes some sliced fresh turmeric, as I believe all the healthy hype surrounding this little tuber, despite my general cynicism regarding supposed ‘superfoods’. The Balinese always colour their seafood nasi with red, simply using tomato ketchup from a bottle. I used some bottled tomato passata. The choice is yours- use what’s on hand.

nn

Nasi Goreng Ikan Recipe- serves 2-3.

Ingredients

  • left over steamed white rice, cooled. (one cup of uncooked rice will make a large nasi goreng for two or three)
  • a little neutral flavoured oil, not olive oil
  • one fish fillet (100g or so) of boneless fish, for example Dory, chopped into small 2 cm chunks.
  • 2 finely chopped garlic cloves
  • 2 small purple shallots, chopped.
  • a small finger of fresh turmeric, scrubbed, finely sliced or grated
  • a small knob of ginger, finely chopped or grated
  • 2 small kaffir lime leaves, centre vein removed, shredded
  • 1/2 red capsicum, finely sliced or 1/2 cup grated carrot
  • 1 small birds eye chilli, finely sliced (optional)
  •  some greens, for example, 1 cup of finely shredded cabbage or wombok
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-2 Tbs tomato passata or tomato ketchup
  • 1 Tbs  ketchap manis
  • lime wedges to serve
  1. Heat the wok on a strong, high gas flame, add  two or so dessertspoons of oil. When the oil is hot, add the aromatics- garlic, ginger, shallot, turmeric, chilli, and kaffir leaves. Stir and toss for 30 seconds.
  2. Add the fish, toss about until opaque, then add the capsicum and cabbage.
  3. Add the rice, breaking up large clumps with your hands, then stir fry the rice through the vegetables, tossing well as you go and colouring all the rice.
  4. Add the sauces, toss further, then season with pepper.
  5. Serve with lime wedges.
xx
A simple lunch. Nasi Goreng with fish

A nasi goreng has a wetter, denser consistency than its Chinese cousins.

wwA
Nasi Goreng Ikan

Thanks Peter, from Tropical Bliss B & B, for the delivery of fresh turmeric from your northern paradise.

Son in Law Zucchini Pickles

I have been thinking about how to curry favour with my son-in-law as I need a few jobs done and Kyle, a carpenter, is meticulous and super- efficient. Going by the moniker, ‘that tool in the tool box’, a self-inflicted title I might add, Kyle is the man you need when a door doesn’t line up with a wall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Not Walt from Breaking Bad. Not Kyle the carpenter. It’s Mr Tranquillo tackling a wall renovation.

I know he likes these pickles: I have seen him hoover down a whole jar in one sitting. They are delightfully old-fashioned but on trend. They often appear on a summer ‘tasting plate’ (an annoying term used in Australia for a mishmash of tit-bits on a plate) in some of the more fashionable wineries and restaurants about town. These pickles were popularised by Stephanie Alexander in the 1990s, taken from her seminal cookbook, The Cook’s Companion, a dictionary styled cookbook which has sold more than 500,000 copies to date. Her ‘bible’ sits on the shelf in many Australian homes. My copy is well-thumbed, splattered and stained.

Basic pickle ingredients. Sugar, vinegar, turmeric, mustard powder, mustard seeds.
Basic pickle ingredients: sugar, vinegar, turmeric, mustard powder, mustard seeds.

During January and February, when it’s not uncommon to pick one kilo of zucchini a day, I make these pickles often and share the jars around. They make a handsome addition to a ploughman’s lunch, or give a vinegary crunch to a cheese sandwich.

Step 1. Add the sliced zucchini and onion , well salted, to a bowl of water.
Step 1. Add the sliced zucchini and onion , well salted, to a bowl of water.

Stephanie’s Zucchini Pickles

  • 1 kilo small zucchini, sliced on the diagonal
  • 3 onions, finely sliced
  • ½ cup salt
  • 3 cups white wine vinegar
  • 1/½ cups sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon yellow mustard seed
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
    Step 2. Covered in a vinegar, sugar, turmeric and mustard solution.
    Step 2. Covered in a vinegar, sugar, turmeric and mustard solution

    Toss the zucchini and onion with the salt in a ceramic bowl, then cover with cold water. Leave for one hour. Drain then return to the bowl. Combine the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and stir over gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil and pour over drained zucchini. Leave to cool. Use at once or pack into sterilized jars and refrigerate. Use within two months. Makes about five medium sized jars.

zucchini pickle jars

*  Stephanie Alexander, The Cooks Companion, Penguin Books, Australia, 1996, p785.

Pane al Formaggio: Italian Cheese Bread

This month I have returned to breads made with yeast, particularly those from one of my favourite reads, The Italian Baker, by Carol Field. Carol Field journeyed through villages and homes throughout the Italian countryside to collect recipes. They were then published in her original volume in 1985. This classic was revised in 2011. Few photos or glossy styled food shots adorn this book. It is a pleasure to read even if you never bake from it. It is often assumed, because of its title and appealing photo of ciabatta on the front cover, that it deals solely with bead: in fact, there are numerous chapters on cakes, biscuits and pastry, some of the latter collected from Nonne in remote villages, recipes that are tinged with nostalgia e memorie.

A traditional walnut cake made by the older folk in Vaireggio, Toscana
A traditional walnut cake made by the older folk in Viareggio, Toscana, Italia.

A good egg enriched cheese bread is not a daily offering but a special treat to go with a creamy soup, a celery velouté, for example. I followed Field’s recipe for this, but decided to make dinner rolls and a little bâtard with the final dough. The recipe is simple and precise, but next time, I might use all the little odds and ends of leftover cheese residing in boxes in the fridge.

The recipe includes details for making the bread by hand, by mixer and food processor. Each method is a little different. I am using a stand mixer, because I am lucky enough to have one: it gets a good workout every week and was a worthwhile investment.

Pane al Formaggio– Cheese bread.

  • 2½ or 7 g active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons or 30 g olive oil
  • 3¾ cups or 500 g unbleached bakers flour
  • 2 teaspoons or 10 g salt
  • ½ cup or 75 g grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup or 50 g grated pecorino cheese
  • cornmeal
  • I large egg white, beaten, for glazing.

Method By Stand Mixer

Stir the yeast into the water in a mixer bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Mix in the eggs and oil with the paddle, then the flour, salt and cheeses. Change to the dough hook and knead until firm, velvety and elastic, 3- 4 minutes. The texture may be slightly grainy from the cheeses.

First Rise.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 2 hours.

Second Rise and shaping.

Punch the dough down on a lightly floured surface and knead briefly. Cut the dough in half and shape each piece into a round loaf or batârd shape. Place on a baking sheet or peel sprinkled with cornmeal, cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

six rolls and a batard, ready for the oven.
six rolls and a batard, ready for the oven.

Baking.

Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven with a baking stone ( if you have one)  to 220c. Just before baking,  baste the loaves with the egg white. Slash the long loaves with three parallel cuts. Sprinkle the stone with cornmeal and slide the loaves onto it. Bake for 40 minutes, spraying the oven three tines with water in the first 10 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Panini al formaggio.
Panini al formaggio.

The Italian Baker, revised. Carol Field, 2011. Ten Speed Press.

Another contribution to Leah’s Cookbook Guru, who is highlighting The Italian Baker this month.