In My Kitchen, May 2019.

April was busier than usual with children on school holidays, beach days, Easter, followed by Anzac Day. I’m rather pleased that May has come around and I can get back to my home kitchen full-time, with some mellow Autumn cooking, interspersed with trips to the library. Anzac day, April 25th, demanded a few biscuits to mark the occasion. It’s a baking tradition in my kitchen as it was in my mother’s until recently. My Anzac biscuits are flat and crispy, the way I like them. I pop them in an old Anzac tin in the hope that they might last a few days. They never do. The Department of Veteran affairs has firm rules about Anzac biscuits. You risk a large fine if you attempt to call them cookies or play with the original recipe, or misappropriate the name in a commercial business. While not patriotic at all, I still believe in the uniquely Australian/New Zealand aspects of this day. Anzac biscuits are so popular with my extended family, I should bake them more often. For flatter, brown and crispy Anzacs, slightly reduce the percentage flour and add more brown sugar.

I like my Anzacs flat and crispy.

I whipped up these yeasted buns for Easter this year: unfortunately there was little time to concentrate on feeding a leaven for a sourdough version. This lot had extra fruit and were glazed with quince jelly. Unlike the supermarket versions which can still taste fresh after a week, ( or maybe even a month), these buns are preservative free so they don’t keep for more than a day or two. The left over buns landed in a rich bread and butter pudding.

Yeasted hot cross buns

One vegetable that grows very happily in this awful drought is chilli. They ripen in autumn and will continue to enjoy life in the garden until the first frost arrives. I use a few fresh, but the bulk of the crop is dried and ground into flakes for the year ahead. I also make chilli oil. Small batches are better as the oil can go rancid. This small jar will last a month or so. A nice drizzle for a pizza or crab pasta.

It’s garlic planting time. When you see sprouting garlic around the markets, you know the time is right. I usually plant 300 each year. This basket of 100 is a mixture of my own garlic and some Australian grown garlic from the market. Three separate plantings over May will ensure a staggered pick.

The chooks are pumping again, and suddenly I have far too many eggs. I have sent Mr Tranquillo the recipe, again, for Cr√®me Br√Ľl√©e, purchased some second-hand shallow terracotta ramekins, and I have also given him a blow torch for caramelising the tops. It’s his favourite dessert so I’m hoping it becomes his signature dish. I really do like it too.

Autumn also sees the return of pasta making in my kitchen. Three eggs and 300 grams of flour, preferable tipo 00, or a mixture of tipo 00 and semola rimacinata, or just plain flour if that’s all you have: no oil, no salt and no other additives, according to Italian nonne. This will make you a truckload of fresh pasta. I fiddled with some parsley leaf pasta in these lasagne sheets. Not worth the effort and such a 90s thing to do.

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Strofinaccio fatto dalla prozia di Alberto

It’s pastie time again. The filling in these pasties was fairly Cornish- onion, carrot, parsnip, potato. I found this puff pastry hard to digest. The sheets were left over in my fridge. For my next lot, I’ll focus on a good home-made short crust pastry.

There’s always soup in my kitchen. We don’t wait for Autumn or cooler weather to make good soup- we have it all year round. I am passionate about the building of a good soup. My soups are never randomly made. I like colour combinations, creating different flavour bases via a finely chopped soffritto, and seeking pleasing presentations so that you mangiare con gli occhi, or eat with the eyes before tasting the soup. Today, I wanted to paint a monochromatic soup in white and pale green, a contrast to today’s earthy dark rye bread. After building a soffritto of finely chopped garlic, fresh rosemary, a few anchovies and a pinch of ground chilli, I added a pile of cooked cannellini beans, shredded pale green cabbage ( wongbok cabbage which cooks quickly), and a handful of Pantacce pasta. A little grated Parmigiano Reggiano at the table and buon appetito. It’s ready.

Another cold day soup was built with Autumn colours, a typical Ribollita style soup. The soffritto build included onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Once softened in EV olive oil, I added borlotti beans, more carrot, shredded cavolo nero, and some halved cherry tomatoes. This dense soup was served with a hunk of white sourdough.

Plain white Sourdough made with a stiff starter, recipe by Maree Tink, available on her Facebook site, Sourdough Baking Australia. More about this bread and other sourdough information in my next post.

A new cake has come into my life. I love flourless cakes that aren’t too cloying. This one has four ingredients ( butter, sugar, walnuts, eggs)¬† and can be whipped up in a few minutes. It is dense, is a great keeper and tr√®s French. The recipe for Walnut Cake from Perigord can be found here.

That’s a quick roundup of the kitchen treasure this month.¬† Thanks as always to Sherry, of Sherry’s Pickings, for the link up to In My Kitchen.

Out to Lunch in Dordogne, France

I’m writing at the kitchen table, as I usually do, before dawn. The sun rises slowly, though here in the Dordogne region of France, dawn seems to drag on forever, like a long twilight in reverse. Morning is not much fun: fog and mist often continue until lunchtime when the sun finally breaks through and shoos the grey away. Jackets and scarves for the morning: t-shirts and sun hats for the afternoon. No wind spoils Autumn, no leaves quiver: the climbing vines on village stone cottages are turning crimson and pink.

Autumn in Dordogne, France
Autumn in the Dordogne, France

On days like this, an outdoor lunch calls, perhaps a picnic by the Vezere river or a drive to a nearby village, just in time to nab an outside table at a little inn for the menu du midi. For us it will depend on the offerings of the day, which are chalked up on boards at around 11 am. Some days the menu has little appeal: it’s often duck gesiers,¬†magret de canard, salade d’ aiguilllettes, or fois gras –¬†it’s a hard life for ducks and geese around here. As pescatarians ( vegetarians who eat some fish on occasion), we can be hard to please in this region so there’s always a back up plan.

Saint-Léon sur Vézère.  Three course menu for 18 euro. Pumpkin soup, pave of trout, tiramisu of pear with a zabaglione topping.  Demi litre of  Bergerac, 7 euro
Veloute de citrouille.
Pave de Truite.
Tiramisu with a difference. Fresh ripe pear, crumbled ginger biscuits, zabaglione cream

Packed in a little box in the boot of our car is a good goat’s cheese, a few tomatoes, a baguette and a bottle of Bergerac¬†Ros√© for our little field trips into the woods, rivers and villages of the lovely Dordogne countryside. If we pass a market on the way, we add a homemade walnut tart, a bag of apples, or perhaps a nice quiche. One way or the other, there’s always a good lunch.

Picnic by the Dordogne River
Confluence of the Vezere and Dordogne rivers. Limeuil.
Gateaux aux noix at La Bugue market. Walnut season.
I’m still cooking. Apple and strawberry tart. But why bother in the land of Patisserie.
Huge yellow tomatoes. French markets.
Another tempting spot by the Vezere river

My Italian Baking Bible.

Ciabbats cool. They don't last long in this house.
Two ¬†Ciabatte cool. They don’t last long in this house. Trying to capture that slipper look.

There is one cookbook that keeps finding its way back to the kitchen bench, the big table, and the couch. Sometimes it likes to come to bed too. The Italian Baker by Carol Field is definitely my favourite cookbook, or perhaps I should say, book!  It is a bible and just a joy to read. I am suggesting to Leah that this inspirational book should become her Book of the Month for the Cookbook Guru.

Prawn Pizza
Prawn Pizza

Why do I love this book so much? Let me recount the ways.

  • It is well researched. Field spent more than two years travelling throughout Italy to capture regional and local specialties.
  • The opening chapters discuss bread making in Italy, ingredients, equipment and techniques. The discussion on flour is very informative.
  • The recipes include traditional breads,¬†festive breads,¬†torte and dolci ( biscuits and cakes) as well as chapters on modern varieties.
  • Instructions are clear and easy to follow. Measurements are given in metric, imperial and cups. Separate instructions are noted for mixing by hand, mixer and processor.
  • I love that she employs traditional ‘biga’ starters. ¬†Less yeast and slower to make means easier to digest!
  • The photos are few; there is no celebrity chef talk.
  • The Italian proverbs and sayings regarding bread would appeal to any Italophile.
  • Before each recipe is a wonderful short prologue.
A traditional walnut cake made by the older folk in Vaireggio, Toscana
A traditional walnut cake made by the older folk in Viareggio, Toscana

Here is a shortened excerpt from the  prologue for Pane Toscano.

“Tuscans have been making this saltless bread for many centuries. Dante even referred to it in the Divine Comedy. Anticipating the difficulties of his exile from Florence, he speaks of them figuratively, “you shall learn how salty is the taste of another’s bread’. P 84.

All rather wonderful. Time to read Dante’s Inferno. In the meantime,¬†I plan to cook every recipe from this book, a rather ambitious idea, ¬†given that I don’t eat many sweets and only a little bread each day. In the meantime, I propose this book to the cookbook club, and to all readers in search of an inspirational baking book.

These photos show a few things that I have made in the last few weeks. I plan to post a ‘new’ recipe from this book before the month is over.

Torta Rustica do Noci e Caffè
Torta Rustica di Noci e Caffè