I love it when it rains somewhere in Asia. It’s hot and humid and the sudden downpours are refreshing. They don’t usually last too long. When it rains in Bangkok, I like to duck into my favourite Chinese -Thai dumpling shop and sip a cup of ginger and lemon tea while grappling with chop sticks over a bowl of slippery dumplings. By the time they are scoffed, the rain has passed.
This love of a good passing storm did not prepare me for the frequent downpours during our travels through Myanmar. I spent more time than usual meditating in golden pagodas due to heavy rain. On this occasion, we were tucked inside a restaurant in Bagan, watching the young lads outside having a ball.
And my favourite rain song? Ed Sheeran’s Make it Rain. I sing this song often during Australian summers. For Ailsa’s travel theme, rain, on Where’s My Backpack.
Yunnan province in China has the largest population of minorities with 25 different ethnic minorities, 16 of which are indigenous to that area. Wandering around the town of Dali, you will recognise many different ethnic groups largely by their dress, traditional customs, cultures and language. The town is a awash with colour and makes an exotic first stop after leaving the capital, Kunming.
Here a Shaxi woman arranges her peaches for sale on market day.
Mother’s day is something we reserve for the matriarch of our family, and so we will be celebrating the day with my 94-year-old mother. She doesn’t expect gifts but certainly looks forward to a visit and a good lunch. She recognises that her daughters and granddaughters are also mothers and so we toast each other on the day. The younger mothers in our tribe don’t give the day much thought, although sometimes random tokens of remembrance turn up. Gifts are not expected and never have been. I fondly recall the very peculiar little presents my children proudly gave me, after their father provided them with a few coins to buy something at the school mother’s day stall. The more memorable gifts were handcrafted items and cards, made under the guidance of a creative grade teacher.
Mother’s Day began in Australia in 1924, following the American institutionalising of the day in 1908. The commercialisation of the day sped up during the 1950s, and today it is a billion dollar industry in Australia. With a barrage of advertising brochures and catalogues infiltrating our household as the day draws near, an amusing pastime is to find the most annoying or stereotypical item proffered as a desirable gift for mother’s day. What about a new iron? And why aren’t irons offered as desirable gifts for men on the great iron- man day, Father’s Day? If someone turned up here with a gift wrapped iron, I might show them the door, or more kindly, send them into the spare room to deal with the despised and forlorn ironing pile.
If, however, someone asked me around for lunch and made this pasta dish, I would be more than pleased, especially if they opened a bottle of King Valley Sangiovese to go with it. I made it for myself and Mr T this week. Mother’s and Father’s Day is everyday here. The pasta, Reginette, means ‘little queens’, a most suitable choice for Mother’s Day. Reginette also goes by the name Mafaldine, named after the Princess Mafalda of Savoy, Italy. If you are entertaining a queen for the day, I can recommend this rich and economical option.
Reginette con Zucca, Cipolle, Gorgonzola e Salvia. Reginette with pumpkin, caramelised onions, Gorgonzola and sage.
Ingredients. For two big serves. Multiply as required.
200 gr Reginette ( or Mafaldine, a wide ruffled edged egg pasta )
One chunk of Kent Pumpkin, around 400 gr
4 -5 brown onions, finely sliced
a small piece of Gorgonzola Dolce
sage leaves, a generous handful
EV olive oil
Heat the oven to 180c FF. Cut the pumpkin into 3 cm chunks and bake for 20 minutes or so until just done but not mushy. Set aside.
Meanwhile, finely slice the onions, and caramelise them in a large deep-frying pan with olive oil and a little salt, until nicely coloured and reduced. This takes at least 20 minutes. Adjust the temperature as you go and stir about from time to time. Remove and set aside.
Fry the sage leaves in a little butter so they turn brown and crisp. Set aside.
Heat a large pot of salted water. When boiling, add the pasta and cook for 5 minutes or according to the information on the packet.
Drain the pasta, retaining a little of the cooking water in a cup. Add the cooked pasta to the frying pan ( the onion frying pan will have some luscious bits left at the base). Add some pumpkin pieces and onions. Decide how much you need to add here. Less onions perhaps. Stir about over high heat, adding a little pasta water to sauce the dish, and try to keep the pumpkin pieces intact. Finally crumble in some gorgonzola and add the crunchy sage leaves. Add black pepper to taste and serve the lot in a large preheated serving bowl.
As this dish is rich and sweet, serve it with bitter greens salad, simply dressed.
The light down the south coast of New Zealand is glorious in May. It is the best time to go for Autumn’s deep colours, nature’s majesty and that hypnotic chiaroscuro that precedes the depths of winter. The nights are chilly and the mornings frosty, then the days open up splendidly. A leisurely walk through Oamaru’s public gardens is one of the highlights of this wonderful town. It’s a place of reflection for some: for the energetic, it’s a place to run: for children and the young at heart, it’s a fairyland, with sculpted mushroom tables and chairs, hidden stone grottos, and mysterious dark places to explore. It is also a place to consider the foresight of Victorian planners, who, in 1858, set aside 34 acres as a public reserve. Oamaru Gardens opened on this site in 1876, making it one of the oldest in the country.
Some highlights of the gardens include the Japanese Red Bridge, the Oriental Garden, the Fragrant Garden and the large trees around the band rotunda. Details from the Victorian era can be seen everywhere – a sundial, croquet lawns, a wishing well, an aviary and a peacock house.
“Come on Friday night when we’ll have Spaghetti Puttanesca with added Pesce Spada,” cajoled Aldo, the waiter, host, and sometime cook of the old Abruzzo Club. Aldo ran that vast dining room floor like a master of ceremonies. He conned all the kids with tricks and riddles, charmed the coiffed Nonne with flirtatious compliments that only Italian men do so well, and had a ready risqué joke for the tables of older men. For us non Abbruzzese, he tantalised us with the promise of authentic Italian cuisine, future dishes, specials from the kitchen that weren’t yet listed on the menu. When Aldo and his son left the Abruzzo club, we never returned. The soul and life of that place left with them. Nothing would ever taste the same again. Good food is more than the sum of its ingredients.
When I came across a small slab of Swordfish at my favourite little market recently, I thought of Aldo and how he might make this dish. It’s a substantial pasta dish and requires a little more preparation than that required by a busy Puttana.
Aldo’s Spaghetti Puttanesca with Swordfish. For 2 greedy serves, 3 regular.
200 gr swordfish or pesce spada
200-220 gr spaghetti
a small bunch of oregano
a pinch of sea salt flakes
3 cloves garlic
EV olive oil, a goodly amount
1 can of tomatoes, drained of juice, large pieces roughly chopped.
a small handful of pitted black olives, halved
2 teaspoons of salted capers, soaked in water
finely chopped parsley
Make the marinade for the fish. Using a small mortar and pestle, add the garlic and salt and begin pounding, then add the oregano leaves, around 2 tablespoons, and continue pounding till a green paste is formed, then add around three tablespoons of olive oil.
Cut the swordfish through the centre, ie horizontally, to make two thinner pieces. ( most swordfish is usually sold in very thick slabs- by slicing horizontally, you should have two equal portions of around 1 cm in thickness). Chop these into small chunks of around 2 cm. Place in a small bowl and mix in half of the marinade. Leave for around 1/2 hour on bench.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil, salt well. Add the pasta and cook according to packet directions.
Meanwhile, heat a large frying pan to medium-high and add the remaining marinade to the pan. When hot, add the cubes of swordfish and toss around until just cooked. Don’t let the fish overcook as it tends to become quite tough.
Remove the fish and set aside. Add the chopped tomato pieces to the same pan, add a little juice to get the sauce moving but don’t flood it with juice as this dilutes the flavour of the other ingredients. Add the chopped olives and drained capers. Sir about until hot, then add the cooked fish. Add a little pasta water to loosen the sauce if necessary.
When the pasta is cooked just al dente, drain, then add to the sauce, tossing about to amalgamate the ingredients. This second cooking in the pan makes the spaghetti really hot and brings the all the elements together. Add the chopped parsley and serve in a preheated pasta serving dish.
The Abruzzo club, Lygon Street East, Brunswick is now called 377 On Lygon. The restaurant has had a makeover. If you’ve been there recently, let me know how it went.
It’s shopping day. Come along with me to the Brunswick Market, not many Melburnians know about it. The uninviting blue concrete facade gives no hint of the treasure hidden within. I’ll lead the way, just follow me down through the windowless cavern, past the Turkish Kebab place on the left ( try to resist their big bowl of red lentil soup or the eggy Shanklish ) and the Iraqi Barber on the right, the one favoured by Mr T for $15 haircuts. In the centre of the hall is an open sided cafe, whose owner set up about 18 months ago. She is now doing well. Her gozleme are as soft as fresh lasagne, stuffed with intense green spinach, and receives my ‘Best Gozleme in Melbourne’ award. We’ll grab one on the way out. She makes other savoury pastries, including potato and onion Borek and Simit, as well cakes filled with almond meal and nuts. There are many other specialty stalls here: a shoe shop and repair business run by a Greek man, a mobile phone fixit guy, run by a Chinese man, a clothing alteration store, a Turkish CD shop, just in case you fancy a bit of belly dancing on the way through, and a clothing store selling nazar boncuğu, those lucky blue eye amulets, hijabs, colourful scarves and outrageous silver embossed leggings.
Here we are at the food section. In the centre is a large Turkish deli, specialising in all sorts of yoghurt, brined cheeses, grains, pulses and condiments such as Pekmez and Biber Salçası. Further along is the Vietnamese fish shop. They also manage supplies for hotels and restaurants so you can order anything you fancy. The fish here is sparkling fresh and they know the source of all species on offer. Ask the lovely woman from Hanoi to shuck six Tasmanian oysters for you then devour them on the spot. Over from the Vietnamese fish shop is the Italian butcher, with his sign, Vendiamo Capretti ( we sell young goat). His pork sausages, full of fennel, chilli and spice, are the best in Melbourne according to my carnivore sons.
Until recently, there was a Halal butcher shop and a free range chicken shop but both have recently closed. A sign of things to come? Finally we get to Russell’s fruit shop, owned by Turks but staffed by Nepalese and Indians. It’s the busy end of the market where you can find the things that never turn up in supermarkets: knobbly yellow quinces, tables full of cheap pomegranates, ready to split and reveal their bijoux, piles of red peppers, shiny and irregularly shaped, curly cucumbers, every kind of bean- Roman, Snake, Borlotti, lime coloured Turkish snake peppers grown in Mildura, rows of eggplants, long, short, miniature and striped. It’s the antithesis of a modern supermarket.
Part of this walk involves chatting. While buying red lentils at the Turkish deli, I’ve nodded politely as two ladies gave me their different versions of the best way to make Mercimek Köftesi, orred lentil kofte. I once went halves in a kilo of filleted Western Australian sardines at the fish shop. An Egyptian woman told me in detail how she would cook her half. People love to talk about food here. You will also be recognised and remembered. And the hipsters of Brunswick? They mostly avoid the place. I wonder why?
Fresh fish stall, Brunswick Market.
My market friend.
Fresh fish at the Brunswick Market. Knowing the source. Ready to chat and clean to order.
Red Lentil Soup with Minted Eggplant is based on a recipe by Leanne Kitchen. The original recipe ( see below) makes a truck load. I halved the quantities and still had enough for 6 bowls. I also lessened the salt, added 2 tablespoons of Biber Salçası ( Justin Bieber in a jar) and kept the amount of garlic. The original is pale in colour. With the added Biber paste, the soup looks more vivid. Eggplants are now in season, and red lentils are one of my favourite budget foods. Eat well for less.
150 ml extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
625 g red lentils
2.5 litres chicken or light vegetable stock
60 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons salt
500 g eggplant ( about 1 large) cut into 1 cm pieces
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 teaspoons dried mint
2/½ teaspoons sweet paprika
3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped, to serve.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 6-7 minutes or until softened but not brown. Add the lentils and stock, then bring to a simmer, skimming the surface to remove any impurities. Add the Biber Salçası if using. Reduce heat to low, partially cover the pan, and simmer for 40-50 minutes. Add the lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Meanwhile sprinkle the salt over the chopped eggplant in a colander and set aside for 20 minutes. Rinse the eggplant, then drain and pat dry. Heat the remaining oil in a large, heavy based frying pan over medium high heat. Ass the eggplant and cook for 6 minutes turning often, until golden and tender. Ass the garlic and cook for 2 minutes then add the dried mint and paprika and cook for another minute or until fragrant.
To serve, divide the soup among the bowls and spoon over the eggplant mixture and scatter with the fresh mint.
Recipe by Leanne Kitchen. Turkey. Recipes and tales from the road. Murdoch Books Pty Ltd 2011.
Brunswick Market, 655 Sydney Road, Brunswick. Let’s hope this market survives as the sweep of gentrification and apartment wonderland takes over the inner city.
A cavalcade of cakes marched through my kitchen recently. Three of the children had their birthdays within days of each other. This called for three distinct cakes, each created with the child in mind. The test, when they arrived for the belated birthday party, was to see if each child would recognise their own cake. Fortunately, each one did. Noah immediately announced that the bundt cake with Malteasers on top was his. I guess it looked a bit more blokey than the other two. Charlotte avowed that the chocolate double- decker cake with raspberry M&Ms was hers, and Daisy sat right in front of the carrot cake dressed with buttercream icing and edible butterflies. Plain cakes hid underneath all the trimming as none of the kids enjoy rich cakes. The festive toppings provided cheap drama, with a few selected sweets and a packet of Dr Oetker’s edible paper butterflies, which taste just like communion hosts, prompting me to stick out my tongue to receive my magic butterfly, a gesture totally lost on the happily gathered.
Before dinner, each child lined up to have their height marked on the kitchen wall. This narrow wooden panel was commenced eight years ago. I would like to remove or cover the dated pine boards in my kitchen but it would necessitate the removal and relocation of this historic family document. Knowing me, nothing will happen. I’m grateful to have a big kitchen. First of all, the shoes come off, then the old wooden ruler is removed from a kitchen drawer. Serious concentration follows as the assembled witnesses cajole the child to stop cheating. Adults enjoy this activity too. Jake sets the benchmark at 195.58 cm, knocking off Adam at around 190.5 cm until Nick snuck onto the wall recently at around 193.04 cm. Daughters threaten to pass their mothers, cousins compete too often with their incremental markings, grandparents are teased about shrinking. No one can get anywhere near the fridge or kitchen while this important ritual is taking place.
One of the birthday cakes was made in this heavy metal Bundt ring tin made by Kaiser. I fancy old heavy cookware designed to last forever. This one turned up in a second-hand store for $2.99. Love at first sight.
The great outdoors continues to provide an array of produce for my kitchen. Olives are having a very good year in Victoria this year. My own trees have finally come good after five or so years. When I drive around the suburbs of Melbourne, I often see olive trees laden with olives and hope that someone will pick and preserve them.
A walk down the long driveway to the old pine trees revealed a small flush of Saffron Milk Caps, commonly called pine tree mushrooms, which will inspire tonight’s forager’s feast. Now to take a walk to the back of our property to find more hidden treasure. They are often found submerged in a mulch of pine straw: their saffron coloured heads push through as they grow larger. Tread carefully in mushroom season.
While picking the mushrooms, my inquisitive friends, the Dexters, had a few words to say. Auntie Derry is my favourite. A little bit bossy, too Irish and short, just like me. I don’t want my pets to end up in somebody else’s kitchen, but sadly some might. To be truthful, we are overstocked.
The Basil Genovese hangs on, but will keel over with the first frost. An old-fashioned pesto, made with a mortar and pestle, dressed a few dishes this week. It tastes so vibrant.
When it comes to food, my IMK posts tend to focus on garden produce. My vegetable garden inspires my cooking, its produce is central to the kitchen. As the years go by, I find that I am buying less and less, thanks to consistent composting, manure from my Dexters and the establishment of a unique micro climate in my veggie patch. At last I am home again. It has taken a while.
This month, Sherry from Sherry’s Pickings is taking over the hosting of this monthly series. Good luck Sherry. This is a great little series, with very few ‘rules’ as such. Basically you write a kitchen focused post each month and link it to the host’s page. It is a very pleasant writing and photographic exercise and I recommend it to all bloggers old and new. For me, it’s a way of journaling life in my kitchen.
We often keep a book in the side pocket of the car door. The book is chosen for its suitability for long road trips. It could be a novel with self-contained, non sequential chapters but more often it’s a travel diary or humourous journal, a book that can resumed at any chapter when we’re in the mood. Mr Tranquillo drives while I read a chapter or two aloud to break up the journey. One book that amused us for years was ‘Everything but the Squeal: a year of pigging out in Northern Spain,’ by John Barlow. The author/ narrator travels through Galicia, Spain, while trying to eat every part of the pig. It’s a journey with entertaining diversions and detours, where the quest for eating various parts of the pig often segues into insanely funny anecdotes, amusing passages on foreign language usage and grammar, historic and literary references, vivid descriptions of the Galician people, its villages and festivals, as well as an occasional recipe based on pork. The ingredients ( all pork unless stated) of Galicia’s famous Lalín Cocido ( pork stew) are listed:
After 11 months or by page 270, the author lists all the parts he has consumed, and then ponders those bits not yet eaten, including the pig’s unmentionables:
” Male pigs are generally very well endowed, with penises up to eighteen inches in length, which, relative to body size, makes those pork swords among the most impressive in the animal kingdom. In Galicia’s distant past, the pig’s penis used to be stretch-dried and used as a donkey whip. There’s no longer much call for donkey whips. Carlos, our organic butcher, says there’s no call for pig testicles either. No one eats them. And with an eighteen incher, a substantial set of testicles would probably come as standard, so that’s a goodly plate of meat going to waste.”
I’m returning this book to the car door pocket. It will need a future trip up the Hume Highway to find out if John ticked off those parts of the pig. In the meantime, as a ‘mostly’ vegetarian, let me introduce you to eating more parts of the humble radish. After a recent thinning of radishes from the garden, I recalled that the tops of radishes taste very similar to cima di rape or turnip tops ( grelos in Spanish). Radishes grow quickly in most seasons and with continuous sowing, are always plentiful in my garden. As cold salad season has passed by, I’ve just started using radishes and their tops in roasts and stir fries.
Roast radishes with stir fried radish tops
a generous bunch of radishes and their tops, preferably just picked.
EV Olive oil
anchovy fillets ( optional)
Heat the oven to 180 c.
Clean the radishes and their tops thoroughly, then separate the leaves and roots, discarding any yellowing or damaged leaves. Cut the radishes in half. Add to roasting tin along with some olive oil. Roast for around 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, chop the garlic and anchovies ( if using). Add some olive oil to a small wok or frying pan, then add the garlic and anchovies, breaking up the anchovies with the back of a spoon. Stir fry quickly then add the radish tops and stir fry until they are wilted. A large bunch of greens will reduce to a small amount. Add ground pepper. Add some salt only if you haven’t added the anchovies. Plate nicely and enjoy as a starter or side dish.
This post was going to be called Eats, Roots, and Leaves after that well known Australian joke.
Roots in Italian are radici while radishes are ravanelli.
I have eaten some great vegetarian food in Santiago de Compostella, Galicia, that beautiful, wet and Celtic area of Spain which serves up more than just pig.
Everything but the Squeal: a year of pigging out in Northern Spain. John Barlow, Wakefield Press, 2009.
Melbourne’s secret lanes, inner suburban streets, Victorian historic precincts and 19th century abandoned factories and warehouses have turned from grunge to gentry. Colourful street art provides a changing landscape; painted facades give life to the severe modern apartment blocks tucked behind. Good graffiti is embraced. Railway bike paths open up a whole new world to the backstreet artist and walker.
The best way to enjoy Melbourne is to wander. The tram network services all inner suburban areas. Leave the car at home, take the tram then stroll. These images were taken recently along Rose Street, Fitzroy, close to the city. Catch the tram along Nicholson street and disembark at Rose Street. Start walking, and do not get distracted at the Brunswick Street intersection.
The following collage can be viewed as a media file. Open one picture below and the journey down Rose street will follow.
Australians and New Zealanders will be celebrating ANZAC Day today, a national holiday which commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in wars and conflicts, with a particular focus on the landing of the ANZACs at Gallipoli, Turkey on April 25 1915. Coincidentally, April 25 is also significant in the Italian calendar as it marks theFesta Della Liberazione (Liberation Day), also known as Anniversario della Resistenza (Anniversary of the Resistance), an Italian national holiday. Italian Liberation Day commemorates the end of the Italian Civil War, the partisans who fought in the Resistance, and the end of Nazi occupation of the country during WW2. In most Italian cities, the day will include marches and parades. Most of the Partisans and Italian veterans of WW2 are now deceased: very few Italians would have first hand memories of that era.
One of the more accessible documents from the partigiani era of the 1940s is the well-known song,Bella Ciao, which has been adopted by resistance movements throughout the world since then. The original Partisan version is included here. Open this clip: you can find the lyrics in English and Italian at the end of this post.
Many Italian versions, including this modern rendition by the Modena City Ramblers, have appeared over the years, while international adaptations include punk, psychedelic and folk versions in many languages. A Kurdish version was revived after an ISIS attack in 2014, and the Anarchist movement has also appropriated the song. Popular folk songs are often derivative and evolutionary: the history of BellaCiao makes a fascinating study in itself. There are two threads to follow here. The original version of this song dates back to the 1850s: the first written version appeared in 1906 which was sung by women workers in the risaie, or rice paddies of Northern Italy. The lyrics concern the harsh working conditions of the Mondine. The fascinating rice workers version can be heard here, sung by Giovanna Daffini, recorded in 1962.¹
”The Mondine or Mondariso were female seasonal workers employed in Northern Italy’s rice fields, especially in Lombardia, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna and Veneto. Their task was to remove weeds that could stunt the growth of rice plants. Working conditions were extremely hard, as the job was carried out by spending the whole day bent over, often bare-foot, with legs immersed in water; malaria was not uncommon, as mosquitoes were widespread. Moreover shifts were long and women were paid significantly less than men. For these reasons since early in the 20th century, mondine started to organise themselves to fight for some basic rights, in particular to limit shifts to 8 hours a day.’
The other thread concerns the euphony of the song itself. The much older women’s version, a slower folkloric piece, reflects the plight of the women rice field weeders in their struggle for better working conditions. The 1940s partisan version became more masculine and heroic, despite the sombre sentiments expressed in the lyrics. Most of the modern versions sound Russian, revolutionary, or defiant. Slower versions suggest Yiddish as well as gypsy roots, which may indicate the melodic path of this song during the 19th century. I’ve selected two more versions which reflect these latter impressions. They can be heard here and here.
The partigiani make fitting heroes for Liberation Day: no one would deny that their struggle was courageous and honourable. However, one might question the level of mytholgising when it comes to patriotic days such as Liberation Day. The day was initiated by Alcide De Gasperi, the Prime Minister of Italy between 1945 to 1953. It could be seen as a very astute political move to create a national holiday centred around liberation.² It signified a break with Italy’s fascist past, an era spanning 25 years, as well as assisting the new Italian government establish a stable democracy.
Parallels may be drawn between the idealisation of the ItalianPartisans and the Australian and New Zealand soldiers of World War 1. The stories and the images of those struggles are often used to boost a sense of national identity and patriotism in both countries.
See also my previous posts on April 25, Anzac Day.
¹ Giovanna Daffini (22 April 1914 – 7 July 1969) was an Italian singer associated with the Nuovo Canzoniere Italiano movement. Born in the province of Mantua, she started associating with travelling musicians from an early age. During the rice-growing season she worked in the rice-growing districts of Novara and Vercelli where she learnt the folk-songs that afterwards made her famous. In 1962 she recorded the song “Alla mattina appena alzata”, a version of Bella Ciao, for the musicologists Gianni Bosio and Roberto Leydi.