Bruschetta 101

Bruschetta is a celebration of seasonal ingredients. It could be a simple version with newly pressed olive oil or a summer version with vine – ripened tomatoes. On the surface, it is an uncomplicated Italian antipasto dish and yet it is so often misunderstood and easily stuffed up. The key to good bruschette is the quality of the ingredients.

Some freshly picked tomatoes and basil.
Some freshly picked tomatoes and basil.

Let’s start with the pronunciation. I am sure I have posted on this topic before, but as Bruschetta is the most mispronounced culinary term in Australia, with wait staff leading the way, it is worth another go. Phonetically, the word can be divided into three parts: Broo- Skeh- Ta. There is no SHHH sound in the middle, as sche in Italian makes the SKE sound. ( sce or sci makes the shh sound). The next thing to note is that there is a subtlety to the sound of the broo part of the word. American speakers of Italian invariably turn this sound into Brew, whereas the sound is much closer to Brook or lies somewhere between the two. Here’s a little sound bite that might assist:

http://inogolo.com/pronunciation/bruschetta

This season's garlic.
This season’s garlic.

Next the bread. The best bread to use for this dish is a rustic and fairly dense white bread such as Pane di Casa or Sourdough ( not ciabatta- too holey- and not fluffy French breadsticks). As the word Bruschetta is derived from Bruciare, to burn, and Bruscare ( Roman dialect) to roast over coals, an open charcoal grill or BBQ achieves both these outcomes best, especially if serving simply with garlic, new oil and salt. Many family run trattorie throughout country Sicily and Campania have a small open fire in the wall near the kitchen for cooking alla brace. For the home cook, the nearest version is to use a heavy cast iron ridged grill over a gas flame. Also keep in mind that the size of each bruschetta should not be too large. The diminutive ending –‘etta’- suggests something small and dainty, not a boat-sized toasted thing. Bruschette are not the same as Crostini. Crostini are small rounds of bread baked in olive oil in the oven and are much harder and crunchier.

Grilling the bread for Bruschetta.
Grilling the bread for Bruschetta.

About the toppings. Bruschetta is a classic example of a dish where less is more. Originally, the dish consisted of bread, oil, and garlic. If you have some new season freshly pressed olive oil on hand, I recommend you go no further, other than rubbing the grilled bread with garlic. In tomato season, a topping of garlic, tomato and maybe a little basil, is just right. This is not a dish for imported winter tomatoes that have sat in storage for eons. I also find hydroponic tomatoes extremely disappointing in flavour. If you are shopping at a farmer’s market, ask how they are grown before buying seasonal tomatoes. If they look completely regular in size with neatly cut stems, chances are they are hydroponically grown. Choose those that have grown organically and in the open air. The best tomatoes to use for this dish are Roma or Egg tomatoes. The flesh on these is much firmer and they are not so wet and seedy.  My photos show Rouge de Marmande tomatoes, which are very tasty but a little too mushy for this dish.

a little salt brings bruschetta to life.
A little flaked salt brings bruschetta to life.

Adding other non-Italian things, such as fetta cheese, is a real distraction from the simplicity of this dish. Australian cafes have a ‘dog’s dinner’ approach to Bruschetta presentation, shoving too much stuff on top. Some celebrity chefs, like Ottolenghi, also have a tendency to muck around with classic dishes. Keep it simple and authentic, especially if you happen to have top ingredients.

Assembling the bruschetta
Assembling the bruschetta

This tomato Bruschetta recipe is based on an old classic by Anna Del Conte.¹ The recipe serves 8 people. Halve or quarter according to your numbers.

  • 6 sun ripened firm tomatoes, preferably Roma or Plum tomatoes
  • a handful of torn fresh basil leaves or a few pinches of freshly dried oregano
  • 8 slices of good crusty bread, cut 1cm thick
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • flaked salt
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.

Blanch and skin the tomatoes, cut them in half  and remove most of the seeds. Dice the flesh into 1.5 cm cubes. Tear the basil into small pieces, or if using dried oregano, strip from the stem and crush it finely in your hands.

Grill the bread on both sides then rub with the garlic. Cut each slice in half to make them easier to eat. ( or thirds, depending on the size of your slices).

Spoon on some tomato cubes and some torn basil over each slice and sprinkle with salt. Drizzle on the oil and serve at once.

Small bites of Brushcetta con Pomodori
Small bites of Bruschetta con Pomodori

Another approach is to mix the chopped tomatoes, chopped garlic, oil and dried oregano together and to let the mix steep for 10 minutes. Try it both ways and see which way you like it. The salt at the end brings out the flavour.

‘Con il passare del tempo ed il continuo mutare della cucina napoletana, da molti anni si possono assaggiare in tante versioni condite con creme e paté di peperoni, funghi, zucchine,piccoli tocchetti di melanzane, mozzarelle, scamorze e salumi vari.’

With the passing of time and the continuing changing of Neapolitan cuisine over the years, you can taste many versions dressed with pate or pesto of pepper ( Red capsicum), mushrooms, zucchini, small chunks of eggplant, mozzarella, scamorza and various salami.  Again, use one seasonal ingredient or meat and keep the topping simple.

¹ Anna del Conte Entertaining All’ Italiana, Bantom Press 1991. This beautiful book presents seasonal menus. This recipe appeared as an antipasto in a summer luncheon for 8 people, and was followed by freshly made Tagliatelle with Mozzarella, Anchovy fillets and Parsley, a side dish of Pepperoni in Vinegar, and finished with Walnuts, Grapes and Parmesan. Traditional, classic food that is not over fiddly.

Dal giardino.
Dal giardino.

Repurposed Garden Art

Saturday WordPress photo challenges usually see me trawling through my travel files in search of a colourful response. This week’s challenge, Repurpose, drove me to the garden.

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I couldn’t part with my old enamel teapots. They turn up in all sorts of places in the garden.

I am rather partial to junk: I’ve managed to successfully refurbish my home with other people’s discards. It’s in the garden that repurposing is most at home. I use old dog beds, stripped of their comfy covers then recovered with shade cloth, as protection for delicate new seedlings. Old worn out pool lounge chairs get the same treatment, their metal frames so handy in the vegetable garden. Black poly piping is bent into hoops, supported by found metal reo from building sites, creating frames for shade cloth or bird netting. Shabby looking clothes airers, long past their prime, become supports for cucumbers.

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More jugs as garden art.

In one corner of my ornamental garden, found objects create a structure and backdrop for birds, succulents and herbs. Most of these objects, old teapots, vintage metal grape harvest bins, broken cups, beautiful colonial enamel ware jugs and a rusty metal chair, are survivors of the Black Saturday Bushfire.  My enamel jugs and teapots added a colonial air to my former home. Rusted and tarnished from fire and rain, they now live in peace in my garden.

My favourite colonial water pitcher.
My favourite colonial water pitcher.
Buddha lost the pointy top of his head. Now he is a rock collector and pool guard.
Buddha lost the pointy top of his head. Now he is a rock collector and pool guard.

Mafaldine Pasta with Zucchini, Cream and Saffron

My Zucchini Festival continues today with another good zucchini pasta recipe ( see below) and a look at the seeds which produce this fecund vegetable. This year I planted two varieties of zucchini in my orto. The first to go in were the Black Jack variety, purchased as seedlings from a country market. They are the most common variety of zucchini grown in Australia, with vigorous, fast growing plants, high yields, and smooth dark green skin. Unfortunately for seed savers, they are also hybrids. The other variety, the Zucchino Striato d’Italia, or Italian striped zucchini, is easily grown from seed, and whilst not so prolific, which could be a good thing, they are definitely superior in taste and texture. An heirloom variety, this means you can save the seed for future plantings, a routine worth following when growing your own vegetables. The flavour is reminiscent of the zucchini grigliati we ate in the small trattorie in Trastevere, Roma. The other variety I’ve planted in the past is the yellow zucchini- a poor performer both in taste, yield and keeping quality, despite the lovely colour.

Mr Tranquillo in a trattoria in Trastevere. The side dish inclused some simply cooked and dressed zucchini striati. Once tasted, nevere forgotton.
Mr Tranquillo in a trattoria in Trastevere. The side dish included some simply cooked and dressed zucchini striati. Once tasted, never forgotten.

Today’s simple pasta dish marries Mafaldine pasta with small cubes of zucchini, saffron and cream. Mafaldine pasta is ribbon shaped pasta with curly edges and is also known as Reginette. The photos don’t do justice to the creaminess of this dish.

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Mafaldine con Zucchini Striati, Panna e Zafferano

Mafaldine con Zucchini, Panna e Zafferano . Mafaldine Pasta with Zucchini, Cream and Saffron  (for 2 medium serves)

  • 180g mafaldine or other long ribbon egg pasta
  • 2 small zucchini, cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 small white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • salt
  • pinch dried chilli
  • generous pinch of saffron threads
  • 1 cup cream
  1. Bring ample salted water to the boil in a large pot.
  2. Heat a large wide frying pan or non stick wok for the sauce. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil then the chopped onion and garlic. When softened, add the cubes of zucchini, some salt, and a pinch of dried chilli. Stir about and cook on low heat for around 20 minutes.
  3. Add the Mafaldine ( or chosen pasta) to the boiling water and cook for the required time.
  4. Use a little of the cooking water and add to the saffron to soften, then add this to the zucchini mixture. Add a cup of cream and raise the heat so that the cream thickens. Add more cream if necessary.
  5. When the pasta is ready, drain and add to the zucchini cream sauce in the pan. Toss about. Save a little pasta cooking liquid to loosen the sauce, if necessary.
  6. Serve with ample grated parmigiano cheese.

I enjoyed this dish on this cooler summer day. It will be included in my annual Zucchini Festival repertoire. It cost tuppence to make, allowing the splurge on a pinch or two of precious saffron pistils and a nice chunk of Reggiano Parmigiano cheese to serve.

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seed packet- Zucchino striato d'Italia
seed packet- Zucchino striato d’Italia

Seed saving tips for non- hybrid zucchini:

http://blog.seedsavers.org/blog/zucchini-tips?rq=zucchini

Amazing Grace in Hội An, Vietnam

Strolling along the empty streets of Hội An early one morning, I came across this graceful couple. It was 10 am in Nguyễn Duy Hiệu. They were dressed for a wedding perhaps. A photographer nearby recorded the occasion, and so did I. They swanned about the street with not a care in the world. Young, beautiful and happy, they soon disappeared into the yellow cloaked city.gr2-001

gt7

gr

bbb

 

Herb, Spring Onion and Zucchini Fritters

The Sagra di Zucchini continues at Casa Morgana as the crop picks up speed, and it’s a race to snare modest sized zucchini before they turn into giants. Zucchini fritters make a very satisfying and economical lunch, but rely on a couple of other key players- abundant herbs and good quality fetta cheese- to push the flavour from bland to gustoso. There are many varieties of fetta available in Melbourne, especially in the Greek delicatessen at fresh markets. At last count, my favourite Supermarket Deli in Brunswick stocked around 12 varieties. As this dish only requires a small chunk, I prefer to use Dordoni fetta, while I’m happy enough to use cheaper fetta cheese in Spanakopita or Tiropita.

Mucever,  Zucchini Fritters Turkish style.

  • 700 gr zucchini, coarsely grated
  • salt
  • 1 bunch spring onions/green onions/scallions white and green finely chopped
  • 170 gr fetta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose/plain flour ( try chick pea flour for a GF version)
  • olive oil for frying.

    simple luncheon dish.
    simple luncheon dish. Mucever.
  1. Place the zucchini in a colander and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Let it sit for 1 hour to drain. Lightly squeeze out the moisture and dry with paper towels.
  2. Place the zucchini in a large bowl and mix in the spring onions and herbs. Then add the eggs and mix well. Finally sprinkle over the flour and mix. Add salt and pepper.
  3. Heat a large skillet or frying pan containing a thin film of oil. Drop tablespoons of the batter into the oil, spreading them to make thin, small pancakes. Cook until golden brown on both sides.
  4. Serve hot with yogurt and mint sauce.

This recipe is from my favourite cookbook, a battered copy of From Tapas to Meze, by Joanne Weir, 1995.

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Early morning pick.
Thank you bees
Thank you bees

 

 

 

 

The Annual Zucchini Festival.

Throughout Italy, various villages and towns hold an annual sagra or festival, very often dedicated to a specific locally grown or produced food, such as frogs, chestnuts or onions, or a local dish such as frico, polenta or risotto. A quick search of the various sagre in Italy will reveal many festivals devoted to pumpkin but not to zucchini. If you think about it, the pumpkin or Zucca is the Zucchino‘s much bigger sister. Orange versus green. Female versus male, fat and rounded versus thin and elongated. Anything you can do with a pumpkin can be adapted to the zucchino; stuff, fry, bake, layer, grate and soup them. Oh and pickle them too.

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Spaghetti con Zucchini, Gamberi e Menta

It’s high time to announce my own Zucchini Sagra. Come along and try my new zucchini recipes this month, or better still, suggest some more unusual ways of using this prolific garden beast.

My first recipe marries some young zucchini with prawns, spaghetti and mint in a rich sauce. The links at the bottom of this post will take you to some of my previous posts on this wonderful annual vegetable.

Spaghetti con Zucchini, Gamberi e Menta  Serves four people.

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 small zucchini, halved lengthways then sliced in half moon rounds
  • pinch of crumbled dried chilli
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 100 ml dry white wine
  • 40 gr butter
  • 24 large uncooked green prawns
  • 200 gr spaghetti ( see notes below)
  • 16 or so mint leaves, torn
  • handful of flat parsley finely chopped
  • sea salt and black pepper
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.
  2. Meanwhile add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large non stick pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for a couple of minutes. Add the zucchini and cook for 2- 3 minutes until coloured. Add the chilli and anchovies, squash them into the oil, then add the wine. Allow the wine to evaporate a little then add the butter. Bring to the boil for a minute or so, then add the prawns, stir about then remove from the heat.
  3. Cook the spaghetti in the boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, then add to the prawns. Pop the pan over high heat, tossing and stirring to combine all the ingredients. Add the parsley and mint. As soon as the prawns are opaque, remove from the heat.
  4. Season with salt and pepper and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Serve.

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    Spaghetti with Zucchini, Prawns and Mint

Notes.

  • The amount of spaghetti specified in this recipe would be suitable for an entrée or light luncheon.
  • I would suggest adding more pasta to the pot, say, around 80 g per person, for a main meal, with a green salad on the side.
  • I also used a large non stick wok, which is a better utensil to hold the volume of ingredients for the final tossing.
  • The sauce, made up of oil, garlic, anchovy, wine and butter, is an excellent base for any marinara you might make.

From Cook Like an Italian, Tobie Puttock 2010.

More zucchini recipes on Almost Italian:

Zucchini Lasagne

Zucchini with calamari and Radicchio

Briami Me Fetta

Zucchini Pickle

Next Post, The Zucchini Fritter With Masses of Herbs

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Night Moves in Melbourne

On a hot summer’s night in Melbourne, a fine meal is followed by a midnight stroll along the Southbank promenade. Beguiling ambience, brio and style in the sweet, sweet summertime.

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Strolling along the river promenade, Melbourne
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Southbank Melbourne
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Late night revellers, river fronted restaurant, Southbank Melbourne

 

Love is all you need?

The day had been planned for months, the invitations printed and sent out with plenty of notice. The venue had been chosen and booked long before, and decorated by Barnadi on the day with long-stemmed, exotic flowers. An old warehouse near the then emerging Docklands precinct of Melbourne, it edged the sea, allowing cool breezes to  enter the wooden, cavernous space. The catering was chosen carefully, the cake ordered and delivered. A wedding reception was to be held with all the usual trimmings. Friends and family had flown in from the UK, Australian friends returned from their beach holidays to don frocks and finery for the occasion. The children were excited about being invited to attend such a big wedding reception.

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The wedding party

Barnadi and Adam’s wedding reception was held 10 years ago today in Melbourne, followed by a civil wedding service in Bath, Britain. It was a double wedding celebration as the couple had friends in both countries. Adam’s sisters were bridesmaids, his friends were best men, and I became best man/woman/Mother of the Groom to Barnadi. Adam’s elderly, courteous and gentle father, Ray, flew in for the occasion, and naturally, was supportive of this union of two men in love, as we all were and are.

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The grooms, A and B.

It was a traditional wedding in every sense of the word. The grooms wore immaculate matching suits and ties, with flowered lapels. After the service, the cake was cut followed by the groomal waltz. Speeches were made, and the usual dirty jokes read out, some involving rings, bringing mirth to the assembled witnesses and friends. Kids danced with their parents and too much champagne was drunk.

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This cake looks a bit bent

Despite the lack of legal recognition in Australia and Britain at the time, they celebrated their commitment to each other with a beautiful wedding, a public demonstration of their love, which is, at least for the non- religious among us, all that a wedding, gay or straight, should be. It should also be legally recognised. I was hoping in my heart that by today, we would be celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary in a special way, and that this country would have finally put an end to marriage inequality. We would then have another good reason to party into the night with this loving couple. Despite Australia’s tardiness in getting its act together, those who know Barnadi and Adam, recognise their true marriage and rejoice in their love.

Last count, same-sex marriage is legal in these countries:

The Netherlands (2000), Belgium (2003), Canada (2005), Spain (2005), South Africa (2006), Norway (2009), Sweden (2009), Argentina (2010), Iceland (2010),Portugal (2010), Denmark (2012), Brazil (2013),England and Wales (2013), France (2013), New Zealand (2013), Uruguay (2013), Luxembourg (2014),Scotland (2014), Finland: (signed 2015, effective 2017), Ireland: (2015),USA, ( 2015)

 Scratchy photos courtesy of Barnadi’s facebook site, with permission.

Almost Italian’s Recipe Index

This is a short post to let you know, dear friends and readers, that I have finally organised a Recipe Index. It is a work in progress. You’ll find it on the home page on the left hand side under the bicycle picture.

Cheers and Buon anno a tutti, Francesca

https://almostitalian.wordpress.com/recipes/

 

A New Peanut Sauce for Gado Gado

I’ve been on the lookout for some time now for a more authentic Indonesian peanut sauce to crown a gado gado salad or sate sticks. I’ve tried many recipes from my various Indonesian cookbooks and most seem to miss the mark. Indonesian sate sauce differs from island to island and each Indonesian home cook may highlight a distinctive spice in their sauce. I’ve tasted some dark, thick sauces in Java and Sumatra which are quite different from their Balinese counterparts. The same goes with the classic gado gado vegetable salad, a dish which depends on an excellent peanut sauce. I’ve eaten some completely green gado gado salads in Ubud, Bali and some made from only kangkung  (water-spinach) in Sumatra, as well as the old-fashioned mixed steamed vegetable gado gado that I learnt around 35 years ago in my early visits to Bali, which includes hard-boiled eggs.

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Basic ingredients for a good peanut sauce

The following recipe comes from Janet de Neefe’s Bali, The Food of My Island Home. Janet runs a cooking school in Ubud, which I attended a few years ago, and also has three restaurants and a lovely guesthouse in Ubud. She has lived in Ubud for more than 30 years with her Balinese husband and family. Note that I often substitute brown sugar for palm sugar, a switch that makes very little difference to the outcome of the sauce. Balinese peanuts are always super fresh and freshly roasted: try to find a reliable source of freshly roasted nuts. Good Indonesian Krupuk Udung ( prawn crackers) are quite different from the ubiquitous supermarket variety. They are large and tastier and can be found in many Asian groceries.

Balinese Peanut Sauce
Balinese Peanut Sauce

Bumbu Kacang– Balinese Peanut Sauce

Ingredients

  • slice of shrimp paste/ Belachan/Terasi equivalent to 1/2 teaspoon
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 long thin red chilli, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 2 small red chillies, roughly chopped
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves, rolled into a bundle and finely shredded
  • 2- 3 tablespoons fried shallots ( optional)
  • 1 tablespoon grated palm sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Kecap Manis
  • 1/4 medium tomato
  • 150 gr peanuts, roasted
  • 3 + tablespoons water
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • sea salt
My gado gado- using vegetables mon hand
My gado gado- using vegetables on hand

Method.

Hold the piece of shrimp paste with tongs or pierce with a skewer and roast over a gas flame on both sides until the smell is strong.

Blitz the shrimp paste, garlic chillies, lime leaves, fried shallots, palm sugar, and kecap manis in a food processor until smooth. Add a splash of water to get the mixture moving. Add the tomato, peanuts, water, lime juice and salt to taste. ( For a sauce with deeper flavour, you can fry the garlic, chilli, untoasted shrimp paste and tomato in 2 tablespoons of neutral oil ( not Olive) until fragrant first)

Prepare your gado gado vegetables or sate. Pour over the peanut sauce and garnish with krupuk udang ( prawn crackers)

Krupuk Udang. Balinse Prawn crackers
Krupuk Udang. Balinese Prawn crackers

A simpler version of Peanut Sauce can be found here, the latter useful for camping.

Photo on header taken at Taman Sari in Pemuteran, Northern Bali, where they make an excellent Bumbu Kacang.