50 Shades of Bay. The Environment of Port Phillip Bay, Victoria.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEvery summer my extended family spends time camping at Port Phillip Bay, simply known as ‘The Bay’. Geographically, the bay covers 1,930 square kilometres (480,000 acres) and the shore stretches roughly 264 km (164 miles), providing a wonderful summer playground for many Melbournians.

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We love the bay and its ever shifting moods, skies and tides. Storms are exciting; sunsets are to be witnessed and documented. The bay provides space for private reflection when melancholia descends. On hot airless nights when it’s too difficult to sleep, the shoreline affords a cooler sandy space to while away the hours. Daytime brings children and families to play and dig sand castles on the emerging tidal sand bars, older children learning how to snorkel or body surf in safe, lagoon like warm water. On gusty days, wind surfers and kite surfers arrive in vast numbers.

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Over the years, environmental concerns have been raised about the delicate nature of our beautiful bay. The EPA monitors water quality, land care groups work to protect the creeks and natural flora and fauna along the shore, old invasive practices, such as groyne installation, have thankfully gone out of mode. Bay lovers are more aware than in days gone by, about the importance of sea grasses and protection of native flora. Fish species are monitored and catch limits imposed. The bay has a healthy stock of pinkies, snapper, flathead, and whiting. Removal of shellfish such as pippies, is an offence.

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One environmental pest we would like to see removed is the Jet Ski.  Our national icon, Leunig, poet and cartoonist, puts it this way:

– Michael Leunig –

Ode To A Jet-Ski Person was written by Michael Leunig and comes from Poems 1972-2002, published by Viking

Thanks Ailsa, from Where’s My Backpack for another engaging Saturday morning travel theme, Environment.

Risotto all’Onda for Carla.

Over lunch yesterday, I came across a new Italian expression, Risotto All’Onda. At the time, I was serving a classic Marcella Hazan rice soup, or rather a minestra which, to be truthful, was more like a wet risotto. A soup or a wet risotto, I commented, knowing that this distinction is not particularly relevant to those from the Veneto region in Italy.  Alberto, a visitor from Lombardy in Italy, then related the story of his prozia, or great-aunt, who uses her brodo (stock) rather liberally when making risotto, earning the comment ‘all’onda!!!’ in a disparaging way from her husband, who had a preference for a drier risotto. Drier risotto is the preferred style in Lombardy, Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna. It has a stickier texture and can be plated rather than served in a bowl. Alberto’s family continues to describe a wet risotto in this way, to recall their late prozio’s reaction to wet risotto, risotto’all’onda!!

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As it turns out, risotto all’ onda is a common enough term for Venetian style risotto, ‘all’onda‘ meaning that the finished product should ripple like the ocean current, yet maintain its classically creamy consistency. It should be liquid enough to make it pourable. Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice are the preferred varieties for a wet style risotto: also using smaller pan when cooking helps to maintain the moisture.

The following recipe is an adaptation of Marcella Hazan’s Minestra di Sedano e Riso or rice and celery soup, from the Classic Italian Cookbook, 1980. I have replaced the celery with zucchini, given the continuing summer glut. The method of this soup is rather interesting, with half the zucchini pureed, adding a lovely green cremoso texture to this minestra/soup/risotto.

Minestra di Zucchini e Riso- Zucchini and Rice Soup.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 small zucchini, diced
  • 6 tablespoons EV Olive Oil
  • half small onion, finely chopped
  • 25 g butter
  • 200g rice, preferably Carnaroli or Vialone Nano
  • 500 ml of stock or one stock cube dissolved in the same quantity of water
  • 3 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley.

Method

  1. Wash the zucchini, finely dice,. Put the zucchini, olive oil and salt in a heavy base saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring to a steady simmer, cover, and cook until the zucchini is tender. Turn off the heat.
  2. Put the chopped onion in a heavy based saucepan with the butter and saute over medium heat until pale gold but not browned.
  3. Add half the zucchini to the saucepan with the onion, using a slotted spoon. Saute for two or three minutes, stirring, the add the rice and stir it until well coated. Add all the broth.
  4. Puree the rest of the zucchini, including all its cooking liquid, with a stick blender. Add this puree to the saucepan containing the rice.
  5. Bring to a steady simmer, cover, and cook until the rice is tender but firm to the bite, around 15- 20 minutes. Watch and check that it doesn’t catch as some rice absorbs stock too quickly- you may need to add a little more to make it ‘all’onda’.
  6. Stir in the grated cheese, turn off the heat, add the parsley and mix. Serve at once! This dish should be eaten immediately before it turns too soft. Make it only just before you are ready to eat!

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I’m with Great Aunt Carla when it comes to risotto- I love it ‘all’onda’, nice and wet, rippling with little currents from the sea of broth.

 

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Sichuan Pepper Berry Oil. 花椒油

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASichuan pepper berry, in its dried form, is well known and is an exotic addition to many a dish from that province of China. Its finely ground powder forms one of the ingredients in five spice powder, along with star anise, cinnamon, fennel and cloves. Less is known about the oil that is extracted from the berry. The pepper berry, although tingling and a little hot, is not related to regular pepper or to chilli.

We came across a factory producing Chinese pepper oil, 花椒油, located in Meishan, quite by chance. We were driving back to Chengdu after one glorious week of visiting ancient historic walled cities, restored Tang Dynasty houses, Buddhist temples, mountain streams dissecting lush green jungles, as well as the ‘Big Buddha’ in Leshan and the temples of Mt Emei, when Tia asked if we would like to visit the factory.

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A big fan of the Sichuan pepper berry, I had to investigate further. This industry has thrived for more than 2000 years. In those days, the berry was harvested and the oil was extracted using these ancient wood and stone mills.

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Today, the oil is extracted in the same way as olive oil and stored in vast stainless steel vats, then bottled and shipped around the world. It is an extensive, modern factory and well worth a visit to see such an unusual industry.

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There is a quaint museum next to the factory with dioramas showing the production of this oil in ancient times, as well as kitchenalia from more recent times, including enamel ware from the Cultural Revolution, along with a restaurant.

The oil, like the berry, produces a tingling, numbing sensation on the tongue and lips: a few drops added to the top of MaPo Dofu or a Vegetable stir fry is sensational, or with noodles, ginger, brown sugar, vinegar and greens.

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I really wanted to buy a small bottle at the Hong Ya County Yaomazi Food Company but the thought of the jar breaking and leaking pepper oil over my luggage was a strong deterrent. It can be purchased in Melbourne in Chinese grocery stores but is hard to recognise. Just ask for Sichuan Pepper oil and someone in the store will find it for you. Like sesame oil, a little goes a long way.

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Travel Theme. Energy

February is the best summer month to visit the beaches in Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne. The weather brings two diametrically opposed moods, depending on how enervating or energising the heat is.  One evening, as the sun set over the bay, a group of young women danced to their own tune, leaping into the air with an abundance of energy.

Sunset dancing
Sunset dancing

 

Happy Chinese New Year and a Cucumber Salad

Happy Chinese New Year to all in this year of the Goat! In Chinese astrology, goats are described as peace-loving, kind and popular. They can be helpful and trusting but also ‘clinging’ and resistant to change. Were you born in the following years 1931, 43, 55, 67, 79, 91, 2003, 2015? If so, it’s your year!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACelebrating Chinese New Year here in Australia, means planning a few little dishes from that wonderful country. A refreshing salad for a hot day, Cucumber salad Yunnan Style makes use of the current cucumber and chilli glut. My addition of tuna is not traditional but transforms the salad into a light lunch. Leave out the tuna if using the salad as a side dish.

cucumbers galore
cucumbers galore

I am using my apple cucumbers as these have appeared in plague proportions. They are too seedy for most dishes, but with seeds removed, work well in this quick and easy salad.

Cucumber Salad Yunnan Style.

  • 2 medium cucumbers, peeled and seeded.
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of castor sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1-2 hot chilli, seeded and sliced finely
  • 1 can of tuna in oil, drained and flaked
  •  A little Sichuan pepper oil or sesame oil to dress
  • chopped coriander leaves
  1. Peel and seed the cucumbers, cut the cucumbers vertically then diagonally into 3 cm chunks place in a bowl. Toss with the vinegar, sugar and salt and marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes or longer.
  2. When ready to serve, add chilli slices, flaked tuna and coriander leaves.
  3. Dress with a drizzle of Sichuan pepper oil or Sesame oil.

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Additions and subtractions.

  • Add more chilli if you grow the milder variety.
  • If using small Lebanese cucumbers, use more and leave half the skin on in strips.
  • add toasted sesame seeds.
  • For a Japanese twist, add cut up thin strips of nori seaweed and dress with toasted sesame and sesame oil.
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Zuppa Estiva di Cozze. Summery Mussel Soup.

As the season reaches its peak, the tomato glut becomes a mixed blessing. I have grown tired of the early yellow varieties, enjoying this months flush of Rouge de Marmande and Roma. With a little home grown chilli, a bunch of basil, some garlic and a bag of black local mussels, a soup is born and la vita è bella, as we lunch in the garden on a still, hot day.

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Black Mussels are a sustainable and cheap seafood in Victoria, retailing for around $6.00 a kilo, and are grown in the cool clean waters of Port Arlington and Mount Martha in Victoria. They are sweet and briny, unlike their large, green lipped New Zealand cousins which tend to be fibrous and tough. Tasmanian black mussels are lovely too.

I found this summer soup in The River Cafe Book by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, but have made some adaptations along the way.

Zuppa Estiva di Cozze – Summer Mussel Soup. 

  • 2 kilo of mussels, cleaned
  • 100 ml olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, 1 chopped, 2 sliced finely.
  • 1 large bunch basil, stalks removed
  • 1 small chilli, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1.5 kilo ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped, all juices and seeds retained
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

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  1. Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy based saucepan, add the garlic slivers, and cook gently until golden. Add half the basil leaves and the chopped tomatoes and cook, stirring over a fierce heat, until the tomatoes break up and reduce a little. This should take around 15 minutes.
  2. In another large, heavy saucepan, fry the chopped garlic in the remaining olive oil until golden, then add the mussels and a few basil leaves and the remaining, reserved tomato juice. Cover, and cook on a high heat, shaking as you go, until they are open. Remove them as soon as they open and leave to cool. Remove most of the mussels from their shells, retaining a few for serving.
  3. Reduce the mussel/tomato stock for five minutes, then strain it through muslin into a bowl. Add some or all ( to taste) into the tomato sauce. Reheat the sauce and reduce a little.
  4. Add all the mussels to the sauce, add the rest of the basil and season well.

Serve in big bowls accompanied by a simple Bruschetta.

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An unexpected surprise! The stock in step 3 is not retained in the original River Cafe recipe. It is just too good to waste. From now on, when opening mussels for any dish, I intend to use this combination of tomato juice and garlic, instead of wine, and retain a batch of stock in the freezer for another dish.

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Urban Myth.

Don’t discard those unopened mussels. The advice to “throw away mussels that refuse to open”, began in the 1970s when there were concerns over some European mussels being dredged from polluted mussel beds. This advice has been repeated without question by chefs and in many ‘how to cook fish’ cook books since then. See the following:

Local Mussels.
Local Mussels.

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Did the Earth Move for You Too? Transformation.

It was a lazy afternoon on October 13, 2011. A cup of tea had just been poured, as we sat on the porch of our guesthouse in Ubud, Bali. The teenager was fast asleep inside.

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Our teacups gave us the first hint that this moment in time would be transformed by an earthquake.  We were bemused by the behaviour of our tea as it began to convulse onto the saucer. Then we noticed a few other odd things; the walls seemed to be moving and small chunks of concrete debris fell from the ornate Balinese walls. Time stood still as seconds stretched into minutes. Wake up Mischa, we have to get out, now!  The teenager would not budge, adding an extra dimension to our adrenalin. As we bolted down the outside stairs, the concrete steps swayed in time to the movement of the gusting palm trees and the metal hand rails shuddered.

At 6.2, it was a big one by Balinese standards and was followed by a few aftershocks. The locals were really afraid, although had been trained from childhood to evacuate buildings quickly. In true Balinese style, they were genuinely concerned for their foreign guests. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured.

Thanks Ailsa for the travel prompt this week.

Symmetry in Rome. Piazza del Popolo.

Wonderful symmetrical balance in the Baroque manner can be seen in the Piazza del Popolo in Rome.  

Le chiese gemelle (the twin churches) of Santa Maria dei Miracoli (1681) and Santa Maria in Montesanto (1679), begun by Carlo Rainaldi and completed by Bernini and Carlo Fontana, define the junctions of the three roads, with Via del Corso running through the centre of the trident.

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In My Kitchen, February 2015

Melbourne is experiencing a very cool summer so far. Not that I mind. Usually in February, I sit in the kitchen staring at the computer, monitoring the temperature, the wind and the fire ratings on the CFA site. This year we are blessed with unseasonable cool weather which is perfect for preserving fruits and garden produce AND I don’t feel so anxious.

In my kitchen are too many strawberries: the cool weather, along with proper netting, means a new flush every few days. We have made strawberry jam and coulis, frozen strawberries and strawberry brandy, tucked away for the cooler months.

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And of course there too many tomatoes. This season, the large tasty varieties are a little slow, so these mini tomatoes fill the gap. I am picking a few kilo of mixed heirloom tomatoes each day- they go on pizza, bruschetta, in soups and sauces or straight into the freezer.

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The zucchini continue to provide amusement when their large zeppelin shapes hide under leaves. The big fellas go to the chooks.  The polite ones make zucchini soup, Greek zucchini fritters, grilled zucchini topping for pizza,  zucchini ripieni con ricotta, zucchini pakhoras, zucchini pasta, and all manner of things, along with their fiori, flowers. I also make a swag of Stephanie Alexander’s zucchini pickles to give away. The pickle is lovely with a ploughman’s lunch.

Preparing the pickle in brine.
Preparing the pickle in brine.
Zucchini pickle alla Stephanie Alexander.
Zucchini pickle alla Stephanie Alexander.

In My kitchen are Lombardi. This month, my adopted nephew, Alberto from Pavia, hangs around in my kitchen after working in the kitchen garden. Alberto cultivates Arborio rice near Pavia, in Italia but has become interested in Australia over the last two years. It’s good to have him back. Renato, in the Babbo Natale hat, is from Milano. Renato, an IT specialist, became a top fencer in his many months here. At last our cows are well contained.

My kitchen garden provides much of the food that is prepared in my kitchen and I would like to thank them both for assisting us with their labour and for their graceful and courteous company.

Along with the kitchen thankyous comes a big one to our generous host, Celia, from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial whose infectious energy is inspirational.