29 Jun 2015

tomato barley risotto

Cloth from the wonderful Frangipani Fabrics

My love affair with pearl barley continues. I have made my 'Sydney salad' many times, playing around with the vegies and spices. Now I've tried this chewy, filling grain in a different way - in a risotto. Or should that be a barlotto?

It's made exactly the same way as a traditional risotto, but turns out much chunkier and chewier, more earthy than elegant. Pearl barley has guts. This chunky-chewiness is perfect for a hearty winter-in-Hobart lunch.

But I have to admit, what really made this big pot come alive was using tomatoes retrieved from my freezer. The label said 'roast tomatoes with lemon thyme, March 2015' - was it really only three months ago that I was making magic with my home-grown tomatoes? Because magic is what this frozen package was: deep ruby-red wedges and slivers of garlic, freckled with many herb leaves. All swimming in a rosy-oily liquid that I knew would be bursting with the flavours of summer.

And so it was. While the pearl barley in this risotto says winter, the tomatoes and tang of the lemon thyme (and some extra lemon zest) says - sings - of sunshine and summer. This is filling, but not stodgy. I loved it so much that after I took this photo, I ate the risotto (the shredded ribbons of silverbeet were the perfect accompaniment) then licked the plate - I wasn't going to waste any of that flavour.
Tomato barley risotto
Adapted from a Woman's Weekly recipe.
  • In a large heavy casserole pot, sauté in some olive oil one finely chopped onion, some chopped or crushed garlic cloves (to your flavour) and half a red capsicum, finely chopped. Cook until soft but not coloured; I am reminded of reading somewhere that to cook onions like this should take a good ten minutes of patience; any recipe that states any time less is not worth proceeding with!
  • At this stage, the recipe specified also cooking in 1 tbspn finely chopped rosemary. I omitted this because of the herbs in my frozen/roasted tomatoes, but I can envisage that rosemary, lemon thyme or marjoram/oregano would be delicious flavours and would be necessary if you were using tinned tomatoes.
  • Once this is all soft and lovely, add 1 cup pearl barley and stir for a couple of minutes until well coated.
  • Now for the stock and the tomatoes. The recipe specified 5 cups vegie stock, a 400gm tin of chopped tomato, and 1 cup of passata. Because I had my own produce, I used 1 cup of 'roast tomato pan juices' saved from some summer cooking, and almost 1 kilo of my frozen roasted tomatoes, which had a lot of oily juices. I only needed a little slurp of boiling water towards the end of the cooking.
  • So, add your liquid and tomatoes, a good zesting of lemon, and bring to the boil. Then reduce to a gentle glooping simmer and cook until barley is cooked; around 45 minutes. Stir occasionally to check that the barley doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.
  • Serve with some dark silverbeet for a nice contrast.

21 Jun 2015

walnut shortbreads

The other thing I ate in Sydney, every day, was those crescent-shaped Greek shortbread biscuits. During the day, I would descend into the glorious depths of the David Jones Food Hall, and buy one — just one — fat, icing-sugar covered biscuit; I would save it for the evening, back in my hotel room, where I would nibble away with my evening cup of tea. Invariably I would inhale as I took the first bite, and cough from the icing sugar. Every time! They were deliciously short and rich all at once. I made a note to search out recipes for them when I got home.

Back in Tassie, I visited mum and dad, and sampled the Russian tea cakes mum had baked, which were not cakes at all but buttery little biscuits made with crushed walnuts and smothered in great clouds of icing sugar. Again, I inhaled and spluttered. I gobbled so many of these morish morsels that mum actually told me to stop eating them (or was that the chocolate biscuit slice she also had laid out?). So I took the recipe to make my own.

These are not true shortbreads, but it’s a better description than ‘tea cakes’ (and I’m not sure what is Russian about them. Are they served with borscht and vodka?). They are not as crumbly as the Greek kourambiethes I enjoyed in Sydney, but they are sort of the closest thing right now. I’m very happy with them. I just have to remember not to inhale.

Walnut shortbreads
From a magazine cutting without a title on it. I halved the original recipe and made about 14 biscuits the size of small walnuts.
  • Preheat your oven to 180 and prep some baking trays.
  • Cream 115 gms soft butter with ½ tspn vanilla (I used the extract with speckles) and ¼ cup icing sugar.
  • Using a wooden spoon, beat in 1 cup plain flour, 1/8 tspn salt, then a heaped 1/3 cup finely-chopped walnuts (these are small biscuits, so you want small pieces). You may need to get in with your hands and squeeze the dough together.
  • Roll small balls of dough and place on the baking trays. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly golden.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool. This and other recipes I checked said to roll the cooked biscuits in icing sugar while still warm. I found the icing sugar seemed to disappear – either it didn’t stick, or melted, or was absorbed – so next time I would wait til they were a little cooler.

14 Jun 2015

roast veg + barley warm salad

I was in Sydney recently, and the best meals I had were, incredibly, from the mega food courts beneath the bustling CBD, which are packed full of every conceivable cuisine and quick meal you would want to eat. I loved this takeaway so much that I went back and had it again and again; I dissected the ingredients and flavours, and decided I had to make it at home.

This is what it was - one of my favourite dishes - a chunky, substantial, vegie-filled salad. There were sticks of carrot and wedges of red onion, roasted til tender and flavoured with warm spices; I could detect cumin. There was pearl barley, and this was the big surprise for me, because I think of barley as an ingredient for soup, not salad. I loved it in this incarnation. These were all tossed with lots of leafy fresh greens, beautifully dressed, and finished with dabs of creamy-salty fetta. It was filling and light at the same time.

This being Hobart in the wintertime though, where we've already had frosts and days where temperatures have barely scraped into the double digits, a cold salad was not going to be on the menu. I need hot food!

So I mixed it up a bit. I roasted a large tray of carrots and a delicious ironbark pumpkin (both from dad) plus some stalks from a broccoli I had in the fridge. I drizzled these with oil and dusted them with a Moroccan spice mix I bought back from a Sydney spice shop. I omitted the red onion simply because ... I forgot to buy one. Next time! I roasted these on a slower than usual temperature (160) and they came out flavoursome and tender.

Meanwhile I cooked a cup of pearl barley in my rice cooker. This stuff is so good - I have found a new favourite wholegrain; it now has a prime location in my pantry alongside the brown rice and quinoas.

Then instead of salad greens, I shredded and lightly steamed a big bunch of silverbeet (again from my parents).

Then I tumbled all these cooked ingredients together, dressed the big bowl of colour simply with olive oil and lemon juice, daubed the dish with some Danish fetta, and added my own flourish, a sprinkling of crunchy black sesame seeds.

I'm sorry I forgot to take a pic of the final dish. But trust me, it made for a wonderful week of working lunches, back here in Hobart! A delicious winter version of the Sydney original. It ticks so many boxes: effortless to make, full of flavour and so healthy. I know it will definitely be a regular in my repertoire now.

7 Jun 2015

garden share: june

I’m a bit all over the place lately (I apologise if I’m not reading your blogs in a timely manner), so I missed last week’s garden share collective posting. Or rather, I thought was this week. In which case, I am on schedule. For something. Anyway, what’s happening in my vegie garden right now?

It’s all about the soil (above; all these photos were taken just after the sun came up one very frosty morning this week. My fingers are still thawing out). I’ve gradually pulled all the summer crops: the zucchinis, corn, beans, tomatoes (okay, Dad did those) and kale are all gone. The kale went to mum and dad’s chooks. Waste not, want not; though the girls seem to have forgotten their side of the deal — that is, laying eggs. We think they’re too well fed right now. Still, the kale plants were a few years old, getting a bit tough and bitter, and full of aphids. So off to the chooks.
A row of frosty carrots
I’ve been digging the bare beds over, and incorporating great handfuls of ‘stuff’ to replenish the soil after the growing season. Sheep poo, dolomite, blood and bone, gypsum; a bit of everything and anything that dad has given me. I currently have four bags of horse poo, from a work colleague, in the back of my car. It’s smelly work. The neighbours must love it.

In place of growing green manure crops (which we seem to discuss endlessly but never get around to doing anything about), I’ve been gathering bunches of newly-sprouted nasturtiums from a garden bed ‘out the front’ (my flower gardens). I didn’t want them smothering the bulbs, so I figured digging them in to the vegie beds would be a great solution. They’re so soft and tender and juicy and should provide good green nutrients.

I’ve also been taking bagfuls of chickweed from mum and dad’s garden. We laugh that I am taking weeds. But again, it’s soft and fresh and should break down easily once buried in the soil.

In some patches there are an amazing quantity of earthworms – it really is exciting to see! Other areas are ‘vacant’, so hopefully fortifying with this organic matter (and my kitchen scraps, which I continue to bury here and there) will help.
There’s been a little planting going on, more so than in previous winters. I bought some organic Tasmanian garlic (my harvest was not big enough) and have about 30 cloves in.  I’m doing an experiment: I’ve planted some in a row in one of the beds, and some in a white polystyrene box. I want to see which grow better, those in the ground or those in the container. Rotting off versus drying out…
I’ve also planted three sprouting broccoli (below; not purple), and four small silverbeet seedlings (from mum and dad’s garden) and a few rows of different pea varieties. I’ve only recently learned that peas should be grown in winter, and after seeing some flourishing crops in people’s backyards (while on my lunchtime walks — I’m very much a stickybeak!), I realised I had to get to it.
It looks dry, doesn't it? We are not getting much rain, and I need to water regularly
I’m not harvesting anything: I’m getting all of my fruit and vegies now from either mum and dad (apples and pears of many wonderful varieties, good for eating and cooking; carrots and silverbeet and delicious pumpkins), or the shops. And I continue to collect and scatter marigold seeds — it’s become a bit of a compulsion.

Winter has set in: it’s been very cold and snowy, and by the time I get home from work, it is cold and dark. So all garden work is done on the weekend. But it’s wonderful to rug up, make a thermos of tea, and potter about in the garden. Digging warms me up, and it all keeps me connected with my garden space.

The almost-empty beds, save some valiant marigolds, bee-attracting larkspur (much more purple than this photo captures, and a self-seeded pumpkin, severely burnt by the frost).