SORREL, Italians call it acetosa

I once lived in Adelaide and I successfully grew and cooked sorrel.

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I used it liberally in hollandaise and egg mayonnaises (wilted or raw and cut very finely). I loved these sauces with asparagus, beans and potatoes. I added young leaves to mixed-leaf salads, cut leaves into chiffonade to decorate and add an intense lemony tang to raw and cooked foods. I added it to soups and braises, fish, veal or pork stews and sautéed it with other vegetables. It was great in frittata, too. Because of its intense, sharp flavour you only need small amounts of leaves and when they’re cooked, the bright green spinach-like leaves melt to a yellow-green, mushy purée. It may not sound appealing but it is.

I eat extremely well when I visit South Australia both in restaurants and in homes. During my recent trip I encountered sorrel at three different times at different friends’ houses.

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I was delighted with a sorrel Granita by one friend in her house in Eden Hills (a suburb of Adelaide). It was presented with a sorbet made of elderflower cordial (she made this), golden caster sugar and water syrup and St Germain elderflower liqueur.  what you see in in the photo above are the Granita and sorbet, plus elderflowers (from her garden). These were topped with Prosecco. Amazing!

This was not dessert – it was presented as a palate cleanser in between courses. It could easily double up as a dessert- a  very simple solution is to pair it with vanilla ice cream rather than an  elderflowers sorbet….not every cook is as skilled as this friend.

See recipe for the sorrel Granita at end of post.

Friends in North Adelaide offered me potato and sorrel soup for lunch. I had  enjoyed this before at their house and it can be eaten hot or cold.

I also visited friends in Ardrossan (a coastal town on the Yorke Peninsula about 90 minutes from Adelaide) and found red sorrel growing in their garden. This friend presented some of the attractive young leaves in a leafy salad. She also wilts it like spinach and has made a quiche with some of the leaves.

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I told her I knew nothing about red sorrel. I thought that maybe Bunnings had made a mistake (she found it in the Herbs section of this store). Was it really a culinary herb or an ornamental plant? My friend, now concerned and thinking that she should sue Bunnings found a link on the web, and sure enough, red sorrel leaves are considered edible…. despite my misgivings.

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The story doesn’t stop there. Now back home in Melbourne I found a small bunch of red sorrel at my regular supplier of green vegetables – Gus and Carmel’s stall in The Queen Victoria Market, called IL FRUTTIVENDOLO . I stored it in the fridge in a container  partially filled with water. I store asparagus in the same way.

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Believe it or not there is a lot of information on the web about sorrel that is considered to be at its best in Spring. There is the French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) with distinctly small, bell-shaped or arrow-shaped leaves; English sorrel (Rumex acetosa) with broader leaves- both of these have leaves with a smooth texture. Red sorrel (Rumex sanguineus) is  very attractive and has tapered light green leaves with dark maroon veins and stems. Not surprisingly it is also called Bloody Dock. When cooked, it bleeds like beetroot leaves (which I eat). First discard the bottom tough part of the stalks and then wilt the leaves as you would silver beet or spinach.

Both French sorrel and English sorrel are used interchangeably. It is also sold interchangeably and usually just labelled as ‘Sorrel.’ The French variety with the smaller arrow shaped leaves is hard to find . Both sorrels have very similar tastes – the flavour is tangy and pleasantly acidic. This is not surprising as sorrel is related to rhubarb, recognized for its tartness that comes from oxalic acid. Some texts advise to use sorrel sparingly and warn that it can be toxic to animals. The red sorrel has been primarily grown as a decorative foliage but can also be eaten. The taste is not as sharp and sour as the French and English sorrels and the larger leaves are tougher and slightly bitter rather than tangy., however when cooked they do break down considerably.

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Sorrel has been used as a culinary ingredient by the early Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. It was used during medieval and in Tudor times in England and France and it is still popular in French cuisine.

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Italians have many words for sorrel. They call it acetosa and acetina, acetosella, ossalina or erba brusca. There are even names for sorrel in dialect. It is known as pan e vin in Friuli, Veneto and Treviso regions. The Sicilians call it aghira e duci or agra e duci. The list of the various regional Italian names for sorrel can be found on a site by the Dipartimento di Scienze della Vita, Università di Trieste. The culinary uses in Italian cuisine suggested in the texts that I have seen are the same as in other cuisines: the young leaves are served raw in salads and the cooked leaves accompany fish, meat or eggs and in cream sauces and soups.
Sorrel is also found in some Asian cuisines for example in Vietnam it is known as rau chua (sour herb) or rau thom.  It is not surprising that in Vietnamese it translates as sour herbfrom old French surele, from sur, sour. I had one quick look for a Vietnamese recipe that uses sorrel and ‘sour soup’ seems to be popular.

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Notice that my bunch is just  called ‘Sorrel’. So unfair for those who are not familiar with the other sorrels!

And what did I do with my small bunch of red sorrel?

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There were no leaves in the bunch that I considered ‘small’ so I did not add them to a salad. I  added the leaves to some hot extra virgin olive oil and garlic, added the leaves and wilted them. I then added some cooked Puy lentils. I was pleased with the results and presented and made a nice accompaniment to fish cooked with with tarragon and vermouth , cauliflower and baked tomatoes.

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My friend’s recipe for  Sorrel Granita

Equal weight of French sorrel leaves (with that lovely sour taste) and simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water). The sorrel must not be cooked. Just blitz the leaves with the syrup and then strain through a fine strainer. Add a squeeze of lime juice and a pinch of salt to taste and then pour into a container and put in the freezer. About every 30 mins or so I stir it to move the ice crystals that evenly through it. When it is completely frozen (and it isn’t rock hard anyway) I just scrape it with a fork to break it into crystals.

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AGGLASSATO braised meat with a thick onion sauce

When a food is Agglassato (from a French word glacer) it is glazed. For example if it is a cake it could be glazed with glacé icing, glace cherries are glazed with sugar, the surface of a meat pate meat or fish could be glazed with a jellied stock. And to me this implies that the glaze has a sheen.

In Sicily there is a traditional dish called Agglassato also Aggrassato ( to further complicate matters it can be spelled Agrassato and Aglassato) and it is braised meat (veal, lamb, kid, tongue) cooked with large amounts of onions.It is also referred to as Carne Agrassata -meat carne =meat and it is a feminine word, therefore the ‘a’ at the end.

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Once cooked, the onions become very soft, the sauce is reduced and the onions became a thick puree Agglassato can also be eaten cold. This is when the onion sauce jellies, thickens and glazes the meat.

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Although this particular dish may have been influenced by French cuisine, lard rather than butter is used – lard being more common in Sicilian cuisine.

Agglassato seems to be a method of cooking meat which is fairly wide spread across Sicily with a few variations. Some use less onions, others add potatoes and in some parts of Sicily, especially in the South-eastern region grated pecorino cheese is added at the end of cooking. Sometimes the meat is cooked in one piece and held together with string, at other times it is cubed as in a stew.

The sauce (without potatoes) can also be used to dress pasta – remove some of the onion sauce for the first course (pasta) then present the meat for the second course with contorni (side vegetable dishes).

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The recipe is simple.

The ratio is:

1 kg meat to 1 kg onions
200 g lard or a mixture of lard and extra virgin olive oil
salt, pepper
½ -1 glass of white wine
rosemary or sage or bay leaves
meat stock (optional)

In a pan suitable for making a stew heat the lard, add the sliced onions, and herbs. Soften the onions on low heat and then add the meat (cubed or in one piece).
Toss the meat around until it is white on the surface (unlike other stews do not brown).

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Add the wine, cover and cook it over low heat for about 70 minutes per kilo of meat, less if the meat is in small pieces. Remove the lid about 15-20 minutes if the contents look too watery and allow the sauce to thicken.

If you are cooking kid or lamb (this is a common recipe for Easter especially in the south east of Sicily), the following ratio of ingredients is a useful guide.

2 kg kid, or lamb on the bone, cut into stew-size pieces
800g-1kg potatoes
500g onions
100g lard or a mixture of lard and extra virgin olive oil
salt, pepper
4 cloves of garlic (whole)
1 glass of white wine
rosemary or sage or bay leaves
1 cup of parsley cut finely
meat stock (optional)
100 g grated pecorino cheese

In a pan suitable for making a stew heat the lard, add the sliced onions, garlic and herbs (but not the parsley).
Soften the onions and then add the meat.
Toss the meat around until it is white on the surface. Add the wine, cover and cook it over low heat for about 50-60 minutes. Check for moisture and add splashes of stock or water if the stew looks too dry. In Sicily kid and lamb are slaughtered as young animals and depending on the age and tenderness of your meat you may need to cook it for longer.
Peel and cut the potatoes into small chunks and add them to the stew. Add parsley and stock or water to almost cover the potatoes and cook until they are done (probably 30 minutes).
At the end of cooking sprinkle with grated pecorino.

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In a previous post I have written about how my father used to cook tongue (lingua) in this way. Now and again he would also cook meat instead of tongue

See Recipe: Carne Aglassata-  Glazed tongue in onion sauce

Below is a photo of the whole tongue( lingua)  – this is removed from the sauce and sliced before being served.

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Food in Japan and I particularly enjoyed the pickles – tsukemono

I very much enjoyed all of the food I ate during my first and recent trip to Japan – I went to Kyoto and Tokyo. Like Italian Cuisine, Japanese cuisine has a huge diversity of regional and seasonal dishes and the Japanese people seem just as passionate about their food.

Below is an oden dish, in a special oden restaurant -it is mainly daikon, I could also taste turnip, boiled eggs served in stock made from dried bonito, konbu and soy sauce. Of course there were pickles and rice.

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We accompanied the oden dish with bean curd prepared in different ways… and I do like beancurd. Below is a photo of another beancurd  dish I had in another restaurant -silken tofu (Agedashi) in a flavorful tentsuyu broth of dashi, mirin and soy. This one had some other ingredients as well as tofu and broth. The red on top was a mild chili paste.

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Whether it be in my home town or elsewhere, I always place great effort in selecting the ‘right’ places to eat. I look closely at menus (in Japan, glossy pictures and the plastic replicas of food helped). I suss out the ambience and then take a plunge, and practically all of the time  my senses do not fail me.

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Japanese food is as much about the preparation and presentation as it is the food itself.

One place in Kyoto particularly stands out – no menus with pictures or models of food here – a tiny place with fabulous décor, a flamboyant, entertaining and creative chef (Mr. Fujita) and his courteous assistant who had a tiny sprinkling of English. We (my partner and I) got by, participated mainly with sign language, much laughter with the other eight guests and we ate extremely well. We pointed to particular ingredients that he had available – duck, fish, eel, eggs, mushrooms (what other guests were eating and via photos in an album) and left it up to him to come up with the food. We watched him slice and prepare top quality and seasonal ingredients and proudly come up with a variety of delicious offerings. Watching the chef prepare the food was as much fun as eating it.

Restaurant: Marufuji (まる藤) Kyoto

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This was a strongly flavoured stock with eel, spinach and egg. We were given bowls and spoons.

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A form of Yakiniku? – duck  cooked on a hot stone. We could have had tongue as well.

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I am particularly fond of good tableware and the food was presented with as much care of good quality crockery and lacquerware – with a variety of shapes, textures, colorful patterns, and colors.

And the chef came to see us off.

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I will not go on about all the food I tried in Japan – there were far too many  of the traditional popular Japanese dishes –  the steamed, simmered or grilled dishes, sliced raw,  the sushi, tempura, yakitori, ramen etc, but I would like to mention a couple of things I particularly enjoyed or was less familiar with.

I particularly enjoyed the very fresh fish prepared in various ways.

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In a different eatery in the backstreets of Kyoto I particularly liked the tomato tempura – small explosions of sweet and acid flavour.

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I also had burdock tempura – a distinctive and slightly bitter, crunchy and chewy( fibrous) root vegetable that also reminded me of the texture of meat.

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At the same restaurant I also ate pickled sardines. These were lightly floured first and fried and then pickled in a sweet and sour marinade which strangely enough reminded me very much of the varieties of Italian pickled sardines like the Sicilian Soused Fish recipes or the Sarde al Saor popular in Trieste and Venice. One large difference of course, was the grated fresh ginger, not a common ingredient in Italian cuisine.

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I am not a great lover of sweets but in Tokyo I watched two people prepare street food – waffles shaped like a fish called Taiyaki. The pancake batter forms the fish shaped outer shell. The filling was sweet red bean paste or sweet potato.

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I like persimmons – both the vanilla type and the squashy ones, both fresh and dried.  I found quantities of Mochi in the Food halls in basements of  famous and grand Department Stores. I particularly like the texture of the outer layers of  Mochi that are made with sticky rice: the rice is pounded into a smooth paste and molded around a filling  of usually sweet red bean paste .The outer layer is chewy and soft and sometimes flavoured with green tea.

I also liked the pumpkin ice cream, and the one made with spinach.

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For the first time I ate Kamameshi – rice is cooked in an iron pot, with  different flavourings such as  soy sauce, mirin, stock and other ingredients.  Ours also had minced chicken,  a few vegetables  . I liked it – homely.

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The burnt rice around the pot of Kamameshi is particularly flavourful.

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I tried different types of sake and Japanese beer (I am a wine drinker so both were new experiences for me). I  also drank good wine (grapes) made in Japan.!!!

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I did come cooking at home too – I like my vegetables and I never get enough when I am away from home and I especially purchased different types of mushrooms – it is autumn after all and they came in many colours, shapes, textures and flavours.

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In a Tokyo market I did try some street food – takoyaki (a dough-like wheat flour dumpling, with small pieces of octopus mixed in the batter, smothered with a brown sweet sticky sauce and topped with bonito fish flakes) The batter is  poured into a special hotplate with small half-circle molds and when the bottom half is cooked, the half-circle dumplings are turned over and become full spherical dumplings in the end.

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I had eaten these in Melbourne and they did not appeal to me then. They did not appeal to me now, but I always like the taste of bonito fish flakes and I like to watch them dance.

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I very much liked all the countless varieties of seaweed and pickles. Pickles are called tsukemono. Japanese food would not be the same without pickles that frequently accompany all meals in Japan providing flavours and pro-biotic cultures that promote digestion. They also provide a variety of colors, aromas and textures.

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Food markets are full of unpackaged pickles in vats of fish, fruit and vegetables. I particularly like the common umeboshi (pickled plums). Common vegetables that are pickled are: daikon, ginger, Japanese cucumbers, carrots, bamboo, turnips, Chinese cabbage, gobo (burdock root) and Japanese eggplant.

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Imagine the smells of these ingredients with their pungent smells of pickling ingredients like rice bran, vinegar, miso, soy sauce, sake. And seasonings like mirin, garlic, seaweeds, herbs and spices, konbu, chilies, honey and sugar.

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I also enjoyed the lightly pickled vegetables. I had these only in one of the restaurants  in Tokyo and on this occasion I was in the company of a local so we were able to discuss how pickles are  easily made at home.

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Now home in Melbourne, I did some research and found some recipes for making pickles in an old book I have about Japanese cuisine, Japanese Vegetarian Cookery, Lesley Downer, Jonathan Cape Press, 1986.

I used to use this book to make pickled plums and simple pickled vegetables…a long time ago.  Although many types of tsukemono are available commercially many people make pickles at home.

Here is a recipe adapted from this book.

Salt pickles.

Vegetables are salted and the pressure that is placed upon them causes them to release their liquids – this results in brine that pickles the vegetables. Each type of vegetable is usually pickled separately to keep flavours distinct.
Downer suggests that particularly suitable are:

2 Daikon (peeled, quartered, cut into 2.5 cm lengths),
1 Chinese cabbage halved, quartered 2.5 cm chunks,
4 Small cucumbers, halved, scrape out seeds, cut into 2.5cm lengths

30g sea salt

Rub salt into vegetables, place them in a ceramic bowl (narrow is preferable).
Cover vegetables with a small plate that will fit neatly inside the bowl.
Place a weight on top- perhaps a stone or a jar of water.
Leave the bowl in a cool dark place for 3-4 days– the brine will raise (or it should) above the vegetables.
To serve, remove vegetables, gently squeeze and cut into bite size pieces…… Taste a bit before you cut them and rinse them  if necessary to remove excess salt.
My Variations and suggestions:

Once there is sufficient brine covering the vegetables,  add a dash of Japanese vinegar (low in acid) and a small glug of Sake for extra flavor. A little Mirin or sugar will also help to sweeten the vegetables.These ingredients also help with the fermentation. It is worth experimenting with flavours.

Making pickles can produce smells, especially if you are using cabbage or daikon. A large wide mouthed ,glass jar or ceramic pot with a tight fitting lid is useful. If you are using a jar or pot make sure that you can apply pressure with a heavy weight on top of the vegetables to produce the brine.

Other vegetables can be used–  unpeeled Japanese eggplant…halved, quartered etc , peeled turnips and carrots…halved, sliced etc.

 

 

 

 

PIGEON BREAST cooked simply, from Borough Market in London

I will be travelling again and I have not even finished writing about the food and produce I experienced during my last overseas trip: Nottingham and environs- London – Oxford – Sicily – Rome – Berlin.

I have written a little about Nottingham and  of the last  trip to Sicily but nothing about the other cities. Time passes far too quickly.

I ate very well in  several restaurants in the UK especially in London including Ottolenghi’s NOPI and surprisingly in  Gee’s Restaurant and Bar in Oxford….those are artichokes with stems in the large plate and in the pan are salted Samphire –  a succulent,  vibrant green vegetable.

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But one of the places I wanted to promote is the Borough Market in London for its range of quality produce.

Here are some photos of some of the mushrooms:

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Even dried mushrooms:

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The range of vegetables, fish, small goods, bread and cheese were fabulous, too many photos to include in this post, but the game really impressed me. Here are just a few photos – there were two refrigerated window display cases full of  game meat and excellent produce made with game.

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I could not resist.  I bought some pigeon breasts and in the Airbnb I cooked them using minimalist equipment and ingredients. …and they were good.

Here they are and the accompanying photos illustrate how I cooked them.

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Marinated them with bay and rosemary,  extra virgin olive oil and a little good quality balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

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I bought prosciutto and softened it in a little  extra virgin olive oil in a small pan.

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I removed the prosciutto and  used the same small pan( that is all there was…no lid either) to sauté the pigeon.

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Added some white wine, bought it to the boil and cooked it for about 1 minute.

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Removed the pigeon and evaporated  the wine and juices to make a glaze.

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Presented them on tender green beans but also had a range of side vegetables.

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Anatra a paparedda cu l’ulivi (Sicilian Duck with green olives and anchovies)

Il Signor Coria (Giuseppe Coria, Profumi Di Sicilia) will tell you that ducks are not standard fare on Sicilian dinner tables. The eggs may be used to make pasta all’uovo (egg pasta) but ducks  in Sicily are few and far between.

In his book Profumi Di Sicilia, I found one duck recipe and this was for a braised duck cooked  with anchovies plus garlic, parsley, heart of celery, white wine, rosemary and green olives. The thought of braised duck does not appeal to me very much, unless I make it the day before so that I can skim off the fat the next day.

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I decided to roast the duck (on a rack so that the fat drains off) and make an accompanying sauce using the same ingredients as Coria suggested for the braise….. and it was pretty marvellous.

A couple of days later I used the leftover sauce with the stock made from the carcase/carcass and some mushrooms in a risotto, and this tasted exceptionally fantastic, even if I say so myself.

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All I can say is that I am glad that living in Australia ducks are pretty easy to find – more so in the last few years  and not just for special occasions.

Here is the duck roasting in the oven. I stuffed it with some rosemary. I  placed some potatoes in the fat, and in the pan to roast (to fry really) about 30 minutes before the end of cooking…..and I do not need to tell you how delicious they were.

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Pre heat oven to 190C.
Dry duck with paper to obtain a crispier skin
Ensure the opening at end of the duck is open to allow even cooking
Place duck on a rack in a roasting tray
Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and roast it.

 

My duck was 2kl so I roasted it for 2×40 minutes= 1hr 20mins.

And this is the sauce:

Remove the duck, drain the fat (use it to roast potatoes, it also makes good savoury pastry, just like lard).

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Reserve any juices that are in the bottom of the pan.

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Using the baking pan, add a little extra virgin olive oil and over a low flame melt 4-6 anchovies in the hot oil.
Add 2 garlic cloves, chopped finely (or minced as some say). Stir it around.
Add about 1 cup of finely chopped parsley and 2-3 stalks from the pale centre of a celery also sliced finely. Stir it around in the hot pan for about 2 minutes…add salt and pepper to taste.

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Add ½ cup of white wine and evaporate. Add the juices of the duck, or if you did not save them, add some meat stock – about ½ cup.
Add some chopped green olives last of all.  I had stuffed olives so I used them….probably about ¾ cup full.
Heat the ingredients through, and there is your accompanying sauce.

And it looks much better in a gravy boat than it does in the pan.

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Coeur a la Crème made with Labneh

Sometimes, when I do not have much time to make a dessert I prepare something very simple…below, savoiardi with rose liqueur and whipped ricotta (ricotta , honey, vanilla  and cream).

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for example something layered and made with savoiardi soaked in liqueur and crème anglaise or whipped ricotta (the real thing or a take on Zuppa Inglese and Cassata, like the deconstructed cassata below).

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Most times, I like something wet, like  poached fruit (nearly always poached with some sort alcohol) and present it with homemade mascarpone.( Stuffed peaches with amaretti with homemade mascarpone).

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These may be easy desserts but they are always enjoyed. (See links below for  some recipes)

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Another easy dessert is Coeur a la Crème (French for heart of cream) either made with cream cheese or with Labneh, an ingredient which over time has become a staple in my fridge. Labneh is a fresh cheese with the consistency of a cream cheese popular in the Middle East made by straining yoghurt.

Ten years ago I would have said that Italians would not have known about Labneh, but food culture evolves and some Italians are familiar with it. However, the Italian recipes that I have seen primarily suggest using Labneh as a savory dish dressed with extra virgin olive oil and herbs or spices such as fennel seeds, parsley, mint or paprika. In Australia because of our multi-cultural population we are more familiar with Labneh and with the spices we use.

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To make Labneh I use Greek yoghurt and the tubs of yoghurt I buy are sold in 1k containers.
I always buy what I consider to be good quality yoghurt without flavouring or added sugar and with descriptors such as: pot set, no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, live and active cultures, biodynamic, organic…. the more of these the better the yoghurt.

1 tub full-fat Greek-style yoghurt and a colander with one layer of muslin.

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Line a colander with one layer of muslin and place the colander on top of a bowl so that the whey of the yogurt can drain. Empty the carton of yogurt into the lined colander and leave to drain 6-8 hours or longer. I usually place mine (covered) to drain in the fridge. You can use the drained yoghurt then or you can store the yoghurt in the muslin in a container in the fridge – it will keep for about 1 week and you may be surprised that wrapped in the muslin it will keep on draining.

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Different types of yoghurt will drain more liquid than others depending on their water content.  I weighed my last batch of Labneh and 1 kilo was reduced to 820g.

Coeur a la crème

Labneh 700g
250 gm cream cheese or ricotta or 200 ml double cream.
100 gm pure icing sugar or honey (to taste)
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped or pure vanilla essence or concentrate
grated lemon rind from 1lemon

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Coeur a la crème is made in a heart shaped special mold with a perforated bottom that allows the mixture to drain and compact properly.

A heart shaped baking tin lined with muslin will also keep draining but you will need to remove the liquid more often.

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Place all of the above ingredients in a bowl, incorporate the ingredients by hand before using an electric mixer to blend it till smooth (it will not take long). Taste it to see if you prefer it sweeter and adjust accordingly.
Line heart shaped mold with muslin and spoon the creamy mixture into the mold.  Cover the mixture with plastic wrap and place the mold into a container – it will drain some more. I usually place my mold in a large container with a lid so that I do not need to use plastic wrap.
Chill at least 4 hours and up to 1 day.
Unwrap mold, invert onto a serving plate.
Surround it fruit of your choice and serve (fresh and macerated with a liqueur or poached fruit).
On this occasion I presented it with blood oranges (they have been in season)

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4 blood oranges
3 tbs honey
2- 4 tbs orange liqueur (I used Cointreau)
Fresh mint sprigs, for garnish (optional)
Work over a bowl to reserve any juice,  use a sharp knife to remove peel and as much pith as possible. Cut the top and bottom of the orange, slide your knife between the membrane and the segment, and then cut the segment out. Repeat with each segment and each orange.
In a saucepan, combine honey with 1tbsp of water and boil it vigorously till it looks caramelized.
Add oranges and reserved juice and cook (low heat for about 4-5 minutes). Add orange liqueur, and cool/ chill.

Garnish with mint sprigs (optional).

Other recipes:

CASSATA DECONSTRUCTED

ZUPPA INGLESE, a Famous Italian dessert

LABNEH and Watermelon salad

HOME MADE MASCARPONE

FISH BALLS with Sicilian flavours

My last post was about marinaded white anchovies – a great crowd pleaser.  This is easy finger food that can be presented on crostini (oven toasted or fried bread) or on small, cup shaped  salad leaves.

Another small fishy bite which never fails to get gobbled up are fish balls poached in a tomato salsa. I took these to a friend’s birthday celebration recently.

The fish is Rockling.   At other times I have made them with other Australian wild caught fish for example Snapper and Flathead,  Blue-eye and Mahi Mahi.

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Here are some photos of the ones I made recently.

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Cut the fish into chunks and mince it in a food processor.

You can see the ingredients I use to make these fish balls, mainly currants, pine nuts, parsley and fresh bread crumbs . There is also some garlic and grated lemon rind, cinnamon….. and on this occasion I added nutmeg too.

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These ingredients are common in Sicilian cuisine but also in Middle Eastern food. This is not surprising when you look at Sicily’s legacy.

For a variation use other Mediterranean flavours: preserved lemon peel instead of grated lemon, fresh coriander instead of parsley, omit the cheese, add cumin.

Combine the mixture and add some grated Pecorino  and salt and pepper to taste.

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Eggs will bind the mixture.

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The mixture should be quite firm and hold together. You may need to add more eggs – the number of  eggs you will need  will vary because it will depend on the texture of the fish and the bread.  I always use 2-3 day old sourdough bread.

On this occasion I added 2 extra eggs,(4 small eggs altogether)  however I used 1 k of fish.

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In the meantime make a tomato salsa.  I added a stick of cinnamon.

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Shape the mixture into small balls and poach them gently in the salsa.

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This  is the link to the recipe  that is also in my second book, Small Fishy Bites.

FISH BALLS IN SALSA – POLPETTE DI PESCE (PURPETTI in Sicilian)

I presented the fish balls in Chinese soup spoons – easy to put into one’s mouth. You can see that there were only very few fish balls left over on the festive table. There are also only five anchovies in witlof leaves left over.

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Of course  these fish balls are not just limited to party food. They make a great antipasto or main course.

Spaghetti and fish balls? Why not?

A NEW LIFE for shop bought MARINADED WHITE ANCHOVIES

Out with the old marinade of vinegar, sunflower oil, tired sliced garlic and herbs.

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And in with the new marinade – extra virgin olive oil, fresh parsley, garlic and a little dry oregano (optional).

Sounds better already. New life, fresh taste!

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These are handy to have in the fridge to dip into at anytime, or to present as an antipasto on fresh bread or crostini , or inside a leaf from the centre of a small cos lettuce or radicchio or witlof – in fact any salad green that has cone shaped head and cup shaped leaves that can hold a few marinaded anchovies.

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The pictures tell the story. Simple to make, good to eat.

Leave in marinade at least one day but as long as you keep them under oil they will last for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

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I used :

500g of white marinaded anchovies ( alici fresche marinate  are usually packed in Sicily or Liguria… and the Spaniards call them boquerones),
2-3 cloves of garlic ½ cup chopped parsley, both finely chopped.
extra virgin olive oil to cover – the amount will depend of the container you use. I always  use glass.

Drain the anchovies and discard the old marinade and the solids.

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Layer the anchovies with the herbs and the garlic and top with the oil.

Store in the fridge until ready to use. If you are taking some  anchovies out,  make sure to once again cover them with oil.

If you are presenting the anchovies inside leaves use a colander to drain the anchovies and then place 1-3 inside each leaf- this will depend on the size of the leaf and how much you (or your guests) like anchovies.

If you are presenting them on bread, there is no need to drain them with a colander – the oil tastes good too.

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As you can see, finding small suitable leaves and keeping them whole can be time consuming.

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I first wrote about Marinaded Anchovies in 2011.

They have remained as  one of my favourite things to do for a large gathering. The recipe is also in my second book  Small Fishy Bites as Zucchini and Mint Fritters with Marinaded Anchovies.

AND THEN THERE WAS PERFECTION – Making bread

“Put very simply, sourdough is made by mixing flour milled from the whole grain – dark rye or wholemeal, say – with water and leaving it for a few days until you see the first pinhead-sized bubble of life, as the yeast cells and bacteria exhale and start to puff tiny pockets of carbon dioxide into the mixture.” (Dan Lepard, baker, food writer and more)

This potent wild yeast mixture is sometimes known as  the “mother”… otherwise plainly called the “starter”.  The starter is what imparts the flavour and bubbles that go to making sour dough bread.

And this is the beginning.

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Inspired by a visit to a friend, Randy, who lives in Nottingham, England, my partner Bob decided to try his hand at making sour dough bread. And so he started with the starter, which bubbled away quietly but was  fed regularly.

It was mixed with good quality organic flour, left, fed and fed again. From this a “sponge” was made by mixing the starter with flour and water. The sponge is also known as the leaven.

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Add more flour to the sponge and then there is sticky dough.

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And more sticky dough.

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And more dough. Perhaps it was too sticky?

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So there was more dough proving.

Risen loaf in tin

And there was more bread.

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There were breads of different shapes. There was even bread in our freezer.

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Some loaves lacked salt. Others were too dense. Some looked like cake.

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The smells of bread proving and bread baking wafted through our apartment. This must have made our neighbours very jealous.

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This dough looked right!

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Given enough time, it was worked into a shape that could be pulled into a loaf .

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The loaf was placed into a basket to prove.

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It  rested, and then rose and rose again.

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Bob placed the dough on a heated pizza stone and made a couple of slashes on top of the dough: this is also called “scoring”. Breaking the surface of the dough  creates a weak spot in the bread as it expands and prevents the bread from splitting. It also helps to make the bread attractive.

The loaf looked great in our oven.

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SUCCESS….and it was just right.

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Bob’s passion for bread making began in a kitchen in  Nottingham.

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Randy has adapted recipes from Dan Lepard’s book, The Handmade Loaf.

He uses a basket with a liner to prove his bread. It is heavily coated with flour.

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Randy is no ordinary bread maker.

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He is Randy of the Bagel Boys who once baked great bread in North Adelaide.

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This is before he went to live in Nottingham.  Now he bakes good bread for himself, his household and his house guests in his kitchen.

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While  the bread making demonstration went on, one of the dogs slept. She’s used to this baking.

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Randy uses a Le Creuset cast iron saucepan to bake the bread. It starts off  with a lid. The lid is removed towards the end of baking so that the top of the bread can brown. Here is the bread in the oven. It is nearly ready.

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As you would expect, Randy has perfection every time.

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Thank you Randy  for the demonstration in your kitchen and all of the  tutorials and  the bread-making advice you provided to Bob by email from Nottingham to our apartment in Melbourne.

And you are correct Randy, bread making  is just practice, persistence and patience.

No doubt,  Bob will make more bread  in our kitchen.

Bob says:
In baking my loaves, I have adapted the recipes and techniques of my friend and long-time baker, Randy Barber the former Bagel Boy, with that of sourdough virtuoso Dan Lepard, followed by some further advice from a book by Yoke Mardewi, particularly in relation to creating and maintaining the starter, and topping it all off by watching a Youtube video published by Danny McCubbin which showed off the techniques of his baking buddy, Hugo Harrison.
After all that, I’ve got to say my baking is still a work-in-progress, every loaf I’ve turned out so far is something of a surprise, mostly pleasant.
My latest effort was closest to what I’ve seen Randy do in his Nottingham (UK) kitchen.
First, I created a “sponge” made from:
200g of starter
250g of quality white flour
325g of natural spring water
I left the sponge to mature overnight.
The next morning, I added:
330g of flour [ultimately, I think I could have added a little more]
2 teaspoons of salt
I mixed this by hand and let it rest in the bowl for 10 minutes.
I next went through a sequence of mixing, by pulling the dough over itself (here the McCubbin/Harrison Youtube video was instructive) and resting it for 10 minutes another two times.
Then, I turned, pulled and slapped the dough together on an oiled surface for several minutes before letting it rest for 30 minutes.
I repeated the turning, slapping and pulling process, before letting it rest for another hour.
Next step, I turned the dough out onto a floured work-surface, where I did the traditional folding into thirds and turning process, until using the technique demonstrated by Harrison, I worked the dough into a loaf shape which I gently placed in a floured proving basket.
I left that to double in size. When it had risen, I preheated the oven and a pizza stone to about 230°C. Other times, I’ve used a Le Creuset casserole dish. I gently up-ended the proving basket to tip the loaf on to the heated pizza stone and returned it to the oven to bake for about 35-40 minutes above some water in tray for steam.

Once cooked, I left the loaf to cool on an oven rack.

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There is much information from Dan Lepard about bread making on the web.
Dan Lepard’s book, The Handmade Loaf, contains many illustrations and step by step recipes.
This link  for making sourdough bread is from The Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/nov/27/sourdough-recipe-dan-lepard

 

COSTOLETTE DI VITELLO (Veal chops – baked)

I really like the gristly bits around bones, for example I like to chew around the ends of Chicken bones, shins and I particularly like pork hocks. Rather than gristle, perhaps it is collagen – the bit that connects muscle tissue together and breaks down with cooking and turns semi-transparent and tender. I think it is flavourful, but many do not.

Veal chop bones are great for chewing so when I saw veal chops at the Queen Victoria Market I bought them.

Living in Australia when I say ‘veal’ I do not mean the ‘white veal’ as in Europe, i.e. calves 18-20 weeks old, reared in small pens indoors and fed only milk. This Australian veal was quite pink – evidence that as in accordance with Australian regulations it should have been reared in open pens and fed a diet of milk and grass or grain and produced from dairy calves weighing less than 70kg or beef calves weighing up to 150kg.

Veal can be bland so the most usual way to cook veal with bone is to make a spezzatino –a braise or stew. Veal benefits from the added liquid (could be from stock/ wine/ tomatoes) and herbs for flavour.

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I chose to bake my veal chops but unlike lamb or goat (kid), veal has little or no fat so it needs oil if you choose to bake them.

I marinated the chops overnight in a bowl and baked them the next day.

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Meat and Marinade

For 4 people:

1.5k veal chops (there is little meat on them)
2 garlic cloves, sliced
½ cup dry Marsala or white wine
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
rosemary sprigs and bay leaves

Marinate the meat with the above ingredients for at least 2+ hours (can be done overnight). Drain the meat and solids from the marinade when you are ready to cook it. Reserve the liquid.

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For Cooking

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, cut into large slices
salt
pepper
4 large potatoes
more rosemary (or sage )

Prepare the potatoes and cut into large pieces. Put them in a bowl and dress with half the oil, add seasoning and more rosemary.

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Heat the oven at 180C.

Place a little more oil in a baking dish. Position the meat in the tray, arrange the slices of onions and between the meat. Add seasoning and drizzle the rest of the oil on top of the meat.

Bake the meat for 15 minutes. Turn the meat and add the potatoes (with the oil). Cook for about 40 minutes then add the drained marinade – try to pour it over the meat rather than the potatoes. Bake for another 15-20 minutes till the potatoes are cooked and the meat is coloured.

If you are wondering what the green blobs are on top of the baked veal in the main photo, they are spoons of chopped parsley which I keep in the fridge topped with extra virgin olive oil…… more for decoration, but it is also flavourful.

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I guess everyone liked them.

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See recipe:  VITELLO ARROSTO (Roast Veal)

Sicilian food and culture