It’s Not Easy Being a Carrot.

It seems that carrots receive a lot of bad press. The most common expression featuring the humble carrot involves reward and punishment, ‘the carrot and the stick”, an enduring approach to behaviour modification and a recurring political weapon. Any one for tax cuts? A quick search through my cookbooks, especially those with listings by ingredient, revealed very short chapters devoted to carrots. Italian cookbooks ignore them as a principal ingredient: Asian books only make passing reference to them. I do use them but they rarely star. Like Italian nonne, I finely chop carrots to form part of the trio in a soffritto, that little tasty stir fry of tiny chopped ingredients that is the foundation of a good soup. I throw chunks  of carrot into a slowly cooked root stew and I grate them into a cake. And then…not much else. My carrot repertoire is small. I don’t fancy them in fritters, nor as sticks ( a case of neither carrot nor stick changing my wicked ways ) when other candidates do a better job.

New carrots, vincotto, pine nuts, currants, chevre
New carrots, vincotto, pine nuts, currants, chevre

Maybe we have forgotten the taste of freshly pulled carrots? The trend, here in Australia, is to pack carrots, devoid of their fine greenery, into plastic bags where they probably linger for months in a chilled warehouse before reaching the consumer. They taste like mould. Some go into the soup, the rest end up in the compost heap.

Freshly pulled carrots, either home-grown or bought at a farmer’s market, need to be dealt with quickly before they wilt and lose their vibrancy. Since purchasing carrots from the Peninsula market gardens, I have been keen to trial recipes where carrots star. My favourite to date is a ginger and carrot pureed soup with coriander pesto. It went down so quickly with the troupes at the beach. No time for a photo.

Carrots star when just picked
Carrots star when just picked

This recipe from Maggie’s Kitchen makes a colourful side dish to go with a baked fish or a roasted chicken. Where Maggie uses verjuice in her recipe, I substituted Vincotto. The saucing is wonderful in this dish. You could easily leave out the currants and pine nuts for a simpler version.

Carrots in Verjuice with Goat’s Cheese and Pine Nuts.

  • 1/4 cup dried currants
  • 1/3 cup verjuice
  • 1 bunch baby ( Dutch) carrots, green tops trimmed to about 2 cm, scrubbed
  • sea salt
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 100 g unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup marinated goats cheese, or fresh goats cheese, or chevre

Place currants and verjuice in a small bowl and leave to plump.

Cook carrots in a saucepan of boiling water until almost cooked. Leave carrots to cool a little then use a clean towel to rub skins off while still warm. Set peeled carrots aside to cool, then halve lengthways.

Drain currants, reserve verjuice.

Toast pine nuts in a frying pan over low heat until light brown. Transfer to a bowl, then add butter to the same pan and melt over medium heat to high, then cook for 2-3 minutes or until butter turns nut brown. Add reserved verjuice and cook until reduced and syrupy. Add currants, pine nuts and parsley, then transfer to a serving dish. Top with chevre or spoon over goat’s curd and serve at once.

Magggie Beer, Maggies Kitchen, Penguin Lantern, 2008

An update on the supermarket warehousing of carrots from the Guardian.  This explains that mouldy taste.

Carrot

Typical storage time 1 to 9 months

Immediate washing and cooling are essential to maintain the carrots’ crispness. Often, they are cooled in chlorinated water before packing.

Storage just above 0C inhibits sprouting and decay, while raised humidity prevents desiccation.

In these conditions, mature topped carrots will last 7-9 months, though 5-6 months is more typical.

 

Dangling a Carrot. Farm gate produce of the Mornington Peninsula.

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Rich red sandy loam and a mild climate makes the Boneo area perfect for market gardening.

The suburbs stretch along the coastal fringe of Melbourne’s Port Phillip bay as far as the eye can see. Once an area dominated by holiday houses and temporary residents, the built up areas between Mornington and Portsea now attract more permanent dwellers, young families and retirees. The old weatherboard and fibro shacks, suitable only for summer, are slowly disappearing from the area.

For those who venture beyond this narrow suburban strip, around one kilometre or less deep at Rosebud and Rye, rich fertile countryside awaits, with vast market gardens, horse studs, vineyards and apple orchards scattered through the peninsula’s hinterland. This area has always been devoted to traditional farming and is one of the oldest market garden areas of Melbourne. When camping down that way, I prefer to bypass the well known duopoly of supermarkets ensconced in an ugly, crowded mall, and head straight to the farm gate outlets of two farms located along or near Boneo road. King’s vegetable farm is located in Browns road, Boneo and Hawkes vegetable farm, which specialises in waxy potatoes such as Nicola and Kipfler potatoes, can be found a little further along on the road towards Cape Schanck.
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At King’s Farm, expect to see daily picked heirloom carrots and tomatoes, rocket and spinach, frilly leafed soft lettuce and kale, beetroot and brocoli, as well as a range of fresh herbs of every kind and free range eggs.

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Heirloom carrots, Kings of Browns Road
Freshly picked Kale at Kings
wooden crates at Hawkes farm
Wooden crates at Hawkes farm

More farms are yet to be sampled, making hunting and gathering an enjoyable pastime. I am looking forward to sampling cheeses, honey and olives as well as more wonderful wines of the region. These finds, along with freshly harvested Mount Martha mussels from Prosser Seafoods in Rye, make the area far more interesting than first meets the eye. A daily shop out in the rural hinterland, followed by a quick meal prepared in a simple camp kitchen, then eaten by the bay- oh what bliss.

Reine de Saba Chocolate Cake for Julie

It is with a great deal of trepidation that we meet new friends in person for the first time. When I say ‘friends’, I mean those relationships forged through blogging or other social media. I refuse to call these friendships ‘virtual’ as they feel quite real along the way, and yet there is a certain level of anxiety about finally meeting in the flesh.

Where's the cream, Mr Tranquillo?
Where’s the cream Mr Tranquillo?

Yesterday my friend Julie from New Zealand visited for lunch. I have got to know Julie quite well through her blog, Frogpondfarm, and pursuant comments. She started out posting about her organic garden but as time ticked by and her passion for photography developed, her posts began to reveal so much more, with forays into the starkly beautiful central Otago countryside of the south island, and her fascination with weathered wooden posts and barbed wire, or dried grasses and flowers, and raising chooks. Her photos of early morning walks with her dog along the thundering West Coast beach in the North Island of New Zealand take my breath away. Her vineyards in the south island produce the ambrosial grapes that go into Toi Toi Pinot Noir wine, a year or two before they loll and sway about in my mouth. Toi Toi Pinot Noir is a most pleasing drop, not only for the taste of that dry, cool terroir of the South Island, but reminiscent of the wines of the Beaune area of France too. It is also well pleasing to my wallet. I knew we would get on well- we have too much in common. The four hours went in a flash.

My favourite Pinot Noir, Toi Toi fron New Zealand.
A favourite Pinot Noir, Toi Toi fron New Zealand.

As we strolled through my desiccated summer garden on the way back to the car, she silently gathered a handful of dried seed from a Marguerite daisy bush. Some to spread about and some for her pocket? It was a precious moment, now frozen in my mind, one that no photo could capture, nor words seize. Seeds are the great mementos in life. It is something that I like to do too.

This well-known and timeless cake goes well with Julie, such a beautiful and warm-hearted woman. The recipe comes from Stephanie Alexander but as Stephanie says in her introduction, it was made famous in the 1960s by Elizabeth David. It is rich and moist, yet so simple to make.

Reine de Saba Chocolate Cake, with Berries in Season

Reine de saba - Chocolate and almond cake.
Reine de saba – Chocolate and almond cake with strawberries from the Orto
  • Butter for greasing
  • 125g dark couverture chocolate, (or 70% chocolate ) chopped roughly
  • 1 tbsp strong espresso coffee
  • 1 tbsp brandy
  • 100g softened unsalted butter
  • 100g cup caster sugar
  • 100g of ground almonds
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

Method

Preheat oven to 160C. Butter an 18cm- 20 cm tin and line it with paper. Use a springform tin if you are sure it doesn’t leak, as this cake is fragile and often cracks when turned out.

Combine chocolate, coffee and brandy in a bowl over water or in a double-boiler. Stir when melted and add butter and sugar and mix well. Add almonds and stir in well. Remove bowl from the heat.

Lightly beat the yolks and stir into the bowl. Beat egg whites to soft peaks. Lighten chocolate mixture with a spoonful of whites, then fold in the remaining whites carefully and lightly.

Bake for 40-45 minutes. The cake will test a bit gooey in the centre. Cool completely in the tin before slipping onto a serving plate. Dust with icing sugar.

Reine de Saba, or Queen of Sheba cake.

And a big thanks to lovely Paula for accompanying Julie and driving her out into the wilds here. It was a delight to meet you. You made it all happen

Julie in background, Paula in foreground.
Julie in background, Paula in foreground.

Sourdough Diaries and Speltification

My dear friend Rachael recently became a convert to the ‘nerdy’ pastime of sourdough bread making and with some encouragement from Sandra at Please Pass the Recipe, converted her sourdough starter into a spelt starter. Here is her first spelt loaf. Just look at that spring and crumb. rachaels bread

In January I received a lovely email from Sue. I sent her some de-hydrated starter before Christmas and just look at her first stunning  loaf. She kindly sent this photo and mentioned that her 6-year-old was onto her third slice. This is what happens with kids when they get a taste of slowly made, real tasting bread. 6b47937c-9583-4c89-b890-db8d1efdb6cc

My last week’s loaves were a mix of 35% wholemeal and 65% white bakers flour. I follow Celia’s classic method for all my loaves and the dough is usually risen overnight. I was happy with the spring on this one and favour a crunchy crust. I also make one in a Romertopf which has a softer crust which Mr T prefers.

My 35 % wholemeal loaf. I like a good spring!!
My 35 % wholemeal loaf. I like a good spring!!

Once a week I return to a yeast based dough for our pizza night. This is always a treat and a way to use up fresh garden produce. I am hoping that Rachael can teach us a speltified sourdough version one day.

Garden Pizza- with roasted cherry tomatoes.
Garden pizza with roasted cherry tomatoes.

Time Out by the Bay

From February to April, I travel between two homes and I always feel divided. I rather like my caravan and canvas life by Port Phillip Bay and I prefer its kitchen to the one I leave at home. Life is much simpler, the sea air wafts through open windows making sleep non Macbethian. Children play, making new friends and ignoring their IT devices. The food is uncomplicated. I call the bay my laguna.

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Girls by the bay
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Windy day bay
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Simple breakfasts
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Camp kitchen

Minestra di Verdure Estive/ Summer Vegetable Soup

I like to eat soups in the height of summer, not necessarily cold soups, but light minestre of vegetables in season. They are thrown together and take around 20 minutes to cook, using whatever is abundant in the garden.

Summertime soup
Summertime soup. Keeping photos real with lots of red slurp.

This vegetable soup is similar to the French Soupe au Pistou in many ways, but I am waiting on the garden’s fresh borlotti, i fagioli scritti, and green beans, before I go down that Provençal path.

Ingredients.

  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 1 garlic, finely chopped,
  • 2 tablespoons EV olive oil
  • 4-5 chopped Roma tomatoes
  • 1 medium zucchini, finely sliced
  • 1 can of drained and well rinsed chick peas or white cannellini beans
  • ¼ jar of home-made or purchased tomato passata
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • small broken pieces of Mafaldine (flat ribbon) pasta or other dried pasta on hand
  • salt and pepper
  • freshly made pesto from a handful of basil leaves, two cloves garlic, salt, olive oil and pecorino, bashed to a pulp in a mortar and pestle. (Leave the nuts out when serving with soup.)
  • grilled bruschetta to go with the soup.

In a large heavy pot, add a generous slurp of olive oil and gently cook a sliced onion and a chopped garlic until soft but not coloured. Then add the vegetables as listed, stirring each new addition for a minute or so as you go. When they are almost cooked, after around 15 -20 minutes. add the some broken pieces of Mafladine and cook until the pasta is al dente. Season well. Serve in wide bowls with a dollop of freshly made basil pesto.

Paranzo All'aperto.
Pranzo all’aperto. Minestra di verdure estive.

The pasta Mafaldine was named in honour of Princess Mafaldine of Savoy, daughter of King Vittorio Emmanuele 111, and is also known as reginette or “little queens”.

Sourdough Pancakes by the Sea

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.

Dry mixture for pancakes, with recipe on the lid.
Dry mixture for pancakes, with recipe on the lid.

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.

Celia’s Sourdough Pancakes.

The dry ingredients:

  • 1 cup plain unbleached flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt

The wet ingredients

  • 1 cup sourdough starter
  • 1 egg
  • 1½  cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

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.

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Sourdough pancakes, cherry jam. Camping breakfast.

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:

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/ethicallivingblog/2009/apr/16/plastic-free-lent

Cherry Jam and cream or lemon and butter?
Cherry jam and cream or lemon and butter?

In My Kitchen, Simply Red, February 2016

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.

Japanese plums
Japanese plums

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.

Sorting tomatoes
Sorting tomatoes

Half a jar of passata, reduced with fish stock, along with saffron and smoked pimenton, went into this fish and mussel soup.

Summer fish soup.
Summer fish soup.

The rest was poured over grilled eggplant layered with parmigiano cheese in a Melanzane Parmigiana, an old stand by.

Eggplant parmigiana
Eggplant parmigiana

Others are eaten as is, with their colourful friends, in my favourite little salad bowl from Mission Beach market.

Simple salad
Simple salad

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!

Today's pick

Thanks Maureen for hosting the In My Kitchen series. Please take a look at other inspiring kitchens through Maureen’s link.