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/

In My Kitchen, a Very Fishy Post. November 15

There have been lots of fishy things happening in my kitchen this month, or should I say, in cabin kitchens along the East Coast of Victoria and New South Wales. I love the challenge of cabin kitchens: they are all so idiosyncratic and designed for the user of microwaves or non cooks. Challenges include how to drain pasta without a colander, chopping on thin plastic boards that have warped into canoes, looking for a non-existent grater and salad bowl and dealing with an oven that doesn’t cook.  But I’m jumping ahead.

Let me introduce you to the first kitchen I popped into on my coastal road trip. I met up with Maree, from Around the Mulberry Tree, in her kitchen in Trafalgar. She was having a garden open day and I just happened to be passing by. Her garden was looking magnificent with its well designed chook house and wicking beds, but I was keen to see the progress on her kitchen renovation and her ‘toy oven’, in which she makes beautiful sourdough loaves! I can report that it is all true, and it just goes to show that with a bit of imagination, a good loaf can be made in a tiny little pie warmer of an oven! Neither of us are too keen on having our photos on our posts: I think this one sums it all up.

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In Maree’s kitchen, the blues sisters.

The first night in our Lake Tyers kitchen we feasted on a seafood paella or Paella de Marisco. The seafood co-op at Lakes Entrance provided the goodies for this- fresh squid, prawns ( from South Australia) and a few scallops. I used the prawn heads and shells to make a quick prawn bisque for the stock. I love the first stage of making paella when the smoky pimenton is added to the stock. bbb

Travelling with me always are these ingredients, as well as a good pan with fitting lid, a decent knife, a pasta pot, and fresh herbs and spices from home.

Caasp-arra rc,,,
, Calasparra rice, saffron and smoky pimento – the key items for a good paella.

The kitchen in Lake Tyers was pretty good as far as cabin kitchens go except for the dodgy oven which only worked on the grill function. This was the setting for our scallop feast.

1-2015-10-25 19.51.13_resizedThe kids were happy to eat their way through piles of flathead tails, also readily available from the local seafood co-op.  A large bag of panko crumbs from Costco and eggs from home are also part of my travelling kit.

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Flathead tails, with panko crumbs. Hands up who wants more!

Eden was the next stop for seafood along this route, with blue mussels available near the jetty and a local smokehouse. Kyle bought a bag of smoked mussels: I like his cooking style. Pour the smoked mussels out of the bag and into a bowl, and compete to see who gets to eat the most. No photo for this treat as they disappeared in a flash.

The lakes of Pambula provided the next briny piatto del giorno. Two dozen oysters, freshly shucked, only required a picnic table, a lemon, and a loaf of ciabatta. Needing lemons?  Head to the country op-shops for cheap home-grown bags full.

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Sydney Rock oysters from Pambula Lakes.

Heading back down south, and passing my favourite Co-op again, these pretty creatures were available for $13.50 a kilo. Packed on ice, they are now in my home kitchen and will give us at least three more meals. Calamari and squid are the most sustainable seafood species you can find in Australia.

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shiny calamari ready to be cleaned.
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calamari, stir fried chard, garlic, chill, kecap manis, lemon, sesame oil.

Thanks Celia once again for hosting this marvellous monthly series. You may find more like-minded souls at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, Living well in the Urban Village.

The Seafood Coast of Eastern Victoria

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy paternal grandparents lived by and from the sea. My grandfather crafted fishing boats, and my grandmother knitted thick Aran sweaters to sell to the fishermen of Bass Strait. They ate fish daily, had one cow for milk in the early days of their married life, and grew a few vegetables in their back yard. They raised seven children in their tiny wooden house facing the sea: they were poor but their life was simple and healthy.  My uncles and great uncles were fishermen in these waters, or spent lonely months operating the lighthouses on the windswept islands of Bass Strait. It is no wonder then, that I am drawn to this coast. I need to smell the sea air, hear the winds and the waves crash, and eat fish straight from the source. The pull is a strong one.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our annual east coast road trip often begins at Lake Tyers, a beautiful village conveniently located near Lakes Entrance, home of the largest commercial fishing fleet in Victoria.  I’m pretty fussy when it comes to seafood. The only way I like it is fresh: I would rather go without, than eat the frozen product. The best source comes from the fleets of fishermen who work upon the deep, clean waters off Bass Strait. But then I am biased!

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Each month brings a new species to the Seafood Co- Op or the trawlers along the wharf. I have been fortunate in the past to score freshly caught calamari, Moreton Bay Bugs and prawns fresh from these trawlers. It all comes down to the month, the weather at night, and the sequence of the moon. No point expecting fresh trawler prawns before December, the ladies at the  fishing Co-Op will tell you. I was more than compensated this week by finding fresh scallops being shucked in one of the trawlers along the wharf.  Most of these briny babies are heading up to the Sydney Seafood Market. I’m eating mine today, fresh from the shell. I purchased a kilo for $30.00 and then filled a bag of discarded shells too.

This simple scallop recipe can be found in Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion. I’m not travelling with this tome, so my proportions are based on instinct and also on my abundant supply of large scallops. If you have a copy, find the recipe in the Scallop chapter.

Scallops Au Gratin

  • 1/2 kilo fresh scallops, cleaned, row retained.
  • 2 cups of 1 day old bread, such as sourdough, crumbed or grated.
  • 2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
  • 2 or more garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped Italian parsley
  • Olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • around 20 large scallop shells.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Heat oven to 180 c. Lay cleaned scallop shells on flat baking trays.

Clean the scallops by removing the digestive tract or lumpy bit from the side of the scallop. Don’t remove the roe: it has no distinct flavour and is part of the scallop treat. If the scallops are large, halve or quarter them.

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Heat a small frying pan and add a generous slurp of good olive oil. Fry the onions very slowly until they soften and colour slightly, then add the garlic for another minute.

Remove the onion mixture from the heat and add the scallops, half of the bread crumbs and the parsley. Season well, then toss mixture together, Add a little more oil to moisten.

Place a heaped tablespoon or so in each shell. Add more crumbs to the top and another drizzle of oil. Bake until lightly browned, around 10 minutes, or use the griller function. Serve with lemon wedges.1-2015-10-25 19.51.13_resized

Scallops are my favourite treats from the sea,

Pasta con Capesante. Scallop Season.

Sea scallops, besides being a delicious seasonal treat, come loaded with myth and metaphor, from the fertility symbol of antiquity (the shell symbolising the protective and nurturing principle, and inwardly, the “life-force slumbering within the Earth”, an emblem of the vulva) to the modern-day adoption of the scallop shell for less romantic purposes, such as the Shell Petroleum company.

The most endearing connection is the scallop’s association with St James/ Santiago/St Jacques. Those who have walked part, or all the camino, arriving in Santiago di Compostela in Galicia, will be familiar with the cockle shell carried on the end of their bastone or walking stick, to arrive at the Cathedral in Santiago for a blessing or mass. The scallop shell is the most ubiquitous tourist memento from Santiago di Compostela and probably has been since medieval times.

Santiago in his shell covered hat.
Santiago in his shell covered hat.

For the pre-Christian Celt, the scallop shell resembled the setting sun, which was the focus of Celtic rituals in Galicia. The camino route was a Celtic death journey westwards towards the setting sun, terminating at the Finisterra, the end of the world, on the Costa da Morte.

This all makes lots of sense really but then how did St James, Santiago, St Jacques, become associated with sea scallops?

More scallop onamentation on Saint James.
More scallop ornamentation on Saint James.

The association can most likely be traced to the legend that the apostle once rescued a knight covered in scallops. An alternative version of the legend holds that while St. James’ remains were being transported to Galicia in Spain, the horse of a knight fell into the water, and emerged covered in the shells.

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The Italians have three names for the tasty scallop, the most common being capesante, deriving from medieval times when priests used the shell to pour holy water onto the heads of those receiving baptism. The alternate names, conchiglia di San Giacomo (like the French coquilles Saint Jacques)  and conchiglia del pellegrino simply meaning St James’ shell or the shell of the pilgrim.

The English derivation of scallop comes from the French, escalope, meaning ‘shell’, not so historically romantic.

Scallop statues of Santiago di Compostella.
Scallop statues of Santiago di Compostela.

Scallop season begins here in late July (mid winter) in the Bass Straight central district, around the cold and pristine waters off the east Coast of Victoria. The quota has increased this season, indicating that stocks are healthy, and usually runs till early December. Scallops from Lakes Entrance are in a class of their own, especially if you can get them as soon as they arrive in the fisherman’s co-op.

One of my favourite scallop dishes combines them with a super fine pasta such as capellini or tagliatelline egg pasta, with the scallops finely sliced and tossed with lots of garlic sauce and a hint of chilli.

capellini con capsante

Tagliatellini con Capesante. Fine egg pasta with scallops.

Ingredients for Two

  • 200 g thin egg pasta (tagliatelline)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • two pinches dried chilli flakes
  • your best olive oil, a generous glug
  • 250 gr scallops, cleaned, sliced.
  • dry white wine, around 1/4 glass.
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • finely chopped handful of Italian parsley.

Method

  • Cook the pasta in ample salted boiling water, according to packet instructions.
  • Meanwhile, add olive oil to a large frying pan. When it is hot, quickly stir around the scallop slices. Don’t cook for more than one minute.
  • Add garlic and chilli flakes, toss about, then add the wine, then finely ground black pepper. Toss again. If the pasta isn’t ready, remove the scallop sauce from the heat.
  • Drain the pasta well. Add to the frying pan, folding through with the scallop sauce. Add the parsley then serve in heated bowls.
    tagliatelline con capesante
    tagliatelline con capesante

    This song goes so nicely with scallop season and memories of Santiago de Compostela. Chove en Santiago by Luar na Lubre. When I first heard this song echoing down a rainy lane in Santiago de Compostela, I cried. Sung in Galician, with strong Celtic threads, it still overwhelms me.

Lake Tyers Dreaming and Fish Frenzy Recipes.

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The waves pound the coastline, often breaking like thunder, along the Ninety Mile Beach in Eastern Victoria . It’s a rugged and isolated stretch with few settlements along the way. Lake Tyers is one of those magic spots, a small town facing the gentle lakes which protect it via a sand spit, from the wild seas of Bass Straight. The town consists of beach houses, a few camping grounds, one milk bar/general store and delightful pub set right on the lake,the Waterwheel Tavern.Image

It’s the place I choose to visit out of season, usually in early December, and sometimes in winter, away from shopping malls, job lists and the internet, which is generally unreliable. We are here to ponder the view, read, walk and eat fish.Image

On clear nights, the horizon sparkles with fishing boats and trawlers, night’s glittering promise of tomorrow’s fresh fish. The catch is landed at Lakes Entrance, a major commercial fishing port which is a short 10 km drive away. Two outlets stock local fish and a few imports from interstate. The Fishermens Own Omega 3 fish shop. (which is basically the fish Co-Op ) and Ferry Seafoods, which is a little fish shop underneath a restaurant of the same name. It’s a fishy surprise each day!ImageImage

On rough nights I ponder the lives of these commercial fishermen who love and respect the sea and I think of my ancestors who earned their living fishing off the coast in the nearby town of Port Albert, many of whom met ‘their watery graves’.Image

The fish feast began on the first evening with a half kilo of freshly caught wild school prawns. To this we added bread and butter,lemon, and beer. A fitting start to the holiday!Image

The following day the ‘fishermens’ own shop’ had some beautiful slippery grey mauve calamari, a steal at $13.95  a kilo. We dusted them with flour, gave them a quick minute fry, then dressed them with chilli flakes, salt, spring onions and lemon. Say no more!Image

On the third day, the wonderful folk at the same shop had filleted a ton of school sand whiting. I would not normally buy these little fellas as they are so boney, but when filleted, bring them on! I bought a huge pile for $9.00- so delicate and transparent and silvery. These were popped into a Thai green curry, loaded with ginger, garlic, chilli, red onion, kaffir lime leaves, basil, lime juice, fish sauce and coconut milk. I added a few beans and zucchini, to avoid growing fins! The fish were stirred through at the end and cooked in a minute.

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The Fish gods were still smiling on us. On the fourth day some wild caught scallops turned up for a song. In the evening, these little gems were stirred through a simple spaghetti dish with lots of garlic, extra virgin olive oil,basil and a hint of chilli. The halved scallops cooked in the heat of the pasta.ImageImage

Accommodation is available in camping grounds or in apartments and beach houses. These are usually cheaper out of season, which is anytime outside of the Christmas holidays and Easter.

This post is dedicated to my sister Kerrie, who has inherited the same fish gene from Port Albert, and to Bruce, who is always so good natured.