Just Nuts about Hazelnuts…

cropped-Torino-e1367812482559

Piemonte is one of the food and wine world’s best (or worst) kept secrets. Little wonder that the Slow Food Movement is headquartered here because seriously, there is so much great food and wine packed in this little region of Italy than is really fair. Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, & Arneis are but a few of the wine grape varieties that enjoy near legendary status, grown as they are in famous Appellations like Barolo, Alba, Barbaresco, Asti & Gattinara.

Then there’s the food, white truffles, chestnuts, amazing cheeses, rice, all manner of game meats and hazelnuts. Believe me the Piedmontese are literally nuts about hazelnuts, especially when combined with chocolate and of course this is the where the famous Ferrero family of Ferrero Rocher and Nutella fame are based. What culinary extremes, home to not only some of the world’s most highly regarded wines and rare perfumed fungi but also some of the most widely available and popular sugary confections on the planet.

hazelnuts

But why is the chocolate and hazelnut combination so strong here? The Hazelnut part is easily explained, the climate and terrain of the “Langhe” has been well suited to the cultivation of hazelnuts for centuries, but when the new fashion for cocoa was at its peak in Turin during the late 1700’s this fad ran head long into Napoleon’s Regency of Piedmonte. At that very time around the early 1800’s, restrictive trade sanctions and a physical blockade (sound familiar) prevented cocoa and other luxury imports from reaching destinations under Napoleonic control.

Legend claims that it wasn’t much later, that resourceful Piemontese pastry cooks came up with a smooth, sweet and creamy, firm paste of roasted hazelnuts and bitter cocoa to manage the scarcity of the more highly desirable chocolate. They called this confection Gianduja after a carnival character (pictured below) who was a symbol of independence  Interestingly the development of Gianduja  ran pretty much parallel to the development of Milk chocolate a relatively short trek across the Swiss Alps. Unfortunately for the Torinese, milk chocolate went on to conquer the world while Gianduja remained largely a local specialty in Turin.

gianduja2

However fast track almost a hundred years and in 1946 following world war 2, another severe rationing of chocolate apparently led Albanese pastry chef Pietro Ferrero to produce large batch of chocolate-like “Pasta Gianduja” . Importantly because the major ingredient was locally sourced he was able to make this at a fraction of the cost of chocolate candy and this paste proved both popular and profitable. Over the next few years he refined this to a smooth spread finally launching Nutella as we know it in the early 1960’s.

Since this humble start, Nutella consumption has spread from its Italian home into every corner of the globe to the extent that it is estimated or rather claimed on the internet that the weight of Nutella consumed globally each year roughly equates to the mass of the Empire State Building! Whatever the facts, Ferrero’s success has spawned a whole range of imposters and lookalikes of varying quality.

wheres the bread

However last weekend over Easter when I needed some Nutella I found the cupboard bare and the shops closed. With a little research, I realized that I actually had all the ingredients on hand to make a little batch of something very close to a soft pasta Gianduja, and the result surprised me , it was smooth, rich and dairy free with a much more pronounced toasted nutty character and devoid of the rancidity which often plagues the cheap substitutes mentioned earlier.

The other big plus is that it was quite a bit less sugary and with a tiny hint of salt and some nice cocoa bitterness it even has a slightly savoury edge, and just for the record it made a delicious filing for the Hazelnut and Chocolate Danish Pastries we were trialing for next week’s Vintage Festival Breakfasts at Bethany Wines. Try it yourself, it really is ridiculously simple and equally delicious.

Hazelnut and Cocoa Paste 

120g                                     hazelnuts
1/2  cup                               icing sugar
2 tablespoons                    cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon                       sunflower oil
1/2 teaspoon                      vanilla paste
tiny pinch                          fine salt

Method:

Roast hazelnuts until lightly golden brown, skin blisters and nuts are fragrantly toasty

roasting nutsroasted nuts- skinningready to grind

Rub in a cloth to remove skins and when cool place in a blender and grind very finely

ground nutsblend 20 secondsadd sugar, cocoa, vanilla , oil and saltblend 20 seconds

Add cocoa, icing sugar, vanilla, oil and salt and process until very fine, smooth, glossy and spreadable, its that simple!

 

Delicious Nightshades

After last week’s plague of zucchini, it could only be a tomato tsunami this week. On a serious note it would be nice if things ripened evenly because it certainly looks like we’re due an eggplant glut in the next couple of weeks, ratatouille in installments anyone? Of course this is the joy of home gardening, but also why we love our farmers markets like our one here in the Barossa, (arguably one of Australia’s best), simply because different gardens have different things at different times.

toamtoes

Anyway this time, unlike my ponderings over zucchini, there really is no question what to make. Forget passata and relish, there will definitely be no bothering with “dead horse”, no for me there is only one thing to do with an abundance of sweet ripe tomatoes and that is make chutney.

ginger

However this is not your typical “Anglo” grandma chutney, spiced up with curry powder and a hadful of raisins. No, my recipe of choice is for an authentic Bengali “Tamator Chaatney”. Certainly there are elements of curry in the ingredients with ginger, chili, fenugreek and other whole “curry spices” but this is really so much about the tomatoes, so rich and bright red, with crunchy shreds of ginger and a beautiful spicy, sweet, sour balance.

spices

There’s nothing complicated in the prep either, the only technical part is slicing the ginger into fine matchsticks or if you’re into fancy terminology “Julienne”, but even that’s easy this time of year because tender, paper skinned, juicy young ginger from Queensland is in peak supply right now.

panch phoran

Essentially to make this, the simplest of chutneys, the spices including the “Panch Phoron” (a blend of five whole seeds, keep an eye on our website for the release of this and other Food Luddite spice blends in the coming weeks) are simply fried, the tomatoes and seasonings are added and the whole is simmered until rich. Lastly coriander leaves and lime juice are added and its ready for immediate use. However, with a layer of oil on top it will last for weeks in the fridge, but I doubt you can keep it that long, because it goes with just about everything!

 

Bengali Tamator Chaatney

120ml                                  vegetable oil
2 teaspoons                        panch phoron
4                                         green chillies – chopped
4                                         cloves garlic  – chopped
5 cm piece                          fresh ginger – shredded into fine matchsticks
1kg                                     ripe tomatoes – diced in approx. 1cm cubes
2 teaspoons                       salt
1/2 cup                               sugar
50ml                                   white vinegar
2                                         limes – juice of
2 tablespoons                    coriander leaf – shredded

Method

  •  Fry panch phoron in hot oil, add garlic, chilli and ginger and fry gently for 2-3 minutes
  • Add Tomatoes, salt, sugar and vinegar and simmer until well reduced and oil starts to separate at the edges of the pan.
  • Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly, stir through the lime juice and fresh coriander to finish
  • Seal in sterilized jars or store in the fridge in a sealable container with a little extra oil floated on top.

A Plague of Zucchini’s

zucchini

Its that time of the year when the zucchini plants you thought would never bear fruit decide to give it up all at once and before you know it you are eating zucchini at every meal. Even worse that time when you go away for a day or so and return to find the cucurbit version of jack and the beanstalk playing out numerous times in the one garden bed, if only my rockmelons would do the same!.

So what to do with these monstrous courgettes ( which are certainly more “courge” than “ette” ) Well one option, and the one favoured by my dear mum (pictured below), who loved a vegetable marrow, saw it stuffed and baked, but for me, am I a fan….not so much. Neither am I fond of zucchini cake, which from past experience, just seems a waste of perfectly good sugar, eggs and flour.

mum - cropped

Peeling, seeding and using a mandolin to cut the zucchini into spaghetti and tossing it in good quality olive oil with garlic, roasted cherry tomatoes and basil, which are also in glut proportions right now, is a possibility, but to be honest the family is already tiring of that. No, I have instead settled on preserving them for the 40 or so weeks of the year when we won’t have a zucchini in sight.

To be honest I haven’t made these for years, but once upon a time, in my formative years as a chef I worked for an family originally from just outside Naples in the South of Italy. They were the very successful operators of one of Adelaide’s most prestigious fine dining restaurants at the time, all table cooking, dinner suits and bow ties. However their family meals and their approach to food couldn’t have been more different than the fancy surroundings of this Georgian style manor house.

Druminor

True to their “Paesano” roots, their food of preference was authentically traditional and despite being in the suburbs of Adelaide they managed a truly agrarian garden (for them not the restaurant, it was strictly hands off for the chefs!) In this pocket of suburbia, they re-created a little piece of their home village with Chickens, Ducks, Rabbits and even goats raised for meat, and the garden was full of whatever was in season, eggplants, lettuce leaf basil, rape, and of course tomatoes and zucchini are just a few of the things that would be grown. What couldn’t be consumed fresh was preserved for use throughout the year, and one such preserve was these “Zucchini Sott’Olio”

dress

Of course they won’t replace fresh zucchini, but these are the business, great as part of an antipasto plate or even tossed through casarecce pasta with a little garlic, some olio di peperoncino and a sprinkling of pecorino cheese. So to Lisa and Vic, a big thank you for sharing your traditions, and one thing’s for sure, your home cooking changed how this “Pommy kid” saw Italian food, and even today, where rustic is trendy, its still difficult to find food this authentic other than at a families table.

Ciao da Marco!

ingredients

Zucchini Preserved Under Oil

3 kg                       zucchini – large
2.5 litres               water
2 cups                   white wine vinegar
100g                      salt
2 tablespoons     oregano – dried bunch /Greek style
10 cloves              garlic – sliced thinly
2                            bay leaves – crumbled
500ml                  extra virgin olive oil

Method

  • Peel zucchini, halve lengthwise and remove seeds, cut into “chips” approx. 4cm x 1cm
  • Bring water, salt and vinegar to the boil in a large stainless steel saucepan
  • Add zucchini all at once, bring back to the boil and cook for 2 minutes
  • Strain into a colander or sieve and leave to drain for 10 minutes

peeled chop blanch

  • While Zucchini is draining, mix garlic, oil, oregano and bay leaf in a large mixing
  • Add cooked zucchini while still hot but well drained and toss well
  • Pack into jars, ensuring zucchini is packed down tightly and completely covered with oil
  • Seal tightly, then and refrigerate until required (can be heat treated to preserve properly)

IMG_20150211_131859 dress jar

Why on earth would you want to eat a green fig?

glazed figs

When it comes to things edible we have a lot to be thankful of from the ancients of the Mediterranean basin. Imagine if you can, who would have first thought that a horribly spiny thistle, possessing bitterness beyond belief, could be transformed into the classic Artichokes a la Grecque, or that olives, equally bitter and looking poisonously purple when ripe, could be cured with salt water to become a delicacy and in fact a signature ingredient of a entire region. What about caper leaves, and to be honest caper buds and berries, then there are apricot kernels, which though full of toxic Prussic Acid (aka Hydrogen Cyanide), could be turned in to the delicious liqueur Amaretto, by steeping them in neat alcohol and adding caramel. Of course the list goes on, and includes the subject of todays blog, something that really is seemingly thoroughly inedible.

FIG1

You see, its midsummer here in the Barossa, and of course that means we are moving closer to vintage. It also means the ancient, gnarly, fig tree in our garden (see my previous post “What’s with the Figgin Seasons..”) is chockablock full of tiny green fruit, awaiting that final flush of growth and ripening that runs parallel to the Shiraz harvest in our locale. What’s more, as summer progresses we see hordes of birdlife descend to feast on the fruits of our valley at this time of year. As a consequence, each year we lose at least 60% of our fig crop to our avian friends and neighborhood possums. Just for once it would be nice to be able to use some of these fruits before they are either decimated by wildlife, or end up ripening so fast that I can’t keep up with them.

FIG2

But who or why on earth would you want to eat a green fig? At this stage in their ripeness, (or lack of) green figs are about as attractive a food as an olive straight from the tree or an artichoke bud straight from plant. They are hard, fibrous and oozing a irritating, lactic sap when cut. In fact, they are exactly the kind of thing the Mediterranean food alchemists would have had fun with. But I have eaten preserved green figs in my travels and with a little research I was able to discover numerous recipes designed to make these inedible “flower buds” delicious  The majority were for unripe figs cooked long and slow in a heavy sugar syrup and destined to accompany cheeses once fresh figs run out. With a bit of a tweak  I have come up with something unmistakably Mediterranean, one which sees them stuffed with pistachio nuts and candied in a spiced, rose flavored, wine syrup. FIG3 Green Figs and Pistachio Nuts in Rose Scented Wine Syrup

24 small                  unripe green figs
24                           pistachio nuts – shelled
¼ cup                     dried rose petals
4                             cardamom pods
4                             cloves
1                              lemon – peel and juice
2 cups                     sugar
½ cup                     honey
1 cup                      water
1 cup                      white wine

Method

Cut a small cross into the base of each fig, place in a stainless steel saucepan cover with cold water and bring to a simmer, cook gently until figs are just tender.

While figs are poaching make a little spice bag containing the lemon peel, rose petals and spices using cheese cloth or a little square of chux cloth, tie securely with kitchen twine and reserve.

When tender drain and refresh figs briefly with cold water and then drain for a couple of minutes before stuffing each fig with a pistachio kernel by inserting it through the previously made cross in the base.

Meanwhile prepare a syrup with the sugar, honey, water, wine and lemon juice and bring to a simmer, skim any impurities from syrup and pour over stuffed figs and spice bag.

Bring back to a gentle simmer and cook until syrup is rich and thick (2-3 hours), remove figs if they are getting over cooked and reserve them to place back in syrup once it has reduced to the desired consistency

Bottle while still hot if the figs are too be used later in the year or simply refrigerate covered if you plan to use them within a few weeks.