Rationale – CULINARY TRADITIONS

We cannot expect recipes to remain exactly the same, but there are some culinary traditions when it comes to Italian food. These may influence our thinking.

Just like food has evolved in Australia (and elsewhere) cooks are influenced by new ingredients, the wide exposure to the cooking of others (media, travel, migration/immigration, eating away from home) and perhaps the wider acceptance of not sticking to the rules, except perhaps as do the nonne (plural of nonna) and in my case, it was also the zie (plural of zia=aunt).

One simple example of how traditional recipes have evolved is to consider the range of toppings with Pizza. Once, there was Margheria, Marinara, Quattro Stagioni, Napoletana and Pugliese (if you were lucky.)  Modern combination of ingredients are now extensive and I consider some to be excellent and keeping with my tastes (ingredients like – stracciatella, gorgozola, roquette, roasted pumpkin etc), but somehow I can’t come to accept a BBQ PIZZA as described on the web (with smoked cheese, diced chicken breast, peppers, onions, baby plum tomatoes and barbecue sauce) or a TIKKA MASALA PIZZA (spiced chicken, green peppers, natural yogurt, mango chutney and coriander).

My knowledge about Italian cuisine and ingredients just doesn’t allow it.

I like to experiment in the kitchen, but I tend to stick with ingredients that I think are acceptable within tradition and regional culture. I base my cooking of my knowledge and experience. For example, I have seen recipes suggesting fish sauce as a substitute for anchovies in Italian recipes (by chefs and not necessarily Italian). And why not? But not me. Part of me still sticks some culinary regulations.

The following is an account of my thinking before I cooked dinner on a week night (not special).

I had some fennel and some zucchini in the fridge that needed using.

I needed to make some culinary decisions.

I felt like making a pasta dish but knew that I needed to add something else to these vegetables to pep up the flavour. I consider both these vegetables sweet tasting, and because my sweet marjoram plant is doing extremely well on my balcony, I decided to add this, too. Parsley always pairs with both vegetables as does a splash of white wine or/and stock. I could sauté either onion or garlic before adding the vegetables and I could cook them in butter as well as extra virgin olive oil; I would add a large amount of grated Parmesan at the end. Perhaps also a grind of nutmeg which would complement the marjoram and the sweet tastes of the vegetables. This set me thinking about adding a few walnuts too (influenced by the Ligurian pesto made with marjoram and walnuts). Such a recipe would result in a dish with northern Italian flavours.

If I wanted something spicier, I would need to add some of the following ingredients: olives (either black or green), capers, chilli, anchovies, tomatoes or better still tomato paste. Red wine is stronger than white wine and Pernod would complement the fennel in the ingredients.Either Italian pork sausages (with fennel or chilli,) or pancetta would be good, too. Borlotti or cannellini beans would enhance the taste and textures and add protein to the dish. Adding a contrasting bitter tasting vegetable could also work – radicchio, if I wanted to keep with northern Italian influences, chicory or endives, perhaps, would be more southern and wild fennel would be Sicilian or Calabrese.

I decided on anchovies, olives and a dash of white wine.

With strong flavours Pecorino is better than Parmesan. I always have feta marinating in my fridge (in extra virgin olive oil, fennel seeds, dried oregano, fresh bay leaves and peppercorns) and this would be suitable too. Ricotta would be a sweet contrast to the stronger flavours, but perhaps it would be better as a topping to the milder northern Italian influenced version. And least we forget pan fried dry breadcrumbs as a topping, popular in Sicily and Calabria.

Once I decided on the ingredients, cooking was simple.

INGREDIENTS

4 zucchini (in cubes), 1 head of fennel (cut into smaller cubes), 1 onion (sliced) – I only had a red onion, but because of the strong colour I would have preferred a white/ brown one), about 8 – 10 chopped anchovies (to taste), olives (mine were a mixture of green and black), cut parsley and marjoram and a splash of white wine. I used no salt because of the anchovies and olives. Extra virgin olive oil for the cooking.

Different shapes of pasta hold the sauce and ingredients in a different way. An oily, creamy, thin sauce sticks better to long pasta, whereas a short pasta shape is more suited to a sauce where the bits of meat or vegetables can nestle within, for example, shapes that have a hole (penne, rigatoni, shells) or a ridge or twists (farfalle, casarecce, spiralli) I opted for short casarecce pasta to go with this sauce.

METHOD

Work out at what stage of cooking the sauce, you will need to cook the pasta. This will depend on your speed as a cook.

For the sauce: Dissolve anchovies in a saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil, then add the onion and sauté until it has wilted. Add the fennel and the anchovies and at the same time as sautéing the ingredients try to dissolve the anchovies. The darker colour in the photo above is red onion.  Cook for about 5 minutes until the fennel has softened.

Add zucchini, chopped herbs and olives. Sauté again and perhaps cover with a lid until the vegetables have softened to your liking (I didn’t have to)

Add a splash of white wine to deglaze.

Dress the pasta. Present with grated cheese. I selected Pecorino.

And I wasn’t to miss out about Radicchio and Borlotti, so I made a salad. I used celery rather than fennel because I had used fennel in the sauce, used spring onion and aa vinaigrette dressing.

Some examples of recipes that may have influenced my thinking:

PESTO DI NOCI (Walnut pesto/ sauce for pasta)

PASTA CON FINOCCHIO (Pasta and fennel; preferably wild)

PASTA WITH BREADCRUMBS, anchovies and fennel (Pasta cca muddica)

PASTA CON LE SARDE (SARDINES)

RADICCHIO and Borlotti salad 

AND BORLOTTI SALAD and BRAISED FENNEL WITH TAPENADE

CAMPING AND COOKING IN W.A.

For me, it is very important to eat well, wherever I am.

I have recently returned from a nine week trip in Western Australia. It was in a very simple campervan with a basic pull out stove, but as always, I manage to eat well even if some supplies were difficult to purchase.

I realize that the range of vegetables I am accostomed to where I live (Melbourne and previously Adelaide) were not to be found even in the larger towns I visited.  Supply and demand is important and I consider myself lucky to live in cities where the the different ethnicities have contributed to what is grown and available.

But maybe I am expecting far too much.

I need to acknowledge that much of the produce I bought was in small, often remote communities and, as in the rest of country Australia, what was mostly available was limited to pumpkins, iceberg lettuces, carrots, cauliflower, cabbages and tomatoes (not the greatest). Potatoes, onions and sweet potatoes were everywhere. Beetroot, sometimes – but without their leaves. the sort of vegetables that my family was able to purchase when we first settled in Adelaide and I was eight years old.

In some places I found broccoli, green beans, spring onions and sometimes boc choy and red cabbage. On rare occasions there was asparagus and, if I was lucky, there were good bunches of silverbeet. I made sure to buy bunches of this leafy green vegetable wherever I could and cooked it in various ways: braised with chillies and anchovies, sautéed  in butter with a final dash of lemon juice, sautéed and deglazed with vinegar and a bit of sugar, or mixed with other vegetables.

Sometimes, I found curly Kale, but never Tuscan Kale, the Italian Cavolo Nero. Having said that, I acknowledge that growing seasons may be different in the West, especailly the North West, but if there was Kale there was never Cavolo Nero/Tuscan Kale which grows in the same season. I saw and bought Brussel sprouts in a few places but they were extremely expensive.

Capsicums/ peppers were pretty abundant, especially red ones.

In the larger cities produce was more varied. One of the things that I found quite perculiar is that zucchini were were exceptionally large and old singly. I only once found small zucchini (the size they should be) which was in Albany and I bought all they had. Green grocers seem few and far between and people shopped in supermarkets, but perhaps, on reflection supermarkets don’t necessarily have a wide range  .

The produce in the Fremantle market was certaily fresh and excellent in quality and i stocked up there as much as I could. Occasionally, we’d pass through a place that had a Saturday Market but most of the stalls had a limited range, usually more of the same. On one rare occasion I found a market stall that had broadbeans and English spinach, fresh bunches of basil, coriander and parsley. Heaven! I’m an opportunistic shopper and while I do pine for leafy green vegetables, I know I can always make a meal of whatever I have in the pantry. The occasional tin of  borlotti, canellini or black beans came in very handy as a mixer.

Whenever I saw red, teardrops tomatoes, as I did in the market in Fremantle and Saturday Market in Carnarvon I bought plenty.

I made many salads using what vegetables I had. In one supermarket in Denmark I found a celeriac. I teemed this with beetroot and dressed it with a mustard vinaigrette.

I  bought fennel in Fremantle and on another occasion radicchio in Albany. As well as salad I braised some with leeks and chicken breasts. Pretty good with mashed potatoes.

I bought a 2k tub of bocconcini and a burrata in Margaret River.

That was a real find!

My pantry in the campervan is always well stocked with extra virgin olive oil, vinegars, capers, olives, nuts, anchovies and a farly generous supply of spices including different types of pepper. The only dry herb I use is oregano. I am a big consumer of fresh herbs and I picked fresh rosemary wherever I saw it and kept it fresh in a container in the small fridge in the van. In some places I was able to buy fresh basil. I make harissa – strong and fragrant and take this with me.

For camping trips, I also marinade feta in extra virgin olive oil, bay leaves and black peppercorns and store it in the fridge. Feta is very versatile and when it is marinaded it lasts for a long time. I add this to salads, dress pasta with it and spread it on bread.

I also use wine or one of the vinegars (cider,wine, balsamic, chinese brown) for deglazing.

I bought fish wherever I could and even made fish stock for a risotto with the crayfish shells.

Meat was pentiful and there was some grass fed and organic in the larger places. I even braised a whole chicken. And there was stock.

And with stock, there is risotto.

Pulses are also plentiful in my camp kitchen as are different types of rice and pasta of various shapes. I have quinoa and couscous as well.

So as you can see, not much is impossible to cook when camping and I do enjoy making do with what I have.

Harissa made with fresh Chillies

HARISSA (A hot chilli condiment)

CAMPING and COOKING

GLAM COOKING ON THE ROAD; Camping

EATING WELL, Camping in Tasmania, BBQ chicken-Pollo alla Diavola

 

GLAM COOKING ON THE ROAD – Camping

In the last few months I have spent very little time at home and with no time to write;  I have travelled from one state to another (South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria) in a camper van with little time in between.

But while I have been away I continue to cook.

Cooking whilst camping is all about simplicity and the following dishes (even the duck) may look glam but they were simple to prepare and cook.

FUNGHI AL FUNGHETTO (Braised mushrooms)

MELANZANE; eggplants AL FUNGHETTO or TRIFOLATE

PEPERONATA ; PIPIRONATA (Sicilian) Braised peppers

PEPPERS WITH BREADCRUMBS- PIPI CA MUDDICA – PEPERONI CON LA MOLLICA

CAMPING, Pumpkin risotto

South Australia in Goolwa

SPAGHETTI ALLE VONGOLE (Spaghetti with cockles)

VONGOLE con FINOCCHIO (fennel) e Vermouth

The beauty  of Tasmania