In My Kitchen, November 2019

To be frank, my kitchen is often really messy. At times the cleaning tasks seem daunting. But there are some very good reasons, or justifications, for this. The storage is dated and inadequate for my needs, with limited drawer space and old fashioned cupboards with useless dark corners. The benches are too high and cause back, neck and shoulder pain. As the cheap pine cupboard doors become unhinged, I simply rip them off. Better them than me. The white laminate bench tops are in a sorry state: there’s no point replacing them when the whole kitchen needs a total overhaul. My kitchen is no ‘House and Garden’, and hardly instagram worthy, even on a good day. Occasionally I ponder a few pockets of beauty. My eye, like the lens of a camera, is selective. I have a love/hate relationship with my kitchen. It is a slave driver, but then, as I’m very attracted to frugality and seasonal food, a slave I must be.

I’ve retaliated by commandeering most of the laundry for storage, which now houses the larger kitchen machines which aren’t in daily use ( rice cooker, slow cooker, blender, microwave, second fridge ) as well as shelves dedicated to preserves, empty jars for future preserves, potato and onion storage, seasonal garlic bulbs kept in the dark, shelves of cake tins – loved for their shapes, patina and history,-¬† small moulds and forms for puddings and souffl√©, antique Italian coffee pots just because I like them, collected old biscuit tins to send off when full to someone in need, a huge and ancient gelataio, and that insane breeding area for plastic storage containers, the bane of my life, those necessary evil things, often missing their lids. This area, an annex to my kitchen, is indispensable and strangely, most of the stuff gets used.

In My Kitchen, the tasks seem endless. If I’m home, my annoying but workable kitchen is put to the test all day. Produce from the garden or market is preserved, conserved, frozen, dried, pickled, bottled, and brined. Today I dealt with the olives I picked back in April this year. The lidded 14 kilo container, a throw out icing container from the local bakery, sat in the kitchen for 7 months full of curing olives. Today they moved into jars, and although still a little bitter, it is an old style Greek taste that grows on you. We were forced to pick last season’s olives when green, thanks to the marauding birds that sampled most of the olives before spitting them out on the ground. I’ve always admired how smart some birds are, but I do wonder when it comes to olives, why the birds must try each and every one. Last April’s olives were not as plump as usual, given the low rainfall. I followed the very simple method given here by Mt Zero Olives.

Finally in the jars

I put aside a jar of my preserved lemons last June and have just pulled them out from a dark cupboard. I use chopped preserved lemon in salmon patties, couscous, and add them to smashed baby potatoes, the latter a very nice side dish with fish.

Preserved lemons. Tucked away for months, now ready to enjoy

It’s a fortuitous day at the market when there’s a huge snapper carcass to be had for two dollars. Snapper makes the best stock, so long as the gills and all traces of blood are removed before cooking. Into the pot he goes, along with some wine, onion and some aromatics. Once cooked, the stock is then labelled and frozen, to be married later on to a good Carnaroli rice, and perhaps a handful of prawns.

Great to see this good quality Carnaroli rice stocked locally at the Hurstbridge Deli and Larder.

Other fishy preserves this month included anchovies under oil, a time consuming labour of love, the recipe outlined in my previous post here.¬†Acciughe sott’olio is a great addition to a board full of different antipasti for lunch.

As young ginger is now in season at the market, it’s time to make pickled ginger, another lovely condiment that improves with time, which will be a welcome addition to the table in summer, although I do know a young girl who enjoys pink pickled ginger straight from the jar. There is always a seasonal herb, vegetable, fruit or fish to dry, pickle or preserve in some way.¬† I’m happily a martyr to the cause, and will be ready for Armageddon, or at least, Armageddon hungry.

Header photo, Pumpkin risotto with crispy sage leaves. Time to use up the remaining stored pumpkins from last Autumn. They are now at peak ripeness.

Thanks Sherry for hosting this monthly series, which can be found at Sherry’s Pickings.

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

Pastina in Brodo and Random Musings on Soup

I am rather partial to soup. I make it often and in every season for two reasons: I hate sandwiches for lunch and I find soup restorative. Winter soups often tend to be hearty, loaded with vegetables and added beans or pulses, barley, rice or pasta or they are thick vegetable¬†pur√©es such as pumpkin or celery soup. Each member of the family has their favourite. Noah can eat barley and vegetable soup all day, Mischa is a pumpkin soup girl, and Daisy can smell stock bubbling on the stove from a mile off. Charlotte wants Andrew’s soup, her title for Minestrone and Oliver will only eat zucchini soup.

As the vegetable stock¬†reheats on the stove, I have been reflecting on the contraction of the English language when it comes to soup. We do have other terms for soup but most of them are French in derivation and are not exactly quotidian, reserved only for fine dining restaurants. (consomme¬īand potage come to mind). ¬†Speaking of restaurants, did you know that the¬†word restaurant¬†(meaning something restoring) was first used in France¬†in the 16th century to refer to a highly concentrated, inexpensive soup sold by street vendors, that was advertised as an antidote¬†to physical exhaustion?

Pastina in Brodo
Pastina in Brodo

The Italian language is more precise when it comes to soup.¬†¬†Zuppa¬†(Soup) is more often called minestra but when it is loaded with a variety of ingredients, it becomes a minestrone. ( the suffix ‘one’¬†meaning big, large or long which can be added to any noun). A creamy puree¬ī soup is a¬†crema or crema di verdura¬†, where the vegetable may be named. ¬†Pumpkin soup then becomes¬†Crema di Zucca. A light brothy soup is¬†brodo. Pastina are small pasta shapes, often made of egg dough.

As I have some stock left from my onion soup recipe, a light broth with a little egg pasta and parmesan becomes a five-minute lunch.

Pastina in Brodo 

  • vegetable stock
  • egg pasta, small shapes ( Pastina)
  • grated parmesan, Reggiano or Grana Padano

Heat broth to boiling point, season, add the egg pasta and cook as per packet instructions, then serve with ample grated parmesan cheese.

A slightly longer version includes  beginning with a little soffrito of finely chopped onion, carrot and celery, cook in oil on medium heat until softened, then add the broth and proceed as above. Or heat the stock, add loads of finely chopped fresh herbs and the parmesan.

The beauty of this broth depends on the quality of the stock. Comforting and restorative.

My Favourite Pastina by La Triestina company, Brunswick.
My Favourite Pastina by La Triestina company, Brunswick.

Italian proverbs on soup. 

Sei come la forchetta nel brodo, non servi a niente– You are like a fork in the soup, you’re useless.

Gallina vecchia fa buon brodo– an old hen makes the best broth. – Experience is a virtue.

Il brodo di rane fa venir sani– A broth of frogs makes one healthy. Really???This expression must come from Pavia.

Chi ha la mestola in mano, si fa la minestra a suo modo. Who holds the ladle, makes the soup in their own way- Having power to act in their own way by imposing their will.

Minestra di cannelini, zucca, pastina e cavaolo nero.
Minestra di cannelini, zucca, pastina e cavolo nero.

A Soup Retrospective on Almost Italian includes:

French onion soup-   https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/french-onion-soup-with-vegetable-stock-voila/

Pasta and chickpea soup. https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/pasta-and-chickpeas/

My favourite soup, Silver beet, cannellini beans and pasta -https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/my-favouite-soup-an-all-year-silverbeet-recipe/

Turkish red lentil soup- https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2014/08/09/turkish-red-lentil-bride-soup/

Spring vegetable soup- https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/spring-soup-tutto-fa-brodo/

Italian Mussel soup- https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/zuppa-estiva-di-cozze-summery-mussel-soup/

Chowder (cullen skink)- https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2015/01/14/one-smoked-trout-and-two-meals-for-two/

Minestra di Verdura
Minestra di Verdura