Stepping back into my vegetable garden after three months away, I’m immediately overcome with horticulture shock. It’s not only a sense of disorientation and sadness over neglect, but a looming frustration that the work ahead might be too difficult. The cavolo nero plants are now treelike, with thick grey trunks and yellow flowers waving in the breeze high above my head. The bees are happy. Mizuna lettuces resemble a triffid forest, delicately frilled in maroon and topped with more yellow flowers. The coriander, endive, parsley and chicory follow on their march towards the sky. There are weeds galore, some trying to smother the garlic, requiring gentle hand pulling so as not to disturb the still emerging bulbs of our precious annual crop. Most weeds are valuable additions to the compost bin: they might not be edible, but many have sought out valuable trace elements in the soil. Those in flower are drowned. Beds full of broad beans support each other like good friends, their black eyes winking with promise, roots setting nitrogen in the soil.
Once the borders are clipped, the pathways revealed, the beds pulled into shape, the snow peas supported and tied, and edible greens harvested for pies and soups, I can see my way forward. My vegetable patch, my precious orto, is a labour of love, it’s a statement about the value of fresh food, and it’s an act of defiance against the capitalist diet.
Ingredients for a Garden Soup. Minestra dell’Orto
1/2 kilo fresh borlotti beans, podded or substitute dried borlotti if fresh are unavailable.
3 cloves garlic, 2 finely chopped,
fresh rosemary branch
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons EV olive oil
4 large silver beet leaves, finely shredded, or more if small
3 handfuls big pasta, such as mezzi rigatoni
homemade vegetable stock ( ingredients listed separately in method )
salt, pepper to taste
Steps for a tasty spring soup
Make a vegetable stock from chopped carrots, onion, celery,bay leaves, parsley stalks, mushroom stalks. Cook for 30 -45 minutes.
Pod the borlotti beans, add to a pot, with one whole garlic clove and one small rosemary branch. Cover with water, bring to the boil, lower heat and cook till beans are soft and liquid is brown and thick, around 30- 45 minutes. If using dried beans, soak overnight, then cook until soft. Time will vary depending on the age of the beans.
Make a soffritto with one chopped onion, two chopped garlic, chopped celery in the olive oil. Add a little dried chilli and more finely chopped rosemary to the mix if you like. Cook on gentle heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions have softened but not coloured.
Add the silverbeet ( chard) and toss around for a minute or so to coat in oil. Then add the cooked beans with some of the cooking water. Add stock, enough to well cover the beans and silver beet. Bring to the boil then reduce heat and cook for five minutes or until the greens have softened. Add salt.
Add the pasta, making sure there is enough liquid in the pan, and cook until the pasta is al dente.
Serve topped with a drizzle of good olive oil, grated parmigiano reggiano and crusty bread.
From February through to April, my vegetable garden is at its peak: each week brings another tidal wave of fruit and vegetables through the back door and into the kitchen. The years of weeding, nurturing, staking, mulching, seed selecting and composting have paid off. Our vegetable garden is now nine years old and I often think it has a life of its own. Things pop up of their own accord, though I do have a small hand in this, allowing the prime specimens to go to seed. Time means nothing once I cross the threshold of the vegetable garden gate: it’s another world, another time zone, a spiritual place. I often enter with the simple intention of gathering a posey of parsley, then am overcome by something intangible. It is la terra del tempo perso, the land of lost time, but that time is definitely not wasted. The crops and the earth itself have ways of communicating their needs, more so in these challenging years of drought and changing climate.
Sometimes I look at a bed of struggling vegetable plants and I know that by adding a few shovels of well-rotted compost, the plants will thrive within a day or two. Compost is garden gold, especially here in the Shire of Nillumbik, the ‘land of shallow earth’ in indigenous language. I have 5 large bins in various stages of decomposition. The connection between compost and the kitchen is an important one. It is up there with the other daily kitchen tasks of recycling all waste that we generate through our consumption-plastic, glass, aluminium and paper- except that food waste has a much simpler solution. In my kitchen, a tall bucket lives inside a pull- out drawer under the sink. Anything that my chooks don’t fancy goes straight into the compost bin. This includes vegetable peelings and food scraps, fish bones, fruit skins, egg shells, newspaper wrapping, cooking oil, paper towels, tea leaves and spent coffee. Other paper products are added such as dockets and plain envelopes, non inked cardboard containers, and other plain paper packaging. It is one of the most important practices in my kitchen and is an ingrained, lifelong habit. I would feel incredibly guilty if I didn’t use this important resource: it would be akin to throwing away good food or wasting money. And my beloved vegetable garden wouldn’t thrive. Composting is an aerobic process that reduces or prevents the release of methane during the breakdown of organic matter so long as it’s done correctly. To not compost contributes to global warming, not to mention the costly exercise of councils having to take away waste that is a such a valuable resource to the home gardener.
‘Food waste makes up a big chunk of general household rubbish that finds its way to landfill. Not only does sending food waste to landfill cost the economy an estimated $20 billion a year, it produces methane — a potent greenhouse gas — when it rots.’¹
Worm farms also work well, though after killing my worms one very hot year, I haven’t returned to that practice. My recipe for compost making can be found here.
The Roma tomatoes are most fruitful this year, and are wonderful in this Retro Tomato soup. I’ve added a couple of grilled prawns on top for a bit of flash frugal: they ceremoniously sank for the photo.
Sometimes I lay out an array of garden produce and let it talk to me about lunch. Today’s pick included carrots, corn, silverbeet, beans, and zucchini. The lovely Kipfler potatoes come from Hawkes, a farm in the hinterland of the Mornington Peninsula. The rest is from my garden. After removing the corn from the cob, the denuded cobs can be boiled with a little salt and fresh bay leaves for a corn flavoured stock. Just like that hilarious book on pig eating, Everything except the Squeal, I feel the same way about my garden produce and try to use every part of the plant. The chooks hang around the orchard fence waiting for lettuces and other greens that have gone woody in my garden. Only then will they lay good eggs, as their grassy run is now sadly lacking in green grass and shoots.
Another marvellous find this week at Hawkes farm was a 4 kilo bag of just picked strawberries for $5. These are marketed for jam making and are often too ripe to sell. I usually make a big batch of jam but this week’s lot was in perfect condition- just oddly shaped. After hulling, I froze them in one kilo lots. Hawkes farm uses environmentally friendly packaging: this bag is made from corn and is compostable: no plastics or nasties have been used in the manufacture. The bag is now in our compost bin- it will be interesting to see how long it takes to vanish completely. I’m trusting the label which claims it meets Australian certified compostable standards which are more stringent than those of Europe. A nearby business in the village of Hurstbridge, Going Green Solutionssells Compost- a- Pak products in packs of 50 for AU$20. At 40c a pop, I hope I can re-use the bags a few times, especially for freezing bread as well as the annual crop excess.
I love kitchen gadgets that work well and this Nutriblender from Aldi is a gem, especially given its powerful 120 watt motor. The motor churns through the fruits and veggies in under 8 seconds. Breakfast covered, and a great way to use our soft fruits that don’t store so well.
The cucumbers are still prolific this year. A few cucumbers, some half peeled, plus yoghurt, salt, spices, and mint, are thrown into the jar of the new blender, buzzed for a few seconds, then voilà, summer cucumber soup. Just chill it.
This year our fruit tree netting has been very effective in keeping out the birds. To date, we’ve harvested early peaches, three varieties of plums, early varieties of pears and apples and now, the table grapes. The sultana grapes are small and sweet, while the fat purple grapes have an interesting history. A little pot with a cutting was given to me by Vittorio, 8 years ago. A Siciliano who migrated here in the 1960s, Vittorio used to sell seedlings and small plants at a nearby market. This grape cutting was originally taken from a vine that had grown in his village. It probably is an ancient clone but we call it Vittorio after that lovely, generous man.
Finally, returning to the dilemma of recycling, which is central to all our lives, especially in our kitchens, where we now sort and store our daily refuse, our local Council has just advised that our recycling will go to landfill this week, or we can ‘hold it back’ until a solution to the recycling crisis is found. Other shires around Victoria have openly announced that all recycling will now go to landfill. Will this be the tipping point that brings about change in our consumer patterns?
Thanks once again Sherry, of Sherry’s Pickings, for linking our kitchen posts in the monthly series In My Kitchen.
I am often aghast when my mother tells me about her cure for general lethargy. She cooks up a small rump steak, the ‘point’ of the rump, she insists, along with two eggs for breakfast! Part of my awe is her amazing appetite for meat at this early hour of the day. Even when I used to eat meat, now more than 40 years ago, I doubt I could have stomached this meal first thing in the morning. My mother lived through an era without internet ‘authorities’ proselytizing about food, although she is aware of the modern-day TV cranks, those we love or love to loathe, who promote a high protein, no carb diet to the gullible. Mother has always eaten modestly and sensibly, cooking all her meals from scratch until very recently and included a daily quota of vegetables, fruits and carbs in her diet. But she NEVER cooked lentils.
When I’m feeling run down and tired, my body growls for lentils. These humble little pulses cure me instantly, especially when combined with rice or grain. Food associated with poverty to some, or hippy era food to others, lentils come into their own when treated well and cooked in interesting ways. Red and yellow lentils in Indian dhal, or whole black lentils combined with red kidney beans in a soothing Dhal Makhani, red lentils and a scoop of bulgur wheat in Turkish bride soup, brown lentils for burgers, puy lentils in shepherds’ pie, lentil and vegetable soups finished with a dash of lemon juice, lentil and zucchini fritters, Indian Kitchari and the addictive Lebanese dish, Mujaddara, the list goes on and on.
In the last two months, I’ve made Mujaddara three times, trying to streamline the method. The SBS version, hosted by Maeve O’Meara, is quite good, the Diane Henry version tends to stick to the pot, whereas the more straight forward version I like comes from Abla Amad of Abla’s Lebanese Restaurant, Carlton, Melbourne. I love the way Mujadarra goes well with easily prepared side dishes: labne, radishes, any pickled vegetable, salads of tomato, cucumber and mint, and perhaps some Lebanese pita bread. Leftover Mujaddara can be combined with grated zucchini and a little binding egg for fritters, or stuffed into silverbeet (chard) leaves for dolmades. Or, simply microwaved for breakfast, and served with a big dollop of yoghurt. My kind of pick me up.
The following recipe is from Abla’s Lebanese Kitchen. I have slightly modified a couple of small details along the way.
Lentils and Rice ( Mjadra’at addis)
300 grams ( 1 ½ cups) brown lentils, washed and drained. ( I used Australian grown Puy lentils)
1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt
150 ml EV olive oil
2 large onions, halved and finely sliced
200 g ( 1 cup) long grain rice, washed, soaked then drained
Place the lentils in a saucepan and 750 ml ( 3 cups) of water. Cover and bring to the boil over high heat. Add another 250 ml ( 1 cup) of cold water ( this prevents the lentils from splitting) and boil for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan over high heat and cook the onion for 7 minutes or until golden brown, stirring often to prevent the onions from going too dark. Set aside one quarter of the onion, and add the remainder, together with its oil, to the brown lentils. Stir in the rice, then add another small cup of water ( about 150ml if using puy lentils) and cook, covered, over low heat for 20-30 minutes, or until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender. I recommend using a simmer mat for this final step.
Spoon the mixture into a shallow serving bowl and sprinkle with reserved onion. Add any left over onion cooking oil. Serve with yoghurt, Lebanese salad, and other found fridge meze.
Mujaddara stuffed silver beet rolls
Stuffed silver beet rolls
Silverbeet dolmade, stuffed with Mujaddara
What, dear reader, is your favourite ‘pick me up’ food? Can you down a steak for breakfast? Do lentils hold any odd connotations for you?
Falafel tends to make a more frequent appearance in my kitchen during summer, probably because it pairs so well with most of the summer vegetables in the garden: it can be made well in advance, before the day’s heat sets in. It is also the ultimate budget meal- one packet of split dried fava beans goes a long way. Not chick peas I hear you say? While I’m quite happy with my chick pea/Israeli/Lebanese version of this famous snack, these days I prefer Egyptian falafel, more accurately known as ta’amia.
Lunching well for less than one dollar per head is also very appealing. Frugal opulence, thanks to the hours we spend in the orto, tending herbs and vegetables. When it comes to home-made falafel, the most costly ingredient will probably be the deep-frying oil. I usually make a hummus or tahini dressing to pair with them as they do need the wetness of a good sauce or dip. Serve with a salad of shredded Cos lettuce, finely cubed cucumber, spring onions, mint, and salt tossed about with a little oil and lemon juice.
This recipe serves 4. Or two with leftovers for later.
250 g dried split fava beans, covered in cold water and soaked overnight or up to 24 hours.
3 garlic cloves, crushed
5 spring onions, finely sliced including all the green section
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp besan flour
1-2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
1-2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
A pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and black pepper to taste
a small handful of sesame seeds
a tablespoon of water to help in blending, if needed
Oil, for frying (rapeseed, rice bran or sunflower)
Drain the fava beans and wash thoroughly, especially if the soaking water has begun to foam. Add them to a large food processer along with all the other ingredients except the sesame seeds, water and oil. Blend until reasonably smooth. You may need to stop the motor and rearrange the contents as you go. Use the water if you feel the mixture is too dry. Finally add the sesame seeds and pulse through.
Place the mixture in a covered bowl and refrigerate for at least two hours or until ready to deep fry. I often rest the mixture overnight.
Add enough oil to a small wok or pan, enough to at least cover the falafel balls. Test the oil by flicking in a tiny piece of the mixture. If it sizzles, the oil is ready. Scoop out mixture by the tablespoon and shape with your hands into small balls. Add to the pan of hot oil, making sure that you don’t overcrowd the pan. Adjust temperature of oil if too fast or slow. The falafel should cook evenly and not too quickly. Turn to brown on both sides then drain on paper towel.
Makes around 22 falafel. Serve with tahini sauce, or hummus and salads.
The secret is out. The best falafel in Melboure can be found at Very Good Falafel, Sydney road, Brunswick, where the hipster version gives the local A1 Bakery Lebanese snack a run for its money. http://www.shukiandlouisa.com/
It’s on again. Mid January in Melbourne brings soaring temperatures, and for those fortunate souls on holiday, lazy days inside watching the Australian Open tennis (one ball game I can tolerate) or reading a pile of novels. AND, of course, zucchini! When the pile of green zeppelin starts to stare me down, I force myself off the couch and into the kitchen, looking for more novel ways to cook this bountiful vegetable. Small zucchini pies, or Kolokythopitakia, are a tasty useful alternative to the more common place Spanakopita ( Spinach and Fetta pie). The recipe is also a good way to use around 7 zucchini. Light and nutritious, they go well with salads. I stashed two in the freezer for next week’s heat wave. My recipe uses kefalograviera cheese, a nice change from fetta, and one I recommend you try in this recipe. You can use the remaining kefalograviera to make saganaki.
Kolokythopitakia (Small Zucchini pies). This recipe makes four small pies of around 12 cm/ 5 inch diameter.
700 g zucchini
8 sheets filo ( fillo/phyllo) pastry ( I always seem to have this quantity left over in the fridge after making a big family pie)
6 spring onions, finely sliced including most of the green
3 eggs, lightly beaten
butter or olive oil for brushing the filo leaves
Preheat oven to 180c
Grate the zucchini with a box grater or the largest hole of a food processor grating disc. Place in a colander, lightly salt and toss through. Cover the mixture with a small plate, weight with something heavy, then place in the sink or over a bowl to drain. After 30 minutes or so, squeeze out as much liquid as possible and add the zucchini to a large mixing bowl.
Grate the kefalograviera on a large grater. Add it to the zucchini along with the chopped herbs, the chopped spring onion, and eggs. Mix well.
Lay the 8 sheets of filo pastry on the bench and halve them. You want 16 pieces in all which will be shaped about 27 cm X 21 cms, almost a square shape. Stack them up and cover with a damp tea towel, especially if the day is hot and dry as they become brittle and tear easily.
The pies need four filo sheets each and will be used for the base and the top. Using small pie tins with removable bases, radius 12 cm and height 3 cm, paint the insides with melted butter or oil. Lay one filo pastry sheet into the tin, centering the sheet so that the extra pastry hangs evenly around the outside. Paint this sheet with butter or oil then continue with 3 more sheets, making sure that you place the sheets in such a way so that the overhang lands in a different corner with each sheet.
Repeat with remaining tins.
Fill each pastry lined pie tin with the filling. Then bring the hanging pastry leaves over the pie filling, one corner at a time and paint each pastry sheet with melted butter or oil as you go. When complete, sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake for 20 minutes at 180c. Leave for a few minutes before turning out.
‘Eat your greens’ was a familiar reproach from the elders around my childhood dinner table, as the boiled beans lay listlessly on the plate at the end of a meal. My father tried to lighten the mood by inventing riddles to encourage or distract the young diners, “Beans were made for queens”, or rhymes about historical events. There was nothing appetising or appealing about cooked greens in the Australian kitchens of the 1950s and 60s. All the culinary devotion was given to the meat, the centre piece of all our meals except on Fridays. The range of greens was fairly limited and included beans, peas, cabbage, brussel sprouts and lettuce, that is, iceberg lettuce. Broccoli, broccoletti, cima di rape, kale, cavolo nero, fennel, asparagus, broad beans, radicchio, bok choy, chinese broccoli, choy sum, wong bok and the vast variety of lettuces came to Australia much later. Silverbeet appeared occasionally, always served under a blanket of bechamel. Parsley was the main herb grown, the curly variety used to decorate scrambled eggs or a casserole, never featuring in its own right as a pesto or in tabouleh. Basil Genovese was still to make itself known and loved, followed by Thai and Greek basil. And then came Japanese herbs and leaves, shiso and mustard greens, mizuna, as well as the wild pungent rocket, rucola selvatica, that pops up everywhere, anise, coriander, lemon grass, the green tops of turnips and radish, the leaves of pumpkins, and the chicory family of greens.
All the greens of the world have their moment of glory in my garden and I would be lost without them. Most grow wild now. They are the star of many a dish, or are the inspiration for others. My green garden is most prolific in Spring and now, as I pull out the last of the broad beans, and watch the parsley and silverbeet bolt towards heaven, I’ll share a few simple green recipes.
These silverbeet and haloumi fritters were popular for lunch. They are fast and easy to prepare. I’m tempted to call them gozleme fritters as the taste is similar to the filling of a Turkish gozleme. Some oil softened onion could be a good addition to the mix. I always keep a tub of brined Haloumi in the fridge and find that buying it bulk in a Middle Eastern store is economical. A big tub lasts a year.
Silverbeet and Haloumi Fritters
180g haloumi cheese, coarsely grated
2 cups silverbeet, finely shredded
2 Tablespoons mint, finely shredded
1 lemon, finely zested
1/2 cup plain flour
2 Tablespoons EV olive oil
Grate the haloumi on a box grater ( large hole) into a bowl. Remove the white stalks from the silver beet and finely shred then add to the bowl. (Save the stalks for a soup or gratin). Add the mint, lightly beaten eggs, and flour. Mix well. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Scoop large tablespoons into the pan, and slightly flatten as you go. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Gently turn to brown both sides and place them on a plate with paper towels to absorb the oil. Serve with a lemon wedge or yoghurt.
The broad beans starred in many a recipe during Spring, but this dish, also using haloumi, was popular.
Smashed Broad Beans with Haloumi, mint and lemon.
up to 1 kilo broad beans
150-200 g haloumi
one garlic clove
sea salt, black pepper
EV olive oil
Shell the beans and cook briefly in a pot of boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Drain and submerge them in cold water to stop the cooking. Remove the skins by popping the green centres out between your thumb and forefinger. (This is an easy but tedious task, and one I hand over to my kitchen hand, Signore Tranquillo, who is an uncomplaining soul.) Smash most of the beans in a mortar and pestle, adding some finely chopped garlic, salt and pepper and a dash of olive oil. Meanwhile fry rectangular pieces of haloumi in hot oil. They don’t take long to turn golden. Prepare the serving dish with salad leaves, then the smashed fava beans, then the fried haloumi and torn mint leaves. Place lemon wedges on the side.
I have a few more wonderful green dishes to share with you dear reader, but am waiting on one of my taste testers to give her final verdict on my latest silverbeet invention. Until then, addio, and happy green cooking and I mean that literally.
Pantacce pasta is my new favourite shape. I’ve mentioned this shape before in my occasional Pasta of the Week series. Made by Molisana, another company using the bronze die extraction method ( look for the wordstrafilatura al bronzo on the pasta packet), it is a comforting shape and texture ideal for hearty soups, resembling maltagliati but more regular in shape.
The following soup recipe was found in Stefano de Piero’s timeless classic, Modern Italian Food. De Piero’s original recipe, Pasta Butterflies with Lentils, is listed under the pasta chapter and it’s one of those crossover dishes: pasta or soup, the titles in Italian often refer to the main components, and it’s really up to you how you label it. Other examples of this duality include Pasta e Fagioli, Ceci ePasta, Risi e Bisi. De Piero’s recipe includes hand-made pasta butterflies: I have substituted pantacce, a pasta that resembles hand-made pasta when cooked. I have also substituted a rich home made vegetable stock for the chicken stock in the original recipe. Either will do nicely.
Zuppa di Lentiche con Pantacce.
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon EV olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 small onion, peeled and finely diced
1 stick celery, finely diced
2 medium potatoes, such as Dutch Cream or Nicola, peeled and thinly sliced
200 g Australian Puy style lentils
one small cup of Molisana pantacce pasta, or other flat pasta to suit*
2 litres of good stock
salt and pepper
1 cup Italian tomato passata
freshly grated parmesan, parmigiano padano or reggiano
EV olive oil for serving
Heat the butter and oil in a large heavy based pan and gently sauté the carrot, onion and celery until they soften. Add the potatoes and stir well. Add the lentils and the warm stock and cook for around 25-35 minutes or until the lentils are tender and the potatoes have broken down. Season with salt and pepper.
While the lentils are cooking, cook the pasta pantacce in a separate pot of boiling salted water.
When the lentils and potatoes are soft, add the tomato passata, stir through, then add the cooked pasta. The soup should now be quite rich and thick.
Serve with a good drizzle of EV olive oil and some grated parmigiano, or omit the lovely veil of cheese if you prefer a vegan version.
*If you don’t have Pantacce, tear up a few lasagne sheets into rough shapes, or break up some curly edged strips of Lasagnette or Malafdine.
Modern Italian Food, Stefano de Piero. Hardie Grant Books, 2004.
Stefano de Piero is another energetic Italo- Australiano who has contributed greatly to the food scene in Australia over the last 30 years or more.
There are so many versions of Pasta e Fagioli in Italy and on the web, it almost seems superfluous to add my two bob’s worth on the topic. Anyone who has an Italian nonna makes a more traditional/better/regional/authentic version. During winter, Pasta e Fagioli, (pasta and beans) is one of the most useful dishes to know. Is it an entrée, a soup or a main dish? It can be all of these but given the heartiness and distinct lack of brothy elements, I tend to make this dish as a piatto unico, a stand alone dish, to be served with bread, a few drops of new oil, and perhaps some Parmigiano. Most versions are thick with beans and pasta and very little broth: some are made slowly with fresh borlotti beans, while less desirable versions are thrown together with canned beans, canned tomato and cheap industrial pasta. It is a timeless classic rustic dish, Cucina Povera Italiana, made in the past through necessity using simple ingredients stored for winter. Today, it satisfies that need in us all for comfort food on a cold winter’s day.
Like many other Italian dishes, this one also starts with a classic soffritto, that holy trio of flavour, emerging from the slow sauté of carrots, onion and celery. The soffrito vegetables must be chopped very finely so that they almost disappear once they are cooked. Another element often added at the soffrito stage is pancetta and lardo. I omit these ingredients given my dietary preferences but try to find other umani elements to flavour the dish, either through rich stock, herbs, garlic or even anchovy fillets, reduced to a salty mash. I also reserve a little deep vegetable stock to thin the mixture.
200 g borlotti beans, either fresh or dried
250 gr tomato passata or finely diced tomatoes
80 gr onion finely chopped
30 gr celery finely chopped
30 gr carrot finely chopped
1 garlic finely chopped
1 small branch fresh rosemary
3 Bay leaves
10 g EV olive oil
fine sea salt
100- 200g of pasta ditalini, depending on your preference for a thick or thinner version.
Cook the beans. If using dried borlotti, soak overnight then cook in water for around 80 minutes. Add the bay leaves to the water but no salt which may make the beans remain hard. If using fresh borlotti, there’s no need to soak them and they should cook in under 30 minutes, depending on their their freshness. Keep the cooking water.
When the beans are done, make a soffrito with the onion, celery and carrot. Add the oil to a large heavy based soup pot and gently saute these vegetables until soft and golden, adding the chopped garlic and finely chopped rosemary towards the end. (Traditionally, the garlic would be added to the cooking oil first, cooked until just golden then fished out before adding the soffrito ingredients. If you don’t love garlic as much as I do, consider that method. I like to keep the garlic for more flavour)
Add the beans and a little of the cooking water. Then add the tomato and heat through gently. Remove two ladles of the mixture and puree with a hand mixer. Return this back to the soup pot. If too thick, add a little bean cooking water or vegetable stock.
Add the pasta, and cook until al dente. Watch the pot at this stage as the pasta and beans have a tendency to stick when this thick. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Serve in lovely wide and shallow bowls with a drizzle of fine oil and some good bread.
Lots of Italian food is vegan by nature and vegan by tradition but you never see it labelled as such. And that, in my opinion, which is neither humble or otherwise, is a good thing. I can’t stand labels. Most of the food you will read about on my blog is vegetarian, but I rarely mention that word in the post. I firmly believe that once we do away with labels- vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, omnivore, ethically farmed (hallelujah) and heaven forbid, Paleo- the culinary world will be a better place. A good recipe tempts the taste buds with the summary of its parts and its visual tease.
I’ve tasted very good vegan food in restaurants without that little colour- coded ‘v‘ in the corner to guide me, many a fine Italian antipasto and primo, as well as lovely traditional Indian, Greek and Middle Eastern dishes. Last Saturday I joined the throngs at the popular A1 bakery in Brunswick and ordered the Ful Mesdames platter. It was comprised of a large bowl of semi mashed warm Ful,( dried fava beans recooked) dressed with a few chick peas, olive oil, parsley and sumac, sitting on a wooden board full of extras, gherkins, pink turnip pickles, warmed middle eastern bread cut into quarters, and a generous side salad of tomatoes, lettuce and onion. It was a surprising bargain for $8, a dish that would generously feed two people. No v word in sight. The stuff that parades as vegan around the cooler traps of Melbourne is either bland or highly processed and appeals to those whose taste buds are still transitioning from childhood to something else. The newly converted may need a label to spur them on. The best vegan food is never described as such. Look at the wonderful Italianesque recipes of Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers of The River Cafe fame, whose simple vegetable based recipes make me drool at the thought, sending me running to the kitchen garden. Again, no v word required. Good food is based on fresh seasonal ingredients, combined with a solid understanding of the role played by complementary herbs and spices, then presented in such a way in such a way to excite the diner.
This week’s Pasta Della Settimana ( pasta of the week) came about thanks to the current seasonal offerings from my garden- abundant rocket, fresh borlotti beans, tomatoes, garlic and chilli. It’s a solid meal for a cooler day. It’s another take on Pasta eFagioli, that classic Italian dish that has moved up the ranks from Cucina Povera to bourgeois heaven. It can be deveganised by adding some finely grated parmigaino or any other animal based shavings you might fancy.
Today’s pasta of the week calls for Pantacce, a mini bite sized lasagna pasta shape with a diagonal cut and a frilled edge along one side. These shapes are made by Molisana, another brand of pasta I sometimes use. It’s a versatile shape that goes well with most sauces. My garden inspired the rest. In this recipe, the beans are the main star, with a small handful of pasta per person to help unite the dish, providing a farinaceous element for the hungry.
Pasta, borlotti freschi e rugola. Pasta with fresh borlotti beans and rocket.
Ingredients. Once again, this recipe is descriptive, not prescriptive.
Fresh borlotti beans, cooked slowly with a handful of herbs, a pinch or two of salt and a drizzle of oil. If you can’t access fresh borlotti, use dried beans and cook them slowly so they don’t split or go soggy.
Pantacce pasta, a lasagnette shape made by Molisana or any other medium-sized short pasta shape. I have used one large handful per person as I wanted the beans to star.
Some left over home-made tomato sugo, a few tablespoons per person. If you don;t have fresh tomatoes, use a good quality, thick tomato passata, cooked with a little garlic and oil.
finely chopped garlic to taste.
one finely chopped fresh chilli or a pinch or two of dried chilli flakes.
EV olive oil
fresh oregano, finely chopped.
fresh rugola ( rocket) torn.
Boil pasta in abundant salted water until al dente. Keep back some of the cooking water.
Meanwhile, in a wide and deep pan, add some olive oil to the pan and heat it on medium. Add the garlic, chilli, and oregano. Stir about for one minute then add the tomato sugo or passata, a few tablespoons per person. Stir through the beans, season well, then add the cooked pasta. Use a tablespoon or two of the pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce. The dish needs to be well sauced. Bring the dish to high heat, stirring, then add the rocket and move it about until it wilts. Serve hot with a drizzle of good oil.
Footnote. Sometimes I mention brand names in my posts. I don’t receive any recompense for this, although if some came my way, I wouldn’t say no. Some Australian readers have been asking about brands of pasta to use and so I have decided to mention a few in these pasta posts. De Cecco is still my favourite.
Autumn in Melbourne, most would agree, is the best season of the year. Days are warm and still while evenings are crisp. A few small logs burning in the wood stove symbolise a seasonal turning point in the calendar: the first cosy fire is the most evocative of all. Other Autumnal markers are the slow ripening of the quinces, with a few falling each day, the late season heritage apples, the Rome Beauty and Akane varieties now ready, and the fat green olives beginning to blush purple-black. Keeping a productive vegetable patch and orchard may seem demanding to some- an abundant harvest can be a hard task master. This extra time in the kitchen is offset by time spent away from supermarkets. In my kitchen, the garden is featuring more each month and will continue to do so. Out of My Garden and into the Kitchen perhaps?
If you grow your own chillies, you will probably end up with way too many but really, count this as a blessing. There are little saucers of chillies lying about in my kitchen and on sunny ledges, slowly drying out for the year’s supply. Once ready, they will be whizzed in an electric spice grinder then stored stored for the year in jars. Some dried chilli flakes also go into the making of chilli oil, an essential condiment on a southern Italian table. Soup bowls proliferate in my kitchen. Because I love soup so much, I have preferred bowls for certain soups. Fine purees tend to go into old-fashioned 1940s small bowls, onion soup into rustic terracotta bowls, Italian bean and pasta soups lounge around in shallow but very wide bowls and so on. It’s obsessive I know, and my soup bowl collection is being reviewed as I address the issue of downsizing. A few new irregular shaped bowls recently snuck into my kitchen.
And when it comes to soup, the garden produce usually dictates the recipe. I always start with a soffritto, a very finely chopped selection of onion, celery, herbs and garlic sauted in olive oil, and then the soup is built on this base. It is artistic expression for me- not just a bowl of soup.
The soup that followed the picking.
I get nervous if the dried bean and pulse supplies fall too low. Sourced from Bas Foods, most of these are Australian grown and are packed fresh in the warehouse next door. There’s nothing worse than woody old dried beans: no soaking and long cooking will revive them. Another essential soup ingredient is Farro, and it’s great to see the Australian variety on the market made by Mt Zero olives.
Autumn fruits, and a few stored plums from late summer, make fine fruit crumbles. My favourite mixture is apple, plum, orange, lemon peel, sugar, cloves and marsala. This batch is ready to be topped with crumble.
As we have been running between two kitchens for the last two months, we have discovered some interesting fresh supplies near our campsite on the Mornington Peninsula. These mussels are grown in the bay off Mt Martha where the water is deep and pristine. They are not available commercially in Melbourne as Point Lonsdale black mussels tend to dominate the markets. They can be bought at Safety Beach and also in Dromana. They are really the best mussels I have ever tasted.
I made a quick smoky chowder last night and a few of these briny molluscs went into the soup. Today’s Pizza lunch demanded a few more- and I still have half a bag left for some Pasta con Cozze tonight. Not bad for $7.50 a kilo.
For the monthly series, In My Kitchen, organised and collated by Sherry, from Sherry’s Pickings. Strangely enough, this series keeps me on track and up to date with my garden life too.
Apologies to Eha, Debi and others for my earlier draft which suddenly appeared without my knowledge. Gremlins!