In My Kitchen, September 2018

A few years ago, an old friend mentioned that he found my blog very positive. Since that day, I decided to keep it that way. There’s enough negativity in the world without me adding my two bob’s worth concerning the sadness of our times, family illness and the winter of my discontent: in times like these, graceful silence makes more sense. And so I raise my glass to Spring, and though the vestiges of Winter will stay with us for some time, Spring brings hope. The bounce of early morning kangaroos in the front paddock, the alarming yellow of late winter daffodils pushing through the grass and the efflorescence of pear blossom, a snow-white foreground to a cold misty morning, bring glad tidings and a sense of anticipation and transformation.

View from kitchen window, pear blossom , Spring 2018

But now, let’s get back in the kitchen, the place where magic happens every day. This season’s local fresh scallops ( from Tasmania or Lakes Entrance) have made an appearance in the fish markets. The Bass Strait scallop season opens in mid July, and they are at their freshest in August and September, though the season continues through to December. The industry is highly regulated and subject to quotas. Fresh local scallops are my favourite seafood and bring comfort and joy to my kitchen. Not only are they subtle and delicious, but are easy to prepare, quick to cook and a few go a long way.

Collected shells, containers for Coquilles St Jacques, sauces and dips.

Some years ago, I collected a huge pile of scallop shells when visiting Lakes Entrance on the east coast of Victoria. We sat by a fishing trawler as an older Greek man shucked thousands of scallops into a large box, destined that day for the Melbourne and Sydney fish markets while the beautiful flawless shells were tossed into plastic bags. I took away a large bag of shells and every season, I freshen them up in readiness for a favourite dish, Coquilles St Jacques, baked scallops on the half shell. The scallop shell is the emblem of St Jacques, St James, Sant’Iago or San Giacomo, (depending on your language) and as such, is the symbol of the camino, and in particular, the town of Santiago di Compostela in Galicia, the final stop of that famous pilgrims’ route. Those who have visited Santiago di Compostela or passed through the various French or Spanish towns along the way, will be familiar with the scallop shell embedded in walkways and roads. Modern pilgrims carry the shell around their necks, on the end of their walking sticks or backpacks as a sign to other pilgrims. But the question remains- why the scallop shell? One answer may lie in the Italian word for scallop- Capesante. It is said that the shell was used by the saint to contain water to be used for blessing or benediction on the heads of his followers. Then again, the scallop shell washes up along the shores of Galicia, burial-place of St James, another simple connection.

Santiago in Galicia in his scallop shell hat. Photo from my journey there in 2008.

Another legend provides further clues,

” Following his execution, James’ headless body was being brought to Galicia in northwest Spain to be laid to rest. As the boat containing his body approached the coast, a knight on horseback was walking the cliffs above the Atlantic. Upon seeing the boat, the horse bolted and plummeted into the sea with the knight. St James is said to have miraculously intervened and saved the knight, still on horseback, who emerged covered in scallop shells.”¹

But then, digging a little deeper, we find that a similar pilgrimage route, ending in Finisterre in Galicia, was used in Roman times by pagans:

“In Roman Hispania, there was a route known as the Janus Path used by pagans as a born-again ritual and ending in Finisterre. Its starting point? The Temple of Venus, Roman goddess of love. Venus is said to have risen from the sea on a scallop shell, as depicted in Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus, and is associated with fertility rituals practiced along the route.

Ideas and themes associated with the cult of Janus are echoed by the concept of transformation on the Camino de Santiago. The Roman god Janus, for whom the month January is named, is the god of beginnings and endings, transition and transformation – all ideas shared by pilgrimages and discovered on the Camino today, a constant source of renewal and rediscovery.” ¹

Nascita di Venere. Sandro Botticelli. Uffizi, Firenze

Sant’Iago and these fabulous legends are wonderfully distracting thoughts as I prepare this season’s scallops in my kitchen. To prepare shucked scallops for a recipe, simply tear off the small ligament or tract line on the side. Please keep the roe- an equally delicious part of the scallop and proof that the product is fresh and not from some frozen packet from who knows where. Check that the scallops aren’t overly plump- a sign that they have been soaking in water which makes them less tasty but more costly.

300 gr of scallops, a greedy night for two.
Spaghettini con capesante, porri e zafferano. A hot serving bowl full of spaghettini, scallops, leek, saffron, EV oil and herbs. Recipe soon.

Good things like scallops demand a few lovely condiments. This little Iranian saffron box is one of the jewels residing in my kitchen spice drawer, the ‘dark arts’ drawer as Mr T likes to call it.

Box of Iranian saffron, Preston market.

On my kitchen bench, right next to the stove, stands a bunch of fresh herbs, a tussy mussy of inspiration, replenished often but saving a cold evening walk to the herb garden. This bunch includes winter favourites- parsley, wild fennel, rosemary, thyme, dill and bay.

Herb tussy mussy. Life without herbs is unimaginable.

I bought these cute graters in Bali last month for the princely sum of AU$1. Hand made of stainless steel, they are as effective as my costly Microplane. There’s one for my old friend/ex student Rachael P, and, as I’m returning to Bali next week, I may buy a few more for gifts.

Handmade Balinese microplanes.

Next to the kitchen radio sits a container of Lotus tea. The flask is refilled with hot water from the whistling kettle on top of my wood stove. Another simple pleasure concomitant with Winter.

Sipping Lotus tea in my kitchen. Jon or Raff on the radio or maybe a morning raga.

Thanks once again to Sherry, of Sherry’s Pickings, who hosts the monthly event of In My Kitchen. It’s another positive place where the world gathers to showcase simple delights.

Spaghettini, capesante, porri e zafferano. Paradiso in inverno.

Older scallop posts with recipes:

https://almostitalian.blog/2015/09/23/pasta-con-capesante-scallop-season/

https://almostitalian.blog/2015/10/30/the-seafood-coast-of-eastern-victoria/

¹ https://followthecamino.com/blog/scallop-shell-camino-de-santiago/

Mafaldine Pasta with Zucchini, Cream and Saffron

My Zucchini Festival continues today with another good zucchini pasta recipe ( see below) and a look at the seeds which produce this fecund vegetable. This year I planted two varieties of zucchini in my orto. The first to go in were the Black Jack variety, purchased as seedlings from a country market. They are the most common variety of zucchini grown in Australia, with vigorous, fast growing plants, high yields, and smooth dark green skin. Unfortunately for seed savers, they are also hybrids. The other variety, the Zucchino Striato d’Italia, or Italian striped zucchini, is easily grown from seed, and whilst not so prolific, which could be a good thing, they are definitely superior in taste and texture. An heirloom variety, this means you can save the seed for future plantings, a routine worth following when growing your own vegetables. The flavour is reminiscent of the zucchini grigliati we ate in the small trattorie in Trastevere, Roma. The other variety I’ve planted in the past is the yellow zucchini- a poor performer both in taste, yield and keeping quality, despite the lovely colour.

Mr Tranquillo in a trattoria in Trastevere. The side dish inclused some simply cooked and dressed zucchini striati. Once tasted, nevere forgotton.
Mr Tranquillo in a trattoria in Trastevere. The side dish included some simply cooked and dressed zucchini striati. Once tasted, never forgotten.

Today’s simple pasta dish marries Mafaldine pasta with small cubes of zucchini, saffron and cream. Mafaldine pasta is ribbon shaped pasta with curly edges and is also known as Reginette. The photos don’t do justice to the creaminess of this dish.

xx
Mafaldine con Zucchini Striati, Panna e Zafferano

Mafaldine con Zucchini, Panna e Zafferano . Mafaldine Pasta with Zucchini, Cream and Saffron  (for 2 medium serves)

  • 180g mafaldine or other long ribbon egg pasta
  • 2 small zucchini, cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 small white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • salt
  • pinch dried chilli
  • generous pinch of saffron threads
  • 1 cup cream
  1. Bring ample salted water to the boil in a large pot.
  2. Heat a large wide frying pan or non stick wok for the sauce. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil then the chopped onion and garlic. When softened, add the cubes of zucchini, some salt, and a pinch of dried chilli. Stir about and cook on low heat for around 20 minutes.
  3. Add the Mafaldine ( or chosen pasta) to the boiling water and cook for the required time.
  4. Use a little of the cooking water and add to the saffron to soften, then add this to the zucchini mixture. Add a cup of cream and raise the heat so that the cream thickens. Add more cream if necessary.
  5. When the pasta is ready, drain and add to the zucchini cream sauce in the pan. Toss about. Save a little pasta cooking liquid to loosen the sauce, if necessary.
  6. Serve with ample grated parmigiano cheese.

I enjoyed this dish on this cooler summer day. It will be included in my annual Zucchini Festival repertoire. It cost tuppence to make, allowing the splurge on a pinch or two of precious saffron pistils and a nice chunk of Reggiano Parmigiano cheese to serve.

vv

seed packet- Zucchino striato d'Italia
seed packet- Zucchino striato d’Italia

Seed saving tips for non- hybrid zucchini:

http://blog.seedsavers.org/blog/zucchini-tips?rq=zucchini

Simple Seafood Paella

Paella is an uncomplicated and quick dish to prepare at home, once you get to know the basic ingredients and keep a few of these on hand. When a bag of mussels and a handful of fresh green prawns saunters my way, I now turn to Paella. It’s easier than risotto, with no stirring involved, and can be made on a regular gas stove.

The basics for Paella
The basics for Paella.

In the pantry you will need these standbys:

  • a small container of commercial pre-made fish stock, or home-made frozen stock or one vegetable stock cube
  • some good quality Spanish smoked pimenton ( paprika )
  • Calasparra rice- no other rice will do for this dish
  • saffron strands

Some other desirable ingredients for a seafood paella for two people are:

  • some left over calamari wings, stashed in the freezer*
  • some green prawns, three large or 6 small per person
  • mussels, around 6 per person
  • one green or red capsicum, sliced
  • one finely sliced onion
  • one finely chopped garlic
  • good olive oil
  • parsley

You don’t need a special paella pan for a no fuss paella for two people. I use a heavy based frying 20-25 cm frying pan with a glass lid. My other paella pans come out and are used for bigger gatherings. Just double or triple the quantities for your larger pans and seek out an even and very large heat source.

Pictorial recipe instructions follow.

Fry the onion, garlic and red capsicum in two tablepoons olive oil.
Gently fry the onion, garlic and red capsicum in two tablespoons olive oil for around 5 minutes or until softened but not coloured.
after the onions have softened but not browned, add the rice and stir about until opaque
Add one cup of Calasparra rice and stir about until opaque
Grind one generous pinch od saffrom with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt in a mortar and pestle and add to the pan.
Grind one generous pinch of saffron with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt in a mortar and pestle and add to the pan. Add a little water to the mortar and add remaining saffron water to the pan.
Add the sliced strips of calamari wing and smoked pimento to the pan along with 2 1/2cups of stock.
Add the sliced strips of calamari wing and 1-2 teaspoons of smoked pimento ( I like mine smoky) to the pan along with 2.5 cups of stock. Commercial fish stock packets usually contain two cups. Add extra water if needed, or use a stock cube. Cover the pan with a suitably fitting glass lid and cook on low to medium heat for 15- 20 minutes. Relax.
after 20 minutes, add the mussels to the pan, and cover.
When the rice has swelled and most of the liquid has been absorbed, add the mussels to the pan, and cover. After another five minutes, add the prawns and cover until cooked. Check that liquid has been absorbed and the dish should now be ready to serve.
Serve in the pan, with finely chopped parsley
Serve in the pan, with finely chopped parsley
The bottom will have formed a slightly golden crust. The soccarat is the best bit.
The bottom will have formed a slightly golden crust. The soccarat is the best bit.
More than enough for two, with some leftovers for breakfast or lunch.
More than enough for two, with some leftovers for breakfast or lunch.
The big fellas used for larger crowds. Not so suitable for stove top cooking.
The big fellas, used for larger crowds are not so suitable for stove top cooking

After preparing fresh calamari for another meal, stash the wings in the freezer for occasions like this. They defrost very quickly and add depth of flavour to the rice as it cooks. I have also used a small fillet of Dory in the same way.  I learnt this trick from Sandra at Please Pass the Recipe and the habit has stuck.