Slow Braised Squid, Peas and Tomatoes.

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Every day I rise at dawn and follow the same morning rituals. I wish I could say that this included yoga or stretching or a brisk walk around the oval!  One day, maybe next week, if it’s not raining.  After grabbing the first cup of tea, I turn on the computer, check a few emails, then look at the Bureau of Meteorology ( BOM for short)  for rain, wind, and temperature predictions. This morning a nice big dark rain pattern is above me: I can hear it pounding loudly on the tin roof as I watch the colourful radar pictures on my screen. I shiver with delight.  After grabbing a coffee, and perhaps a toast, my next ritual is to plan the food for the day. I usually make a rough plan, leaving a little room for spontaneity. Before heading to the kitchen to make stock or soak beans, I check the newspapers, the Age, The Guardian and La Repubblica, the latter to check on the demise of Berlusconi. Berlusconi Vai Via.

This slow braised squid recipe hits the spot on rainy days. The fish is locally caught and sustainable and the ingredients are few. Squid is the poor cousin of Calamari. In Melbourne, squid may cost around $5-6 a kilo whereas calamari costs around $20.00 a kilo. Squid comes into its own when it it is cooked slowly for a long time.  It is cheap and slippery, just like Berlusconi.

Seppie con Piselli e Pomodori  – Squid with peas and Tomatoes.

  • 60 ml Olive Oil
  • 1 onion, finley chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 kilo fresh squid, cleaned, peeled, sliced in thin lengths, includung tentacles.
  • 1 cup red wine
  • pinch or dried chilli flakes or 1 chopped fresh chilli
  • 200 g peas ( frozen are fine)
  • 400g g peeled tomatoes or 1 can of tomatoes with juice.
  • 1 small bunch of flat leafed parsley, finely chopped.
  1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy based enamel casserole. Cook the onion and garlic until soft.
  2. Add the squid and stir around a little, then add the chilli, wine, salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes.
  3. Cover, then cook on lowest heat for 30 minutes, then add the peas, then cook a further 10 minutes.
  4. Add parsley before serving.

Serve with either polenta or mashed potatoes in wide bowls.

What morning rituals do you follow? Do you need tea or coffee before the brain fires up?

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Garden Monthly. May 2014.

As April draws to a close, it’s time to take a spin around the veggie garden. The seeds I planted on March 25th are up and nearly ready for transplanting or thinning out. In this bed are: radicchio, cavolo nero  (Tuscan kale), rainbow chard, beetroot, French radish, cos lettuce, mixed lettuce, spinach and turnips. Lots of good things for winter soups and salads.ImageThe next bed is my Surprise bed. I had too many packets of out of date seeds, most dating back to 2009, so I threw the whole lot in this bed. So far, the results are good, with tatsoi, mustard, coriander, and other mysteries popping up.Image You have to congratulate the zucchini plants. They bear from late November to late April-that’s five months and still producing. I picked another three this morning, which formed the basis of a grilled zucchini and marinated fetta salad.

ImageThe chilli are so slow to colour. If we stay frost-free, they will hang on for a few more months and finally turn red.ImageThe raspberries are putting on a repeat performance, some as big as strawberries. First up, best dressed.  When there are so few, they never quite make it to the table.ImageThe Greek Basil bushes remain healthy and the Cavolo Nero from last winter is having a renaissance.ImageImageTo do list includes:

  • preparing beds for garlic planting. I prefer to plant garlic cloves in May, but so long as they go in before Winter Solstice, June 21st, they will be fine. I have a huge stash tucked away in a dark corner of my pantry. My new trick is to bury some whole bulbs under the cold earth in May, ( weather depending) and when I see green shoots, I lift the bulbs and separate the cloves into neat rows. I attempt to grow around 300 plus a year- one whole bulb for every day plus more for planting out the year after. Garlic loves rich soil and requires Winter and Spring watering if the season turns dry.
  • cleaning up the last remaining tomato bushes and adding the stalks to the bonfire stack (not safe to compost old tomato vines, they say) and tying up the stakes for next year.
  • Preparing the beds for sowing broad bean seeds. More manure and more compost needed. Our Wwoofer, Renato, is happy to help.
  • Thinning out and/or transplanting seedlings from last month’s sowing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Travel Theme: Glow

Today, as part of Ailsa’s weekly travel theme ( Where’s My Backpack ), we are heading to Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand and entering Wat Phra Kaeo, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This week’s theme is Glow.

A candle is lit for for contemplative gratitude and inspiration.

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The Emerald Buddha glows with pure Jade.

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Travel Notes: Chiang Rai’s Temple of the Emerald Buddha claims to be the ‘original’ Wat Phra Kaeo, at least in Thailand. In 1434, lightning struck the chedi (since restored) and cracked it open. The ‘Emerald Buddha’ was found inside the broken pagoda. Soon after its discovery, the sacred image was moved to Lampang, then Chiang Mai, then Laos and finally to Bangkok in 1778.

The ‘Emerald Buddha’ is actually made of jade. In 1991 a replica of the original was commissioned to honor the Princess Mother’s 90th birthday. A large hunk of Canadian jadeite was donated by a rich Chinese businessman, and the replica was carved in Beijing. Following Buddhist protocol, the new ‘Chiang Rai Jade Buddha’ is not an exact copy of the original. It’s slightly smaller with other variations. The new Buddha was installed in a custom-built pavilion at the back of the main compound.

Anzac Day 2014. Commemorating Slaughter with a Biscuit?

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“We are about to commemorate the slaughter of millions of young men between 1914 and 1918.”

So begins John Hirst’s provocative piece on Anzac Day and its place in military history since then. Hirst recommends reading James Brown’s new book, Anzac’s Long Shadow, as well as Marina Larsson’s Shattered Anzacs for an understanding of what this legend really means:

“The hidden history of Anzac is the lives of the men who returned severely wounded and handicapped. The government supported them, but the daily burden was borne by their families.”

 Hirst suggests that:

” the second way to sidestep the commemoration of death in battle is to check out your family history for men who served and came home alive, even if damaged. The dead are commemorated in graves tended by the War Graves Commission. The tombstones of returned men usually have no mention of their war service.”

In recognition of wartime’s lost and ruined lives, those who were killed, maimed or psychologically damaged in WW1 and all subsequent wars, I perform a few rituals on Anzac Day (April 25th).

Firstly, I think of my father and his service in WW2.  On most Anzac Days, especially in his later years, he marched with his mates from his army regiment, not to commemorate Gallipoli, or the mythical values of the digger,  but in memory of the efforts of those who fought in WW2 and to recall the five years he spent in the jungles of New Guinea.  Below: My parents during wartime.

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Secondly, I play a few important tunes. I recommend that you listen to these, if you aren’t already familiar with them: Eric Bogle’s moving folk song,” And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda and  Redgum’s  I was only Nineteen,  a lyrical exploration of naive young men at war and the effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam Vets.

The foundation of historical analysis is interpretation, no less so in the case of war.  As a student of Australian History in 1971, during the height of the anti-Vietnam war movement in Australia,  I became a pacifist like many of my fellow students. Consequently, concepts such as patriotism – and by extension, the Anzac Day march, and military legends surrounding the day- were seen as jingoistic and nationalistic.  Latrobe University’s history school was a thriving and intellectually exciting place to be.  I vividly recall my father being annoyed and upset at the tone of the final examination questions, and took to my copy of the 1971 examination paper with a forceful pen!  My views have mellowed since then, and so did his!

These days I think of the fallen and injured from all wars, including the current war in Afghanistan. And, like many others, I would prefer that more of the Anzac Day budget be spent on the rehabilitation of soldiers ( Have Anzac celebrations become a military Halloween?) and that the huge pool of profit from RSL ( Returned and Services League ) gambling dens be questioned.

And finally, I make a batch of Anzac biscuits, and in this activity I am unbending in the interpretation of the recipe. There will be no added chocolate, nuts or heaven forbid, quinoa!! The sugar is white, not brown. And they must be flat.  I make them as my mother and grandmother made them before me.

Image The recipe below is the one that my mother has always used and comes from the Margaret Fulton book of the sixties, who , no doubt, got it from her mother.  My mother, now 91 years old and featured in the first photo above, still makes them this way. Hers are always the best. Her hint for baking great Anzacs? Don’t use baking paper, it dries out the biscuits, and heat the oven to slightly under moderate. 

The Recipe.

Heat oven to 150c/300 f.

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 3/4 cups desiccated coconut
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 125 grams butter
  • 1 Tablespoon golden syrup ( not maple syrup)
  • 2 Tablespoons boiling water
  • 1/1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate soda
  1. Mix the dry ingredients
  2. Melt the butter and golden syrup over gentle heat, then add the boiling water and bicarb soda. Watch it fizz.
  3. Add wet ingredients to dry, mixing thoroughly.
  4. Drop heaped teaspoons onto greased trays. Flatten slightly.
  5. Bake for approx 20 minutes. (check as they cook for doneness)
  6. Cool on trays for a few minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool completely

Store in tins. Image For another great article on this topic from a brilliant historian, see Don Watson’s article from the Monthly, 2008.  If you can’t read it all now, save it for a rainy day.

http://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2008/may/1335251549/don-watson/digging

Pasta and Chickpeas

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Pasta e Ceci ( Pasta and Chickpeas) is my favourite Italian comfort food. Economical to make and extremely nourishing, it is a little wet like a soup, but substantial like a meal. Akin to Pasta e Fagioli ( Pasta and beans), I begin to make this dish for lunch once Autumn turns the next dark corner.

There are many versions around, but they are all noted for their simplicity. Don’t feel the need to doctor it or add things. Classic Italian dishes taste so good because of restraint.

The basic recipe

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas
  • 1/4 cup EV olive oil
  • one small fresh red chilli, finely chopped
  • two garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
  • 3 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or the equivalent from a can, plus a little juice.
  • salt, pepper
  • a handful of small pasta, for example, small macaroni, digitali, or torn fettucine
  • EV olive oil, to drizzle
  • lots of grated parmigiana

Soak chick peas overnight and cook the following day until done, or use the quick soak method. Drain when cooked.

Add the olive oil to a heavy based soup pot. Fry the soffrito ( the rosemary, garlic and chilli) gently for a minute, then add the tomatoes. Cook for a little, add a splash of water. Meanwhile cook the pasta in salted water, drain, and retain some of the cooking water.

Below- a few soffrito ingredients) ImageAdd the cooked chickpeas to the hot tomato mixture, add salt and pepper to taste and 1/2 cup of pasta water. Heat, then add the cooked pasta. Serve in large, warmed shallow pasta bowls with a drizzle of your best oil and some grated parmigiana cheese. Red wine and bread ? Yes please.Image

Super Smoky Babaghanouj

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Just as Autumn begins to turn cold and hints at what’s to come, we light our first wood fire and the family menu begins to change. Stock simmers gently on the stove, Anzac biscuits are made, hearty lentil dishes re- appear and eggplants dishes are back on the menu. During the eggplant ( aubergine) season, when they are large, cheap and white fleshed, I am secretly pleased to find a morning fire that is almost spent- save a few red coals and ash. The eggplants are thrown straight onto the coals- and the door to the wood heater is left open.This works equally well in a corner of an open fire.  After some time, I return and flip them over. Super smoky Babaghanouj is on the way.

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After retrieving the charred, blistered eggplants from the fire, slit them open and place in a colander over a bowl to drain. Lunch is some hours away but the flavour base is ready. Image

Today’s Babaghaouj recipe is adapted from Claudia Roden’s ‘Arabesque’. Leah, from the Cookbook Guru, is highlighting Claudia Roden’s recipes this month, in particular, those from the A New Book of  Middle Eastern Food. I have been making it this way for so long now: I have experimented with the addition of yoghurt and other flavours but have settled on this smoky dairy free version, with lots of garlic. I recommend that you give Leah’s a go too, especially if you are not into a strong smoky taste and you like the velvety texture that yoghurt brings.

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The Recipe

  • 2 small eggplants or 1 large one.( weight 650g)
  • 3 Tablespoons Tahini
  • juice of two large lemons
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed.
  • salt to taste
  • 1-2 teaspoons of freshly ground cumin.
  • EV Olive Oil
  • Parsley

After charring the eggplants in your left over fire, (as above), slit them open, drain them, and peel. Remove all the flesh, place in a food processor with the garlic,briefly process, then add tahini paste, process, then the lemon juice and salt to taste. In the meantime, heat a small pan, toast the cumin seeds, then grind them in a mortar. Add to the mixture. Taste. adjust salt or lemon. Swirl out flat on a plate and serve with falafel and other salads. Drizzle with a little EV Olive Oil and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

A couple of notes.

The Arabic term , Baba Ghanoush, means “pampered papa” or “coy daddy”, perhaps with reference to its supposed invention by a member of a royal harem. 

It really is worthwhile grinding fresh spices, if you use them. For me, it’s a chance to break out my baby mortar and pestle.

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Travel Theme: Round

As part of Ailsa’s round theme this week on Where’s My Backpack, I am heading to Ubud, Bali.

Lotus pads in front of the Royal Palace. Last time I was there I also noticed that one of the abutting stone buildings had become a Starbucks coffee outlet. Shock, Horror. Is Ubud losing its soul?Image

The gardens of Ubud are luxuriant and adorned with beautiful stone statues and pots. The road from Denpasar to Ubud is home to thousands of stone masons and the drive is always so exciting. I would like to fit these rounded pots in my hand luggage!

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Round eggplants in the Ubud Market.

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And the beautiful round Ulegs in the Casa Luna Cooking School, Jalan Bisma, Ubud. I do have a fascination for these giant mortar and pestles.

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Who Wants to be a Baccala`? Easter Cod Stories.

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As Easter approaches, my mind turns to Cod! It is a family tradition to eat this odd fish every Good Friday, and over the years I have experimented with different types of cod fish. We have Cod lovers and Cod haters in the family: some of the Cod lovers are recent converts and now place their orders every Easter.

Cod is widely available in the smoked form ( usually bright orange, chemically smoked Hake). It is also sold as Stoccafissa or Baccala`, the dried  and salted fish seen hanging in Continental delicatessens. In Italian, essere un baccala` is to be a stupid person while restare come un baccala` is to stand agape, speechless, immobilized. (picture the hard motionless salted fish ). To call someone a Baccala` is a handy insult when they have behaved stupidly.

Many eons ago, as a way of impressing my dear friend Olga  D’Albero Giuliani, I made a Venetian dish for Good Friday, using Baccala`and  green olives. It took me forty eight hours to soak the fish, with many changes of water. The resultant dish was still bony and well, fairly ordinary. Olga was not impressed and asked me why I didn’t simply use smoked cod,  a tastier fish  and easier to prepare. I felt like a real Baccala`!!

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Soon after, I discovered real smoked cod from the Shetland Islands. It arrives in Melbourne on the Wednesday before Easter and is sold by the same fishmonger at the Preston market every year. It is Scottish cod, smoked without the use of chemical dyes and tastes just like peat. ( akin to eating a fishy single malt Laphroaig whisky). This explains the new converts.

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It requires nothing more than gentle poaching, topping it with a simple bechamel parsley sauce, alongside mash or new potatoes, allowing the smoky peat taste to star! In the case of Cod, the Scottish /Irish version wins hands down. Unless you want to be a Baccala` too.

The fishy photos above were taken at the Preston Market, near Melbourne, Australia. It is a lively multicultural market with at least five fishmongers.

Sunday Stills: International Food (and Far Too Many Cookbooks )

Do you collect cookbooks? Do you ever refer to them or rush to the internet when the need for a recipe arises? This is the modern dilemma: too much information, not so much inspiration. I must admit, I have a foot in both camps. I have far too many cookbooks, and will probably acquire some more soon, especially if they turn up cheaply in my favourite second-hand store. I also find recipes on the internet and print them, thinking that I will make them soon. ( I rarely do). Most of my cooking is driven by the ingredients on hand, meaning those in my pantry, fridge or garden. My best meals are spontaneous and intuitive and rarely come from the printed word.  So what are all those cookbooks doing on my shelves and why do I find the need to acquire more?

I love books and the texture of them, their smell, and the care taken in producing them.  I like to hold them, turn the pages, and bookmark them, take them to bed. I find them comforting in the world of transitory information –  instagram,  tweeting and other forms of one second grabs of hollow information.

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Here is my question for cookbook collectors.  How do you organise your collection? By cuisine? Height? Colour? Nationality?

This little post is in response to Ed’s theme this week on Sunday Stills: International Foods. 

Rather than choose another foodie shot, I went to my bookshelves,( but wait, there are more ! ), source of international inspiration.