I like to eat soups in the height of summer, not necessarily cold soups, but light minestre of vegetables in season. They are thrown together and take around 20 minutes to cook, using whatever is abundant in the garden.
This vegetable soup is similar to the French Soupe au Pistou in many ways, but I am waiting on the garden’s fresh borlotti, i fagioli scritti, and green beans, before I go down that Provençal path.
1 onion, finely sliced
1 garlic, finely chopped,
2 tablespoons EV olive oil
4-5 chopped Roma tomatoes
1 medium zucchini, finely sliced
1 can of drained and well rinsed chick peas or white cannellini beans
¼ jar of home-made or purchased tomato passata
4 cups vegetable stock
small broken pieces of Mafaldine (flat ribbon) pasta or other dried pasta on hand
salt and pepper
freshly made pesto from a handful of basil leaves, two cloves garlic, salt, olive oil and pecorino, bashed to a pulp in a mortar and pestle. (Leave the nuts out when serving with soup.)
grilled bruschetta to go with the soup.
In a large heavy pot, add a generous slurp of olive oil and gently cook a sliced onion and a chopped garlic until soft but not coloured. Then add the vegetables as listed, stirring each new addition for a minute or so as you go. When they are almost cooked, after around 15 -20 minutes. add the some broken pieces of Mafladine and cook until the pasta is al dente. Season well. Serve in wide bowls with a dollop of freshly made basil pesto.
The pasta Mafaldine was named in honour of Princess Mafaldine of Savoy, daughter of King Vittorio Emmanuele 111, and is also known as reginette or “little queens”.
My Kitchen has turned intensely red this month as the tomatoes and plums continue to march through the kitchen, looking for someone to love them. Two varieties of plums peaked today- both red fleshed Japanese varieties, Satsuma and Formosa. Some will be stashed in the freezer for winter clafoutis and crostata.
Plums and almonds
red fleshed Formosa
The tomatoes slowed down a little last week, thanks to the abundant rainfall and cooler weather. Signs of more flushing on the way. We have had one round of passata making and another is due today.
Half a jar of passata, reduced with fish stock, along with saffron and smoked pimenton, went into this fish and mussel soup.
The rest was poured over grilled eggplant layered with parmigiano cheese in a MelanzaneParmigiana, an old stand by.
Others are eaten as is, with their colourful friends, in my favourite little salad bowl from Mission Beach market.
The miniature tomatoes are frozen whole on a metal tray; once they turn into little hard bullets, they are stored in the freezer in zip lock bags for winter.
A lovely Christmas gift from my sister, this griddle pan has grill lines on the heavy lid which sits neatly inside the pan :once both the pan and lid are heated, panini, bread for bruschetta or anything else can be grilled on both sides simultaneously. Can’t wait to use it.
The garden pick today included the first eggplant and red chillies. The zucchini and cucumber continue to impress, the basil is slow this season, and the ducks have discovered some treasure at low levels while the occasional Houdini rabbit comes in for a soft leaf raid. We have an abundant garden as well as plenty of pests!
Thanks Maureen for hosting the In My Kitchen series. Please take a look at other inspiring kitchens through Maureen’s link.
The plums are ready. They are the highlight of summer. My mother likes to remind me every January about the amount of plums she ate during her ‘lying in’ period after my birth¹. Her hospital room window faced a heavily laden plum-tree: she ate stewed plums for 10 days. Perhaps that accounts for my passion for plums- it came through the milk!
I have also been pondering the words plum and plummy in English phrases such as “Speaking with a plum in your mouth” or “He has a plummy accent” and “She has a plum job”. Most Australians would consider a ‘plummy’ accent to be a mark of haughtiness, the term used with disdain in a country relatively free of rigid class distinction. However, if you want to practise speaking with such an accent, pop a small plum in your mouth which will force you to make drawn out “o” noises, with a rather slow and deliberate vocalisation. Another site advises “putting a pen in the mouth, horizontally, forcing you to enunciate your words more and to talk more slowly, giving your words an extra second or two to fully come out of your mouth. Pausing also works, because pausing allows the person you’re speaking to digest all the words you’ve just said.” The assumption here might be that the speaker feels herself to be terribly important and the recipient rather slow and definitely inferior. There you go; proof that those who seek to speak in such a way have soft, plum filled brains. It would be advised, at least in Australia, to lose such an accent very quickly if you don’t wish to be considered imperious, affected and in-bred.
But then who wouldn’t want a plum job? The notion of easy work, perhaps ‘soft’ like a plum, came about to distinguish well paid positions involving little work compared to those involved with physical labour. The term is still used today to denote highly paid work. In the 1600s, ‘plum’ was a British term meaning £1000, a serious amount of money in those days.
It looks like plums have a lot to answer for.
A Plum Dessert, an original recipe influenced by something I may have either read or eaten. Please play with it. The ingredients are few and flexible but the result is delicious.
Fresh Blood plums or Satsuma plums
Nuts and seeds. I used almond flakes, pepitas, sunflower seeds and pistachio
Get a tub of yoghurt and make plain Labne. It is a simple process which will take one day. Cut the blood plums in half and remove the stone. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper and sprinkle with a little brown sugar over the each of the cut plums. Bake in an oven at 180ºC until soft, until it oozes with red juice. Pop the nuts and seeds onto another paper lined baking tray, sprinkle with a tiny amount of brown sugar, and bake for a few minutes the oven. Watch like a hawk. Mine went a bit too brown but I still enjoyed them. If you are sugar phobic, don’t add any, though the juices won’t run so lusciously.
Dollop a generous scoop of Labne onto a serving plate, cover with plums and juice, and sprinkle with the nut mixture. Eat for breakfast, lunch or tea or anytime in between.
¹A 1932 publication refers to lying-in as ranging from 2 weeks to 2 months.It also does not suggest “Getting Up” (getting out of bed post-birth) for at least nine days and ideally for 20 days. In my mother’s time, ( throughout the 1950s) it was 10 days before ‘getting up’ after giving birth.
My daughter has raved about a pavlova she made a year ago with a rich mango and passionfruit curd topping. She acquired the recipe for the Mango and Passionfruit curd from Lorraine Elliott’s Not Quite Nigella. Lorraine makes pavlovas, all towers of gooey loveliness and there are at least 6 fabulous versions to consider. I often prefer to make mini pavlovas or meringues so that I can string out the exquisite curd a little longer. As the mango season is at its height ( but not for long) I decided it was time to give her recipe a try. It is also a very fitting dessert for Australia Day on January 26th.
Little Daisy, the cheffa, was my main tester. Daisy likes to watch cooking videos to improve her cooking skills and always helps in the kitchen, with her own stool and special knife. She is genuinely my best kitchen hand, her enthusiasm spurs me on.
Little meringues are easy to whip up and store well in a tin- ready for any young customer with an appetite. They can be served as individual greedy sized desserts, or smashed up and made into an Eton Mess.
The small meringue recipe
four egg whites
1 cup (220g) caster sugar
2 Tablespoons cornflour
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
Preheat oven to 150ºC. Line two small baking trays with baking paper. Whisk egg whites in an electric mixer until soft peaks form, then add the sugar gradually and beat until they turn glossy. Remove bowl from stand and stir through the cornflour and vinegar.
Use a piping bag to make 6 rounds of meringue with slightly walled sides, or make freeform shapes, as pictured above, if you intend to smash them up for Eton Mess. Leave at least 3 cm between each meringue to allow for spreading.
Reduce the oven to 120ºC and bake for 40 minutes. Turn off the oven and allow them to cool completely. Store in an airtight tin for up to 2 weeks.
Lorraine Elliott’s Mango and Passionfruit Curd
Makes about 3 cups of curd
5 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
125g butter, cut into cubes
½ cup passionfruit pulp (about 5 passionfruit)
½ cup mango pulp, processed (about 1 large mango)
Heat a heavy bottomed saucepan on medium heat (4 out of 10 where 10 is the hottest temperature). Place the yolks and sugar and stir until combined. Add the cubes of butter and allow to melt. Stir just stir enough so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
Add the passionfruit and mango pulp to the pan and allow to thicken stirring occasionally. It will take about 10-15 minutes to thicken and will thicken further upon cooling. Store in sterilised jars.
To Assemble the Desserts
Use parfait glasses or bowls. Roughly smash the meringue and layer with cream, the curd, fresh passionfruit, and repeat, topped with fresh mint leaves.
Other components are whipped cream, more passionfruit, sliced mango, and other tropical fruits in season. Daisy said no to banana so take heed of her advice.
I sent all the components home with five-year old Daisy: the meringues, the whipped cream and the curd so she can practice her assembling to impress her father and sisters.
Footnote: Today Lorraine has written up this sweet curd again- check her updated recipe here too.
There is an odd family tradition at Casa Morgana. Whenever we go overseas, or even into the city for a quick getaway, our adult children move in for a Pizza Party. A case of when the cat’s away… except that these mice are mature, responsible adults most of the time, unless it’s pizza party night and then it’s play time. Part of the ritual involves numerous preliminary texts and FB messages enquiring about the dough recipe, or my stand mixer, or the settings on my Ilve oven, or do I have anchovies. This post is partly for them, but it I hope it serves as a basis for a good pizza for you too, dear reader.
This pizza utilises the garden’s summer bounty: sliced golden tomatoes with a dressing of parsley gremolata, a finely chopped parsley and garlic moistened with EV olive oil, which anoints the pizza once it has emerged from the oven. As we have a preference for Pizza Napolitana – and in Melbourne, that means olives and anchovies- large supplies of both ingredients are always kept in the fridge. These huge tins of Italian anchovy fillets (700g) last well. The fillets stay ‘sott’olio’- you can always top up the oil- and come with a handy plastic cover. No more fear of anchovy deprivation.
My pizza dough recipe comes from Carol Field’s The Italian Baker. I have revised and simplified this recipe from my previous post of two years ago.
Ingredients for Two Large Pizze
This dough is made in a stand mixer. If you prefer, you can make it by hand or in a food processor. Use cold water if using a processor. If you double the mixture, make it in two lots as most stand mixers don’t enjoy mixing a kilo of flour. I have listed ingredients in cups and by weight. My children generally depend on cup measurements even though they are all excellent cooks. I prefer to weigh.
1¾ teaspoons/5g active dry yeast
pinch of sugar
1¹/³ cup/ 320g warm water
¼ cup/ 55g olive oil
3¾ cup/500g bakers flour*
1½ teaspoons /7.5g sea salt
Stir the yeast and sugar into the water in the stand mixer bowl; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oil with the paddle. Mix the flour and salt and add to the yeast mixture. Mix until the dough comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead at medium speed until soft and satiny but firm, about 3 minutes or more. Finish kneading briefly by hand on a lightly floured surface and form into a ball.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat then cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled. Depending on the weather, and the room temperature, this may take one to two hours. In summer, things move more quickly.
Shaping and second rise. Knead the dough briefly on a lightly floured surface, for 1-2 minutes. Divide the dough into two (this amount will make two large pizze). Roll each piece into a ball on a floured surface then flatten to a thin disk or shape and stretch by hand.
Place the dough on large trays dusted with semolina or polenta or lightly oiled then let them rise another 30 minutes, covered with a towel. Dress them with your favourite topping. Preheat oven to 250c. Place in the oven and drop the temperature to 220c. Cook for around 20 minutes. You can usually smell when the pizza is ready. It is done when the outer crust is crisp and a little charred and the underside is golden.
The fast pizze are those we make for a quick breakfast/brunch. For a cheat’s pizza, they are still good. Grab some large rounds of yeasted Lebanese Pide. These are not the usual flatbreads used for wraps or roll ups but are much puffier; they are also much nicer than those supermarket cardboard pre-made bases. A packet of 4 costs $4.00, they measure around 30 cm in diameter and last well in the fridge of freezer. Look for these in a Lebanese bakery near you.
On goes some passata di pomodoro, mozzarella, a manciata or handful of olives, herbs in season, chopped garlic and a few summer tomatoes, roughly sliced. Count on a total prep and cooking time of 10 minutes and it’s back to the orto.
Everyone has their own favourite pizza sauce. I usually leave this up to Mr Tranquillo, who makes a nice garlic laced version but I love the simplicity of this pizza sauce from Signorina Napoli at Napoli Restaurant Alert. And as for her cake recipes, a world of temptation awaits those who enter.
* Bakers flour is used in preference to unbleached white plain flour. A reliable brand in Melbourne is by Manildra which comes in 10 kilo bags for around $15.00. I have never had any success using Italian doppio zero flour : I find the lack of gluten in ’00’ flour makes the dough too wet or soft.
Whenever I visit friends who enjoy gardening, the first thing on the agenda is a tour around their vegetable patch and orchard, before we settle down to a cup of tea and a chat. So grab a cuppa or something stronger and take a stroll around my garden for a quick tour. The season has been harsh but things are on the mend.
First up we have the tall blue and purple flowering lettuces, my bee and insect attractors and invaluable aid to the continued fertility of all the tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and fruit trees. The bright cornflower blue flowers of the radicchio, now three metres high, are beacons to bees. The purple flowers of endive lettuce last for months, while the blue flowering borage plants magically appear on the lower levels. These lettuces self sow in early Spring, bolt towards the sky in late Spring and flower through summer. They are a gardener’s best friends.
It’s seed harvesting time. All the main lettuces have gone to seed and have been hulled through my Turkish Celik, labelled and packed. The leek seed is close to collecting and makes an interesting garden specimen. Many species self sow, such as lettuce, radicchio, silver beet, coriander,parsley, tomato, pumpkin, zucchini and cucumber, though not all are retained. The garden beds become depleted quickly when taken over by the same species.
a mixed bag
Pomodori- golden apples
Romas and zucchini
Rouge de Marmande
The tomato glut has caught up with the zucchini and it’s time to think about preserving. These golden tomatoes, giving literal meaning to the Italian pomodoro, are lovely sliced on toast or a pizza. The Roma tomatoes are prolific and good keepers, while my favourite, the Rouge de Marmande are still green.
As the heat will be with us for another two months, it’s time to apply another layer of mulch and to feed the older zucchini. I use organic sugar cane- it is expensive but goes a long way, and top this with crumbled old cow manure which I soak overnight in a bucket of water. As the zucchini have been productive for over two months now, they need a good feed.
Last year was a pear year: this year is the turn of the Japanese plum. Hooray. I have waited for Satsuma and Mariposa plums for around four years and at last they have begun. Another week and they are all mine.
The Garden Diaries this time last year: https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/2015/01/04/garden-monthly-january-2015/
What’s happening in your garden? Do you keep a garden diary or journal?
Here they are again, the summer zucchini growing like triffids, their dazzling yellow flowers opening loudly in the sun, enticing insects to enter, then closing snugly with the tramonto or sunset. Their fruitfulness is always a mixed blessing as most zucchini growers will attest : there are always too many for one household. Catching them while they are discreet in size is part of the game- come back from a weekend away and you’re in for a rude surprise. Big ones sap the energy of the plant, reducing flowering and productivity. The larger zucchini are also rather bland in flavour, a case of bigger not being better! Constant harvesting is wise, as it is with all vegetables. Pick often and be rewarded.
Many folk have a swag of favourite recipes for dealing with their annual zucchini glut, I am sure. I have at least 20 standby recipes and am always looking for more. Throughout summer, we use zucchini in:
fried and tossed through pasta alla carbonara
grated and incorporated into fritters, patties and bhajis
combined with cheese into old-fashioned baked slices
gutted and refilled with ricotta and baked in the oven
pickled with mustard seed
grilled to lay on a pizza
substituting eggplants in a parmigiana bake
vinegared with balsamic and garlic
sliced vertically into carpaccio salad
fried with their friends the tomatoes to make Provéncal tians and tarts
grated into breads, muffins and cakes
They are summer’s green gifts. When their day is done, sometime down the track in Autumn, we say Addio for another year.
These little fried morsels are a cross between an onion bhaji and a vegetable pakhora. They don’t last long, and are often eaten as they exit the wok and don’t make it to the table. This recipe would feed two very greedy people or make snacks for four. It can be doubled for a family- kids love them. Different spices may be used, such as cumin or coriander. The batter needs to be thicker than cream but not too stiff.
two medium zucchini, grated
1 onion, finely sliced
¾ cup besan/chick pea flour
¼ cup rice flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teas salt
½ teas garam masala
½ teas chilli powder
1 garlic clove crushed
½ cup or so water
plain oil (not olive oil) for frying
Grate the zucchini and leave in a colander, covered with a weight, for 1/2 hour or so. Slice the onion.
Make the batter by mixing the dry ingredients with the water. Also let the batter sit for 1/2 an hour or more, un refrigerated so that the batter begins to ferment a little.
Add the vegetables to the batter and mix well. Add oil to a wok and heat until a bread piece sizzles. Deep frying is recommended as the fritters stick to the pan with shallow frying and tend to retain too much oil. If the temperature of your oil is hot, the bhaji should fry quickly. Turn once or twice using tongs, and then draining on paper towels.
Serve with Podina Chutney if you have an abundant mint supply, or a mint laced yoghurt dressing.
This snack is gluten and lactose free and vegan. Many zucchini recipes, quite by chance, are.
Those of you, dear friends, who have followed this blog for a while may remember the other versions of my easy frangipane tart. The summer apricot version is extremely popular with readers but the pear version is my favourite in late Autumn. Follow the seasons and try any fresh fruit you fancy.
The cherry rendition follows the same recipe but this time I have used a rectangular fluted baking tin, and added a cherry coulis. The pitting of cherries was a speedy exercise, thanks to a little research and Mr Tranquillo’s nimble hands. The best kitchen gadget for cherry pitting is a plain icing or piping tip- you just push the tip through one end of the cherry and out pops the pip. The alternative, but a little slower, is the pointed end of a chopstick. Magic tricks in the kitchen.
Torta di Mandorle, Ciliegie e Amaretto – Italian Almond and Cherry Tart with Amaretto.
125 g softened unsalted butter
150 g of castor sugar
50 g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
375 g almond meal
2 Tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
500 g or less of dark, ripe cherries, pitted.
25 g flaked almonds
Preheat oven to 180c /160c FF. Grease a 34 cm x 12 cm loose bottom rectangular tin. Grease and line base. Grease and flour sides. ( or use a 25 cm round loose bottomed tin as per original recipe links above)
Place butter and sugar and eggs in a mixer bowl and beat for 5 minutes until thick and pale. ( if the mixture curdles at this point, throw in a little of your pre-measured flour, or just don’t worry). Scrape down the sides as you go.
Stir in the flour mixed with the baking powder, then fold in the almond meal, followed by the Amaretto. Pour into the prepared tin.
Arrange the cherries and press them into the batter so they are submerged. Scatter the top with the flaked almonds. You might not use all the cherries so reserve them for a coulis.
Bake for about 40 mins but check after 30 mins and move the tray around for even browning. Cool in tin, then remove to a flat serving platter.
Using the remaining pitted cherries, halve them, put in a small saucepan with a little caster sugar, water and lemon juice. Cook gently for five minutes then puree in a blender. Strain if you like a fine coulis. If too runny, put the mixture back into the pan to reduce a little.
Many local folk down by the bay could write their own Shipping News, such is the local knowledge of vessels that come and go along the main shipping lane in Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne. Holiday makers also gather along the fringes of ‘the Bay’ at sunset, enjoying drinks and nibbles, languidly observing the comings and goings of famous cruise ships, container ships and The Spirit of Tasmania, the main passenger and car ferry travelling between the mainland of Australia and its southern island state, Tasmania.
So much weight seems weightless on the deep blue sea.
My Kitchen and I are not on speaking terms at the moment. This morning I mentioned in passing to Mr Tranquillo that perhaps I should start cooking again soon, and, true to form, he replied, “why bother?” The post-Christmas lethargy has set in and I notice that many of my friends have also turned into sloths, talking fondly about their bed or books, sea breezes drifting through open windows, or bird song at dawn.
The weather in Melbourne has been hideously hot, requiring simple meals, left overs or take aways. Fish and chips around the pool, a pasta dressed with zucchini, basil and left over smoked salmon, an omelette and a glass of wine, a peach and a cuddureddi biscuit for breakfast, a cup of tea and chocolate in bed with more books. Life in the slow lane.
The first important improvement to our kitchen is a self-closing fly screen door, installed three days before Christmas. Not only does it keep insects out, but I love the old-fashioned sound of a flywire door closing. A soft wooden clunk. It’s a summery sound, inviting one outside and into the evening air of the verandah, or back inside, away from the hot north wind.
My garlic crop has finally been cleaned and stored: it hung about on the kitchen verandah for 6 weeks and begged to be safely housed in a darker, cooler space with circulating air. I didn’t plait this year’s lot – but bundled and tied them with string, such is my aversion to anything requiring thought or energy. We harvested over 200 bulbs so no Vampire visitors for us. Early garlic is delicious rubbed on grilled bread with EV olive oil, or whole bulbs baked in olive oil in the oven, then squeezed out of their papery skins, sprinkled with smoked sea salt, and popped into the mouth. The taste of organically grown Australian garlic is superb.
This beautiful swarovski crystal bookmark made by Celia dangled from a vase on the mantlepiece on Christmas day. Now it hangs from the armoire key where I keep my precious things, spirits that we never drink, and other collectables. The armoire is my Black Swan. I found it in an op shop in Coburg shortly after the bushfire of 2009, when I was on the hunt for new furniture. There it stood, at half price, looking for a new home. Another customer egged me on, a Frenchman who wanted me to buy it because he didn’t have room in his house but could vouch for its authenticity. Then followed the saga of moving it, storing it and moving it again. Made of solid oak, with wire fronted windows ( to deter theft by the maids?), the armoire weighs a tonne, is beautiful crafted, with finely engineered brass springs on the doors, little screws to remove the glass panels, and hand carved panels. Bespoke you might say. My kids hate it.
Whenever I see these long, hot Turkish peppers for sale in Brunswick, I always buy them. I will cook them soon, I’m getting there. I leave them whole and braise them with middle eastern flavours and serve them with couscous or a bulgar pilaf and yoghurt.
In the build up to Christmas, we unearthed a few tables and chairs from the shed to seat thirty guests. This lovely oval oak table didn’t return: we found room for it and hope it can stay. Now we have a table for two with a view.
Happy New Year friends, I hope you are also enjoying a lazy spell and that 2016, when it begins in earnest, will be joyous and productive.
This year, Maureen from The Orgasmic Chef has taken over the post of host for In My Kitchen. It’s a monthly international event where like-minded folk share their kitchen stories. I’m afraid my post deviated a little from the kitchen this month.