Category Archives: Travel and Recipes

CASSOULET? Not quite

Did I use mutton? Pork rind? Pork hock?
Not even goose?
Breadcrumbs on top? Confit of duck?
No, not any of these.

Cassoulet? Not quite. Perhaps I can call my recipe Cassoulet inspired.

Melbourne is in lockdown and I cooked this just for the two of us, and with no guests to impress, I took an easy option. Many writers have written about Cassoulet and I enjoyed leafing through some of the numerous books on my bookshelves.

It takes a lockdown! I have not leafed through books for a very long time.

I found recipes for Cassoulet in books by: Claudia Roden, Paula Wolfert, Joyce Goldstein, Stephanie Alexander, Guy Grossi and Jan McGuiness, Alice Waters, Clifford A Wright, Julia Child, Raymond Oliver, Elizabeth David and Rick Stein. If I had kept looking I may have found more.

The most comprehensive recipes are in this book:

The best photo for ingredients are in this book:

There is very little fat in my version of this dish; this is yet another reason why it cannot be called a Cassoulet. I used chicken legs and thinly cut pancetta because they needed using up. Instead of the pancetta, that I had in my fridge, I would have preferred to have used cubed pieces of speck, fatty prosciutto or raw bacon.

Ingredients

I used duck pieces, chicken legs , good-quality garlicky pork sausages, pork steaks from the neck, some pancetta and chicken stock. 

1 onion, 3-4 cloves of garlic, cannellini beans (soaked over night and cooked), 1/2 can of peeled tomatoes, thyme, bayleaves, parsley, bit of celery with leaves, pepper and salt.

Processes

I used a Dutch oven (thick bottom pan, suitable for slow cooking). This allowed me to brown the meat on the stove and to transfer the pan to the oven. . 

The cannellini beans can be cooked beforehand and stored in the fridge: Soak over night (about 3 centimetres above the beans). Drain the beans , cover with fresh water, add some bay leaves and celery then simmer till nearly cooked/almost tender, but retain a slight bite, 30 – 40 minutes.

Brown the meat: Begin with the duck, and use the rendered fat from the duck to brown the other meat. Remove the duck, add the  pancetta, seal it and set aside. Add some extra virgin olive oil or duck fat or lard if you need more fat and continue to brown the chicken,  pork and sausages, turn occasionally until well-browned on both sides.  Remove each piece of meat when it has browned and set it aside with the duck. It is best not to overcrowd the meat whilst browning.

Add onions, stir and scrape up browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add beans with some of the broth from the beans, garlic,  thyme, parsley, bay leaves and tomatoes. Cover with stock.

Arrange the meats on top of the beans with the skin facing upwards.  Make sure  that the meat is almost completely submerged. with the stock.

Transfer to oven (155C) and cook, uncovered, until a thin crust forms on top (about 2 hours). The crust is a combination of the fat and collagen  from the meat and bones and the homemade chicken stock I used. The beans need to be covered with liquid and the meat mostly submerged. The liquid will evaporate so add more water or stock as it cooks – pour it carefully and gently down the side of the saucepan so as not to break the crust that forms on top as the ingredients cook. 

Continue cooking undisturbed until the crust is deep brown and thick (at least 3 hours). Usually a real cassoulet is cooked for longer, but the meat was very tasty,  soft and succulent.

Definitely not a Cassoulet, but I had fun dipping into some of my old books, cooking, eating and writing about it.

 

 

 

PRESERVED LEMONS

This week there was an article by Richard Cornish in his regular column: Brain food with Richard Cornish (Everything you need to know about…preserved lemon).  The Age 20/7/20210.

I made a jar of preserved lemons recently to take to Adelaide for when and if I’m able to visit  my son . My daughter and he meet for lunch now and again and swap produce and recipes. He lives in an Asian neighbourhood, so he brings her Asian produce. She is in an African and Middle Eastern neighbourhood and she brought him some preserved lemons. He told me how much he was enjoying them. So I reminded him that I have been preserving lemons for years and he asked me to make him some and bring them over when we come to SA. I have them packed in a jar ready for when we can travel.

This morning I sent him a copy of Richard Cornish’s article and i thought that I would also find him a simple recipe from the web, mail him the link – it’s the easiest way to send recipes these days. My son and friends expected me to have a recipe on my blog, but with so many recipes  for preserved lemons on the web I have never bothered.

I was very surprised by the variations and how complicated the recipes seem on the web.

Making preserved lemons is the simplest thing! The only ingredients you need are lemons, salt and boiled water. You need to pack the lemons in a sterilized jar and leave them in a cupboard to mature.

So many recipes on the web  add embellishments like cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, star anise, vanilla pods or other spices and herbs. Although a  very popular recipe  by Stephanie Alexander suggests embellishments, I prefer to preserve them plain. This allows me more flexibility, more opportunities to add them to different cuisines. For example, if I’m making an Italian lemon  or  a seafood risotto and wish to enhance the recipe with a little preserved lemon, I would rather not have the risotto taste of various spices. And, by the way, they are not an Italian ingredient!

I have added some of the preserving juice when I have pickled olives. A reader once told me that he adds some when he is stewing rhubarb, I have added some when baking quince. They are also great in salads made with grains or pulses, beetroots, Middle Eastern dishes, dressed olives… experiment!

I have read in various publications that in Morocco where preserved lemons are very common,  that they do not traditionally add embellishments such as cinnamon, bay leaves or other spices and herbs. I have been to Tunisia and this seemed to be the same there.

I then started thinking when and why I had begun to make and use preserved lemons in the first place, and I remembered!

I found the dusty recipe book by Robert Carrier on one of my shelves, together with some other very dusty recipe books that I haven’t opened for years. There was the recipe for preserved lemons and the food that inspired me to make them.

The book was published in 1987! How time flies!

Claudia Roden also has recipes- for preserved lemons – same as Carrier, lemons and salt, no spices.

Here is a simplified version or the recipe:

You will need a large jar with a wide neck, the size of the jar to accommodate the number of lemons you intend to use. Keep in mind that the lemons will be compressed in the jar.

When I make a large jar, I use about 10 -14 lemons.

The jar I made for my son has 5 lemons + the juice of 1 more lemon.

I use all-natural rock salt, from evaporated sea water.

Wash and dry the lemons. Partially cut through them from top to bottom to make four attached wedges. Fill the crevices of the cut lemons with a rough tablespoon of salt.

Squeeze the salted lemons shut and pack them into the jar. Wedge them in as tightly as possible so they can’t move around. Some juice will be released in the process. When the jar is as full as it can be with tightly packed lemons, add a little more salt to the top of the jar. All the lemons need to be fully submerged in liquid, so top them off with some more lemon juice and some boiled water. I always add  a layer of extra virgin olive oil on top. I do this with all my preserves to keep the mould out.

Close the jar and place in a cupboard to cure for at least two months. My large jar has lemons in it that were made last year. They become darker, softer in texture and more mellow and intense in flavour the  longer they sit undisturbed.

Once opened, you can store the lemons in the fridge. The large jar does not fit in my fridge and it is stored in a cupboard. You may notice that I have added some netting and weight on top to keep the remaining lemons submerged.

Richard Cornish’s article:

Subject: The The Age Digital Edition: Everything you need to know about… preserved lemon
This article is from the July 20 issue of The Age Digital Edition. To subscribe, visit “https://www.theage.com.au“.

What is it?

Preserved lemons are ripe lemons transformed through lactic acid fermentation and the action of salt into aromatic, sharp and salty slices of citrus. Washed, unblemished lemons are trimmed, sliced into quarters or eighths depending on their size, and covered with salt. They are packed tightly in jars and squashed to release juice. More juice is added to ensure the lemons are covered. The jars are closed and kept at room temperature for several days to help kickstart lactic acid fermentation. Meanwhile, the sea salt draws liquid from the lemon and helps create an environment in which pectin from the rind and pith thickens the liquid. Most commonly associated with North African and Middle Eastern cuisine, the art of pickling lemons was not unknown to 17thcentury Britons. Lemons are pickled for traditional medicine and culinary uses in China and Vietnam.

Why do we love it?

Perhaps because they are so easy to make using simple recipes and equipment. A jar of homemade preserved lemons also makes a great gift. With their bright colour, sweet and salty tang, and smooth citrus aroma, they give dishes a burst of summer, even in the depths of winter. Preserved lemons will last for years, the rind becoming softer and softer and flavours mellowing.

Who uses it?

In his new book, All Day Baking, baker and author Michael James has a recipe for kangaroo, preserved lemon, prune and sweet potato pie. He also says the pulp and skin are useful in the kitchen, from salads and sauces to braises and mayonnaise. In the second edition of The Cook’s Companion (the one with the striped cover), Stephanie Alexander presents a beautiful recipe for Moroccan-inspired chicken, with chickpeas, swedes, pumpkin, saffron and cumin slowly cooked to make a rich gravy that is finished with coriander and pieces of preserved lemon.

How do you use it?

With respect. Preserved lemons are potent and can easily overpower a dish. Think of them as two parts – the pieces of lemon and the syrup they are in. Use the lemon rind as culinary punctuation, where small morsels can add colour, an acidic tang and a nice whack of salt. Preserved lemons love Middle Eastern spices such as cumin, saffron and coriander seed, and legumes such as chickpeas and lentils. Expect to use them in tagines, Middle Eastern stews, grilled and stewed lamb and chicken, and innovative dishes such as cracked wheat, prawn and lemon salad. You can add the syrup to dishes as a seasoning or brush over meats as they grill.

Where do you get it?

With lemons in season, you can try making your own. Or look for preserved lemons at farmers’ markets and food stores. Supermarkets carry good brands such as Raw Materials Preserved Lemons or buy Arabian Nights lemons preserved in Morocco from Essential Ingredient.

Suggest an ingredient via email to brainfood@richardcornish.com.au or tweet to @foodcornish.

In memory of Zia Licia, my aunt from Trieste – recipe for Fritole

My last surviving aunt, Zia Licia, died last week. She died in Adelaide and the funeral was a couple of days ago, but because I live in Melbourne I was unable to attend.

I was visiting friends in Pambula, on the south coast of NSW when my brother rang  last week to give me the news about Zia’s death and since her death, I have been remembering many things.

Zia Licia was from Trieste and was married to my mother’s brother, Pippo.

My mother’s family moved to Trieste from Catania, Sicily, when my mother was five years old.  She lived in Trieste till my father, mother and I come to Australia. I was eight years old but my memories remain strong.

I consider myself very lucky to have roots in Trieste, Sicily and Australia.

Just like my Sicilian aunts, Zia Licia liked to cook.

 

 

When we came to Adelaide we shared a house for a while with my  Zia Licia and her husband, Zio Pippo.

My mum did not cook much in Trieste, my parents went out to eat or  Zia Renata, my other aunt in Trieste would often cook.

When we came to Australia, mum and Zia Licia cooked together. It was a form of entertainment… what else could you do in a new country when things were so different? Of course my uncle also enjoyed cooking and because he worked on weekdays, he joined in on weekends. There were the three of them on a Sunday morning cooking up new things for the guests we often invited for Sunday lunch.  Those lunches were special, and I was required to help in the kitchen.

Maybe that is where my love of cooking comes from?

My Zia Licia had a good sense of humour and a way of laughing that brought fun into any situation; as expected we all  laughed a lot during these cooking sessions.

One of the very first things that I can remember really enjoying  was the making of Fritole (Frittole in Italian, from fritto, fried).

So what are they?

Fritole are fragrant  and flavourful balls of sweet dough. Once fried they are  coated in granulated sugar (and cinnamon, optional); the spoonfuls of batter were once most likely fried in lard but in recent years, olive oil.  Some may use vegetable oil but I think that olive oil has a special fragrance that enhances the taste of Fritole.

The batter is made with flour, yeast, milk, eggs, sugar, lemon zest,  raisins or sultanas soaked in sufficient dark rum (sometimes in grappa) to rehydrate the raisins. In most recipes  pine nuts are also added, but not always.

Frìtole are also a well established sweet in Venezia, especially during  the Carnevale. The Venice Carnivale takes place each year in February. It begins around two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ends on Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras in French or Martedi Grasso in Italian).

Trieste and Venice are neighbours, so sharing this recipe is not surprising, but in Trieste Fritole are popular at Christmas time. Bakeries, pastry shops and Christmas street markets all have Fritole and they are also made at home.

We had no recipe for Fritole, so we relied heavily on Zia Licia’s memory of making Fritole because Zia  would have helped her mother make them in her Triestinian kitchen. Having eaten them very frequently in Trieste we also relied on our collective memories of how Fritole should look, taste, smell and feel…and always eaten warm and fragrant – so important when it comes to reproducing recipes.

I cannot remember how the adults felt about the Fritole, but I remember enjoying them very much as a child.

In those days we did not add pine nuts to our Fritole; we had no access to them and it was a nut not familiar in Australia at that time.

I found various recipes for Fritole in the large number of books about the cooking of Trieste (in Friuli Venezia Giulia) and in the Veneto regions of northern Italy and  the recipe below is probably  the closest to what we would have made. The instructions in the ancient Italian recipe I’ve chosen, are not very specific because it is assumed that cooks would know what steps to follow, so I  will spell them out.

Ingredients: 3eggs, 30g fresh yeast, 400g plain flour, cinnamon, milk, 50g sugar, lemon peel (grated), rum, 50g raisins (or sultanas), 40g pine nuts.

To the above, add a little salt to the batter. If you wish to use dry yeast, 10g should be sufficient. As for the milk , you will need at least 2 cups, but maybe more – the mixture should be like a thick batter.

Place the raisins or sultanas in a small bowl and pour some dark rum or grappa over them (to cover). Set aside for a few hours or overnight.

Place about a cup of warm milk in a mixing bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Mix well to incorporate the yeast into the milk. Add about half of the flour and mix it in gently. Cover the bowl with a cloth and set aside to rest for half an hour. The mixture will bubble as the yeast activates.

Drain the raisins or sultanas and reserve any rum in a small bowl. Toss them around in a little flour to coat lightly; this will prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the Fritole as they fry.

When the yeast mixture has risen, use a wooden spoon or spatula to incorporate all the ingredients  – the remaining flour, raisins sugar,  egg, lemon zest, rum and pine nuts (if using).  Add more warm milk as necessary to ensure that the mixture is like a thick batter. Cover the bowl with cloth again and set aside in a warm and draft-free area for at least 30-45 minutes to rest – it should double in size and the batter should be bubbly and airy.

Use a heavy-bottomed pot to heat sufficient oil (for the batter to swim/float in). The oil needs to be hot. Use a spoon to carefully drop the batter into the hot oil. It is better to fry a few Fritole at the time and not overcrowd them in the pan.

Once fried, drain the Fritole  with a slotted spoon or tongs and place them on paper towels to absorb any excess oil. Roll them in sugar and cinnamon.

In the last few days I  have  found myself bursting into old Triestinian songs…like Le Ragazze di Trieste and Trieste Mia. I will need to stop myself otherwise i will drive my partner mad!

I have returned to Trieste on many occasions and the photos  of Trieste have been taken over a number of years .

 

 

 

 

THE ADELAIDE CENTRAL MARKET

Recently, I made a very short visit to Adelaide and a brief dash to the Adelaide Central Market. It has been a while since I last visited this market.  I am never disappointed.

The historic, heritage listed Adelaide Central Market is unique and is one of the largest undercover, fresh produce markets in the Southern Hemisphere. I stress, “fresh” produce.

It was a pleasure to see such a huge range of quality fresh food – the beautiful fruit and vegetables, meat, seafood, cheeses, bread and baked goods, smallgoods and wine. Marino Meat and Food store, (specialty butcher) is still there and what used to be Goodies and Grains, now called WHOLE+SOME. I used to shop at both of these places very frequently when I lived in Adelaide.

What I like most about this market is the emphasis on artisanal  and local foods and produce promoting South Australia .

Along with the small selection of the popular cafes and small eateries within the market there are the popular, long standing Asian restaurants that line Gouger Street.

Two particular stalls in the market especially caught my eye.

Something Wild, an Indigenous owned stall that specialises in Aboriginal bush food and produce – the most common as well as the harder to source bush meats, native greens, herbs, fruit, spices, gourmet sauces, jams, chutneys and prepared foods. The range of native game is also outstanding and they even make Gin.

Something Wild, Stall 55, Adelaide Central Market.

The other stall I have always found engrossing is The Mushroom Man, a small stall in the southwest corner of the market.

The Mushroom Man is opposite the famous Lucia’s and Lucia’s Fine Foods (quality olive oils, spreads, breads and ready-made meals).

The  had fresh porcini from the Adelaide Hills. Was I enthusiastic? Very.
The Mushroom Man,  Stall 68, Adelaide Central Market.

But I cannot complain about the lack of porcini mushrooms in Victoria because I have my own supplier of Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms (Lactarius deliciosus, also known as red pine mushrooms). We have friends who live in the Mornington Peninsula who bring me presents very often.

A batch of freshly picked Milk Cap Mushrooms Milk Cap Mushrooms were delivered to welcome me home and to remind me of the good produce in Victoria and that I also have good friends in Victoria as well as in South Australia.

MUSHROOM RECIPES:

There are many recipes for cooking mushrooms on my blog. Use the search button and key in Mushrooms

Also:
WILD MUSHROOMS  Saffron Coloured, Pine Mushrooms and Slippery Jacks

PORCINI in ADELAIDE

 

SALAME – all shapes and sizes

You will find salumerie (small goods  shop) decked with all types of salame  

This is a photo in Tropea, Calabria. See what I mean?

Many Australian-Italian families get together during winter for salami making . Once made, the salami are hung to ferment and age in cool dry spaces and  usually in insulated home garages.

In Australia, salame has become very well-liked. There are stalls of salame at almost every Farmers’ Market, courses for making salame, competitions and fairs. There are an ever- increasing number of various salami made by artisans, butchers and many made at home. And what may surprise some of us, is that just like passata makers, many salumi (smallgoods) makers are now from a non- Italian background.

Salame (and types of mettwurst) are also made in Southern, Eastern and Central Europe and I have eaten excellent salame in Hungary, France, Germany and in Spain.

In a Farmers’ Market in Lancefield a little while ago I bought a salame. Lancefield is a small town in the Victorian Shire of Macedon Ranges (about an hour’s drive from Melbourne).

What first caught my eye was the display board in front of the stall listing the types of salame for sale.

I burst out laughing and the young assistant behind the stall knew exactly why I laughed and why I bought the salame called Brucia Culo:

Brucia = burn, Culo = bum and you guessed it, it was hot.

She told me her father was the person who was the bespoke butcher of the range of salami on offer and he had named them all. Clever man!

The salame tasted terrific and we  could not wait to eat it so we took it with a loaf of bread, local extra virgin olive oil and some heritage tomatoes to Macedon National Park for a picnic, and practically ate all of the salame there and then.

You may have noticed that in Australia salame is now an essential ingredient on platters that offer salumi on menus.

Salame (and types of mettwurst) are also popular in other countries – Southern, Eastern and Central Europe and I have eaten some excellent salame in Hungary and in Spain.

All Italians love salame and I am not stereotyping when I say this. Each region of Italy has particular DOP favourites and at least 113 different types of salami have been identified.

I have many photos of salami and salumerie ( shops that specialize in smallgoods) taken all over Italy; I never take photos unless I make a purchase (an Italian thing!) so you can imagine how much salame I have eaten all over Italy! The photo above was taken in Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol.

The photo below was taken in Tuscany. The salame is likely to be all local.

Salame can be coarse-grained or have a fine texture, or cut by hand, seasoned for a few days or several months; have a firm or soft texture and some are even spreadable. They can be lean or high in fat, some have fat pieces that remain much thicker and evident when sliced. Some are flavoured with pepper, garlic, chilli or fennel seed, some are marinaded in wine while others are spiced with secret ingredients. Various parts of the animal is used and although pork is the most common ingredient, there are salami made with duck, deer, wild boar, goose.

The above photo was taken in Lombardy.

In Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna, I had Salama da sugo, a bulbous salame that is eaten cooked.

In Abbruzzo I have eaten salamini (small sausage sized) that were kept in jars and they were covered with olive oil to keep them moist. what made them even more special was that I bought them from a road-side stall.

In Calabria I went to the evocative Serre Mountains of Serra San Bruno in the Province of Vibo Valentia in Calabria, and ate one made with wild boar. It tasted marvellous. this was followed by lunch at the restaurant by the Carthusian Monastery where every course contained porcini in some form or another.

Living in Trieste as a child, the Veneto salame was one of the favoured ones. I now find that the Veneto can be particularly fatty and is not always one of my favourites.

In Piedmont and in Tyrol I had a cooked salame. These are usually made with pork and veal or young beef. The texture reminded me of cotechino.

In Loxton, in the Riverland of South Australia, I ate a very delicious home-made version that had chilli on the inside and flakes all around the outside – this was the mechanism used to keep the flies off.

The people who made this were Calabresi and this is not surprising as in Calabria they like a bit of chilli… think of ‘Nduja.

This spreadable salame  is fairly hot!

In 2020 I did not travel but in1919, I spent quite a bit of time in Tuscany especially in the Maremma and I really enjoyed the wild boar versions of salame. I also liked a particular salame called the Cinata Senese especially popular in the province of Siena and throughout the Tuscan territory. The Cinata Senese breed of pork was in danger of extinction but is making a comeback; it is especially favoured by the smaller artisan producers.

Perhaps the most unusual salame I have eaten was one made with asino (ass) in Sicily, a specialty of the region of Ragusa. I also was invited to a BBQ where I ate ass meat – light, delicate and succulent.

For photos of salame made with ass meat in Sicily see  post below:

CHIARAMONTE in South-Eastern and the best butcher in Sicily

NDUJA, a spreadable and spicy pork salame from Calabria

PASTA with ‘NDUJA, CIME DI RAPA and PORK SAUSAGES

NDUJA with SQUID, 

SPAGHETTI with NDUJA, SQUID, VONGOLE AND PAN GRATTATO

COTECHINO AND LENTILS 

CAMPING, Pumpkin risotto

I go camping as often as I can and pumpkin is one of the vegetables (it is actually a fruit) that like potatoes and onions is easy to get, even in the most remote places.. It lasts, does not have to be stored in the fridge (at room temperature and away from moisture is ideal) and is versatile.

I have been camping in Tasmania and those of you who have visited the remote parts of Tasmania know how difficult fresh vegetables are to find, but not pumpkin, and not just one variety. It is March after all, the official pumpkin season. and you may have a choice of Queensland Blue (also called Kent), Japanese pumpkin and Butternut.

When camping most of my cooking is done on a portable gas stove but, as now in Tasmania, I have been travelling in a camper van and on the odd occasion when I stay in a caravan park and have a powered site, pumpkin can also be microwaved on high until tender. Pieces of pumpkin can then be added to salads, soups, to other vegetables, meat or fish dishes; the pulp can be used in anything to add its unique flavour and to thicken and pureed pumpkin makes fabulous dips or a side dish, especially when mixed with mashed potato.

On this occasion, in my camper van’s simple gas stove I made a simple risotto…. and i mean simple! 

When travelling, my biggest problem is not having internet coverage and in the remote areas ofTasmania internet connection has been extremely difficult. I will let the photos tell the story.

You can peel pumpkin if you wish, and most people do, but I often include the skin, especially at this time of year when the skin is relatively soft and unblemished.

I softened some onion in some butter and extra virgin olive oil … either cooking medium will do.

Added cubed pumpkin, sautéed the pumpkin briefly, added water and a good quality stock cube or two depending on the amounts you are cooking (still widely used in Italian cooking). When at home I use stock.

Add some rice and more water to cover the pumpkin and any herb that you have. Smaller supermarkets or produce stores do not often have fresh herbs,  but when travelling  I always help myself to rosemary and wild fennel  when I see it.  Herbs  keep well and for a long time wrapped in a slightly damp cloth . On this occasion, in Richmond Tasmania I found  fresh bay in a park.

It is autumn and I also found a quince tree laden with quinces, unfortunately I still respect fences and did not help myself. I was very tempted.

Let the pumpkin bubble away, there is not much heat control in a camper van’s stove….and only one burner worked.

Risotto  does not ned to be stirred all the time, although many recipes will tell you that this is the only method for making risotto. Put a lid on the pan, turn the heat down and let it cook. Check periodically that there is enough liquid and that it is not sticking to the pan.

If the rice is cooking too fast and there is too much liquid, finish off the cooking without a lid.

Remember risotto needs to be all’onda... like waves, wet!

Place a lump of butter or a drizzle of good olive oil and top and serve it. Let the natural taste of the pumpkin do the talking, but if you  would like to add a little Parmasen cheese  or if you have a little grated nutmeg, both will enhance to sweet taste of the pumpkin even further. 

In case you have not been to Tasmania, it is beautiful!

There are several recipes for risotto on my blog. Here are 3, use search button to find more recipes.

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

RISI E BISI (Risotto with peas)

Melbourne  August: Winter Artichokes in risotto and stuffed

Parco Nazionale Degli Iblei – a documentary – and recipes from this part of Sicily

Corrado, one of my relatives in Ragusa (in the south eastern corner of Sicily) has sent me a link to watch Storie e luoghi di un Parco (Stories and places of a Park) on Vimeo. It’s a documentary by Vincenzo Cascone.

I sat for over an hour mesmerized, and although not all of you will understand the Italian dialogue, the visuals are sufficient to get the gist of what is being presented.

The soundtrack is also evocative.

Storie e luoghi di un Parco is striking and very comprehensive documentary mainly about the preservation and restoration of biodiversity in a nature reserve to be established in south eastern Sicily.

The park is referred to as the Parco Nazionale Degli Iblei. The Hyblaean Mountains (Italian: Monti Iblei) is a mountain range in south-eastern Sicily, Italy. It straddles the provinces of Ragusa, Syracuse and Catania.

I need to tell you that it is over an hour long, but you can fast forward  bits,  perhaps  the speaking parts , especially if you do not understand Italian.

Establishing and maintaining wildlife reserves and giving nature the space and protection it needs is an obvious solution to preserving biodiversity and healthy ecosystems. For each nature reserve, there are legislated rules, regulations and penalties established to restrict the types and amount of human activities or mismanagement by the community so as protect the habitats, fauna, flora and the geology of the natural area.

This documentary is made even more compelling by the representation of a group of diverse professions supporting and involved in the implementation of this project. The interviews with this group of specialists provide insights and observations on the archaeological, natural, scientific, cultural, historical and aesthetic features of this region of Sicily.  These individuals are continuing to conduct studies and research that aim to restore a healthy biodiversity and promote better understanding of our natural heritage.

The team of professional scientists that are exploring this ecosystem explain how biodiversity can only have occurred over millions of years of evolution and by the different cultural groups who settled in this part of Sicily.

Biodiversity and ecosystems that are undamaged, healthy and finely balanced, contribute to a healthy, sustainable planet.

We all have a responsibility to revitalize our planet and it is up to all of us to prevent widespread ecological damage.

Now for the disappointing bit.

After having given the project a glowing report I decided to do some research. Unfortunately, this worthy project is at a standstill. After all of the support from many noteworthy people and local residents in this area of Sicily, Sicilian bureaucracy has stalled the project.

I do hope there will be sufficient support to make it happen.

Storie e luoghi di un Parco (Stories and places of a Park).

Un documentario di Vincenzo Cascone.

https://vimeo.com/163017225

Some recipes from this part of Sicily:

SCACCE (focaccia-like stuffed bread)

KOHLRABI with pasta (Causunnedda )

CONIGLIO A PARTUISA (Braised rabbit as cooked in Ragusa)

RAVIOLI DI RICOTTA e MULINO DI CEREALI A PIETRA (Ricotta ravioli and stone ground flour in Chiaramonte)

EATING AND DRINKING IN THE GOLDFIELDS in Victoria

Richard Cornish beat me to it!

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.

Polenta and its magic

This post is in praise of polenta, a simple and versatile  accompaniment for many moist braises. It is particularly popular in the north eastern regions of Northern Italy – Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto. However, this is not to say that some polenta is also appreciated in Piedmont, Valle d’Aosta,  Tuscany and Lombardy.

The most common polenta is coarsely ground yellow corn and it is simply cooked in water and salt.  Polenta taragna is a mixture of cornmeal and buckwheat, a popular grain in Italy’s Alpine region, especially in the Valtellina in Northern Lombardy.  Because wheat is difficult to cultivate in the northern regions like Val d’ Aosta and Trentino-Alto Adige, buckwheat is grown and mixed with wheat flour to make  pasta (called pizzoccheri) and in gnocchi . Buckwheat is called grano saraceno , this is because the Etruscans and Saracens introduced the buckwheat grain to Italy. I visited this region last year and particularly enjoyed this combination.

Once cooked, I prefer to spread the polenta in a pan suitable to go into an oven, I drizzle it generously with olive oil and bake it .

The polenta can then be cut into slices and served with a wet dish.

I prefer to bake the polenta, it allows it to form a  delicious crust. I am not one for last minute preparations….there is enough to fuss about once friends arrive.

Polenta does not have to be baked, it can just be scraped onto a board and cut at the table prior to serving. In fact, this is how my aunt in Trieste always presented polenta after she cooked it in her heavy bottomed copper pot.

Here are a few dishes that can be enjoyed with polenta:

Polenta is perfect with braised mushrooms.  First sautéed at a high temperature with onion and /or garlic and then finished at at a lower temperature (covered with a lid) with some flavoured  liquid – I like  to use stock and wine. Herbs are a must.

This is a saucepan of my beef Goulash.…  a favourite dish served with polenta and as cooked in Trieste, once part of the Austrian- Hungarian Empire.

Polenta is excellent with baccalà. There are many regional recipes for baccalà , for example: alla Vincentina (from Vicenza),  alla Triestina (from Trieste), alla Veneziana ( from Venice)  and various other cities in Northern Italy.
The recipes are not too dissimilar and basically are “white” with no or little tomato (tomatoes in the cooking of Southern Italy).

Baccalà  Mantecato is a creamy spread popular in the Veneto and around Trieste in Friuli Venezia Giulia. Baccalà  Mantecato is often presented  on crostini di polenta – cooked polenta cut into batons or croutons and then either baked or fried.

The baccalà is poached in milk, the flesh removed from the bones and whipped with extra virgin olive oil and garlic.

Polenta with sauerkraut, very popular in Trieste where I lived as a child. The photo below is of Ponte Rosso and the Canal Grande in Trieste. The statue is Nino Spagnoli’s  James Joyce and placed on the bridge over the Canal Grande. 

Sauerkraut  can be cooked slowly as a side dish for meats.

Sauerkraut and pork sausages are very popular in Trieste.

Polenta is also popular with pork sausages cooked in a tomato sugo. I also like pork sausages braised with borlotti beans.

There is nothing like seppie – inkfish braised in white wine, parsley and garlic and served with polenta. Sometimes white polenta (made from white corn and called polenta bianca ) is favoured with fish, rather than the polenta gialla (yellow, made from yellow corn).

Below in the photo are two typical dishes of Trieste, seppie in umido (on the left)  and some iota.

Below is a photo of an ink fish. Inside will be a sac of ink that once removed can be used to flavour the dish.

It is not always obvious that they are ink fish, in Australia they are also often sold as squid.  Not all of them will have a sac of ink; this photo is in a market in Venice….  you can tell that they are ink fish.

Here is a photo of polenta as an accompaniment to tripe I relished in a Trattoria in  Sienna, Tuscany….it was only last year.

Polenta makes a fabulous accompaniment for pan fried or char grilled red radicchio . This used to be a favourite way to serve polenta by my mother.  A little tomato salsa on the char grilled version is very tasty.

And this is polenta with broccoli (or broccolini) with bagna cauda . I first ate it in a restaurant in Hobart and it was presented on a bed of soft polenta – called polenta concia in Italy; this version of polenta is cooked in milk, sometimes stock and has butter and Parmesan cheese added to it once it is cooked. It does not have to be Parmesan, various local regional cheeses are used – Asiago from Trentino and the Veneto, Fontina from Valle d’Aosta, Taleggio from Lombardy and the Italian Alps, etc. Bagna cauda on polenta is not a traditional dish, but I did enjoy this innovation and replicated it at home, .

Polenta is also good with sarde in saor. The sardines are fried then left to marinate with onions and vinegar. Sometimes raisins and pine nuts are added. Although I have made this many times, I do not have many photos. This is often the case with other things I cook. Sometimes I am just too busy to take a photos  before I present food or I forget to do it.

Also common is polenta pasticciata (sometimes spelled pastizzada as in the Veneto dialect and it means messed up/ fiddled with) . Layers of cooked polenta are alternated with flavourings. The most common is with sugo (tomato and meat braise) or  braised mushrooms or salame, pancetta, and various cheeses …..or whatever you like to fiddle with.

The version above is with Fontina,  Gorgonzola and some braised button mushrooms cooked in white wine – I was just dealing with leftovers, not a traditional dish, but tasty.  The layers of polenta are then baked: it is very much like a baked lasagna.

Polenta is easily found and it does not have to be imported from Italy.

Cooking polenta is easy.

1 polenta – 4 water ratio, salt.

Bring water and salt to a boil in a large saucepan; pour polenta slowly into boiling water, whisking constantly until all polenta is stirred in and there are no lumps. I use a whisk.

Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until polenta starts to thicken, about 5 minutes.  This is where I swap the whisk for a long handled, wooden spoon; the polenta will begin to bubble and can spit so the long spoon or an oven mit is necessary.

Stir the polenta regularly , at least every 5 to 6 minutes. Polenta is done when the texture thickens and is creamy and it begins to pull away from the sides of the saucepan. It may take up to 30 minutes.

Links to some of the recipes:

GULASCH (Goulash as made in Trieste)

CHICKEN GOULASH (Gulasch di pollo from Trieste)

SEPPIE IN UMIDO CON POLENTA (Cuttlefish or Squid With Black Ink And Polenta from Trieste)

LUGANIGHE CON CAPUZI GARBI; Sausages and sauerkraut, and yes, it is Italian regional cuisine

PIEDMONTESE favourites  (bagna cauda)

TASMANIA, FOOD, ART, HOBART and Bagna Cauda

MARINADED FISH and a recipe for PESCE IN SAOR – PESCE IN SAOR

FUNGHI AL FUNGHETTO (Braised mushrooms)

WILD MUSHROOMS; Saffron Coloured, Pine Mushrooms and Slippery Jacks

NORTHERN ITALY, pasta made of rye or buckwheat flour and PIZZOCCHERI

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.

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A few years before this trip I stayed and travelled around Bergamo, Brescia, Lake Como and Lake Maggiore and also parts of Piedmont.

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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.

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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.

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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 (un pugno) 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).

Follow the procedure as for rolling and cutting as in the previous post: MORE AUTUMN PRODUCE… lemons and quinces, wild mushrooms and homemade pasta.

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.

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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.

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