27 Feb 2013

ricotta pancakes

Breakfasts are usually variations on the same thing: rolled oats, soy milk, stewed fruit, nuts. So the nuts may be almonds, walnuts and/or nibbly little pepitas - actually, it’s usually ‘and’ not ‘or’. The stewed fruit is whatever is in season at the moment, or something retrieved from the depths of the chest freezer. Apples, apricots, rhubarb, even berries. It’s not just that I’m a creature of habit (I am); I love the fibre-filled, wholesome blandness of oats. I love that they are so good for you. Zapped in the microwave in the winter or with fridge-cold soy milk in the summer – it’s oats for breakfast, just about every day.
Months ago - last year - a co-worker told me she makes banana-wheatgerm pancakes for breakfast. I didn’t quite hear the banana-wheatgerm bit; my mind hooked into pancakes. For breakfast.
And that little thought tickled away and resurfaced when I saw this recipe. Ricotta pancakes. For breakfast.
Having pancakes for breakfast - light, fluffy clouds, lumped with natural yoghurt and lots of sweet berry jam - felt like having desserts for breakfast. I was eating cake, not my usual fibre-filled health kick start. It felt naughty.
It also made me slow down and make breakfast a proper meal, instead of something rushed and mobile (weekdays I carry my bowl of oats around as I get dressed and dry my hair; weekends I carry my bowl around as I put the laundry on or strip the bed).
I threw a pretty cloth over the table in a spot that some recent furniture re-arranging has transformed into a light-filled room. Under my nose all these years has been this place, just perfect for relaxing breakfasts in the early morning sunshine! I enjoyed it, knowing full well that all too soon, the dark winter mornings will descend upon Hobart.
I also brewed a proper pot of tea and got the special china teacup out instead of my usual sturdy mug. I made my breakfast a lovely quiet moment before I got stuck into the weekend chores.
While I haven’t had ricotta pancakes for breakfast again yet, I’ve remembered that breakfast is the most important meal of the day (up there with cake, of course) and should be treated that way. So even on work days now, I sit down to eat my oats, lingering with a mug and a colourful magazine in the soft morning light. A moment to myself and my oats before the day cranks up.

Sunday's ricotta pancakes were topped with natural yoghurt and the last of the roast plums.

Ricotta pancakes
Adapted from delicious magazine (undated photocopy). This mixture made five pancakes, so double or triple depending on your appetite or bods around the breakfast table.
  • Combine 1 cup SR flour, 1 tbspn vanilla sugar and a pinch of salt in a bowl.
  • Combine 3/4 cup natural yoghurt and 1 large egg in a jug, then stir thru 30 gms of butter that you've melted (zap it in the microwave).
  • Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir til smooth, then add 100 grams of ricotta and fold thru, leaving a few lumps. The mixture will be fairly stiff.
  • Over a medium heat, melt a little butter in a large frypan. Using a 1/4 cup-size measuring cup, scoop some batter into the pan. Flatten out the stiff mixture a bit so it cooks more evently, and cook for a few minutes each side.
  • Enjoy with jam, honey, fruit or whatever your weekend appetite desires.
  • Note: I made two pancakes on Saturday, then put the bowl of batter in the fridge for the next day's breakfast. On Sunday I added a generous spoonful of natural yoghurt to loosen the cold batter a little, but it was still quite a stiff mix.

25 Feb 2013

rhubarb and raspberry cobbler

Dear Gourmet Traveller magazine,

I am writing to express my disappointment and dismay with your recipe for rhubarb and raspberry cobbler. Has anyone else told you it didn’t work?

I had been looking forward to cooking and eating this so much. I have a bit of a thing for rhubarb, and have collected many recipes over the years for rhubarb treats - crumbles, pies, tarts - including yours. The fact I can’t grow decent rhubarb tends to mean these recipes lay untouched in my recipe folder, taunting me each time I flip thru them.

However recently at the local farmers market I found the holy grail of rhubarb: long, fat, deeply garnet stems. I wasn’t able to bake that week so I left them at the stall – and their memory burned bright within me all week until I could return and claim two heavy bunches as mine. Your rhubarb and raspberry cobbler recipe was magnetted to my fridge, anticipation was running feverishly high - yes, all over rhubarb.

It started off so well, and there was much domestic bliss in the kitchen as I cut, assembled and flavoured the fruit. I’ll admit I used much less sugar than you specified, as almost half a kilo set my teeth on edge just reading about it. I also had no Cointreau - which is perhaps a deficit in my cooking-liquor cabinet that I need to rectify - but I do not think these tweaks would have contributed to the failure that lay ahead.

The cobbler dough too was fabulously easy to make; flattening it out using my marble rolling pin was, to paraphrase Nigella, deep, deep pleasure.

So all went well in the pre-oven phase. The kitchen started to fill with a lovely tang of orange and rhubarb as baking progressed, then finally, I could see - as per your instructions - the ‘fruit (was) bubbling and pastry (was) golden and risen (25-30 minutes)’.
(I have to point out the folkloric cloth from Frangipani Fabrics. Isn't it bold?)

I removed them from the oven, in awe of their rustic loveliness - see, I’d taken my time cutting the cobbler’s shapes and making it look pretty. I’m not usually one for pretty in my food, so this shows you how much I invested in this recipe.

I took some photos, then let them cool to have them later with my evening meal.


The rhubarb was raw. Not merely undercooked, but hard, crunchy, ugly. The underside of each and every little petal of cobble I’d arranged - slimy and raw. Obviously, despite original appearances, half an hour’s cooking time was nowhere near sufficient. This was not a good thing to realise late in the evening when I’d been waiting all day - no, waiting weeks. It was too late to put the oven back on, though it did cross my distressed mind. No. I prized off the cobbler and set that aside to deal with later, and scraped the raw rhubarb into a saucepan to simmer it gently. But before I knew it, the chunks of rhubarb disintegrated and became one large mass. Delicious tasting with the orange zest, but essentially what I had here was stewed rhubarb, which I could have made using my own anaemic undersized stalks, not those dark fat beauties bought especially for this recipe.

At which point, I called my mother, had a bit of a teary breakdown (it was late, I was hungry, I was upset), then consigned the lot into a container to have on my breakfast muesli the next day; the semi-raw cobbler went into the freezer for mum’s chooks, who have no idea how the recipe was supposed to turn out like and so will not be so heart-breakingly disappointed by the waste of time, ingredients, desire or faith in your recipe.

Yours sincerely,

E (Dig In)

22 Feb 2013

summer veg pasta

My favourite cloth from Frangipani Fabrics.

At first I wasn’t sure how to present this dish to you, other than ‘I made this for dinner and it was good’. Which (I hope) is not the approach Dig In takes. I mean, I did make this for dinner and it was good — no, actually, it was one of the best weeknight dinners I have made for some time. But still, the ‘what I ate for dinner’ angle is a bit uninspired.

Should I focus then on the brilliant combination of summer veg? Making the most of zucchini, beans, tomato, basil? They were treated differently, too, which brought out the best of each ingredient. The tomatoes were roasted, which made them soft and velvety. The zucchini was grated and sautéed with garlic, but because of its high water content, it remained pleasantly mushy (it is possible). The beans were steamed until just done, so they were still a little ‘squeaky’. The pasta also retained some bite, and the addition of toasted almond slivers added a bit of nutty crunch. So there was lots going on, but instead of being confusing, each forkful was a surprising mix of textures, tastes and colours. A bit of a culinary lucky dip: what will I get this time?

But as I did the washing up, I realised what I really need to tell you about this dish is that you will use every utensil, gadget, pot and pan in your kitchen. You will have tomatoes roasting, almonds toasting, pasta boiling, beans steaming and other stuff sautéing at the same time, or so it will feel.

Strangely, I didn’t find this multi-tasking stressful: I did a sort of mis en place and measured and prepped my ingredients, then made sure I had the microplane, mandoline, grater, knives and other essentials ready to go. And, because I changed the recipe, I even jotted down an action plan so I could stay orderly and in control. So I enjoyed the multiple processes, and felt really in control. Which really helps you enjoy your dinner even more.

So here, this is what I made for dinner – with lots of fresh summer flavours and textures, and made with every gadget I owned – and it was good.

Summer veg pasta
Based very loosely on the taste.com.au recipe for nutty chicken penne. Take all these quantities as rough guidance only: put as much or as little of each ingredient as your hunger and preferences desire. It’s like a salad, in a sense, all tossed together, and who measures out salad ingredients? And if you use less beans or tomatoes than you prepare, for example, consider those leftovers as a head start on another meal. Oh, and by all means swap things if you like, as I did with the original recipe. I made enough for two meals.
  • Cut five or six small tomatoes (mine were golf ball size) into bite-sized chunks. Slick with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and roast in a 180 oven for 15-20 minutes or until soft and collapsing.
  • Toast some slivered almonds - enough to generously scatter over the final dish - either in the oven as the tomatoes roast or in a small frypan. Either way, they’ll only need a matter of minutes, so watch them carefully. Once done set aside.
  • Meanwhile, boil up some short pasta like penne or rigatoni, enough for each serving you’re making.
  • Meanwhile, cut a couple of handfuls of green beans into the same length as your pasta and steam until just done.
  • Meanwhile, heat some olive oil in a large frypan and gently sauté a few garlic cloves that you’ve either crushed or chopped finely.
  • Once this starts to soften, add a grated zucchini; add some grated yellow patty pan squash for extra colour if you have that.
  • Once this starts to soften, add a small tin of good-quality tuna (drained), then the zest of one lemon and the juice of half that lemon. Stir it all until cooked.
  • Finally, once everything is cooked – and it really doesn’t matter if one thing finishes before the other, as long, I think, as your pasta is piping hot – you can bring everything together. Fold the beans and the pasta into the zucchini mix. Divide into your dishes then top with the roasted tomatoes, toasted almonds, a little S&P, extra squeeze of lemon juice, and a good handful of fresh basil leaves.
  • Enjoy – you’ve earned it!

20 Feb 2013

roast apricot panettone pudding

Lovely tablecloth made with fabric from Frangipani Fabrics

If you are one of those people who need precise measurements and instructions - then please, look away now. If the recipe calls for ten plums and you only have eight, and this sends you into a panic, then this is not the post (nor indeed, the blog) for you. If the recipe says caster sugar and you only have the usual white stuff, and this makes you nervously rush out and buy the caster to be safe - or you find another recipe instead - then ... oh dear.

I can't do away with recipes entirely, but I've become a bit of a freewheeler (I get this from my mother). I 'adapt' a recipe because I have natural yoghurt in my fridge, not milk, or because I think one tablespoon of vanilla will set my teeth on edge for a week, so I knock it back to one teaspoon (and wonder if it was a typo).

I've heard about people who are too scared to tweak a recipe in these ways - and really, they are merely tweaks - and I'm sure it comes down to a lack of experience in the kitchen, and knowledge about ingredients and what substitutions can easily be made. Or a lack of confidence in their skills, which is surely linked to experience. Get a few years of regular baking under your belt and you'll learn how recipes and ingredients can work for you.

I'm convinced too that eating (and your attitude to food and eating) is tied up in all this. Enjoying eating and knowing and trusting your own tastebuds translate into the confidence to have a bit of a play with things once you're cooking yourself. What do you think?

So this recipe started by flipping through a library book and spying a bread and butter pudding made with, yes, bread, and dried apricots. Pah - why dried when I had a stash of apricots I'd roasted, all meltingly rich and soft? Why bread when I had a softly spiced panettone in the freezer, sliced and eager for such an occasion? I borrowed the book for the ideas alone.

The custard I also played with. Why two cups of milk and only half a cup of cream? Let's tip the ratio the other way and make it richer. But seriously - one tablespoon of vanilla? That stopped me in my tracks and seemed oh-so-excessive (and you may know by now I'm usually generous with my measurements). So I looked at my recipes for other similar puddings and altered what I did.

And instead of one large baking dish, I made two smaller ones - simply because I'd bought this gorgeous red one at the Habitat sale and was excited (yes) to try it.

So here goes, writing a recipe for you when so much of it was done by seeing what I could fit into the dish and making things up as I went along!

Roast apricot panettone pudding
Idea from the vanilla and apricot bread and putter pudding cake in Julie Le Clerc's 'Simple cafe food'. This pudding is for my friend M, who loves a Habitat sale as much as I do.
  • About the fruit: I used a regular takeaway container of roasted apricots (halved, sprinkled with a little brown sugar, and cooked in a 180 oven til soft and cooked through; at least half an hour). I think this pudding would work well with fresh apricots so ripe they're almost jam. I'm sorry I can't be more precise about quantities, but I just stuffed as much of the fruit in as I could.
  • About the bread: I used almost a whole 500 gram panettone that I'd sliced thickly (frozen and thawed out). Again, I put as much of it in the bakign dishes as I could. Use any bread, especially something sweeter like a brioche or even croissants.
Onto specifics (ha!).
  • Grease a large baking dish, or two smaller ones as I did.
  • Pop the bread slices in, standing sort of upright. Stuff your fruit in between each slice.
  • Now make the custard: in a large bowl, whisk together 5 eggs, 1 cup cream, 1 and 1/2 cups milk (need I say it? Full fat), 1/2 cup sherry, 1 tspn vanilla and 1/4 cup sugar.
  • Ladle this over your bread and leave for about half an hour, so the bread can soak some of it up. Feel free to play with your food at this point, prodding down the bread or spooning the custard and dribbling it over again, all to help the soaking process.
  • Towards the end of this soaking time, preheat your oven to 180. Baking time will depend on the time of your dish, but mine took around 1 and 1/2 hours for the custard to set but remain squidgy (an admirable quality in such a pudding). I would advise checking every half hour, and covering with foil if it looks like the top may burn.
  • Serve warm and soft, or fridge cold and a little firmer (but just as nice).

19 Feb 2013

roast plums

This time of year means stone fruit in Tasmania. I am sure if you walked into anyone's kitchen right now you would find, either on the bench or in the fridge or even in the freezer, bowl and boxes of stone fruit. Apricots, plums, nectarines, cherries. Juicy, jewel coloured fruit ripe and bursting with so much possibility.

There's eating them fresh, of course, but if you have a solid supply, you need to cook them. Make jams or spicy chutneys, crumbles or upside down cakes. Here's an apricot crumble I made using a favourite crumble mix:

I've also been cutting up and freezing the fruit: sometimes lightly stewing it first, thinking ahead for my breakfast muesli; sometimes freezing it raw, for when I want to make a cake or pudding in the depths of winter.

I bought these incredibly juicy and almost-black plums from a lady at work who lives down the Huon Valley way (once Tasmania's apple-growing heart). These were so big and glorious I didn't want to 'sully' them with a cake batter. So I simply did this, to ensure the fruit remained the star:
  • Preheat the oven to 180 and line a baking tray with paper.
  • Halve the plums and remove the stones (the hardest part of the whole exercise). Do this over the tray so if they are as juicy as mine, you don't lose a precious drop of that nectar.
  • Sprinkle with some light brown sugar (as much as you like - I didn't do too much as the fruit was sweet enough) and a good dash of cinnamon. Then zest one orange over the top and squeeze in the juice. Because my fruit was so 'wet' already, I only used the juice of half the orange.
  • Roast in the oven for 20 minutes or so, until they are collapsing and soft.

You can eat these as they are, with ice cream or cream or natural yoghurt, as I did; the tartness complements the spicy warmth of the fruit. You could freeze them, if you make a big enough batch to make it worth your while, for an oaty crumble in the winter. The plums' colour and richness will bring back the heady, fruit laden days of summer.

Yes, I photographed them on another plate! Then I ate them.

18 Feb 2013

late summer garden ramble

Let's go on a tour of the vegie garden; we haven't done that together for a while.
Late summer brings a mixed bag in the garden. The peas and beans are finally producing again, just enough to pick for a meal every second night. I haven't had much luck with these this year - perhaps it has been just too hot and dry for them. I have a small rainwater tank which I use to water my vegies, but nothing compares to the real stuff falling from the sky, and as everyone here will tell you, there's been very little of that around, even when it is forecast (I firmly believe it stays around the mountain and never comes across to my side of the river).
My beans though are having a good second flush. I love green beans, steaming them until they are just done and still 'squeaky'. The slim ones (above) are much more productive than one of my favourite varieties, scarlet runners (so named for their hot orange flowers). These have grown magnificently over their teepee structure, but seem to have been all leaf and no bean. Dad tells me to cool the plants down in the evening by spraying the entire bush with water (they like a cool evening, apparently). But by the time the day has lost its heat, I've moved insid,e and hosing down beans is the last thing on my mind. Sorry dad. Even for a favourite bean, I haven't got time for special treatment. I'll stick to other varieties next time.
Here is one of my favourite sights in the garden: a new bean seedling punching vigorously through the soil, with such vibrancy. I want to applaud its energy: bravo, bean!
Elsewhere, the kale continues to grow regally, and the grubs continue to enjoy the kale.
Tomato bushes look very sad. Still producing tomatoes (though am past the glut stage; twas all too brief). Dad says I am killing them with kindness, too much water (one litre per plant: good; four litres: better? Appears not). That or I haven't got the nutrients in the soil right. But tomatoes are a learning curve, more so than other vegies. I'll be better next year.
The fruit trees are a horror I'd rather forget. They were in the garden when I moved in; I doubt now whether I would plant a fruit tree. However, next year I will net them, because the birds get to the fruit before I do, leaving random pecks in my not-quite-ripe apricots, apples and nectarines - then abandoning the fruit to rot. Fruit trees are a full-time job that I sometimes feel ill-equipped to deal with; every year they are the most frustrating and upsetting part of my garden.

The apples, without fail, get attacked by coddlin moth and no matter what the weather conditions, the nectarines gets brown rot. I cannot enjoy a juicy piece of fruit straight from the tree; I have to take it inside and cut around the grubs or mush or bird holes, and either freeze it or cook it up. I would seriously think about cutting the trees off flush to the ground if only their pink spring blossoms did not fill my heart with such joy.

Probably on the other side of these apples are grub holes and bird pecks. Too good to be true.

So let's end this on a positive note. My basil contines to grow lushly, and I make pesto every week or so, and enjoy decadent handfuls of the leaves over my meals. Can you smell their spicy-fresh perfume from where you are? Amazing.
What's happening in your garden?

15 Feb 2013

anzac biscuits

One of my kitchen resolutions this year was to bake biscuits regularly, and while one batch does not a habit make, what better recipe to start with than Anzac biscuits?

I love the tradition, the story behind Anzac biscuits: that they were made by mothers and wives 'back home' for the soldiers - the Anzacs - fighting on the european battlefronts of World War I (for readers outside Australia and New Zealand - hello! - ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps). They were made with basic ingredients that would survive the weeks-long voyage from southern to northern hemisphere.

I realised I had never made these cultural icons until I started adding the bicarb/water mix into the melted butter/golden syrup mix: the alchemical process of the liquid transforming to fizzing foam was mesmerising, and one I'd surely remember witnessing before. And if I didn't have to act quickly to pour this onto the dry ingredients, I would have watched to see how far the foaming could go.

Anzacs are one recipe I will never 'adapt' or tinker with. Why would you? The only variations are cooking times, and therefore whether you like your Anzacs soft and chewy, or hard and crunchy (either way, perfect for dunking into a cup of tea). I like them ... which ever way they turn out! What about you?

Anzac biscuits
From mum, from the back of a golden syrup container, I think!
  • Preheat oven to 180 and prep some baking trays.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 cup plain flour, 1 cup rolled oats, 3/4 cup dessicated coconut, and 1 cup sugar (I used white with some raw sugar added. So maybe I did tinker).
  • In a small cup or bowl, combine 1 tsp bicarb soda with 1 tbspn cold water.
  • In a small saucepan (or in your microwave), melt 125 gms butter with 2 tbspns golden syrup.
  • Remove butter/golden syrup from heat then stir thru the bicarb/water mix (and watch it foam!).
  • Now add this to the dry ingredients and stir well.
  • Take a walnut-sized spoonful of the mix and roll into balls, flattening slightly as you place them on the baking trays. They will spread a little, so leave some space between them.
  • Bake for 14-16 minutes or until golden. I baked for 14 minutes and they crisped up nicely - so try less perhaps if you like a chewier Anzac (postscript: I have just been told the amount of golden syrup affects the chewiness of the biscuits, not just the cooking time).

14 Feb 2013

quinoa risotto with roast summer veg

Quinoa is one of my favourite 'carbs' (protein? legume? Let's not debate what it truly is). Usually I just boil it up plain, plonking a great stodgy lump into a bowl and topping it off with some vegies - rather like a base of mashed potatoes, to soak up the flavours - or fluffing it up a bit, folding thru more vegies and salad greens and a dressing or pesto, a la couscous.

But this week I tried a new way of cooking this nutty, nibbly grain (seed; whatever) - a la risotto rice.

It was a breeze to make: the same process as making a true risotto, but somehow easier. Less fraught with anxiety. Following the laws of risotto making, the quinoa expanded exponentially, so what seemed like a reasonable dry amount swelled in the wine and stock to become almost overwhelming. But quinoa is both filling and light, so I didn't feel weighed down as I would with the same amount of creamy risotto.

And it was delicious! It was full of flavour - fresh chilli and smoky paprika - and adorned with the most plentiful vegies of the season, tomatoes and zucchinis which had been roasted til soft and flavoursome.

How do you do quinoa?

Quinoa risotto with roast summer veg
Adapted from a delicious magazine (undated photocopy). Experiment with your favourite vegies when roasting.
  • First roast your vegies. I chopped a largish zucchini into big chunks, and halved some small tomatoes - enough to fill a baking tray - then drizzled with good olive oil and some salt and pepper. Roast in a hot (200) oven until soft and glossy (for me this took about 30 minutes or so).
  • Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large frypan and saute one finely chopped onion and two or three chopped garlic cloves until soft. Then add one small red chilli, finely chopped, and a good shake or two of smoky paprika, and stir around for a minute. You'll smell the spice and the oil will start to go a wonderful orangey colour.
  • Add one cup of quinoa and stir to 'toast' for a minute or so (as you do in risotto making).
  • Then add one tbspn tomato paste and 1/2 cup white wine. The quinoa soaked this up pretty quickly for me.
  • Now add liquid: I used 1 and 1/2 cup of bought chicken stock and 1 cup of water. Once in the pan, bring to a simmer, then cook until the liquid is almost all soaked up but not quite - keep a little soupiness to it (so add more liquid if you need). Stirring occasionally to ensure the quinoa doesn't catch on the pan (as it will towards the end), this should take you about 15-20 minutes.
  • You could fold thru your roasted vegies, or serve up the quinoa risotto and top it off with the veg, whatever you choose (I boxed mine all up for my work lunches, to assemble each day - hence the seperate photos!).

13 Feb 2013

haloumi + roast veg

Talk about new things for a new year. Recently I learnt a new yoga pose, and I cooked with a new ingredient for the first time.

Thanks to my teacher-in-training friend C, I got down into the graceful and exhilarating chair pose variation; a standy-bendy-twisty kind of thing. It feels like you're drilling your body down with a twist that could topple over at any moment; then you find this moment of quiet and balance before swooping up out of it, hands up to the sky, as if you're flying.

Not quite as transformative but definitely an 'ooh!' moment: I cooked with haloumi. Now I've eaten haloumi before, but never brought it home to my kitchen. I think mainly because I feared starting an addiction to that salty, squeaky, creamy, oozy, crispy cheese (who knew one ingredient could have so many possible textures?).

Inspired by a Belinda Jeffery recipe, I roasted some potatoes and a wedge of pumpkin, all cut into slices and flavoured with some lemon wedges, smoky paprika (I really like this spice!) and some fresh oregano leaves plucked from the garden.

Then I sliced up the haloumi and fried it in a little olive oil. I cooked the first batch too long - it does not take three minutes each side, as the pack stated. I turned the heat down and cooked the second lot more carefully, to arrive at a perfect golden brown colour.

Then I tossed it all togther - what a decadently salty and morish plate! The paprika and lemon flavours hit it off well with the haloumi. All I could think was, gosh I need to buy this stuff more often. See! I knew it would start some trouble.

It was a nice change from all the plates of green stuff I've been eating lately. However, while I did have a few perfunctory lettuce leaves in there, it did feel like I was going behind someone's back. And I admit I did feel a little guilt at ignoring the zucchinis for a couple of nights. But my bride-to-be friend C (a different C) told me about the pea-and-haloumi fritters she makes; just amazing, she said. I am so onto that one - green peas plus salty squeaky haloumi? A match made in heaven.

6 Feb 2013

quick and fresh tomato sauce

I never thought I'd say this: I have a glut of tomatoes. Of my own. From my own bushes. Yes! But a glut of tomatoes is a wonderful thing to have spread over your kitchen bench (far more welcome than a glut of zucchinis or broad beans).

For the past week I've tippy-toed about, really, enjoying deep scarlet chunks on salads and steamed vegies, bowls of pasta-and-pesto, or on a thick slice of wholegrain toast with just basil and salt (a most luxurious breakfast).

But these have really been garnishes, little entrees into the tomato supply.

So tonight I made a fresh sauce, suitable for pasta or vegies, using so few ingredients it feels wrong to call this a recipe. I was inspired by London-based chef Giorgio Locatelli, whose 'Made in Italy' writings I am currently salivating over reading.

I merely heated a very good glug of olive oil in a small frypan, then added a few juicy garlic cloves I'd sliced up (wonderful fat things bought at the Bellerive farmers market). I sauteed this gently until the garlic started to soften, then added a few fresh tomatoes, cut into small but rough chunks (skin, seeds and all). I added a generous pinch of salt, raised the heat and let it all bubble away for, oh, 15 minutes? Until it started to reduce and just catch on the bottom of the pan.

And that was it, bar the fresh basil leaves I generously adorned the final plate with. The richly red tomatoes and the velvety oil made it a beautiful sauce. Quick enough to make for a colourful mid-week dinner; quick enough to retain the flavour of those ripe home-grown tomatoes.

4 Feb 2013

bellerive farmers market + bream creek farmers market

I'm not what you would call an 'early adopter' of trends, so it should come as no surprise that I only just went to my first farmers market this Saturday. But then I embraced the idea with gusto and went to another on Sunday!

The first could be classed as my 'local', the Farm Gate Market Bellerive on Hobart's eastern shore. This has only been running since mid-December, and is organised by the same people behind the successful Hobart CBD one held on Sundays.

I instantly loved this one, held on Bellerive's Boardwalk, with its pretty views of the bay and the boats docked in the marina bobbing on the water. There were probably less than a dozen stalls, but this only added to its charm; in fact, it reminded me of small neighbourhood markets I'd seen in Europe. As well as cider, vegan munchies, cheese and coffee stalls, there were beautiful, colourful stalls bursting with home-garden-style cut flowers, freshly dug spuds of many varieties, free range eggs, verdant micro-herbs, and vegies gleaming in every hue of the rainbow. The biggest cherries I've seen in a long time, and dark, almost ruby-coloured moor park apricots (the best, best variety).  A woman heaved away with a tray - off to make jam, she said when I remarked on her bounty; she only hoped she had enough jars at home.

I walked away with a bag of green beans, bright yellow patty-pan squash, some dutch cream potatoes, and a big fat organic head of garlic from a lady from Murdunna, down the Tasman Peninsula; the fire miraculously skirted around her garlic field.

I also left with a lovely cosy feeling from chatting briefly but wonderfully to the garlic seller, the apricot buyer, the lady selling naked lady bulbs. Exchanges like that, I feel, make shopping for your produce enjoyable; none of the sterility of supermarket transactions.

On Sunday I was at my parents' place, and we ambled along to the Bream Creeek Farmers Market, held in the picturesque rural valley of Bream Creek. This one seemed bigger than the Bellerive market, and there were a lot of stalls selling cakes, jams, pickles and other food to eat there, perched on the fence skirting the showgrounds, drinking a coffee or freshly-squeezed juice, or take home for your lunch. Lots of cherries and apricots and potatoes and wine (there are a number of vineyards in the area).

The other difference was, it seemed, that everyone knew everyone. My parents stopped and chatted to many friends (and I got to put faces to names). As it was the first market held since the January fires, you could sense the community coming together for a positive, relaxed occasion.

The other highlight was meeting Tino from Gardening Australia, who was invited by the local neighbourhood centre. He talked about what people could do to help their fire-ravaged gardens recover. He was full of good advice and a real joie de vivre - I said to mum later that you got the sense he toned down his happy exuberance for the TV cameras! He was so happy and friendly.

The great thing is that Tino will be returning to the neighbourhood centre this week to meet with the Dunalley gardening club (of which my parents are members) to help them again. This is part of a wonderful program the centre is organising that will see other experts visit and advice peopel how they can fix their soil or save their fruit trees. Events like that, my mum said, are giving people hope and a sense of moving forward.

Knowing Tino was going to be at the Bream Creek market, I was rather forward when we spotted him and said hello - and invited him down to visit mum and dad's and come and see, firsthand, their baked blackened soil - and bring along the Gardening Australia TV crew, too! (I had warned mum I would do this). He seemed really enthusiastic about the idea, so I'll keep you posted.

Anyway, back to the topic ... I'm a farmers market convert. If I can't grow it myself, it's lovely to get it freshly dug or picked, and to meet the person who's grown it. I can see why, in our busy modern disconnected urban lives, farmers markets are so welcome. It's more than just the fresh and beautiful produce you take home - it's the cosy glow, as well.

Do you do farmers markets?

1 Feb 2013

spaghetti with kale, chilli and ginger


I've been undecided about the cavolo nero (kale) growing in my garden: tossing back and forth between admiring its smoky dark green leaves that stand upright like an upturned vegie feather duster; and getting grumpy over the caterpillars that chomp thru the leaves, in places stripping them right back to the white mid-ribs.

I've so far resisted dousing the plants with pyrethrum, but I'm being increasingly swayed because of the multitude of grubs I find when I cut the leaves, and the multitude of holes left by those fat grubs. Some of the leaves looked like the proverbial swiss cheese.

I also haven't been overwhelmed by its performance in the kitchen. It doesn't take to a quick stirfry very well -  it stays sharp in texture to the bite - and unless you're a sucker for fibre, those white mid-ribs, though not too thick, are surprisingly tough. I'm all for super-greens packed with anti-oxidants, but perhaps this is not the green for me.

But then the weather turned wet, grey and cold - as it is wont to do in a Hobart summer - and I thought I'd take a slower approach to the kale.

In garlic oil, I sauteed the last of the spring onions F gave me, along with chopped fresh ginger and red chilli (frozen from last summer's abundant plant).

Once that had softened, I threw in a handful of frozen peas (I'm between crops at the moment) then a few large handfuls of the kale, finely shredded into dark ribbons. I stirred that around for a bit before adding a little white wine (probably only a tablespoon or two, just enough to add some liquid), the juice from a soon-to-expire lemon half that was languishing in the fridge, and clamping the lid down on the frypan, while I boiled some skinny spaghetti.

Taking this 'wetter' approach of steaming (or perhaps braising?) the sturdy leaves with a little liquid produced more satisfying results. The cavolo nero was transformed to tender; and like its cousin curly kale, it stood up well to the stronger flavours of garlic, chilli and ginger - in fact, it flourished with them.

So maybe the cavolo nero will re-appear in another season in my vegie patch. Afterall, I'm a sucker for cooking and eating anything that is ridiculously healthy for you. I just have to conquer those caterpillars.