Category Archives: Seafood

Staples in my fridge – olives, capers, anchovies and nuts

In my fridge you are likely to always find green and black olives, anchovies, capers and nuts, especially almonds, pine nuts, pistachio, hazelnuts and walnuts.  I consider these as staples and frequently add these ingredients, common in Italian cooking, to much of my cuisine.

In my freezer you will always find jars of stock and pulses of some kind, usually chickpeas, borlotti, cannellini or even black-eyed beans. I say “even” because they are not considered a common bean in Italian cuisine.  I do not bother storing frozen lentils  because they cook so quickly and don’t need  soaking.

I have not mentioned how important fresh herbs, spices and extra virgin olive oil are in my cooking – but they are.

What  you will also find  in my fridge are some jars of homemade  pastes  – always harissa and maybe a couple of jars of other pastes  that contain a combination of three or more of these ingredients: olives, anchovies, various fresh herbs, capers or nuts.

For most of this year, my partner has been doing the shopping. Perhaps he enjoys having this time on his own and to chat with his favourite stallholders at the Queen Victoria Market.

Someone once asked me if I trusted him with the shopping.  I do, but sometimes he buys too much….  last week it was too much squid, this week he came home with two large freshwater trouts.

There is no inviting friends around! We are in lockdown in Melbourne.

We eat a lot of vegetables and I can easily turn excess vegetables into soup or pickles. Meat I can freeze, but I do not  like to freeze fish, so we had trout for two nights in a row.

The first night I simply fried  the trout in butter and a substantial amount of  fresh sage. Good, but ordinary.

In my fridge I had a jar of a combination of ground toasted walnuts, hazelnuts, nutmeg, black pepper and Za’atar.

You could say it was a version of dukkah that I had used for something else and I sprinkled some of this on the trout once  the trout was filleted at the table.

The second night I cooked the trout on a bed of  sautéed shaved fennel and parsley and  at the very end of cooking I added some green olive paste. I had this in the fridge. The sauce was plentiful and went beautifully with the braised lentils and endives.

And once again I was able to add a different taste to something that was pretty good in the first place but was made even better.

I do not measure ingredients when I am making a paste, but for the sake of the recipe, I have made an estimation of  the ingredients.

My combinations of ingredients vary, but for this particular green olive paste I used:

200g of pitted green olives,
100g capers, either drained if in brine or soaked and rinsed a number of times if using the salted capers,
100g of toasted almonds,
4 anchovies,
1 garlic clove,
grated orange peel from one orange,
1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
½ cup of chopped parsley
juice from half a lemon.

Making pastes is dead simple. Blend all of the ingredients together except for the olive oil that you can add at the very end….slowly… until you have a paste to your liking. You can make it as smooth as you wish; I prefer some crunch.

Place in a clean glass jar, top with some more extra virgin olive oil and keep it in your fridge.

This is the first time that I have taken a photo of inside my fridge, but you can see what I mean!

MUSSELS, three ways: in brodetto, with spaghetti and in a risotto with saffron

Victorian fresh mussels are always fabulous and they go a long way. There are two people in my household and we usually buy 2kilos. Sometimes we eat them all and at other times I use the left over mussels to make something else. There is usually some mussel broth left over and I store this in a glass jar in my freezer.

My partner likes to do the shopping and off he goes with his list, his bag and his mask and shops at the Queen Victoria Market. This time he cam home with 3kilos.  We are in lockdown here so no inviting someone to join us.

I really like mussels and from a 3kilo batch my partner and I had  three meals. Very frugal, but by the third day we were a little sick of mussels.

For the first meal, I cooked the mussels steamed in their own broth. In Italian this is called  In brodetto.. brodo is broth.

I begin with a soffritto of chopped carrots, celery, onion and garlic, with the help of a little white wine, then add the mussels, put on a lid and let them steam open and I sprinkle a little chopped parsley towards the end. We ate these with good quality, home baked bread, rubbed with oil and garlic and toasted in the oven.

On the second day we made some home made egg spaghetti. I made a salsa, first by dissolving a few anchovies in a little hot extra virgin  olive oil, then I added a can of chopped tomatoes, a whole clove of garlic, a sprig of fresh oregano (because there is no basil growing on my balcony in this cold season) and a little of the mussel broth. I let it cook with no lid, to reduce and thicken. I added the cooked mussels to the sauce just to heat up and dressed the pasta. I keep the garlic whole so that I can remove it, this is my preference but maybe not yours.

Next day, a risotto, and very simple once again.

This time I used a fresh fennel and some of the left over mussels out of their shells that I kept in a jar in the fridge with yet again some of their broth. But this time I also used some mussel broth I had in the freezer from the time before. That mussel broth comes in handy and there always seems to be plenty of it.

There are three types of rice you can use for making risotto. Arborio is the most common and easily available in Australia, but carnaroli  has more starch as does vialone nano; these two varieties make a risotto creamier. However, when I make a seafood risotto I prefer to use aborio because with seafood I like the risotto to be less gluggy. Don’t let this confuse you… all three varieties are suitable and it is just personal preferences. Perhaps I like to taste the flavour of the sea. Perhaps this is also why I do not  generally add butter to a seafood risotto.

You may be remembering that you have read many recipes that indicate that you stick to the stove while you cook risotto. Sicilian rice dishes are interesting.  I have watched  my Sicilian aunties cook rice and have read numerous recipes where some stock is added, the lid is put on and it is left to absorb for about 5 minutes or more,  then more stock is added and once again it is not continually stirred. The stirring happens in the last 5-7 minutes.

Making risotto is so simple, quick and easy.

I used 2 thinly sliced spring onions, 2  chopped cloves of garlic and once again began the cooking process by tossing it around in some extra virgin olive oil in a hot pan.

Then I added a finely sliced fennel and some parsley and tossed this around,  added 1.5 cup of rice (this is sufficient for 2 people but you can add more). Toss it around to coat, add a splash of  white wine. I added saffron, a generous pinch soaked beforehand in a little bit of water.

Keep on adding hot fish or mussel broth as you cook the rice until it is nearly cooked. This is when you add the shelled mussels. Cook the risotto until it is cooked all’onda…till the risotto looks wavy like the sea, and still moist.

I do not wish to eat mussels again for a couple of weeks.

 

 

 

BACCALÀ MANTECATO, risotto

Baccalà Mantecato is a Northern Italian specialty and when I make it I poach the baccalà in milk.

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So what to do with the left over milk?

I made a risotto.

I had two jars of baccalà flavoured milk, far too much to make a risotto, so I reduced it to concentrate the flavour, and this worked well.

I used this antique gadget given to me a very long time ago by a friend. it is called a milk saver.  She used to find all sorts of treasures at the Stirling dump in the Adelaide Hills and this was one of them.  It does work!

Just using the milk would not be enough to flavour the risotto. I wanted texture and more flavour and I had some Mantecato left over in the fridge.

Ingredients: extra virgin olive oil,  carnaroli rice, spring onions, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, grated lemon peel, Baccalà Mantecato and roasted almonds to spring on top.

Method is nothing out of the ordinary when making risotto.

Check the taste of the milk to see if it is salty and you may not need to add any more seasoning.

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Saute the spring onion in the extra virgin olive oil, add the rice and coat it in the oil -at this stage you may like to add a little white wine and evaporate it.  Add thyme and bay leaves and gradually add the milk in stages, just as you would add stock when making a risotto. If you do not have sufficient milk you may need to add a little water. Remember that rice is supposed to be presented “all’onda”, as Italian would say. “Onda” means wave….all’onda is wavy, therefore the  risotto should be moist, with waves on top and not solid.

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Add the parsley, grated lemon and the Mantecato last of all and stir through. The Mantecato will make the rice very creamy.

Sprinkle with roasted almonds when ready to serve.
There are several recipes for baccalà on the web and also for risotto.

BACCALÀ MANTECATO (Creamed salt cod, popular in the Veneto region and Trieste)

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FISH POACHED IN A FISH KETTLE in bouillon

As you can see this poached whole Atlantic Salmon looks very impressive and it tasted fabulous.

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The method of slowly poaching a whole fish in a fish kettle is easy. The poaching liquid in this case was salted water, whole parsley – leaves and stalks, black peppercorns, lemons and onions cut into  thick slices.

The poaching liquid (bouillon) can be a combination of  salted water and white wine and contain some aromatics of your choice to flavour the stock. Common are whole black peppercorns, fresh fennel, or fennel seeds, dill stalks or seeds, carrots, celery, fresh bay leaves, thyme, but it is important not to use too many ingredients to flavour the liquid because the strength of cooking the fish in this way is to taste the natural taste of the fish.

The greatest advantage in using a fish kettle is that it contains a perforated insert on which the fish sits, enabling it to be easily lowered into and raised from the poaching liquid. Placing some of the ingredients (if not all) to flavour the fish underneath the perforated insert can be advantageous and keep the bottom side of the fish from being over flavoured. Some of the flavourings can also be placed in the centre of the fish.

I do not have a photo of the fish kettle that was used to poach the Atlantic Salmon (it belongs to my friend), but in this photo below is of my fish kettle. It is much smaller but it can easily hold two fish. The 1k flathead is sitting on the perforated insert.

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Unfortunately giving precise information is not possible because it depends on the size  and species of the fish and how cooked you like it. We are talking about poaching the fish on low heat. Don’t bring your pot to a boil, or to simmer. It needs to reach the required temperature slowly.

If you have thermometer the fish will need to be poached at a temperature of 80-85 °C.

If you do not have a thermometer observe how small bubbles will gently rise and break on the surface. This is your indication that it has reached the required temperature.  . 

Procedure:

Place aromatics into the fish kettle, place the fish on the perforated insert, add the liquid to cover the fish (it must be covered).  Cover with a lid and wait till the temperature reaches of 80-85C or till the small bubbles rise to the surface. Leave it for about 5 minutes.

This large fish was about 4k and it took about 30 mins for the bubbles to rise to the surface or to reach the poaching temperature. 

Switch off the heat and allow the fish to stand in the water until it is at room temperature.

Test the fish by inserting a skewer or fork into the thickest part of the fish – undercooked fish resists flaking and is translucent, cooked fish is opaque and flakes.

Remove it from the poaching liquid and the fish will be ready to eat. It is best eaten at room temperature.

A herb salad or a simple dressing made with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and fresh herbs is perfect. Any of the following soft herbs: parsley, dill, tarragon, chervil, fennel.

If you need to refrigerate the fish or have fish left over and want to serve it the next day it could be served with a stronger sauce.

Alternative dressings:

SALAMURRIGGHIU – SALMORIGLIO (Dressing made with oil, lemon and oregano)

ZOGGHIU (Sicilian pesto/dressing made with garlic, parsley and mint)

PESCE IN BIANCO (Plain fish). MAIONESE (Mayonnaise)

 

 

 

VONGOLE con FINOCCHIO e Vermouth

B1D5EC2C-3A7E-487F-A229-600CA75EE764Cockles, vongole , pipis from Goolwa.

02D5AEFE-17A9-4E7F-95F2-D86DCA11F397Fennel sautéed in extra virgin olive oil, garlic, tarragon and parsley. Deglazed with dry vermouth.

FE637EF8-8A6C-4CFD-B88D-8B0DF6D14833Add the vongole, cover, and the vongole will open very quickly. Open and serve with crostini…..bread of your choice brushed with extra virgin olive oil and toasted in the oven.

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MUSSELS (Cozze) IN BRODETTO (Mussels in a little broth)

IMG_2797It turned out rather well and we ate it with oven toasted bread rubbed and baked with extra virgin olive oil and garlic.

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There were four separate components:

  • a tomato salsa – extra virgin olive oil, fresh garlic cloves, fresh oregano and a little rosemary,
  • steamed mussels (cozze), most taken out of their shells…. a little white wine and a little fish stock,

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  • a soffritto of celery, chopped fennel, spring onions and baby carrots,

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  • chopped herbs – fennel fronds and parsley.

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All assembled at the end to make this:

IMG_2797 Was it Italian regional?

I do not know. I used Italian methods and ingredients and I guess that it could have been made in any part of Italy. Maybe in the South a little chilli would be added.

And we liked it.

PASTA with ‘NDUJA, CIME DI RAPA and PORK SAUSAGES

0B2396E0-30E7-4A38-9D8C-A796AB675E18I have been away from home recently, and what I really enjoy is coming up with a dish using ingredients that I have…and need using up. This must be one of the reasons I enjoy camping and we always eat so well.

I had ‘nduja (a soft chilli-laden, soft salame from Calabria), a bunch of cime di rapa or rape (rape is plural of rapa) and some small and fabulous, pure pork sausages that I had cooked in some tomato salsa the day before. We had eaten most of these with polenta and these were left over.

What I did was simple. I braised the cime di rapa  in some garlic and extra virgin olive oil as I do when I cook cime di rapa with pasta.  Once cooked, I added the ‘nduja….probably too much, I love chilli but do others like it as much as I do? I could have used a half of the quantity and it still would have tasted great. The ‘nduja melts with the heat and coats the vegetables.

3096B518-5BDD-4137-BAE6-19AD668DD9D8.jpegNext, I added the sausages and only a little of the tomato salsa. I was making a pasta sauce and not a soup a , so I needed just a little liquid.

E014309E-1310-4A76-92AD-3198C3FE02D1I had rigatoni on hand, and some Sicilian pecorino pepato.

You will need to accept that it tasted vey good. So much so, Squid, that I did not have time to take a photo – it was gobbled up far too quickly by my two guests.

There are recipes for cooking with ‘nduja:

‘NDUJA, a spreadable and spicy pork salame from Calabria

SPAGHETTI with ‘NDUJA, SQUID, VONGOLE AND PAN GRATTATO

‘NDUJA and CALAMARI as a pasta sauce

’Nduja with squid

 

HAPUKA(fish)WITH SICILIAN FLAVOURS

I used Hapuka, but any fish will do.

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The Sicilian flavours are simple – grated lemon peel, lemon juice, anchovies, fresh mint and parsley.

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Once you have pan fried one side of the fish, turn it over, top with the chopped herbs, anchovies cut into small pieces. Wait till the underside is cooked to your liking – do not overlook it as the fish will be flipped on the same side again for a very short time.

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Turn the fish over once again and salt that side slightly and add lemon juice. Evaporate the lemon juice and it is done. The anchovies should have “melted” a bit.

PASTA CON LE SARDE, Iconic Sicilian made easy

An important ingredient for making Pasta con le sarde is wild fennel. The season for wild fennel has well and truly passed and all you will find at this time of year are stalky plants, yellow flowers/ seed pods and no green fronds.

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What we call Florentine fennel is also going out of season and you will find  for sale specimens with very small stunted bulbs. If you are lucky, your greengrocer may sell them with long stalks and fronds attached – perfect to use as a substitute for wild fennel and I certainly would not go near these stunted specimens otherwise.

Sardine fillets are easy to find. I use the paper that my fishmonger has wrapped the sardines to wipe dry the fish.

Remove the small dorsal spine from the fillets. Once again the paper comes in handy to wipe fishy fingers.

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Prepare the ingredients:

Sardine fillets, chopped spring onions, the softer green fonds of the fennel, saffron soaking in a little water, currants soaking in a little water, fennel bulb cut finely, toasted pine nuts and chopped toasted almonds, salt and ground black pepper (or ground chili).

The preferred pasta shape are bucatini, but spaghetti or casarecce are good also.

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You will also need some breadcrumbs (made from good quality day- old bread) toasted in a pan with a little oil. Add a bit of sugar, some cinnamon and grated lemon peel. toss it around in the pan so that the sugar melts and the flavours are mixed. This is the topping for the pasta. I have seen this referred to as pan grattato – this would not be my preferred tag – in Italian pan grattato is the term for plain breadcrumbs, but I accept that over time the terminology has evolved. The traditional Sicilian breadcrumb topping would not have had/ does not have the cinnamon or grated lemon peel.

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The larger fennel fronds and stalks are used to flavour the water for the cooking of the pasta. Place them into salted cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for at least 10 minutes – you can leave the fennel in water as long as you like. The greenery  can easily be fished out with tongs before the pasta goes into the boiling water to cook.

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And  then it is a very simple matter of cooking the ingredients.

Sauté  the spring onion in some extra virgin olive oil.  Add the fennel and chopped fronds and sauté them some more.

Depending on the quality of the fennel (degree of succulence) you may need to add a splash of water or white wine, cover it and continue to cook it for a few minutes more.

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Add salt and pepper and put the sautéed vegetables aside.

Cook the pasta.

Fry the sardines in a little extra virgin olive oil  – they will cook very quickly and begin to break up. Combine the sardines with the cooked fennel, add saffron and  drained currants and mix to amalgamate the flavours. Add the almonds and pine nuts.

Dress the cooked pasta with the sardine sauce.

Put the dressed pasta in a serving platter and sprinkle liberally with the toasted breadcrumbs  – these add flavour and crunch to the dish.

For a more conventional Sicilian Pasta con le Sarde:

PASTA CON LE SARDE, an iconic Sicilian recipe from Palermo. Cooked at Slow Food Festival Melbourne

PASTA CON SARDE – the baked version, Palermo, Sicily

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

PASTA CON FINOCCHIO (Pasta and fennel – preferably wild)

FLAVOURED BUTTER TO DRESS AND ENHANCE TASTE

I hesitate to write recipes that are just so simple, but recently I was reminded how a simple herb butter can enhance simply grilled or steamed fish, meat or vegetables, bread etc. Grilled vegetables seem to be the pick of the month – enhance them with a flavoured butter.

While in South Australia I ate and drank very well in a number of restaurants, most had unusual combinations of excellent South Australian produce, others like Skillogalee Winery Restaurant in the Clare Valley had simple fare, more conventional and perfectly geared to the wide range of people who visit wineries and can enjoy a relaxing afternoon.

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Our group of four sat in the garden and one of the dishes we chose to share was Port Lincoln whole sardines served with lime and parsley butter with bread. We ordered 2 serves of these sardines.

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So modest, but so delicious. Sometimes we forget how something so quickly and simply made can really enhance a dish.

Some of you may remember the craze for the Beurre Maître d’Hôtel, also referred to as Maître d’Hôtel butter or Compound butter – It is simply butter combined with herbs, pepper and lemon juice and typically formed into a cylinder and sliced.  A circular disc of Maître d’Hôtel butter was centrally plonked on top of a grilled steak –  a technique used by many high-end steak houses in the eighties and early nineties…. people in Adelaide may remember The Arkaba Steak Cellar.

With a little imagination, different herbs instead of parsley will impart different flavours and grated lemon or lime peel will boost the citrus taste.

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To make lime and parsley butter sufficient for 4-6 sardines and bread begin with 1 cup unsalted good quality butter at room temperature, 1-2 teaspoons of lime zest, 2 teaspoons of fresh lime juice, 1 tablespoon of fresh parsley chopped very finely and a little salt and pepper to taste.

Use a fork to beat the butter in a bowl until smooth and creamy. Mix zest, juice and gradually add parsley salt, and black pepper into the butter until thoroughly combined.

Taste it and if it is necessary to alter it add more of any of the ingredients to make it to your taste. Rest in the fridge to return consistency and enhance the flavour.

If you wish to store it and give it that 1980’s shape, wrap it in foil or in baking paper keep it in the fridge until ready to use.

All grilled fish and not just sardines can be used, as all meat and vegetables.

Instead of parsley, add different herbs – rosemary, thyme, sage, dill, basil, fennel fronds, tarragon, chives, oregano, marjoram, coriander are simple examples.

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Garlic, ginger, horseradish, paprika, pink pepper, spices….need I go on?

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Only to say that I rather like finely chopped anchovy fillets combined in butter – begin with 1 tablespoon of chopped anchovies to 1 cup pf butter and add more if it is not to your taste.

For miso butter – begin with 1 tablespoon of white miso and proceed as above. Red or brown miso can also be used.

Recently I also tried mixing some chopped lavender leaves into butter to present with scones. Not too much lavender  or it could taste medicinal.

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