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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Tradition and Change. Rewriting Christmas.

I once owned many histories of Renaissance and Medieval Europe. Most of them mentioned the words Tradition and Change somewhere within the text, if not in the title itself. That period, perhaps more than any other in history, encapsulates this historical concept so well. Things don’t change suddenly. Old ways continue side by side with the new, traditions and beliefs endure, long past their relevance to the society practising them. A clashing of paradigms might take a century to resolve, only to be followed by a reactionary movement, another turn of the wheel, bringing about upheaval and further revisions to practice and belief, whilst simultaneously drawing legitimacy and cultural validity from older traditions. History is usually written and re- written from the perspective of the current paradigm: facts alone stand for very little.

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Daisy adding nutmeg to the pudding.

Now what’s all this got to do with Christmas in Australia, I hear you ask? Some traditions keep dragging on, despite their increasing irrelevance to a largely non- Christian society. Most Australians recognise, and are comfortable with this basic fact, embracing Christmas as a secular holiday. Or many see it as marking the beginning of summer and a long holiday for families. But before being let off the hook, before descending on beaches and rivers to play in the sun, certain archaic traditions must be followed. Shopping takes precedence over all others, with a slowish start in early December, building up to an insane frenzy as the weeks march by, as glossy supermarket magazines extol the virtues of catering for a family, with visions of excess, not unlike those Renaissance feasts of old. Catering for large numbers is not something that comes naturally to most, so Curtis or Jamie or Nigella can show the fashionable way. They make it look so easy.

I’ve observed mothers going slowly mad with stress, bent on purchasing more and more each year for their children. Bucket loads of plastic crap, or designer labelled clothing, or the latest gizmo, or a better version of something that they already own, helps to create yet more landfill for future generations to deal with. The consumer obsessed are still shopping at 11pm on Christmas Eve, still hunting for the unattainable. It’s the season of sadomasochism, as those indulging in these pastimes gloat about their pain, yet are unable to disengage.

Stores ship in mountains of wooden tasting prawns from the frozen bowels of somewhere, grown especially large for the holy day/holiday occasion, costing twice as much and tasting unlike a prawn should. Prawns on steroids, no brine from the sea or sweetness of flesh. Decapitated legs sawn from Alaskan crabs now grace the window displays of our supermarkets. What happened to their bodies? Slabs of smoked salmon unfreeze before greedy shoppers’ eyes, cheap manufactured mince tarts and puddings appear two months before Christmas, only to be replaced by Hot Cross Buns in the New Year. Easter is similarly meaningless and just around the corner. Here are the large bright cherries, gassed up to artificial ripeness, yet more cheeses, more Pavlova, more hams and prosciutto, pigs, baby goats, lambs, chickens and ducks, and especially that Imposter, the Turkey, followed by more and more mountains of food, in search of new tastes and more waste.

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Lisa’s Cardamom Shortbread, Tradition and Change in one spicy mouthful.

I  pulled the plug on excess this year. Gifts were still purchased, and a few lists were made. Simple little biscotti studded our pre- Christmas gatherings, as well as Lisa’s cardamom shortbread.  A large Christmas cake, made early in December, was given to my mother, the keeper of our old English/Irish traditions: she has more use for it than I do . A last-minute pudding was made for my daughter, who catered for her in-laws this year. I tasted some of the left over pudding: it wasn’t like my mother’s, it didn’t have the taste of tradition, that secret ingredient, nor the advantage of slow aging in a cloth. The children rejected it: it didn’t contain any silver coins. My mother keeps old sterling coins and generously studs hers at the last-minute before serving, a tradition she has kept but one that I am happy to see die with the next generation.

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A large Christmas Cake can last for 6 months. Foolproof recipe in link above.

The leftover coin-less pudding has been returned to my house, like a Christmas boomerang, reminding me that some traditions can’t change that quickly. Now it’s time to convert that fruity brandied reminder of times past into something that might be pulled out once again, renewed and reinterpreted, into something that is more suitable to our summer climate.

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Under a shady tree on a hot December day. Freshly picked peaches, furry and sweet, the juice running all over my clothes, and a glass of chilled Prosecco.

The following  recipe is the traditional Australian way to deal with that left over Christmas pudding.

  • 1 litre tub vanilla ice cream, slightly softened.
  • 200 g left over Christmas pudding.
  •  Amaretto to serve

    Whizz the ice cream in a food processor until smooth, fold in the  crumbled Christmas pudding and scrape into a freezer-proof container. Freeze for at least 2 hrs, or stash for longer. Scoop into bowls and top with amaretto.

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    Kids, fresh picked berries, and swimming during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

    My favourite Christmas read this year comes from Roger at Food Photography and France.

  •  https://stowell.wordpress.com/2016/12/02/what-i-really-really-want/

Postscript. After microwaving my plum pudding and serving with some brandy cream, I have to say it tasted dam good, so it will not be put into ice-cream after all, but stashed well in the freezer for a winter treat.

Simple Seafood Paella

Paella is an uncomplicated and quick dish to prepare at home, once you get to know the basic ingredients and keep a few of these on hand. When a bag of mussels and a handful of fresh green prawns saunters my way, I now turn to Paella. It’s easier than risotto, with no stirring involved, and can be made on a regular gas stove.

The basics for Paella
The basics for Paella.

In the pantry you will need these standbys:

  • a small container of commercial pre-made fish stock, or home-made frozen stock or one vegetable stock cube
  • some good quality Spanish smoked pimenton ( paprika )
  • Calasparra rice- no other rice will do for this dish
  • saffron strands

Some other desirable ingredients for a seafood paella for two people are:

  • some left over calamari wings, stashed in the freezer*
  • some green prawns, three large or 6 small per person
  • mussels, around 6 per person
  • one green or red capsicum, sliced
  • one finely sliced onion
  • one finely chopped garlic
  • good olive oil
  • parsley

You don’t need a special paella pan for a no fuss paella for two people. I use a heavy based frying 20-25 cm frying pan with a glass lid. My other paella pans come out and are used for bigger gatherings. Just double or triple the quantities for your larger pans and seek out an even and very large heat source.

Pictorial recipe instructions follow.

Fry the onion, garlic and red capsicum in two tablepoons olive oil.
Gently fry the onion, garlic and red capsicum in two tablespoons olive oil for around 5 minutes or until softened but not coloured.
after the onions have softened but not browned, add the rice and stir about until opaque
Add one cup of Calasparra rice and stir about until opaque
Grind one generous pinch od saffrom with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt in a mortar and pestle and add to the pan.
Grind one generous pinch of saffron with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt in a mortar and pestle and add to the pan. Add a little water to the mortar and add remaining saffron water to the pan.
Add the sliced strips of calamari wing and smoked pimento to the pan along with 2 1/2cups of stock.
Add the sliced strips of calamari wing and 1-2 teaspoons of smoked pimento ( I like mine smoky) to the pan along with 2.5 cups of stock. Commercial fish stock packets usually contain two cups. Add extra water if needed, or use a stock cube. Cover the pan with a suitably fitting glass lid and cook on low to medium heat for 15- 20 minutes. Relax.
after 20 minutes, add the mussels to the pan, and cover.
When the rice has swelled and most of the liquid has been absorbed, add the mussels to the pan, and cover. After another five minutes, add the prawns and cover until cooked. Check that liquid has been absorbed and the dish should now be ready to serve.
Serve in the pan, with finely chopped parsley
Serve in the pan, with finely chopped parsley
The bottom will have formed a slightly golden crust. The soccarat is the best bit.
The bottom will have formed a slightly golden crust. The soccarat is the best bit.
More than enough for two, with some leftovers for breakfast or lunch.
More than enough for two, with some leftovers for breakfast or lunch.
The big fellas used for larger crowds. Not so suitable for stove top cooking.
The big fellas, used for larger crowds are not so suitable for stove top cooking

After preparing fresh calamari for another meal, stash the wings in the freezer for occasions like this. They defrost very quickly and add depth of flavour to the rice as it cooks. I have also used a small fillet of Dory in the same way.  I learnt this trick from Sandra at Please Pass the Recipe and the habit has stuck.

Capellini Pasta with School Prawns

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Fast food in Summer

It’s hard to become bored with pasta, given all the wonderful shapes, names and colours available. Walking down the long pasta aisles of that famous Italian grocery shop in Melbourne is a step straight back into the supermarkets or alimentari of Lucca, Siena or Roma. Even my Italian visitors are impressed. Reading all the names on offer- little beards, little worms, bridegrooms, ribbons and shoestrings, priest stranglers, corkscrews, smooth or lined pens, partridge’s eyes and melon seeds, just to name a few- excites my culinary imagination and sends my mind into a spin. Capellini ( thin hair) pasta is very fine, though not cut as finely as Angel’s Hair, and is the perfect carrier for light dressings or gentle sauces such as seafood. It is sold in packets of nidi or nests which usually cook in around 3 minutes. Fast food never tasted so good.

Some of the main ingredients
Some of the usual suspects

Capellini con Gamberini, Pomodorini e Basilico- Capellini Pasta with school prawns, cherry tomatoes and basil.

Note: there are no numbers or weights given. Choose the quantities that go with your needs. I usually serve 100 g of pasta per person for a main meal dish, but serve less of the finer cut pasta, letting the ingredients have more limelight. Everything in this dish is kept small, denoted by the suffix ‘ini’ after all those nouns in the title, to go with the thin pasta.

  • Capellini Pasta
  • vine ripened cherry or baby Roma tomatoes, halved
  • garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • chilli flakes
  • EV olive oil
  • a few handfuls of local school prawns, cooked and peeled
  • tiny basil leaves, Globe or Greek
  • salt, pepper.

Boil a large pot of water for the pasta and add ample salt. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, add the olive oil ( don’t be mean as the oil is part of the sauce) and heat, then add lots of finely chopped garlic and the chilli flakes to taste. Toss around for 1 minute, then add the halved cherry tomatoes until the split. Take off the heat.

Cook the pasta nests for the required amount of time then drain.

Return the frying pan to the heat, add the prawns to the garlic oil, toss about on a high heat, then add the drained pasta, the basil leaves and season. Amalgamate while heating through. Serve in warmed large bowls, with some good oil on the table.

School prawns are usually sold in Australia pre-cooked. They come from trawlers at Lakes Entrance, Victoria and are the sweetest prawns available, despite the amount of peeling to be done.

I have set myself a challenge this week: to complete all my semi- drafted recipes and half written posts.There are usually about 10 or more in the queue and most just fall by the wayside. Mr Tranquillo calls me the post pumper! It won’t last.

Easy Christmas Thai Prawn Salad

The only year I missed Christmas at home was in 1985, when we spent the day in Koh Samui in Thailand, eating crab curry, with the sound of waves gently lapping in the background. Bliss. So it’s only fitting that a Thai seafood dish pops onto my Christmas menu. I have been making this seafood salad for Christmas for around 15 years now. I gleaned the recipe from my well-thumbed copy of Stephanie Alexander’s The Cooks Companion. It has lovely summer flavours and can be made a few hours ahead. The first time I made it, my sister-in-law drank the juice from the bowl, so the saucing is obviously the best part of the dish and I sometimes make extra, with Joanne in mind. The original recipe by Stephanie calls for 6 small calamari. Given that it’s almost impossible to source fresh calamari at Christmas time in Melbourne, especially small ones, I have substituted prawns and I can happily say, it’s still a great dish.

Thai Prawn Salad
Thai Prawn Salad

The quantity may be doubled or doubled again depending on your Christmas crowd. The recipe below made for a substantial lunch dish for two. If serving alongside other seafood, the amount below would be suitable for four. I am planning to quadruple the amount for the big day ahead, but will keep an eye on the balance of ingredeints as I go.

Cook the prawns until just done.
Cook the prawns until just done.

Thai Prawn Salad.

350 gr medium-sized green prawns

1 granny smith apple unpeeled (or any tart apple)

2 brown or purple shallots

1 tablespoon fresh coriander leaves

1 tablespoon fresh torn mint leaves

1 tablespoon fresh torn Thai basil leaves

3 tablespoons chopped peanuts.

Dressing

2 fresh chillies, seeded and finely sliced

1 tablespoon palm sugar (soft brown sugar may be substituted)

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon fresh lime or lemon juice. ( lime is better)

Method

Make the dressing by mixing the ingredients together in a jug.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the prawns and cook for a couple of minutes or until nicely pink. Shell and devein the prawns. (you can do this before or after cooking. I prefer to cook them with the shell on) Halve the prawns vertically. Reserve.

Core the apple but don’t peel it. Julienne into fine sticks. Finely slice the shallots.

In a serving bowl, mix the apple, prawns, shallots, and herbs. Pour on the dressing and gently toss. Add peanuts to finished dish.

If making this dish ahead of time, leave out the herbs and peanuts until ready to serve. Dress the salad of prawns, apple and shallots, cover well, then refrigerate. Bring out around 15 minutes before serving time to take the chill off the dish, and add the torn herbs, toss and then the peanuts. Of course the peanuts are optional- purchased fried shallots would also add some final crunch.

Thai prawn salad.
Thai prawn salad.

 

Serve with a French Rosé wine. Salute!

Adapted from The Cook’s Companion, Stephanie Alexander, 1996 edition, page 689.

 

In My Kitchen, a Very Fishy Post. November 15

There have been lots of fishy things happening in my kitchen this month, or should I say, in cabin kitchens along the East Coast of Victoria and New South Wales. I love the challenge of cabin kitchens: they are all so idiosyncratic and designed for the user of microwaves or non cooks. Challenges include how to drain pasta without a colander, chopping on thin plastic boards that have warped into canoes, looking for a non-existent grater and salad bowl and dealing with an oven that doesn’t cook.  But I’m jumping ahead.

Let me introduce you to the first kitchen I popped into on my coastal road trip. I met up with Maree, from Around the Mulberry Tree, in her kitchen in Trafalgar. She was having a garden open day and I just happened to be passing by. Her garden was looking magnificent with its well designed chook house and wicking beds, but I was keen to see the progress on her kitchen renovation and her ‘toy oven’, in which she makes beautiful sourdough loaves! I can report that it is all true, and it just goes to show that with a bit of imagination, a good loaf can be made in a tiny little pie warmer of an oven! Neither of us are too keen on having our photos on our posts: I think this one sums it all up.

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In Maree’s kitchen, the blues sisters.

The first night in our Lake Tyers kitchen we feasted on a seafood paella or Paella de Marisco. The seafood co-op at Lakes Entrance provided the goodies for this- fresh squid, prawns ( from South Australia) and a few scallops. I used the prawn heads and shells to make a quick prawn bisque for the stock. I love the first stage of making paella when the smoky pimenton is added to the stock. bbb

Travelling with me always are these ingredients, as well as a good pan with fitting lid, a decent knife, a pasta pot, and fresh herbs and spices from home.

Caasp-arra rc,,,
, Calasparra rice, saffron and smoky pimento – the key items for a good paella.

The kitchen in Lake Tyers was pretty good as far as cabin kitchens go except for the dodgy oven which only worked on the grill function. This was the setting for our scallop feast.

1-2015-10-25 19.51.13_resizedThe kids were happy to eat their way through piles of flathead tails, also readily available from the local seafood co-op.  A large bag of panko crumbs from Costco and eggs from home are also part of my travelling kit.

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Flathead tails, with panko crumbs. Hands up who wants more!

Eden was the next stop for seafood along this route, with blue mussels available near the jetty and a local smokehouse. Kyle bought a bag of smoked mussels: I like his cooking style. Pour the smoked mussels out of the bag and into a bowl, and compete to see who gets to eat the most. No photo for this treat as they disappeared in a flash.

The lakes of Pambula provided the next briny piatto del giorno. Two dozen oysters, freshly shucked, only required a picnic table, a lemon, and a loaf of ciabatta. Needing lemons?  Head to the country op-shops for cheap home-grown bags full.

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Sydney Rock oysters from Pambula Lakes.

Heading back down south, and passing my favourite Co-op again, these pretty creatures were available for $13.50 a kilo. Packed on ice, they are now in my home kitchen and will give us at least three more meals. Calamari and squid are the most sustainable seafood species you can find in Australia.

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shiny calamari ready to be cleaned.
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calamari, stir fried chard, garlic, chill, kecap manis, lemon, sesame oil.

Thanks Celia once again for hosting this marvellous monthly series. You may find more like-minded souls at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, Living well in the Urban Village.

Lake Tyers Dreaming and Fish Frenzy Recipes.

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The waves pound the coastline, often breaking like thunder, along the Ninety Mile Beach in Eastern Victoria . It’s a rugged and isolated stretch with few settlements along the way. Lake Tyers is one of those magic spots, a small town facing the gentle lakes which protect it via a sand spit, from the wild seas of Bass Straight. The town consists of beach houses, a few camping grounds, one milk bar/general store and delightful pub set right on the lake,the Waterwheel Tavern.Image

It’s the place I choose to visit out of season, usually in early December, and sometimes in winter, away from shopping malls, job lists and the internet, which is generally unreliable. We are here to ponder the view, read, walk and eat fish.Image

On clear nights, the horizon sparkles with fishing boats and trawlers, night’s glittering promise of tomorrow’s fresh fish. The catch is landed at Lakes Entrance, a major commercial fishing port which is a short 10 km drive away. Two outlets stock local fish and a few imports from interstate. The Fishermens Own Omega 3 fish shop. (which is basically the fish Co-Op ) and Ferry Seafoods, which is a little fish shop underneath a restaurant of the same name. It’s a fishy surprise each day!ImageImage

On rough nights I ponder the lives of these commercial fishermen who love and respect the sea and I think of my ancestors who earned their living fishing off the coast in the nearby town of Port Albert, many of whom met ‘their watery graves’.Image

The fish feast began on the first evening with a half kilo of freshly caught wild school prawns. To this we added bread and butter,lemon, and beer. A fitting start to the holiday!Image

The following day the ‘fishermens’ own shop’ had some beautiful slippery grey mauve calamari, a steal at $13.95  a kilo. We dusted them with flour, gave them a quick minute fry, then dressed them with chilli flakes, salt, spring onions and lemon. Say no more!Image

On the third day, the wonderful folk at the same shop had filleted a ton of school sand whiting. I would not normally buy these little fellas as they are so boney, but when filleted, bring them on! I bought a huge pile for $9.00- so delicate and transparent and silvery. These were popped into a Thai green curry, loaded with ginger, garlic, chilli, red onion, kaffir lime leaves, basil, lime juice, fish sauce and coconut milk. I added a few beans and zucchini, to avoid growing fins! The fish were stirred through at the end and cooked in a minute.

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The Fish gods were still smiling on us. On the fourth day some wild caught scallops turned up for a song. In the evening, these little gems were stirred through a simple spaghetti dish with lots of garlic, extra virgin olive oil,basil and a hint of chilli. The halved scallops cooked in the heat of the pasta.ImageImage

Accommodation is available in camping grounds or in apartments and beach houses. These are usually cheaper out of season, which is anytime outside of the Christmas holidays and Easter.

This post is dedicated to my sister Kerrie, who has inherited the same fish gene from Port Albert, and to Bruce, who is always so good natured.