Over the last 10 days there has been little time to write or to take photos of all the food consumed over this period.
Not all the food has been elaborate, but here is one simple dish that I prepared for friends.
Pasta with pork fennel sausages, chickpeas, cauliflower, fennel seeds, fresh bay leaves, saffron and marinated feta.
Short pasta is preferable and I used penne. Pecorino, being a stronger tasting cheese is better with these ingredients than Parmesan, but although feta is not an Italian cheese I often use it as a topping for pasta .
This pasta dish is simple to make.
Begin with sausages (out of casings) and onion sautéed in a little extra virgin olive oil.
Soak a big pinch of saffron in a little water and set aside.
To the sautéed sausages add cauliflower, separated into smaller pieces, fennel seeds and fresh bay leaves and toss around in the hot oil. Add the saffron (that has been soaking in a little water).
Add chickpeas and a little chickpea stock, cover and cook on moderate to gentle heat.
Combine it with cooked pasta and top with the feta. The feta will soften and will make the pasta more creamy.
Marinated feta comes in handy for nibbles as well as using it as a creamy substitute for grated cheese. Like marinated olives, capers and preserved lemons, this is something that is nearly always in my fridge.
Ingredients: feta, dry oregano, fennel seeds, whole black peppercorns, bay leaves and extra virgin olive oil. The cheese must be totally submerged. Store it in the fridge.
I did not mind, I always like what he writes and I too appreciated some of the produce from Castlemaine.
I visited The Mill in Castlemaine on November 15 and found two of the stars of Castlemaine’s culinary scene (as Richard describes them) – Long Paddock Cheese, where French emigre Ivan Larcher and his wife Julie make sensational European-style cow’s milk cheeses….
…..and Oakwood Smallgoods,Oakwood Smallgoods, where German master butcher Ralf Finke uses ingredients such as free-range pork and wagyu beef to make more than 40 different smallgoods and charcuterie.
I was able to buy from Ralf Finke some of the smallgoods I used to buy in the Adelaide Market and in the Barossa Valley. Good memories, good times, good eating.
This time in Castlemaine we did not visit Austrian couple Edmund Schaerf and Elna Schaerf-Trauner at Das Kaffeehaus, coffee house and eatery as we had done years before when it was located at the old hospital in Castlemaine, but we were aware that they have now moved into a rear corner of The Mill in 2015. They were closed. I sought them out several years ago; having lived in Trieste I am very appreciative of Austrian food.
With the easing of restrictions and our first opportunity to venture into the Victorian countryside Castlemaine and Bendigo in the Goldfields region were favoured, especially because the very brilliant chef Thi Le (from Anchovy in Richmond) was cooking at Sutton Grange Winery.
We stayed at an Airbnb , visited the Bendigo Gallery, had lunch at the Dispensary Bar & Diner, always a treat.
That weekend, as expected, my partner and I had amazing food, wine and service at Sutton Grange Winery including a wine tasting conducted by Melanie Chester( Mel) the Sutton Grange’s winemaker, and Adam Cash (we were happy to catch up with him and remembered him from Union Dining) with passionate chats of the history of the vines, wines and winemaking methods behind every wine we tried.
Thi’s excellent food was served on the veranda of the winery homestead cellar door and one of the table service staff was Thi’s partner, Jia-Yen (JY); all in the family – their dog was there too wandering around and enjoying the countryside.
It was rewarding to see other guests seeking out the chef, to thank her for her exquisite food.
Although Thi’s lunches at Sutton Grange Winery on Saturdays and Sundays were supposed to be only until November 29, lunches have been extended on Sundays in December 6, 13 & 20. Very worth doing.
There were a number of small courses, all exceptionally delicious.
We came home from that weekend with excellent bottles of wine, cheese, smallgoods and sausages. We unpacked the Airbnb clothes, packed the camping gear into the car and drove back to that area two days later. We set up camp by the Loddon River, near Castlemaine and stayed there till last Sunday.
I planned to write a post about the awesome produce I had purchased from the fromagerie and charcuterie at The Mill when I returned from my camping trip, but Richard beat me to it – Off The Beaten Track was published in the November 17 issue of The Age.
When we camp, we eat in style – I cooked some of the bratwurst with a warm salad of cabbage, spring onion and apple (and caraway seeds of course). Cabbage keeps well when camping.
All the ingredients are placed in the pan at the same time and slowly softened in extra virgin olive oil , salt, pepper, caraway seeds. Finish off with a dash of white wine vinegar.
I pan fried the leberkaese and accompanied it with braised mushrooms.
The green you can see are sage leaves; most are underneath the meat ..crisp fried. When I camp, I always bring herbs from home.I wrap them in a damp towel. we do have a small fridge we take camping.
Mushrooms keep well in paper bags when camping, they may lose some moisture but that means more intense flavour. You can see fresh garlic, parsley, i had a bit of rosemary and a few sprigs of thyme. Once again, all in together and sweated in extra virgin olive oil.
We ate the cheese, small goods and smoked trout unadulterated (en plein aire) or (au naturel) … picnic style, with a few additions brought from home…. black olive tapenade went well with the cheese, egg mayonnaise went well with the trout, with the smallgoods, good shop bought mustard.
On our return to melbourne we called into the Spaghetti Bar in Keynton. Silly us, no booking, no room.
I was very surprised when one of my friends said that she had baked a zucchini frittata following a recipe in Ottolenghi’s Simple. I opened my copy of the cookbook to see if Ottolenghi really had baked a frittata. Afterall he has Italian heritage! It is not called a frittata for nothing!(I am joking here – I really like and respect Ottolenghi – but all jokes aside, if I were to bake a mixture of zucchini and eggs, I would call it a Zucchini Bake.
Fritta, means fried (feminine) and fritto, as in Fritto Misto is fried (masculine) and misto means mixed. I would enjoy continuing with a lesson in Italian grammar, but this post is about frittata.
Recently I was contacted by Maria Liberati and invited to participate in an interview about Frittata, for a podcast. So there I was from Melbourne in lockdown chatting to Maria Liberati in Pennsylvania.
Maria asked me to speak about frittate (plural), she found of a post I had been invited to write by Janet Clarkson’s very popular blog called ‘The Old Foodie’. The post was called An Authentic Frittata (December 2008). I had forgotten that I had written it, but what I said then still stands.
Apart from discussing frittate in general and providing a Sicilian recipe for frittata I made a comment about Claudia Roden. She is one of my heros, but I disagreed with what she must have said at some stage:” Frittate are common throughout Italy but not Sicily and Sardinia’.
But just how popular are frittate anyway? When do we eat frittate? and could it be that frittate are such ordinary fare that they do not appear in cookery books very often?
In An Authentic Frittata, my first sentence is: ‘Every National Cuisine has certain rules and customs.’
Baking a frittata in Italy is not one of them.
But I can understand why frying a frittata is scary. This is a simple zucchini and cheese frittata. It is spring in Melbourne and we had some new season’s zucchini tossed quickly in a frypan with some extra virgin olive oil, a little parsley and garlic. I turned the leftovers and some grated pecorino cheese into a simple frittata.
Frittata is cooked on one side before being inverted onto a plate and then slid into the frypan again to cook on the other side. It is not that scary.
Pour the mixture of beaten eggs (a fork will do), zucchini, salt, pepper into hot oil. Use the spatula to press the frittata gently on top and lift the edges tilting the pan. This allows some of the runny egg to escape on the side to cook. when there is no more egg escaping you are ready to turn it over.
As Maria said in the interview, perhaps cooks could try this with a smaller pan. I think it is worth it.
When making frittata, using a round frypan makes sense, and not making it a huge frittata makes it more manageable.
Depending on the quantities of the other ingredients to be added to the frittata, I think about 8 eggs is the maximum.
Maria and I certainly agreed about how the cooking of Italy is very regional and how this may also apply to frittata. I grew up in Trieste (the north eastern Italian cooking of Friuli Venezia Giulia is similar to the Veneto and Trentino Alto Adige) but I also have a Sicilian heritage.
Cuisine is localised , each region has prepared specialities based on their produce and cultural influences. Sicily was an important trade route in a strategic location in the Mediterranean and was settled by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Arabs, Normans, French, Spaniards. Trieste was a very important port for much of that north eastern part of Italy that were part of the Austro – Hungarian Empire. Surrounding countries that influenced the history and culture were Austria, Switzerland, France, Germany,and Croatia are not too far away.
Here are some basic differences between the making of frittate in the north and the south , some are no longer hard and fast rules, for example:
butter or butter and oil is used for frying in the north, oil in the south,
use of local produce in both – I have had quite a few frittate with ricotta in Sicily and made with fruit in the north, especially with apples,
because left-overs are good ingredients for a frittata, you may see more vegetable based frittate in the south and more smallgoods based ones in the north, e.g. prosciutto, different cheeses,
breadcrumbs are common additions to a frittata in the south (to soak up liquid from vegetables), a little flour and even a dash of milk is evident in many northern recipes,
a little grated cheese is common in all frittate, Parmigiano in the north, pecorino or aged caciocavallo or ricotta salata in Sicily.
Like language, cooking evolves and when I cook, I do not invent or modify recipes without knowing what came first – what is the traditional recipe? What are the ingredients and how was it cooked? Experimentation can only come after respect for the ingredients and method of cooking that traditional recipe, and accepting that although the recipe may have been right for the time, there are changes that i would like to make. When I modify a recipe I ask myself if modifying it will improve it, is it a healthier way to cook it, quicker? And this applies to all traditional recipes.
A very simple example is how my mother always overcooked her vegetables, but she found my sautéed vegetables very undercooked. She either used onions or garlic, never the two together, meat and fish in the same recipe? Never.
Using Warrigal Greens (Australian bush tucker, like English spinach). Do not even think about that, I am definitely breaking the rules. These are growing on my balcony.
I am looking forward to using other spring produce to make frittate , especially artichokes, spring peas/snow peas, zucchini and zucchini flowers.
Maria and I talked amicably about many things, and there were many details that I had intended to say, but we ran out of time.
The recipe I provided in this post is a version of Giuseppe Coria’s but variations of this same recipe are in a couple of Sicilian cookbooks written in Italian. I do wonder if that recipe is still made now.
This week Maria discusses the power of food to take us to new places – this time, to Sicily – where we’ll enjoy a simple frittata. Joining her today is Marisa Raniolo Wilkins, a passionate food writer, blogger and recipe developer from Sicily.
I had forgotten how much I particularly like Formaggio Fresco, pan fried with a sliver or two of garlic in a smidgen of extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled with a little dry oregano and de-glazed with a little red vinegar and a pinch of sugar (optional). This is how Sicilians like it.
Formaggio Fresco = Cheese Fresh….Fresh Cheese.
This Sicilian recipe is called Formaggio all’Argentiera.
Why All’ Argentiera?
An argentiere in Italian is a silversmith.
All’argentiera means “in the style of…as an argentiere would cook it”.
Why this name?
An argentiere can afford the price of meat, a poor person cannot, however, the poor can afford to buy and cook cheese and pretend that he is eating meat. The lovely smells dissipating from the windows of the poor will give passers-by the impression that just like a silversmith he can afford to eat meat. It is all to do with the making a bella figura syndrome.
The recipe is quick and easy, the difficulty could be finding what is called Formaggio Fresco. What is ‘fresh cheese?’
Some producers call Formaggio Fresco, Fresh Pecorino, but they are both young cheese (aged typically 15- 45 days depending on the manufacturer). It is a white, semi soft, smooth and milky cheese, good for slicing and for partially melting.
Pecorino is made from the milk of a pecora, (sheep), however, most Pecorino Fresco or Formaggio Fresco, especially in Australia is made from cows’ pasteurized milk, salt and culture (usually rennet).
Aged Pecorino, whether Romano (Roman), Sardo (Sardinian), Toscano, or Siciliano is the firm, salty and sharp cheese we are familiar with and used for grating – you can eat it too. In Italy they are DOP cheeses and made in the place of origin.
Stores that have Italian Produce are likely to have Formaggio Fresco but I have also seen some in a few good supermarkets.
In Melbourne I can buy Formaggio Fresco made by these manufacturers: That’s Amore cheese, they call it cacciotta and Pantalica make Bacio and Pecorino Fresco.
In Adelaide the manufacturers are: La Casa Del Formaggio and La Vera. I have seen La Vera sold in other Australian cities as well.
A little extra virgin olive oil to fry the cheese.
Also: 1 large clove of garlic (cut into slivers), pinches of dried oregano, 1-2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and a pinch of sugar.
I prefer to use a non-stick fry pan.
Heat the oil; use medium heat.
Add the garlic, the slices of cheese and lower the heat. Sprinkle the cheese with some of the dry oregano.
Cook that side of cheese until golden in colour, turn the cheese over and repeat with the dry oregano….cook for as long again.
Add the vinegar and sugar ( I sometime do) and deglaze the pan.
Last year (2019) I stayed and travelled through parts of Tuscany, Emilia Romagna, Liguria, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trentino Alto Adige and a few places around Mantova (Mantua) in Lombardy. I loved it all, but I particularly enjoyed spending time in some parts of South Tyrol I had not ever visited – South Tyrol is an autonomous province and part of the two that make up the region of Trentino-Alto Adige.
A few years before this trip I stayed and travelled around Bergamo, Brescia, Lake Como and Lake Maggiore and also parts of Piedmont.
And years before this, I travelled through from France to Trieste, stopping in many places on the way.
And just because all these places may be described as being in Northern Italy, you will find the food from place to place is vastly different.
Never skiing, always looking, appreciating, drinking and eating.
Those of you who have travelled through Northern Italy may notice that the further north you go, the more corn (polenta), barley, rye, and buckwheat you will find in local dishes, especially in the array of dark breads, cakes and pastries.
I particularly like buckwheat polenta and rye or buckwheat pasta.
Rye and buckwheat are popular in Eastern Europe where, in particular, the climates are cold. Cold weather brings deep winter snow and the jaggered peaks and mountains increase the isolation, especially in earlier times when transporting produce was much harder than today. The food in this particular part of Lombardy is unique because of its isolation in the past.
Italian food is all about locality – unique heritage, local produce and local food.
For example, Valtellina is a long narrow valley bordered by mountains in northern Lombardy, north of Lake Como and it is recognized for Pizzoccheri – a buckwheat pasta that is cooked with cabbage and potatoes – vegetables associated with hearty food – suitable for cold weather terrain. The distinctive flavour of this dish is enhanced by the alpine cheeses such as Bitto and Valtellina Casera (DOP cheeses – Protected Designation of Origin) which the region is renowned for producing.
Rye and buckwheat, especially, are widespread and prominent in the region and used in the local cuisine. Rich pasture is plentiful, and this region is also renowned for dairy produce. Sage is a hardy perennial and garlic (lots of it) add flavour. The garlic may also be there to boost health – in many countries, garlic has been used medicinally for centuries.
The use of rye or buckwheat creates a darker, chewier and more flavoursome pasta. Obviously, it does not go with all sauces, but I particularly like it with nut and herb based dressings and cheeses.
Pizzoccheri is not a dry pasta dish and commonly the ingredients are drained before they are dressed with the butter and the cheeses, but I much prefer it as a wet pasta dish, so I suggest you read the whole recipe before you decide to make it.
The ratio of using buckwheat flour to white flour varies, but I like 300g of buckwheat to100g 00 white. No eggs are used in this type of pasta, just water, however, once again, occasionally I have added 1 egg to the mix.
Some cooks use more potatoes than cabbage, I like to use more cabbage than potato, say approximately 300 g potatoes to 400 g cabbage.
The cheese Valtellina Casera may be difficult to find, so you may wish to substitute it with Fontina or Gruyère, Emmental, Edam, or Gouda, especially if the cheese is aged.
To make rye pasta use the same amounts and procedure as described in this recipe, but substitute the buckwheat flour with rye flour and add three eggs. When making rye pasta I usually add some caraway seeds, or fennel or anise to the dough when kneading. At times, I have also done this when making buckwheat pasta.
Once again, the amounts are only guides. When my relatives make/ made pasta (or I make pasta for that matter) I use an estimation of judgement. I can remember my mother saying:
“One fistful (unpugno) of flour per egg, and ½ eggshell of water if it needs more liquid”
Having grown up with this, I still use this measure.
300 g buckwheat flour
100 g 00 flour
300 g butter
200 g cheese (see above)
6 cloves of garlic, a few sage leaves
salt and pepper
Parmesan, grated, at time of serving
Place the 2 flours and a pinch of salt in a bowl and mix. Make a well in the centre, pour in some water, a little at the time. Use your fingers to mix liquid with the flour, until everything is combined. Knead it to make one smooth lump of dough (for 5-8 minutes).
Once you have cut the pasta into the width of pappardelle, cut each strip diagonally into pieces roughly 1 cm long.
Cut the potatoes into cubes – I like waxy potatoes and leave the skins on, Italians peel them. Remove the core from the cabbage and cut into strips about 2 cm square.
Put the potatoes into some cold water, sufficient to make a thick soup like consistency when all of the ingredients have been added and cooked.
The pasta will swell a bit and need more water than the vegetables; it needs liquid to cook so estimate sufficient water. You can also always add more boiling water to the dish as the pasta cooks if you think it needs more liquid.
When the potatoes come to the boil add the cabbage and add the pasta. I do not think it matters if you use a lid or not while it cooks. If I have too much liquid, I tend to leave the lid off to allow some evaporation. Cook until all is cooked and keep the pasta al dente.
Cut the garlic cloves into thin slices, add some sage leaves and gently cook them in the butter but prevent them from browning.
Cut the cheese into small cubes.
Now, this is where you need to decide if you drain the solids and dress it or eat it as a wet pasta dish. My preference is for a wet pasta dish and to remove some of the liquid if it is too wet… save it for making another and different soup.
Sometimes, I have cheated. When i do not have time to make fresh pasta, I have used commercially made pasta. As you can see these are spiralli. San Remo makes both buckwheat and spelt spiralli. Both good. NOT traditional.
Sometimes, it is easier to tell a story and describe a recipe by photos.
Goat or kid if you can get it has been available for a while this season (Autumn in Australia). The mint on my balcony is doing well, celeriac is in season, the last of the red tomatoes also and there is a glut of carrots in Victoria at the moment. And all of these ingredients, cooked on low heat and for a long time made a fabulous ragout (ragù in Italian). On this occasion I used the braise as a pasta sauce. Good quality Pecorino cheese is a must.
Goat cut into cubes – you can tell that it is not an old goat by the pale colour of the meat. It is trimmed of fat.
The usual onion , part of the soffritto in most Italian soups and braises.
Add a chopped carrot and instead of celery I used some celeriac and some of the inner leaves of the celeriac.
Remove the soffritto, add a little more extra virgin olive oil and brown the meat.
Add the herbs and spices. Recognise them? Salt and pepper too.
A couple of red tomatoes.
Top with liquid. I added a mixture of chicken stock (always in my freezer) and some Marsala, to keep it in the Sicilian way of things. On another occasion I may add white wine or dry vermouth.
Cover the pan and braise slowly.
It does not look as good as it tasted…the perfume was fabulous too.
Serve with fresh mint leaves and grated Pecorino.
N.B. Real Pecorino is made from pecora (sheep)..i.e. sheep’s milk. I used a Pecorino Romano. See how white it is in colour?
You must admit the combination above sounds pretty good – the contrasts of flavours, differences in textures, the bitter taste with the sweet.
You probably have eaten grilled radicchio. I was mentioning to friends that my mother was cooking grilled radicchio back in the 80’s and was presenting it with a tomato salsa and polenta. And now in 2016, I have been seeing it and eating it once again, both in Australia and in Italy.
The photo below was taken in a restaurant in Rome in June. I ate it as a contorno (a vegetable side dish).
Instead of grilling the radicchio I pan fried it – easier and less smelly.
I wanted a variety of ingredients so I poached some Rosella pears in red wine, pepper corns, a dash or red vinegar and a tablespoon of sugar.
Next beetroot. I really enjoy the sweetness of beetroot with radicchio in a salad at any time, so why not ad it to a lightly sautéed radicchio.
I love Gorgonzola dolce. Cheese pairs well with walnuts and so I added these components as well.
It did not take long to prepare. I poached the pears early in the day so as to leave them steeping in the poaching liquid and the rest was prepared in about 30 minutes. I cooked the beetroot the day before and kept it in the fridge. My type of cooking these days….. especially if this was the entrée and I had three more courses to prepare.
For 4 people
Quantities for gorgonzola and walnuts to taste.
Cubed gorgonzola dolce – creamier, less sharp than straight Gorgonzola.
Walnuts, and make sure that they are not rancid.
Cooked beetroot…at least one per person.
2 pears – not soft – I ended up only using 1 – a quarter on each plate
2 cups dry red wine
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 heaped tablespoon of sugar
about 10 black pepper corns
1 pinch of salt
Combine the wine, vinegar and spices in a small saucepan which will hold the pears and almost- if not entirely- cover them. Cook pears cut into quarters in the liquid, lid on and poach on low heat. I still wanted some crunch and cooked them for about 30 min.
Leave pears in poaching liquid to cool and until you wish to use them.
1 large round head of radicchio, quartered, so that each quarter has a bit of the stem end holding it together. I also used satay skewer to ensure that it stayed together. If using the Treviso vaviety of radicchio ( long shape) you may need 2 heads and cut it in half.
¼ cup olive oil
salt and black pepper
Lightly sauté the radicchio in the oil over moderate heat uncovered. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn once. I did not want the radicchio cooked- I wanted a warm salad with radicchio that was softened on the outer.
Remove the radicchio. Distribute onto separate plates.
Drain/ strain the pears and use that wine/liquid to add to the pan. Discard the spices. Add the beetroot (to warm and to glaze). Turn up the heat and reduce the liquid to about half the quantity.
To serve distribute pears and beetroot . Dribble liquid on the radicchio. Scatter gorgonzola and walnuts on top.
It is always good to visit Sicily in May 2016 and this time I spent most of my time mainly in South-eastern Sicily. But we did wander elsewhere – distances are not that great.
As usual, the relatives in Ragusa and Augusta made sure that I was well fed, but I do enjoy getting out and about and seeing the changes and trends that are evident in their food culture. I do that here in Australia as well, or for that matter any place I revisit.
Below are some photos of Sicily and links to existing recipes from the blog … more writing and more recipes soon.
A Nature Reserve near Donna Fugata
A very old church in Modica.
Inside this old church that has been a stable for many years.
Area Archeologica di Cava d’Ispica
The old stone walls, some being repaired or rebuilt.
I have been making different batches of mascarpone at home and I have been using it in all sorts of dishes.
I have stuffed fresh figs with it (as a non sweetened savoury cheese), added zabaglione to it and used it to accompany stuffed peaches with raspberries scattered on top (stuffing made with amaretti and crushed almonds), spooned dollops of it into cold cream soups, thickened and enriched sauces, used it in a baked plum tart (like a cheesecake), enjoyed it with fresh berries, mixed it into dips, blended it with gorgonzola or with feta and used it as a spread …..and have made the most of having it as a staple in my fridge.
Mascarpone is a cheese, originally from Lombardy but now used extensively in savoury and sweet dishes elsewhere in Italy and of course in other parts of the world. It can be difficult to find and making it at home is so easy.
Cheese is made with creamy milk but mascarpone is made from cream that thickens when coagulated with cultures (like those used to make sour cream) .
You will find various explanations of how it is made. The most common is that the cream is heated, then acidified with citric acid or lemon juice and then kept at a high temperature for 5 or 10 minutes.
However, I use a much simpler way – I do not heat the cream nor do I coagulate it with lemon juice (this can also impart an unwanted lemon taste).
I mix fresh cream with soured cream. The sour cream introduces the bacterial culture to the cream and after leaving it for 2 days or more it thickens. The result is a very thick cream with a slightly sharp, sour taste – and very much like the commercially made Mascarpone. Buttermilk can also be used to introduce the culture to the cream.
Mascarpone is very much the consistency of clotted cream, but this has a higher fat content and it is thickened by heating with no cultures added.
Crème fraiche is also cultured cream; to make this I add a higher amount of sour cream to the cream and make it slightly more acidic in taste.
I like to use double cream and do not use thickened cream because it contains a thickener.
Combine one carton of cream and half of that amount of sour cream in a glass container. Cover and let sit at room temperature overnight. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours before using.
When stored in the fridge, the cream will continue to mature and thicken; it keeps well for about one week.