The Panettone Invasion

Have you noticed that the Christmas Panettone are marching into our shops, like a colourful Italian brigade, their tall boxes full of sweet promise.  Originally from Milano, they are popular at Christmas and New Year all over Italy and throughout the Italian diaspora. It is often served with a frizzante wine, such as Moscato d’Asti or a liquor such as Amaretto or coffee. Image

But I have a Christmas confession to make. I find them quite dry and boring. As far as I am concerned, a Panettone needs all the help it can get, so dunking slices in anything wet is a plus.Image

But I can’t resist the beautiful boxes and if I buy one before Christmas, I display it as decor. Then, after New Year, when the prices come down,I buy a few more- usually the plain, fruit studded varieties – to stash in the freezer to make Panettone bread and butter pudding.

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As the weather in the southern hemisphere is too hot to consider making this yummy treat, I am considering the summer options. After all, once that big castle shaped bread is cracked open, something needs to be done. Toasted, spread with marscarpone, drizzled with Amaretto? Layered as part of a Tiramisu? Image

Further summer ideas from readers would be most welcome.

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Lentil Bolognese. Pasta Comfort food.

Two years ago, my favourite little Italian restaurant closed. Joe and his wife ran “Cafe Mingo”, located in Sydney Road, Brunswick. Their pasta dishes were so satisfying and cheap. Each night they would chalk up a new pasta dish or two. I remember having this vegetarian pasta one evening and I have played with it ever since. If you asked Joe where his recipes came from, he would just shrug and say “from the back of a Barilla packet!!” At the end of a meal, Joe would surreptitiously slide a bottle of home-made grappa across the table, along with a plate of wafer biscuits. It was like visiting their family home. How dare they retire!

This following is my vegetarian version of a Bolognese sauce, in the style of Cafe Mingo. The Bolognese would be horrified! What, no meat?

The soffritto
Three tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
one onion, finely chopped
one celery stick  finely chopped
1 carrot finely chopped
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
salt.
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The sauce
100 grams of Puy lentils
100 g of portobello or swiss brown mushrooms
10 grs of dried porcini mushrooms
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
one large tomato, seeded and finely chopped
oregano 
salt and pepper
 The pasta
100 g per person Casareccia or any other pasta that holds the sauce
grated parmesan, reggiano or grana padano, to serve
 
 
  1. Cook the lentils in a heavy based saucepan with plenty of water and a bay leaf. Do not add salt as this toughens lentils. Cook for around 20 minutes, so that the lentils still hold their shape and aren’t mushy. Drain.Image
  2. Soak the porcini mushrooms in boiling water, around 3/4 cup, to soften for 20 minutes. Remove the re-hydrated mushrooms, chop roughly and reserve liquid.Image
  3.  In a large heavy based saucepan or deep sided frying pan, heat the olive oil, then add the soffritto ingredients, adding the garlic last. Stir well and cook over medium heat for five minutes until softened. Adding a pinch of salt helps the onions sweat. Do not let the onion colour.Image
  4. Then add the finely chopped portobello mushrooms, cook for 5 minutes, lowering the heat, then add the chopped porcini mushrooms and stir for a further 3 minutes.
  5. Add the drained lentils, stir, then the mushroom soaking liquid, leaving behind any sand or grit, and continue to cook on low.
  6. Bring a large pot of pasta to the boil, add salt, then add casareccia or other pasta and cook as directed on the packet. Image
  7. As the pasta is cooking, add two tablespoons of tomato paste, and a finely chopped tomato (optional) to the lentil mixture. 
  8. Season well, add herbs, such as dried oregano, and check that the sauce is ‘wet’ enough.Image
  9. When the pasta is ready, scoop out a cup of cooking water before draining. ( I always retain a cup of the cooking water in case the sauce needs it- a good habit to get into.) Add a little to the sauce to loosen the sauce.
  10.  Serve the Bolognese through the pasta, with grated parmigiana.ImageImage

Tagliatelle with Broad Beans and Smoked Salmon

What the Fava! The Broad bean glut is on. One week they look nice and petite, ready to be eaten raw with a chunk of Pecorino cheese. Blink, turn around, and suddenly they are huge and in plague proportions.

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Broad Beans or Fave have a fascinating history but none more so than for our local Italo- Australiani, many of whom migrated here in the 1950s, with broad beans sewn into the lining of their suitcases or hems of their coats.  Fava beans played a important role in the Sicilian tradition. When dried, roasted and blessed, they became lucky beans. Some believe that if you keep one in the pantry, there will always be food in the kitchen. Given the size of our broad bean crop, we will be very fortunati this month.

I collected another basket load today and enlisted the help of young chef Daisy, who was happy to shell them for our lunch. Today’s recipe is an old favourite, using bits and pieces from the garden- broad beans, dill, and spring onions. It serves four, or three very greedy people, and is quick to prepare, once the beans are shelled, cooked, then peeled ( the only tedious part).

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Tagliatelle with Broad Beans and Smoked Salmon

Ingredients

700 g of unshelled young broad beans

25 grs butter

100 mls dry white wine

6 spring onions

a generous handful of dill

200 gs of Creme Fraiche or Cream

300 grams of Tagliatelle ( I like De Cecco Brand)

100 grs of smoked salmon cooking pieces. ( Smoked trout is also good)

Method.

Shell the beans. Bring a pot of water to the boil, then add beans, bring back to the boil then cook for a minute or so.

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Drain, refresh with running cold water, and slip them out of their skins.

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In a large, heavy based pan, melt the better and add the chopped spring onions. Cook these for a few minutes, then add the wine. Reduce down to 2 tablespoons. Then add the creme fraiche or cream, lower heat and allow the mixture to thicken.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add salt. Cook the Tagliatelle for the required time. Before draining, scoop out one cup of the pasta cooking water. ( a good general habit). If the cream sauce seems thick and needs loosening, add a little pasta water, Season. Then stir through the broad beans and cut salmon bits. ( the salmon needs warming, not cooking)  Add the drained pasta to the pan, toss about, adding the dill at this point. Serve in heated pasta bowls.Image

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Vittorio the Vegie Man

Vittorio is from Sicily but has lived in Melbourne for most of his adult life. Like many other Italo- Australiani who migrated here in the 1950’s and 60’s, he is getting on in age. He is now 84 years old, is stooped and in pain but this doesn’t deter him from hardwork. In fact, it keeps him going.

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He sells vegetable seedlings and plants at weekend and country markets which are grown under shade cloth in his inner suburban backyard.  He nurtures thousands of seedling plants like children, each one individually tended and cared for.

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They are strong and resilient- just like Vittorio himself. He speaks a crazy mixture of two languages- Sicilian dialect and Australian English. It’s a strange mixture, making conversation quite difficult, but we get by.

These tomatoe bushes were given to me as a Mother’s Day bunch of flowers. Why not mother’s day in November? Vittorio è un angelo.

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Spring Soup – Tutto Fa Brodo

It was about twenty years ago. I was sitting in my first class of Italian B ( B standing for Beginners). I was terrified!  The introductory class was mostly in English, sprinkled with bits of Italian here and there. The lecturer, Walter ( say this with a V ) suddenly planted an explosive seed in my brain when he said, ‘Tutto Fa Brodo’.  This was an epiphanic moment, the lightning bolt: a simple Italian proverb that swept me into the wonderful world of Italian language and its culture. Tutto fa brodo literally means ‘everything makes soup’,  or, ‘whatever you put in soup will work’,  or metaphorically, ‘a little bit of everything is good for you’.  Italian proverbs invloving food and wine are innumerable and often humourous, highlighting times of need, frugality and seasonality. When I gather bits and pieces from the orto, my vegetable garden, the mantra begins anew, ‘Tutto Fa Brodo, Tuttto fa Brodo’.  No vegetable soup is ever the same. That’s the lovely thing about soup, the recipes are always so flexible. Use what’s on hand.

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Today’s late Spring garden provides the last of the cavolo nero; it’s a bit woody and needs to be used, silver beet (chard), a perennial in the garden, early season broad beans, side shooting brocoli, leeks, spring onions and all sorts of herbs.

I always start with a little soffritto or quick fry of a few ingredients to give the soup a base on which to build. A typical Italian soffritto includes finely diced onion, celery and carrot.  I often make one with garlic, anchovies and chopped rosemary, a little trick I learnt from Marcella Hazan years ago.  As the anchovies melt, they give a salty earthiness to a soup. Of course they can be omitted.

This is not so much a recipe, but an ode to Spring in the form of soup. It’s so green, it makes you feel holy!

The Soffritto

3 or more garlic cloves, finely chopped.

1 small branch of rosemary, leaves stripped, finely chopped.

6 anchovies, chopped

3 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive oil.

Other soup ingredients. 

leeks, finely sliced across, pale parts only. ( save other bits for stock)

2 waxy potatoes, eg Nicola or Dutch Creams, diced.

5 leaves Cavolo Nero or Tuscan Kale, remove centre stem if tough, then shred.

3 large leaves of silver beet, (chard) rolled then cut across finely. I like to include the stem.

a few handfuls of young shelled broadbeans,

fresh herbs such as parsely, oregano

salt, pepper to taste

vegetable stock cube, optional, or stock.

grated parmigaino, reggiano or grana padano

Method.

  1. Heat the oil in a large heavy based saucepan. Add the anchovies, rosemary and garlic, stirring the whole time so that the anchovies melt. *
  2. Then add leeks and potatoes, keep stirring, then the Tuscan kale and silver beet, keep stirring, then cover well with stock or water.
  3. Cook on medium heat until the potatoes are soft and the greens are cooked but still vibrant.
  4. Add the baby broad beans (no need to double shell the young ones).
  5. Cook for a few minutes longer. Add more hot stock if you prefer a wetter soup. Taste. Add a stock cube if needed.  Season. Add fresh herbs.
  6. Stir through some grated parmigiano. Serve with more parmigiana at the table, along with some very good bread.

For a more substantial soup, you could also add tiny pasta shapes towards the end of cooking, for example risoni or orzo, cooked to the required time.

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Orange and Almond cupcakes

This morning it threatened to rain and spoil the planned amble of the Gentlemen’s Walking Group. Mr Tranquillo and two of his mates do an easy eight kilometre walk once a month. There was much checking of the radar, a flutter of emails beforehand about the location, wet weather gear, pick up spot, as well as the proximity of a nearby cafe. It always makes me laugh, reminding me of an old joke about feminists and light bulbs!

This time the café is here in my little castello.  The bush walk is in the foothills nearby. These orange and almond cupcakes are easy to whip up, it’s a foolproof recipe.  They look a bit Cafe-ish and taste un po’ siciliano.  They have become my morning tea standby and I wish I could remember the original source. It comes from my faded handwritten cake book, the one dedicated to cake recipes that actually work. Do you, fellow bloggers, friends and readers, note the source of your recipes when re-writing them in your special book?

Ingredients

125 grams butter, softened

2/3 cup caster sugar

1 large orange, rind zested, then juiced (to make 1/4 cup of juice)

2 large eggs

1 cup Self Raising flour

3/4 cup almond meal

Pure icing sugar to dust.

Method

Heat oven to 180c. Beat the butter, sugar and rind in a mixer for 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Add a little flour if the mixture begins to curdle. Then add flour, orange juice and almond meal. Beat with a large spoon to incorporate.  Grease one large 12 hole muffin tin, then add large muffin cases. Distribute mixture evenly into cases.  Bake for 18- 20 mins, or until golden brown.

Cool in pan for five or so minutes, then again on a wire rack.

Peel papers off to serve, dust with icing sugar.

They keep well for around three days in a container, or longer in the fridge. They can be jazzed up for dessert with marscarpone or whipped cream and berries.

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Life of an intellectually bereft blogger.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday the power was off all day and my usual pastimes were just not available! Internet, writing, blogging, researching – the computer battery only lasts an hour or so; watering the garden, no- we live in the country and our tank water is supplied via an electric pump, vacuuming, no- this is a joke, Mr Tranquillo always does this, baking cakes, cooking farro salad, pasta, no electric oven, no water. And so on.  After a cleaning frenzy, reading and some handwriting in an exercise book (!), I ventured out for a drive and purchased, amongst other things, Vogue Living Magazine ( November/December 2013) . My enjoyment of enforced leisure and the new glossy mag slowly faded after reading the editorial by its Melbourne editor, Anne Marie Kiely.

Anne Marie Kiely opens her article “The War Against Cliché ” with reference to the clichéd use of language, a topic close to my heart and of interest to many bloggers. She notes the overuse of words such as ‘iconic’, and expressions such as “it’s not rocket science” and “at the end of the day”. Hang on, didn’t Don Watson expose these exact words and phrases in his excellent ‘Weasel Words – Contemporary Clichés, Cant and Management Jargon’ back in 2004 and subsequent editions?  Or did Anne Marie just discover this 10 years later? But I digress.

She continues, “clichés are the currency of publicity machines, in the full service of capitalist consumption. They are the trend forecasters that have made pattern recognition into the big business of future prediction….They ( clichés) are suburban homes hung with hunting lodge trophies. They are the Hans Wegner ‘Wishbone’ chairs made mainstream by replica merchants … they are neo-19th century faces with full beards; library cards printed with business credentials; boxed moths; bottled gardens; flowers as food; pop- up shops; and endless typography installations ( if Eat is essential provocation in the kitchen, will POO do above the loo?). They are Keep Calm and Carry On posters ( a trend as tenacious as teenage acne); bowls of string balls; numbers stencilled onto gym- locker storage; clusters of empty frames; ‘artisanal’ everything………… clichés are the intellectually bereft speak of bloggers ( not all, but most) who think that something is good because they like it, rather than something being likeable because it’s good….. Oh, it was so much easier when a clearly defined culture of criticism placed talent in an understandable hierarchy. That was before ‘digital’ went and democratised media and destabilised structure such that all sentiment assumed equal weight.”

Hmmm. All very clever, except that Anne Marie, it seems, as Melbourne Editor of Vogue  Living, is an employee of News Corp Australia. It’s hard to find many ‘publicity machines’ that are not owned by News Corp, ie Rupert Murdoch, in Australia.  Media which (at present) lies outside this insidious monopoly, include privately owned blogs, many foreign newspapers, and a wealth of other online news and resources. I have recently enjoyed reading the blogs of talented writers from Italy and intriguing storytellers from Sydney, press articles from newspapers around the globe, and so on, all free and beyond the clutches of News Corp and its mighty taste sculpting, clichéd machine. Talented bloggers must present a bit of a threat to the exclusive domain of journalists such as Anne Marie Kiely.

A quick browse through Vogue Living will reveal a cluster of empty frames used as decor, (the back side page of her editorial) large advertisements for Matt Blatt replicas and Milandirect, both companies specialising in knock off designs. I am sure that other clichéd homewares were once featured in Vogue Living before they became suburban and therefore less desirable and exclusive.

As well as Vogue Living,  News Corp owns the following media assets worldwide.  Quickly scroll through this long list of Murdoch media assets  and then decide, fellow bloggers, readers, and friends, who has the more ‘authentic’ voice? A humble blogger, talented or not, or Ms Anne Marie Kiely, employee and pawn of News Corp, arbiter of fashion, taste; exclusivist?

*Photo of me doing my Munch SCREAM face again.

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Pizza Wars. La Porchetta, Greensborough

Is the Pope a Catholic? This is the response that comes to mind when the waitress asks us if we would like our pizza with anchovies! We always order Pizza Napolitana because of the anchovies, so the question strikes me as very odd.  Yes, please!  Anchovies are the best thing about  pizzas. Young chef Daisy loves anchovies and usually picks these off first, followed by the olives, savouring all that saltiness, before eating the plain doughy remains.  Her favourite outing is a train ride, followed by a pizza at – La Porchetta! Some of you may be thinking – Pizza Industriale and you would be right. La Porchetta is a pizza chain franchised throughout Melbourne, often making more headlines for gangland or mafia activity than for pizzas. Providing a large family style restaurant setting, it fits my policy of reviewing all pizza restaurants in Melbourne. There may be thousands so its a mission of some proportion. Humble and famous are included.

Although La Porchetta has a formulaic approach to their menus, some branches do better than others,  with new chalked menu offerings. The Greensborough branch does it well. The pizza menu also offers two styles- Traditional and Artigianale.  Artiginale/ artisan is to Pizza what bespoke is to Kevin McCloud’s house renovations. As far as I’m concerned, I am the only one in Melbourne making truely artigianale pizza, but I digress. I am yet to try one of these supposed hand crafted numbers from La Porchetta!

We ordered a large Napolitana, $14.50, and a half litre of house wine, $7.50. The retro styled carafe of cask wine was light and dry and suited the occasion. Cheap and cheerful.

My ratings. Setting- 5, pizza- 5, value for money- 10, the Irish waitress who loves kids, gives them stamps and coloured pencils and does tricks, 100.

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These are considered some of Melbourne’s better Pizza restaurants. I am keen to try them all. http://www.goodfood.com.au/good-food/top-10-eat-out/a-guide-to-melbournes-best-pizza-20130507-2j49d.html

Melbourne Cup Day Italian Style

Cup day for many Melbournians is as big as Christmas.  It’s not just about the horses, or the lovely Spring weather, the State holiday, or the frocks. Cup Day marks the beginning of our festive season; it’s a carnival and I love it!  Always occurring on the first Tuesday of November, many Melbournians take advantage of this and enjoy a four day holiday. Not much point in going to work or school on the Monday is there?  Oaks Day, or ‘Ladies Day’ follows on the Thursday-  which provides another excuse for a party with all your amiche, preferably wearing an OTT hat and drinking more vino frizzante.

Mr Tranquillo doesn’t particularly care for Cup Day. He dislikes gambling, is not interested in horses, it’s a mug’s game as far as he is concerned. He and I belong to that old Australian cultural divide- Scottish/Irish, Presbyterian/Catholic, wowser/splurger, squatter/working class.  These class and religious divisions have largely disappeared from multi- cultural Australia, hooray, but can re-emerge on Melbourne Cup Day here in our little Castello. I’m the card-playing, dancing mad Irish woman when it comes to Cup Day and he becomes the sensible, taciturn Scot. Whilst I run about writing silly lists for finger food,  Mr Tranquillo calmly works on the gardens. It’s party time again and it will stay that way for at least two months.  We can all breathe a sigh of relief on New Year’s Day when I put my Irish party monster to rest.

My search has begun for Italian sounding horses for the Corsa di Cavalli, the ‘big horse race that stops the nation’. There are ten races on the day, and my rule is that the horse must have an Italian name.  It’s a kind of system for a once a year gambler. Some beautiful sounding cavalli con nomi italiani are running this year. Bella Roma, Pelicano and Lampedusa just to name a few but in the big race, the Melbourne Cup,  Dandino, Fiorente and Ruscello  are my hot tips for this year’s Melbourne cup. But please don’t follow me, my “Italian name” approach to betting is rarely successful!!

The party food  prep for Cup Day is a dress rehearsal for the whole mad season.  Bite size portions -stuzzichini- will enable the guests to sip champagne, check the form guide, eat, manage bets online, and watch the horses parade on the TV, simultaneously.  My first little finger food offering, Pesto Arancini, will be served with a sugo di arrabiatta – a chilli laced tomato sauce and caper berry on piccolissimo plates.  The beauty is that they can be made ahead of time, frozen and reheated on the day. There will be nine other mini piatti to go with each race.  Can I take photos of each dish on the day? I don’t think I’m that dexterous.

Arancini di pesto

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons butter

1 small onion very finely chopped

1 cup arborio rice *

3 cups stock, made with one vegetable or chicken stock cube, heated

3 generous tablespoons pesto

1 cm cubes of mozzarella or bocconcini

1 cup plain flour

3 eggs lightly beaten

two cups dried breadcrumbs

vegetable oil to deep fry.

Heat oil in a large heavy based saucepan. ( ideally cast iron ) Add the  onion and gently cook for a few minutes until soft. Add the rice, tossing till coated, then add the hot stock, stir a little, then put the lid on, turn to low heat, ad cook for around 20-25 minutes. There is no need to make a serious risotto style dish for Arancini. Cheat!

Transfer the rice to a bowl and while cooling, add the pesto. Stir, let cool completely, then chill overnight.

Take a heaped tablespoon or so of the mixture, and roll into balls. Push a little cube of mozzarella ( or other melting cheese) into the centre and re-shape, roll in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs. Chill again.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, cook the arancini in batches for a few minutes until crisp and golden brown, Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel to drain. When cool, place the balls on a baking tray lined with non-stick paper: freeze until solid. Then remove and pop into plastic storage bags.

When required, heat the oven to 180c ( 400 F), and reheat, covered with foil for 15 minutes. Serve the arancini with arrabbiata.

* I use an everyday arborio rice for this dish, saving the good stuff, Vialone Nano and Canaroli, for risotto.

Photos. The arancini is stages of production. My balls are a bit larger than I wanted! Onto a tray for initial freezing.  Into stand up plastic zip lock bags once frozen. Re-heated in the oven ( 180c) for 20-25 minutes. Served with arrabbiata sauce and a caper berry.

pesto rice, ready to rock and roll
pesto rice, ready to rock and rollMy big balls! I wanted them smaller.

My big balls! I wanted them smaller.Frying the arancini- don't crowd the pot.
Frying the arancini- don’t crowd the pot.
ready for the freezer
ready for the freezer

Frozen arancini bagged for later use.
Frozen arancini bagged for later use.

Time to sample- the night before.
Time to sample- the night before.