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

 

WILD ROCKET, IT WAS THERE FOR THE TAKING

I love travelling in the country and always, I look for wild produce wherever I am.

This time, while in Eyre Peninsula I found wild rocket. So strong tasting and spicy and very different from garden rocket.

I made the most of it. When one is camping, fresh produce, especially foraged produce is a highlight.

I first found it on a walk in Port Lincoln and as we drove inland there were fields of it, little dark green bushes in the landscape. Amazing!

Wild rocket is not always available to buy, but rocket is. I hesitate to call the leaves that you buy as sweet rocket, because that can taste quite peppery to some palates. Those of you who grow rocket know that once you have it, it can be unmanageable, but the leaves can be used in cooking and you too can make the most of it. You probably already do!

Here are some simple ways I enjoyed the wild rocket. I jazzed up some iceberg lettuce that in some places in the country was the only lettuce available. The contrasts between sweet and peppery worked very well. On another occasion I added feta.

I always take feta that I marinade in extra virgin olive oil with me on camping trips. I also add dried oregano,  fresh bay leaves, anise or fennel seeds and pepper corns .

I had some kale and pumpkin. Both keep well on camping trips and I cooked them with some rocket.

Easy stuff. I always braise or sauté vegetables rather than steaming them. Italians tend to steam vegetables when they are feeling poorly so braising is the way to go.

I also found a few mustard greens that I added to the concoction. Whenever I sauté greens I like to use at least a couple of varieties of greens, indivia/ endives or cicoria/ chicory add bitterness, and  kale / cavolo nero add mustard tastes to sweeter tasting greens like spinach/ silverbeet/ beetroot leaves. Contrasting tastes do wonders! I use extra virgin olive oil, garlic and sometimes chillies.

I sautéed the pumpkin with harissa , also a staple I make to take with me on camping trips. The version I take has dried chilli flakes, caraway seeds, salt and extra virgin olive oil.  I soak the chillies and caraway seeds in some hot water till they swell and then add salt and oil to preserve the harissa. It is fine out of the fridge and suitable for camping as long as you add enough salt and keep on topping up the oil. I do not add garlic in this version or fresh chillies because the fresh ingredients encourage the growth of mold.

Back to the recipe. Once the pumpkin and harissa and some garlic is sautéed in extra virgin olive oil add the greens. Sauté, put a lid on and let soften. Done.

I also found field mushrooms around the Southern Flinders Rangers! Amazing at this time of year, but the weather was wet.

The soil was wet and given a little spring sunshine, there they were!  I added garlic and wild rocket to them and sautéed them in some oil, then added a splash of white wine and evaporated some of the moisture. Pretty good!

I poached some eggs in these mushrooms. The farm fresh eggs were free range and they came on the way to Venus Bay/ Ceduna.   They were free range, I checked! Mind you I did have some Kangaroo Island eggs already in the van and they were cheaper in SA than in VIC.

I also added wild rocket to a Minestra/ Wet Pasta dish made with borlotti beans. I usually cook borlotti beans at home, freeze them and take them with me, but tins of course are OK and for some, more convenient. The kookaburra above was never far away.

Once again, easy stuff. Sauté some onion and garlic in oil, add finely cut rocket, wilt it, add the beans with some of their water. Cook the pasta. Drain it. Add it to the semi liquid beans concoction …and there you have it.  I always drizzle some of my best extra virgin oil on top. The rocket does reduce in mass when cooked, but this was also the last of the rocket. I would have used more if I had it.

Talking about the wild, a highlight was seeing a baby owl/ owlet  in country Victoria.

Other recipes:

HARISSA (A hot chilli condiment)

Harissa made with fresh Chillies

SENAPE, a new type of mustard green vegetable

PASTA E FAGIOLI (Thick bean soup with pasta)

COOKING ‘ON THE ROAD’

I have not had time to do much writing as I have been travelling quite a bit , both in Victoria, New South Wales and  South Australia and not like some of my friends who have been travelling overseas.

I only take my iPad when I travel and writing posts is not something that I find easy on this device.

I am finding that inserting links to recipes that are already on the blog, pretty impossible and if you are interested in  some of the recipes, for example  about cockles or sea urchins use the search button. I am hoping that the photos are sufficient, but maybe not.

Below are some of the things I have cooked or prepared  lately. When one is ‘on the run’ one does not have the luxury of ingredients from home:

Mushrooms braised with saffron, white wine, tomato paste and parsley.

Goolwa cockles cooked with parsley, garlic and a splash of white wine. Parsley yet to be stirred through.

Braised red cabbage cooked in red wine and bay leaves and some smoked pork with whole meal spaghetti .

King George Whiting braised with with lemon slices,  fennel seeds and white wine. Fried capers till crisp added at last minute.

Sea urchin roe bought in brine and cooked with braised fennel, anchovies, garlic and chillies in wine,  parsley, roe grated lemon rind and lemon juice added right at the very end.

Burrata with basil mayonnaise, soft boiled eggs and a salad of avocado, lettuce, asparagus and baby tomatoes.

ZELTEN from the Trentino, Alto Adige region of Italy

I have never made traditional dishes for Christmas obligatory and my menu choices depend on the people I am sharing Christmas with. Last year it was fresh seafood – oysters, prawns and crayfish – simply served and delicious. This year main course is likely to be duck with cherries marinated in grappa. What comes before and after is to be yet decided.

When my parents were alive, our family Christmas meal was likely to be a combination of offerings from Sicily and Trieste, either a caponata or an insalata russa for the finger food, a good brodo  with tortellini for firsts, while the second course varied from year to year, and perhaps there was a cassata or a zuppa inglese for dessert. Only fish on Christmas eve was obligatory, but there was never a set Christmas menu, as there tends to be in many Australian or Italian households.

You won’t find me cooking turkey because it is too much like chicken, for me. As for dessert – I am not a fan of Christmas pudding and the only parts of pavlova I like are the berries and cream. I have made too many cassate (plural of cassata) and panforte on too many occasions to repeat them or appreciate them as I once did at Christmas.

This year, probably the only traditional Christmas dish I’ll be eating is Zelten, a typical sweet, fruit and nut bread/cake of the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy.

I’ve looked at numerous recipes and background information about Zelten and found that there are many variations in the recipes. Zelten began from humble beginnings, a bread dough enriched with the typical local dry fruit and spices, the quantity and quality of fruit being poor in some (as in Trentino) and extravagant in others (as in Balzano).

The numerous recipes I read varied greatly. For example, walnuts are the principal nut used in all the recipes, but some variations contain almonds and/or hazelnuts/ pine nuts. Apart from figs and dried grapes, there are recipes with dates and/or unspecified dried fruit. To me using dates and mixed fruit do not sound typical of Tyrol.

All recipes include flour, either wheat or rye (some use very little flour, other recipe have large amounts of dough, some use bread dough). There are varying amounts of eggs, butter, sugar, yeast, milk or none of these. The fruit can be steeped in rum, but some recipes specify grappa, so as you can see the recipes vary greatly and some are much more modern.

I can understand the many variations of Zelten in Tyrol and why the recipes differ from family to family and location. Tyrol (German: Tirol) is historically a multi-national region located in the heart of the Alps of Austria and Italy. It is segmented by the compass into North, East and South Tyrol. North and East Tyrol lie in Austria and South Tyrol is in Italy, it is also known as Südtirol or Alto Adige). Bolzano, is the capital.

I was in this region two years ago and enjoyed its many special features: stunning scenery especially in the Italian Alps and the Dolomites with their extraordinary mountainous and rocky peaks, the distinct architecture of cities and ancient villages where people speak German or Austro-Bavarian-German and Italian, and obviously, the culinary delights that reflect these cultures.

Zelten comes from the German selten and it means sometimes/on occasions, and as the name indicates it was only prepared on special occasions like Christmas, in winter with only dried fruit and nuts available.

I finally settled on making a version of a Zelten from South Tyrol and Bolzano, characterized by of large amounts of fruit – mainly figs and a selection of other dried fruit, pine nuts and almonds. I conducted some research into the fruit that is grown in the region and omitted apricots, peaches or plums because these stone fruits are more recent additions to the orchards. I used dried apples, pears, sultanas, strawberries (there are wild strawberries in the woods), a few dried plums and only a little orange peel as I did not imagine citrus to be very common in the area.

I chose grappa rather than rum, and plenty of it to soak the fruit and to moisten the cake once it was made.

I used no butter, eggs, milk or yeast and I used rye flour because wheat does not grow well in wet and cold climates. I used honey and not sugar.

I divided the mixture and baked two round cakes.

Eventually, I combined a couple of recipes and came up with:

750g dried fruit – 400g were figs, the rest as described above
350g nuts – 120g walnuts, the remainder almonds and pine nuts
200g honey
grappa – about ½ litre to soak the fruit and another ½ litre to soak into the baked cake
ground cinnamon, cloves, grated lemon peel
rye flour

I combined coarsely cut fruit and chopped nuts in a large container with a cover, added the grappa and left it for four days, stirring it occasionally.
I added the honey and spices and gradually mixed in as much rye flour as it would absorb. The principal recipe suggested to use 5% of the total weight of the ingredients, I calculated this to be about 230g. I mixed a teaspoon of baking powder to the flour as the only leavening, there was no leavening mentioned in the recipes that I sighted that used rye flour.
I lined two round baking tins with brown paper and baking paper. The recipe did not specify heat or time, but I baked them at 200 degrees for 60 minutes. Although my cakes are round, my understanding is that in different parts of Tyrol oval or heart shapes are also common.

I wrapped the cakes in  calico( pudding cloth) and I have been dousing it  with more grappa daily.

I took a cake to friends last night and we cut it. It is heavy, not sweet and steeped in grappa. It does taste good.

Back goes the calico wrapping. With all that alcohol and  fortress -like wrapping, the Zelten will last for a long time.

Grappa is made with grape skins. The wines and grappa from this region is unique.

Recipes of food mentioned in this post.

ZUPPA INGLESE, a famous, Italian dessert

CASSATA Explained with photos

SICILIAN CASSATA and some background (perfect for an Australian Christmas)

CAPONATA Catanese (from Catania) made easy with photos

INSALATA RUSSA (Party time; Russian salad)

 

‘NDUJA, was considered peasant food in Calabria

I am not Calabrese, and not being Calabrese means that I only discovered ’nduja late in life, as it was very much a regional and local food. I may have been late, but I did discover ’nduja much earlier than those living in Australia, who are now celebrating its use in a big way. Better late than never, because ’nduja is a fabulous salume (smallgood).

Featured photo is Tropea, Calabria.

So what is ’nduja?

We can thank Richard Cornish for his full-flavoured description of it in his Brain Food column in The Age on 10 November: A fermented sausage, originally from Calabria in Italy, that has a texture like sticky pate and a spicy kick on it like an angry mule. Pronounced en-doo-ya, it is a mixture of pork fat (up to 70 per cent), pork, salt, spices, culture and chilli peppers, which are ground together until smooth, wet, unctuous and deep red. It is stuffed into large-sized natural animal skins and slowly fermented and air-dried. The lactic acid bacteria in the culture ferments the sugars in the mix, making the ’nduja acidic enough to keep it safe from bad bugs. The name is Calabrian slang and is said to derive from the word for the smoked French sausage andouille.

Is it nduja or ’nduja? You will find that in certain references the spelling will be without an apostrophe.

The apostrophe before the nd (as in ’nduja), does not appear in the Italian language and I spent some time looking for the why it is spelt that way. It appears that in Calabrese, nd is proceeded by an apostrophe. Think of ‘Ndrangheta, as the mafia is referred to in Calabria, and ‘ndrina, the different families or clans, usually made up of blood relatives that are part of theNdrangheta.

Like most Calabresi, I usually spread ’nduja on fresh bread (like pâté) or I have used it as an ingredient in pasta sauces – it can fire up a tame ragù (a meat-based tomato sauce). I have also added ’nduja to sautéed cime di rape and Italian pork sausages, and to squid or octopus for a pasta sauce or on their own to be mopped up with bread.

I first encountered this spicy, spreadable sausage about forty years ago in the home of a Calabrese family who used to slaughter a pig and make smallgoods. They covered all of the smallgoods with chili. To their taste, food without chilli seemed flavourless, but also that the coating of chilli acts as a barrier, repelling flies (and bad bugs as Richard says) and is therefore a powerful and natural preservative. It’s the chili that gives this soft spreadable ’nduja salame its distinctive red colour.

Years later (about 23 years ago), I had some ‘nduja in the Sila mountains in Calabria, but I did not know then, that this peasant food product was to become the taste-sensation outside of Calabria that it is now.

My addition of ’nduja to seafood came much later in my cooking after I tasted a pasta dish of squid and fried breadcrumbs spiced with ’nduja, in a restaurant in Marin County, in California in the northwestern part of the San Francisco Bay Area of the U.S).  Years later, I had a similar dish in a London restaurant. Both blew me away.

Probably the first dish I tasted with ’nduja in a Melbourne restaurant (Baby octopus with ’nduja) was at Tipo 00 when it first opened and later at Osteria Ilaria.

Originally, ’nduja was considered peasant food. It was first made by contadini (farmers/ workers on the land) who raised and butchered pigs and being poor, would sell the prime cuts of pork to upper-class families who could afford them.  as is the way of the frugal, offal, excess fat, and off- cuts of meat were blended together, seasoned intensely with chilli, stuffed in a casing and transformed into a soft salame that tasted good and did not spoil easily.

These days ’nduja is probably made with better fats and cuts of meat and with its popularity, the price has also risen. ’Nduja originated in the Vibo Valentia province in Calabria, and much of it still comes from the town of Spilinga but it is now showing up as an ingredient all over Italy and in many restaurants in UK, US and in Australia – imparting a chilli kick on pizza, in pasta dishes, seafood dishes, burgers and even with Burrata; I would have thought that fresh cheeses are far too delicate to go with the strongly flavoured and spicy ’nduja. However each to their own. ’Nduja is no longer just found in specialist supermarkets and specialty butchers, but also in some fairly ordinary supermarkets. I have liked some varieties much more than others, so it is worth experimenting.

For those who like chillies, recipes that include ’nduja on my blog:

‘NDUJA, a spreadable and spicy pork salame from Calabria

PASTA with ‘NDUJA, CIME DI RAPA and PORK SAUSAGES

‘NDUJA with SQUID, very simple

‘NDUJA and CALAMARI as a pasta sauce

‘NDUJA, SQUID, VONGOLE AND PAN GRATTATO with Spaghetti

 

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