As Shrove Tuesday rears its sweet head on the calendar, traditionally a day of feasting before the leanness of Lent begins, pancakes make an appearance, which means sourdough pancakes for me. Far more digestible than your average pancake, crepe or pikelet, they offer an extra bonus to sourdough bread makers who often find their sourdough starter building up in the fridge.
Before heading off to the beach camp each weekend, I refresh some sourdough starter with a little flour and water and pop it in a screw top jar. At the same time, I mix and sift the dry ingredients into another jar. Half an hour before the sleepy heads emerge from their tents, the components are mixed and left to sit for 1/2 hour or more.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar and sifted baking soda. Pour the sourdough starter, milk and egg into a large mixing bowl and mix well with a whisk or electric mixer until combined. Gradually scatter in the dry ingredients, mixing constantly to avoid lumps. Finally, stir in the melted butter. Allow the batter to rest for at least half an hour before cooking.
Getting back to Lent, a time of reflection and examination of the wrongs that need to be addressed, I am attempting to give up plastic for Lent. If you think this is easy, read the following article:
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.
Small plates of ‘sides’ have become very fashionable in Melbourne: many modern, inner suburban restaurants now offer meals involving a long sequence of little shared plates which are usually vegetarian. This is a great trend and one that I hope will spread. But surely there must be a better English word than ‘sides’ or ‘small plates’ for these sexy vegetarian offerings. ‘Accompaniments’ sounds too wooden and old school. The Italian term contorni strikes me as a more befitting word, meaning the things that surround il secondo or main course. I contorni traditionallyhave their own section on the Italian menu. If visiting Italy, read the menu in a different way, perhaps in a more modern way, and you’re likely to find plenty of fresh tasty vegetarian food in Italian restaurants to savour and enjoy.
When Mr T and I travel in Italy, we often order un primo piattto, usually a pasta, soup or risotto, which are generally vegetarian and often quite small, followed by a few different contorni and a salad for the main. As we don’t eat meat, and as good fish is not always readily available except in Sicily, this is our preferred main course. Years ago this ordering pattern raised a few eyebrows; now it is quite normal.
At home, a few plates of contorni make a perfect dinner, especially if you want to avoid the farinaceous approach to vegetarianism. Here are a few of our recent summer sides.
Contorno di Patate. Line a metal baking dish with baking paper, cut peeled potatoes into 1 cm slices. I use Nicola or Dutch cream potatoes (yellow fleshed potatoes) for flavour. Drizzle with good oil, dust with smoked pimenton, salt flakes and add a whole unpeeled garlic bulb. Bake at 180 for 45 minutes.
Contorno di Fagioli Scritti e Verdi. Beans in season. Cook fresh borlotti beans until soft but still with a little bite for around 20 minutes. Slice the green beans into small chunks, and cook to your liking. I don’t like them squeaky green as you can see. Mine are softish but not mushy: they match the texture of the borlotti. Mix in a serving bowl or platter, add salt and pepper, then your best olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Toss and serve warm or at room temperature.
Radicchio alla griglia. Loosen the leaves from a head of radicchio. Heat a ridged cast iron griddle on the gas top, and get it nice and hot before grilling the radicchio. Sprinkle with a little oil and salt as you go, and turn around with tongs. The leaves will wilt very quickly. Remove, add to your serving dish, grill some more leaves, adding a few drops of oil with each batch. Layer with crushed garlic as you go. This is my favourite way of eating radicchio. I’m looking forward to cooking cabbage and cavolo nero /Tuscan kale in this way in winter. My big black griddle lives permanently on the stove.
Good side dishes rely on delicate, well-balanced seasoning and dressings. Don’t skimp on good olive oil but go lightly with balsamic vinegar or lemon juice. A good Vincotto makes an excellent dressing for summer vegetables. Adding toasted nuts and seeds is a lovely trend. For an Italian touch, think toasted fennel seeds or pine nuts. Toasted left over sourdough bread, baked in the oven with olive oil and fennel seeds adds another delicious element. Cunza di pane, a crunchy Sicilian condiment, uses leftover bread, a very handy thing.
These are my modern takes on Italian contorni and every day we invent new versions. They are economical, healthy and fast to make, especially if you cook with the seasons, keep a herb garden and a pantry of interesting condiments.
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.
The idealised version of Tomato Day (tomato passata or purée making day) generally occurs in Melbourne some time between mid February and early March. In recent years it has become a staged event, promoted by celebrities who may or may not have Italian heritage, and who may have dubious reasons for popularising it, or by farmers markets and community groups with more noble motives. Traditionally, the day has been heralded by large hand painted signs along the arterial roads of the less fashionable suburbs of Melbourne, often in front of abandoned warehouses or petrol stations. The signs read:
Pomodori per Salsa or Si Vende Pomodori e Uva
or ‘tomatoes for sauce or tomatoes and grapes sold here’. Large boxes of tomatoes, usually sourced from commercial tomato farms, arrive at these places in late summer. Perhaps we could call them tomato pop up shops? Gli Italo- Australiani have always bought tomatoes in 20 kilo boxes for their annual passata or tomato puree making day but as Melbourne’s Italian born demographic ages and slowly dies out, the tradition now relies on the younger generation and others interested in home preserving.
This event came sharply into focus for many young Australians, especially those of Italian heritage, with the release ofthe film Looking for Alibrandi, one of my favourite Australian movies, which won the Australian Film Institute award for the best film in 2000. Following its success, the book on which the film is based, by Melina Marchetti, was studied in English in most schools, and the film was included in the year 12 Italian optional study on Emigrazione Italiana in Australia. Check out the opening scene from the movie:
If only I could have a tomato day once every summer. When you grow your own tomatoes, the crops will decide when, and how often, you make passata di pomodori. Roma tomatoes or other varieties of plum tomatoes, like San Marzano, are the preferred tomatoes for bottling (canning) as they have thick skin, few seeds and can safely sit around on benches, developing more intensity of colour and flavour, for at least a week. When I get around 5 kilo of deep red coloured tomatoes, usually once a week during January and February, it’s Passata Day again!
The tomato passata recipe should be kept simple. I use only tomatoes and a basil leaf. It is not a recipe as such, but a method. Gather all your equipment before hand and seduce a friend into helping.
For pureeing the tomatoes, I use a hand cranked mouli with the finest attachment. It’s hard work turning that handle! I am dreaming of a small, electric version and am putting in an early request so that Father Christmas or La Befana or someone impersonating either will buy me one next year. In the meantime, very good results can be obtained with a mouli.
The Method and Equipment.
tomatoes (I usually process between 3 and 5 kilo at a time)
fresh basil leaves
passata jars and lids, sterilised
some large bowls
tea towels- to drain the wet tomatoes and to place under the bowl and mouli to stabilise.
Gather your tomatoes and wash them. Cut a cross in the skin with a sharp knife (it helps loosen the skin) and remove any stalks. Boil up kettles of water, add the tomatoes to a large bowl and cover with boiling water for 1 minute or less, then scoop them out of their bath and dry on a tea towel. You may need to do this step in batches, so have more boiling water ready to add to your bowl and tomatoes.
After draining, cut them in half and put them in a mouli with a disc on the finest setting and puree, which removes all the skin and seeds. Sit the mouli over a bowl of the same size to catch the puree.
Pour the puree into a jug then pour into sterilised jars. Add a small basil leaf to the jar, and leave a 3 cm gap from the lid.
When all the jars are filled and capped, fill a large preserving pan with water (as tall or taller than the jars or bottles). You may add a folded teatowel to the base of the pan to stop the bottles rattling around- I usually don’t bother with this. Add the jars to the cold water, bring to the boil, boil for 30 minutes, then leave in the water bath for a day. You may hear the caps pop indicating a good seal.
Store in a cool dark place for up to 3 years but they probably won’t last that long. Add to pasta sauces, casseroles, and soups during winter.
Used tomato passata bottles can be found in op shops (thrift stores) or can be purchased new. In the past, tomato passata was made and cooked in beer bottles but this practice is slowly dying out too. New lids are also sold in many Italian kitchen ware shops in packets of 20.
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.
Central to most religions is a sense of optimism, that through ritual and prayer, one can realize a better life, either in this world or the next.
The Balinese people are Hindu and believe that the ultimate goal in life is nirvana, moksha, or samadhi. Prayer and ritual include the belief that liberation from samsara will end the cycle of rebirth, sorrow and suffering. Due to belief in the indestructibility of the soul, death is deemed insignificant with respect to the cosmic self.
I have been thinking about how to curry favour with my son-in-law as I need a few jobs done and Kyle, a carpenter, is meticulous and super- efficient. Going by the moniker, ‘that tool in the tool box’, a self-inflicted title I might add, Kyle is the man you need when a door doesn’t line up with a wall.
I know he likes these pickles: I have seen him hoover down a whole jar in one sitting. They are delightfully old-fashioned but on trend. They often appear on a summer ‘tasting plate’ (an annoying term used in Australia for a mishmash of tit-bits on a plate) in some of the more fashionable wineries and restaurants about town. These pickles were popularised by Stephanie Alexander in the 1990s, taken from her seminal cookbook, The Cook’s Companion, a dictionary styled cookbook which has sold more than 500,000 copies to date. Her ‘bible’ sits on the shelf in many Australian homes. My copy is well-thumbed, splattered and stained.
During January and February, when it’s not uncommon to pick one kilo of zucchini a day, I make these pickles often and share the jars around. They make a handsome addition to a ploughman’s lunch, or give a vinegary crunch to a cheese sandwich.
Stephanie’s Zucchini Pickles
1 kilo small zucchini, sliced on the diagonal
3 onions, finely sliced
½ cup salt
3 cups white wine vinegar
1/½ cups sugar
1 Tablespoon yellow mustard seed
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
Toss the zucchini and onion with the salt in a ceramic bowl, then cover with cold water. Leave for one hour. Drain then return to the bowl. Combine the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and stir over gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil and pour over drained zucchini. Leave to cool. Use at once or pack into sterilized jars and refrigerate. Use within two months. Makes about five medium sized jars.
It’s hard to become bored with pasta, given all the wonderful shapes, names and colours available. Walking down the long pasta aisles of that famous Italian grocery shop in Melbourne is a step straight back into the supermarkets or alimentari of Lucca, Siena or Roma. Even my Italian visitors are impressed. Reading all the names on offer- little beards, little worms, bridegrooms, ribbons and shoestrings, priest stranglers, corkscrews, smooth or lined pens, partridge’s eyes and melon seeds, just to name a few- excites my culinary imagination and sends my mind into a spin. Capellini ( thin hair) pasta is very fine, though not cut as finely as Angel’s Hair, and is the perfect carrier for light dressings or gentle sauces such as seafood. It is sold in packets of nidi or nests which usually cook in around 3 minutes. Fast food never tasted so good.
Capellini con Gamberini, Pomodorini e Basilico- Capellini Pasta with school prawns, cherry tomatoes and basil.
Note: there are no numbers or weights given. Choose the quantities that go with your needs. I usually serve 100 g of pasta per person for a main meal dish, but serve less of the finer cut pasta, letting the ingredients have more limelight. Everything in this dish is kept small, denoted by the suffix ‘ini’ after all those nouns in the title, to go with the thin pasta.
vine ripened cherry or baby Roma tomatoes, halved
garlic cloves, finely chopped
EV olive oil
a few handfuls of local school prawns, cooked and peeled
tiny basil leaves, Globe or Greek
Boil a large pot of water for the pasta and add ample salt. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, add the olive oil ( don’t be mean as the oil is part of the sauce) and heat, then add lots of finely chopped garlic and the chilli flakes to taste. Toss around for 1 minute, then add the halved cherry tomatoes until the split. Take off the heat.
Cook the pasta nests for the required amount of time then drain.
Return the frying pan to the heat, add the prawns to the garlic oil, toss about on a high heat, then add the drained pasta, the basil leaves and season. Amalgamate while heating through. Serve in warmed large bowls, with some good oil on the table.
School prawns are usually sold in Australia pre-cooked. They come from trawlers at Lakes Entrance, Victoria and are the sweetest prawns available, despite the amount of peeling to be done.
I have set myself a challenge this week: to complete all my semi- drafted recipes and half written posts.There are usually about 10 or more in the queue and most just fall by the wayside. Mr Tranquillo calls me the post pumper! It won’t last.
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.