In My Kitchen, March 2017

In my kitchen, I am surrounded by summer’s bounty, despite the seasonal peculiarities. The tomato crop has been ordinary: most people who live in, or near, Melbourne are complaining. There will be no passata making day for us in 2017. The zucchini and cucumbers have also been slow, but are now getting a new life with a dry, warm autumn. I am quite happy with the trade-off, with abundant plum, blackberry and fig crops this year, the seasonal surprises in my kitchen.

First bowl of blackberries. They are flushing every week.
First bowl of blackberries. A flush every week.
Today's garden pick
Today’s garden pick . Some will go on top of a pizza.
Pizza 5 Tesori
Pizza Cinque Tesori

Today’s ‘Five Treasure Pizza’ includes yellow pear tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, grilled baby zucchini, finely sliced red onion, and a handful of shrimp, scattered with tiny Greek basil leaves. This week’s dough was based on a mix of doppio zero white flour ( tipo ’00’) and a small proportion ( 50 g) of wholemeal spelt to give the dough a little more body. I like yeasted pizza more than sourdough, with long rises in the fridge, ( up to three days) making it even better.

bread-lot

I am trying to vary my bread flavours and methods, and have been inspired by Maree’s new facebook group, dedicated to Sourdough making. The sourdough loaves above were loosely based on a recipe from the Bourke Street Bakery Cookbook, and includes 60% wholemeal spelt. I like these nutty loaves, especially with soft blue cheese or zucchini pickle. The loaves below are my “Stand By Your Fam” high hydration loaves courtesy of Celia. I can now make these everyday loaves on autopilot, made in the evening, put to sleep for 8 hours or more, then shaped into loaves in the morning. These are favoured by the man and the extended family, with 75% baker’s white and 25% wholemeal.

Stand by your fam sourdough loaves.
Stand by your fam sourdough loaves.

A quick summer dish, spaghetti al nero di seppia, (squid ink spaghetti), is topped with a good commercial mix of seafood marinara, cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and torn basil. The black pasta by Molisana is surprisingly good. Thanks Signorina at Napoli Restaurant Alert for reminding me about this pasta last month.

A quick Spagetti marinara
A quick Spaghetti marinara

I made these preserved lemons back in December. They have provided a lemon boost to many a dish this summer, especially given that lemons have been scarce, in contrast to limes which are now common place.

Preserved lemons, bridging the lemon gap.
Preserved lemons, bridging the lemon gap.

Oh no, there’s a chook in my kitchen, again! Mischa has been carting a red chook into my kitchen since she was 5 years old. At the old house, she used to sit on a garden swing with Hermione and put the chook to sleep. The red chook is always called Hermione, even though we don’t usually name our hens, and there have been at least six generations of ‘Hermiones’ since that first one. The conversation usually goes like this.

“Please take that chook out of the kitchen, Mischa.”

“But it’s Hermione”, said in a child- like voice, even though Mischa is now almost 20!

That’s what I like about my kitchen, the mad stuff. The other rooms of the house are dull and lifeless, sedentary rooms dedicated to kitchen recovery.

Mischa and Hermione.
Mischa and Hermione no. 7

Thanks Liz at Good Things, for hosting this monthly roundup. If you have ever thought about blogging, the monthly IMK is a good place to start. Most of my bread inspiration and support has come from friends found in this forum.

In My Kitchen, February 2017

Strangely enough, February is the busiest month of the year in my kitchen. It’s also the hottest month in Melbourne, although this year we have been spared ( touch wood) those soaring temperatures of over 40ºC. The kitchen frenzy comes with the flushing of major annual crops such as zucchini, tomato, cucumber, chilli and now plums. It’s a bumper year for plums. I have another 5 kilo waiting for me in the fridge. Our annual beach camp is interspersed with busy times back at home preserving and freezing crops for the cooler months, as well as watering the garden and clearing away the fire hazardous leaves and fallen branches. The Sagra delle Prugne is around the corner.

Vietnamese tomato and dill soup with fish.
Vietnamese tomato and dill soup with fish.

Meanwhile, we eat simply and cheaply. When not eating zucchini fritters or Moulin Rouge Tomato Soup, I turn to Vietnam for inspiration. Cá nấu cà chua, fish, tomato and dill soup, is perfect for a hot day. I found this recipe last year while in Saigon and now that summer has arrived, I am delighted to make it with my own produce. The fish market at Preston provided the economical red snapper for this dish. Light and sustaining, it tastes like a wet version of cha ca la vong.

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Chopsticks and Vietnamese fish, tomato and dill soup. Summer time in Melbourne.

While at the market, I purchased a big pile of local Southern Squid for $5 a kilo. Yes, there’s an hour’s work gutting and preparing these for the freezer but my little ones love fried squid after a swim in the pool. The best day to buy squid is on the day the market opens for the week. In the case of our nearest fish market, that’s Wednesday morning. Squid needs to be super fresh to compete with is pricey relative, the calamari. How can you tell squid from calamari? Australian southern squid, the most sustainable seafood in Australia, has an arrow shaped tail, whereas the calamari has side wings.

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Hello Southern Squid. Five fresh squid for $7. Now to prepare them for the freezer. More summer jobs.
Arrow head on a Southern squid. I usually discard this bit. Not so the wings of a calamari.
Arrow head on a Southern Squid. I usually discard this bit. Not so the wings of a calamari.

At the same fish monger, I bought some fresh river shrimp from the Clarence river in NSW. These are tiny and eaten whole. They make an excellent beer snack with a little lime aoili. A tempura batter, made with iced water, baking powder and cornflour, protects them as they fry. A pre-prepared salt of interest is also a good accompaniment. I used Herbes De Provence with salt, a batch I made before Christmas. I love special salts and am about to make a celery seed salt and one from our chilli flush. These salts make cheating easy.

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Shrimp tempura with lime aioli and a provincial salt.

To mop up the big soups and fried things, one needs a large cloth napkin. These lovely cotton towels, seconds, turned up in a linen shop in Brunswick for $2 a set. I bought them all. They soften and improve with washing.

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Japanese tea towels turned into napkins

Last week I celebrated the summer zucchini plague on Almost Italian. This zucchini slice is handy and well known. I added almond meal to the mix for a lighter version. It comes with grated carrot, zucchini, chopped capsicum and herbs.

Succhini slice, enhanced with extras.
Zucchini slice, enhanced with extras.

This hungry lad has finally learnt to make a good tuna pasta in my kitchen. It is an easy dish for a 12 year old to learn. Practice makes perfect Noah.

Kids in the kitchen
Kids in the kitchen

And what would be an IMK post without my little Cheffa, Daisy, who always drags her stool to the bench to help with anything I am making.

hungry days by the pool.
hungry days by the pool.

Good food does come at a price around here, not so much in monetary terms but certainly in labour. Thank you kindly Liz, at Good Things, for your gracious hosting of this monthly link up.

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.

Soupe au Pistou in Languedoc- Roussillon, France

A window in the village of St Michelle D'Euzet, Languedoc
A window in the village of St Michel D’Euzet, Languedoc

It was a hot September, more than 30 years ago, in that little village in Languedoc- Roussillon in southern France, where I first made this soup. We had rented a 17th century stone house in the centre St Michel d’Euzet, a tiny rural commune surrounded by acres of vineyards. The town consisted of around 500 residents, a basic épicerie, one bar, a boulangerie, the source of our daily baguette supplies, and a wine co- operative. It was the season of the vendanges or wine harvest: little beaten up orange and red coloured apé trucks would arrive all day at the co-op, loaded with red grapes, ready to be machine crushed into the local cheap wine, the vin de pays that kept the locals ( and us) very happy. The narrow streets were stained magenta as lazy wasps buzzed about in the heat and the heady smell of diesel mixed with grape juice filled the air.

Our 17th century stone house in the village of San Michelle D'Euzet. It became the party house.
Our 17th century stone house in the village of San Michel D’Euzet. It became the party house for travelling Australians.

The old stone house included a generous cave, a mezzanine level with a small kitchen, living room and main bedroom, and an upper level with two tiny bedrooms and a small balcony. Along with our family of five, we squeezed in many other travelling Australians during our month there. They slept in the cave, or ground floor cellar/ bike storage area on a mattress on the floor, or in one of the little rooms on the top story.

San Micheelle in Lan
San Michel in Languedoc

The house faced the place de ville and was opposite the town bar, a meeting place for young and old and popular with the local teenagers. Our kids would spend the late afternoon hours there playing football jeu de machine, with the French kids, on a noisy metal soccer machine table. Sometimes, later in the evening, we would hear young French romeos calling out to Rachael from below, ‘Come down Rachael, I lerv you’ as young lads with heavily accented English would practice their courting skills on our 14-year-old daughter.

Soupe au Pistou
Soupe au Pistou

Cooking for nine or more during that idyllic Autumn was based on fresh supplies gathered twice weekly from the nearby markets at Pont Saint Esprit or Bagnols Sur Ceze. At those markets, the elderly farm women taught me about the Coco Rouge ( fresh borlotti beans) and the Coco Blanc ( fresh white haricot beans), often sold a little rotten as the beans were really ripe and faster to cook. Another local village woman sold me mountains of basil each week. I think we lived on Soupe Au Pistou for a month, along with baguette, jam and brie.

 Soupe Au Pistou, Provençal vegetable Soup with Basil Pesto ( Serves 4)

  • EV Olive oil
  • 2 leeks, washed well, and sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced.
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

Heat some oil in a heavy based soup pot, then sauté these vegetables until tender, then add,

  • fresh borlotti beans (coco rouge), already shelled and cooked till soft
  • 2 small zucchini, diced
  • chopped autumn tomatoes, such as cherry tomatoes, or a can of diced tomatoes, drained.
  • a hand full of green beans, sliced or fresh white beans, coco blanc, if you can get them.
  • 2 litres of home-made vegetable stock.
  • some small pasta, a couple of small handfuls, of shapes such as digitali ( small macaroni) or broken pasta.

Cook until the pasta is al dente, or around 10 minutes.

Season the soup, then add a tablespoon or so of home-made pesto, and stir it through. Serve soup with a dollop of pesto on top and some shaved parmesan cheese.

soupe
Soupe au pistou
Today's garden pick, April, 18, 2016
Today’s garden pick, April, 18, 2016, inspired this soup. Late tomatoes, leeks, zucchini and basil.

The house photos were taken in 2011 when we returned to San Michel d’Euzet. It hadn’t changed at all.

For Andrew, Rachael, Jack, Sunshine, and Poppy- the kids who had a wild time on bikes exploring the Gard region in 1985.

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.

Tomato Passata Day – Once a Week!

The idealised version of Tomato Day (tomato passata or purée making day) generally occurs in Melbourne some time between mid February and early March. In recent years it has become a staged event, promoted by celebrities who may or may not have Italian heritage, and who may have dubious reasons for popularising it, or by farmers markets and community groups with more noble motives. Traditionally, the day has been heralded by large hand painted signs along the arterial roads of the less fashionable suburbs of Melbourne, often in front of abandoned warehouses or petrol stations. The signs read:

              Pomodori per Salsa or Si Vende Pomodori e Uva 

or ‘tomatoes for sauce or tomatoes and grapes sold here’. Large boxes of tomatoes, usually sourced from commercial tomato farms, arrive at these places in late summer. Perhaps we could call them tomato pop up shops? Gli Italo- Australiani have always bought tomatoes in 20 kilo boxes for their annual passata or tomato puree making day but as Melbourne’s Italian born demographic ages and slowly dies out, the tradition now relies on the younger generation and others interested in home preserving.

Passata Day - again.
Passata Day – once a week!

This event came sharply into focus for many young Australians, especially those of Italian heritage, with the release of the film Looking for Alibrandi, one of my favourite Australian movies, which won the Australian Film Institute award for the best film in 2000. Following its success, the book on which the film is based, by Melina Marchetti, was studied in English in most schools, and the film was included in the year 12 Italian optional study on Emigrazione Italiana in Australia. Check out the opening scene from the movie:

If only I could have a tomato day once every summer. When you grow your own tomatoes, the crops will decide when, and how often, you make passata di pomodori.  Roma tomatoes or other varieties of plum tomatoes, like San Marzano, are the preferred tomatoes for bottling (canning) as they have thick skin, few seeds and can safely sit around on benches, developing more intensity of colour and flavour, for at least a week. When I get around 5 kilo of deep red coloured tomatoes, usually once a week during January and February, it’s Passata Day again!

Tomatoes, slit, covered in boiling water.
Tomatoes covered in boiling water for less than a minute.

The tomato passata recipe should be kept simple. I use only tomatoes and a basil leaf. It is not a recipe as such, but a method. Gather all your equipment before hand and seduce a friend into helping.

Dry the tomatoes on a tea towel so they lose the water from their hot bath.

For pureeing the tomatoes, I use a hand cranked mouli with the finest attachment. It’s hard work turning that handle! I am dreaming of a small, electric version and am putting in an early request so that Father Christmas or La Befana or someone impersonating either will buy me one next year. In the meantime, very good results can be obtained with a mouli.

The extracted puree and mouli in action.

The Method and Equipment.

  • tomatoes (I usually process between 3 and 5 kilo at a time)
  • fresh basil leaves
  • passata jars and lids, sterilised
  • mouli
  • some large bowls
  • a jug
  • tea towels- to drain the wet tomatoes and to place under the bowl and mouli to stabilise.

Gather your tomatoes and wash them. Cut a cross in the skin with a sharp knife (it helps loosen the skin) and remove any stalks. Boil up kettles of water, add the tomatoes to a large bowl and cover with boiling water for 1 minute or less, then scoop them out of their bath and dry on a tea towel. You may need to do this step in batches, so have more boiling water ready to add to your bowl and tomatoes.

After draining, cut them in half and put them in a mouli with a disc on the finest setting and puree, which removes all the skin and seeds. Sit the mouli over a bowl of the same size to catch the puree.

Pour the puree into a jug then pour into sterilised jars. Add a small basil leaf to the jar, and leave a 3 cm gap from the lid.

When all the jars are filled and capped, fill a large preserving pan with water (as tall or taller than the jars or bottles). You may add a folded teatowel to the base of the pan to stop the bottles rattling around- I usually don’t bother with this. Add the jars to the cold water, bring to the boil, boil for 30 minutes, then leave in the water bath for a day. You may hear the caps pop indicating a good seal.

Five bottles of passata from 3.5 kilos of tomaties
Five bottles of passata from 3.5 kilo of tomatoes

Store in a cool dark place for up to 3 years but they probably won’t last that long. Add to pasta sauces, casseroles, and soups during winter.

First Batch- 3 1/2 kilo gave 5 bottles.

Used tomato passata bottles can be found in op shops (thrift stores) or can be purchased new. In the past, tomato passata was made and cooked in beer bottles but this practice is slowly dying out too. New lids are also sold in many Italian kitchen ware shops in packets of 20.

spare lids can be purchased.
spare lids can be purchased.

Good links on this theme:

Do you make Tomato Passata for the year? Did you learn this from your Nonna or Nonno? And have you seen the film Looking for Alibrandi?

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.

Slow and Fast Pizza

pizza
Pizza Napolitana con Pomodori Gialli e Gremolata.

There is an odd family tradition at Casa Morgana. Whenever we go overseas, or even into the city for a quick getaway, our adult children move in for a Pizza Party. A case of when the cat’s away… except that these mice are mature, responsible adults most of the time, unless it’s pizza party night and then it’s play time. Part of the ritual involves numerous preliminary texts and FB messages enquiring about the dough recipe, or my stand mixer, or the settings on my Ilve oven, or do I have anchovies. This post is partly for them, but it I hope it serves as a basis for a good pizza for you too, dear reader.

Golden Pomodori or is that a tautology?
Golden Pomodori or is that a tautology?

This pizza utilises the garden’s summer bounty: sliced golden tomatoes with a dressing of parsley gremolata, a finely chopped parsley and garlic moistened with EV olive oil, which anoints the pizza once it has emerged from the oven. As we have a preference for Pizza Napolitana – and in Melbourne, that means olives and anchovies-  large supplies of both ingredients are always kept in the fridge. These huge tins of Italian anchovy fillets (700g) last well. The fillets stay ‘sott’olio’-  you can always top up the oil- and come with a handy plastic cover. No more fear of anchovy deprivation.

Anchovies in bulk. 750 grams. Some for the Pizza and some for Daisy, straight out of the tin.
Anchovies in bulk. 700 grams. Purchased at Gervasi, Sydney Rd, Brunswick, for around AU$14.

My pizza dough recipe comes from Carol Field’s The Italian Baker. I have revised and simplified this recipe from my previous post of two years ago.

Ingredients for Two Large Pizze

This dough is made in a stand mixer. If you prefer, you can make it by hand or in a food processor. Use cold water if using a processor. If you double the mixture, make it in two lots as most stand mixers don’t enjoy mixing a kilo of flour. I have listed ingredients in cups and by weight. My children generally depend on cup measurements even though they are all excellent cooks. I prefer to weigh.

  • 1¾ teaspoons/5g active dry yeast
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1¹/³ cup/ 320g warm water
  • ¼ cup/ 55g olive oil
  • 3¾ cup/500g bakers flour*
  • 1½ teaspoons /7.5g sea salt

Stir the yeast and sugar into the water in the stand mixer bowl; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oil with the paddle. Mix the flour and salt and add to the yeast mixture. Mix until the dough comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead at medium speed until soft and satiny but firm, about 3 minutes or more. Finish kneading briefly by hand on a lightly floured surface and form into a ball.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat then cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled. Depending on the weather, and the room temperature, this may take one to two hours. In summer, things move more quickly.

Shaping and second rise. Knead the dough briefly on a lightly floured surface, for 1-2 minutes. Divide the dough into two (this amount will make two large pizze). Roll each piece into a ball on a floured surface then flatten to a thin disk or shape and stretch by hand.

Place the dough on large trays dusted with semolina or polenta or lightly oiled then let them rise another 30 minutes, covered with a towel. Dress them with your favourite topping. Preheat oven to 250c. Place in the oven and drop the temperature to 220c. Cook for around 20 minutes. You can usually smell when the pizza is ready. It is done when the outer crust is crisp and a little charred and the underside is golden.

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Pizza Estiva

The fast pizze are those we make for a quick breakfast/brunch. For a cheat’s pizza, they are still good. Grab some large rounds of yeasted Lebanese Pide. These are not the usual flatbreads used for wraps or roll ups but are much puffier; they are  also much nicer than those supermarket cardboard pre-made bases. A packet of 4 costs $4.00, they measure around 30 cm in diameter and last well in the fridge of freezer. Look for these in a Lebanese bakery near you.

Yeasted Pide from A1 Bakery, Sydney Rd, Brunswick. Not available every day.

On goes some passata di pomodoro, mozzarella, a manciata or handful of olives, herbs in season, chopped garlic and a few summer tomatoes, roughly sliced. Count on a total prep and cooking time of 10 minutes and it’s back to the orto. 

Everyone has their own favourite pizza sauce. I usually leave this up to Mr Tranquillo, who makes a nice garlic laced version but I love the simplicity of this pizza sauce from Signorina Napoli at Napoli Restaurant Alert. And as for her cake recipes, a world of temptation awaits those who enter.

* Bakers flour is used in preference to unbleached white plain flour. A reliable brand in Melbourne is by Manildra which comes in 10 kilo bags for around $15.00. I have never had any success using Italian doppio zero flour : I find the lack of gluten in ’00’ flour makes the dough too wet or soft.

In My Kitchen, January 2016, the No Cooking Edition.

My Kitchen and I are not on speaking terms at the moment. This morning I mentioned in passing to Mr Tranquillo that perhaps I should start cooking again soon, and, true to form, he replied, “why bother?” The post-Christmas lethargy has set in and I notice that many of my friends have also turned into sloths, talking fondly about their bed or books, sea breezes drifting through open windows, or bird song at dawn.

Breakfast. Home grown tomatoes and basil, torn bocconcini, olive oil, salt.
Breakfast Caprese. Home grown tomatoes and basil, torn bocconcini, olive oil, salt.

The weather in Melbourne has been hideously hot, requiring simple meals, left overs or take aways. Fish and chips around the pool, a pasta dressed with zucchini, basil and left over smoked salmon, an omelette and a glass of wine, a peach and a cuddureddi biscuit for breakfast, a cup of tea and chocolate in bed with more books. Life in the slow lane.

Bed, books and Chocolate
Bed, books and chocolate

The first important improvement to our kitchen is a self-closing fly screen door, installed three days before Christmas. Not only does it keep insects out, but I love the old-fashioned sound of a flywire door closing.  A soft wooden clunk. It’s a summery sound, inviting one outside and into the evening air of the verandah, or back inside, away from the hot north wind.

A softly banging flywire door.
A softly banging flywire door, installed by my son Jack, a very practical man, assisted by Mr T.

My garlic crop has finally been cleaned and stored: it hung about on the kitchen verandah for 6 weeks and begged to be safely housed in a darker, cooler space with circulating air. I didn’t plait this year’s lot – but bundled and tied them with string, such is my aversion to anything requiring thought or energy. We harvested over 200 bulbs so no Vampire visitors for us. Early garlic is delicious rubbed on grilled bread with EV olive oil, or whole bulbs baked in olive oil in the oven, then squeezed out of their papery skins, sprinkled with smoked sea salt, and popped into the mouth. The taste of organically grown Australian garlic is superb.

garlic 2015
garlic 2015
garlic 2015
garlic cleaning and sorting, 2015
Loose bulbs to use now.
Loose bulbs to use now.

This beautiful swarovski crystal bookmark made by Celia dangled from a vase on the mantlepiece on Christmas day. Now it hangs from the armoire key where I keep my  precious things, spirits that we never drink, and other collectables. The armoire is my Black Swan. I found it in an op shop in Coburg shortly after the bushfire of 2009, when I was on the hunt for new furniture. There it stood, at half price, looking for a new home. Another customer egged me on, a Frenchman who wanted me to buy it because he didn’t have room in his house but could vouch for its authenticity. Then followed the saga of moving it, storing it and moving it again. Made of solid oak, with wire fronted windows ( to deter theft by the maids?), the armoire weighs a tonne, is beautiful crafted, with finely engineered brass springs on the doors, little screws to remove the glass panels, and hand carved panels. Bespoke you might say. My kids hate it.

Celia's Crystal drop on Armoire door
Celia’s Crystal drop on Armoire door
In My Armadio
Armoire, Armadio, crystal cabinet, grog cupboard.

Whenever I see these long, hot Turkish peppers for sale in Brunswick, I always buy them. I will cook them soon, I’m getting there. I leave them whole and braise them with middle eastern flavours and serve them with couscous or a bulgar pilaf and yoghurt.

Turkish Hot Peppers, grown in Mildura,bought in Brunswick.
Turkish Hot Peppers, grown in Mildura, bought in Brunswick.

In the build up to Christmas, we unearthed a few tables and chairs from the shed to seat thirty guests. This lovely oval oak table didn’t return: we found room for it and hope it can stay.  Now we have a table for two with a view.

A table for two
A table for two, with a view.

Happy New Year friends, I hope you are also enjoying a lazy spell and that 2016, when it begins in earnest, will be joyous and productive.

This year, Maureen from The Orgasmic Chef has taken over the post of host for In My Kitchen. It’s a monthly international event where like-minded folk share their kitchen stories. I’m afraid my post deviated a little from the kitchen this month.

Francesca xx

Garden Diary, March 2015

I know, dear readers and my good friend Helen, that I have mentioned my tomato glut in many other posts but I must mention two particular tomato varieties that featured in my vegetable garden this year. Firstly, the miniature yellow pear, which quickly became a triffid and bore fruit throughout December (unusual in Melbourne) and continues to do so. I attempted to weigh the crop but soon tired of this chore- many have been left on the vine as I couldn’t keep up with them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next tomato I promised to report on was the black-skinned tomato that my son grew from seeds purchased on eBay. They did eventually turn red and are in no way related to the more desirable Krim or Black Russian but go by the name ‘Indigo Rose’.  They are blue tomatoes engineered at the Oregon State University. They are prolific, long keepers and medium-sized but sadly, they lack true tomato flavour so I won’t be growing these next year.

Indigo Rose Tomatoes
Indigo Rose Tomatoes

My favourite tomato, Rouge de Marmande cropped poorly this year and the Roma has called it quits already and it is only March! The season has been odd- one very hot spell in December, followed be a cool summer. Even the basil is slow.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe cool summer has meant an abundant supply of strawberries : they have produced continually for months and early self seeding of radicchio, rainbow chard and cavolo nero. You win some, you lose some with each season.

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self sown cavolo nero ( Tuscan kale- black kale )
self sown cavolo nero ( Tuscan kale- black kale )

This year Alberto tied up the leeks and spring onions onto stakes. Their seed is now ready. They make great architectural statements in the veggie patch.

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I have recycled lots of household junk. This basic clothes airer is used to support cucumber vines. The legs bury nicely into the soil.

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I saved my disintegrating pool lounge chairs and turned them into shade houses to protect lettuce seed and young seedlings from drying out. I sow directly into the ground.

Frame of pool lounge covered in shade cloth.
Frame of pool lounge covered in shade cloth.

And here’s the pillow end of the old pool chair, ready to provide some instant shade wherever it’s needed.  No land fill, no tipping fees- just re-purposed junk.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo do list:

  • remove shade cloth from the hooped frames now that the weather has turned mild.
  • make more compost
  • sow autumn vegetable seedlings, lettuce, carrots, spring onions, brocolli.
  • transplant self-sown seedlings as keeping them in the same bed will deplete them of goodness. Crop rotation makes sense.
  • remove bird nets from raspberry beds and cut back some of the canes.
  • pick all the grapes.

A good visitor to my veggie patch is this little ladybird beetle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe veggie patch has also benefited greatly from the manure provided by our cows and hens. Here is young Dougie Dexter begging me for another cow lolly ( acorn).  I would like to sell him and his cousin Oh Danny Boy but I don’t want them to end up on a BBQ!

Dougie Dexter
Dougie Dexter

Not only does this post from a monthly record of food gardening activities, it also features in the Garden Share Collective, kindly coordinated by Lizzie. Follow the link to see other amazing gardens throughout Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom.