Lemon tree very pretty

lemon tree 1

Like almost everyone else, for years I associated vibrantly bright citrus fruits with summer, maybe it’s the association with sunny places like Valencia, Sicily or Morocco or perhaps the memory of lemony ice blocks and cool drinks on hot days,  lemon meringue pie on the picnic table and of course wedges of lemon with shellfish and summer seafood , but I hadn’t make the connection  that summer citrus fruits are the exception rather than the norm.

By contrast, with winter now here in Southern Australia, it is truly the best time of year for this family of fruits. One of the great things they bring to the table is the splash of bright colour and zingy flavor that seems to say “sunny days”. This is especially so as the days get cooler, skies become more grey and winter food as always, gets heavier and dare I say becomes a study in brown!

A great example of this seasonal bounty are the citrus trees in our little garden. The limes are just about over but still hanging in there, now in their “golden” stage , more yellow than green but at their most fragrant and sweet. We have also started to harvest the first of our old fashioned Navel oranges, even if they are still little sour at the moment, and coming on very soon after will be a terrific crop of mandarins that are, as yet, still pretty green, but it is the lemons I am most excited about.

This year has been a bumper season for lemons and even our dwarf Eureka lemon has put on a show. In fact everyone seems to have lemons to give away right now and we have many more than we need for immediate use. Of course finding uses for fresh lemons is not difficult, our featherlight lemon tart is definitely on the agenda as are sweet preserves like lemon curd and marmalade and  some lemon syrup will be great addition to have on hand for summer cocktails.

preserved lemons

But, there are also savoury preserving options. Right along the ancient spice trail from Morocco to Indian lemons and limes are preserved for future use. Pickling is popular in India, with spicy lime or lemon pickle a popular condiment, dried limes or Loomi are very common in the Gulf States and through to Iran, where they provide an astringent, sour and slightly bitter, powdered seasoning, but by far and away the best known preserved citrus has to be the salted lemons or “Msir” of Morocco.

Simply packed in salt this really is the easiest and most foolproof way to preserve lemons. Once ready the fruit pulp will have turned into a jell like paste. This pulp is most often discarded, along with the white pith so that only the skin or zest is consumed so because of this, juicy thin skinned lemons are best suited for this process. Importantly the pickling or salting process transforms the numbing quality one finds in raw zest, instead leaving behind almost artificial fragrant and intense lemony flavours.

lemon 3

Having these on hand is one thing but knowing how to best use them is another. They are fantastic shredded and stirred though warmed cracked green olives as an hors d’oeuvres or used as a late addition to freshen up a long braised tajine, they add a great piquancy and zing to a simple roasted chook and their flavours play off beautifully against sweet roasted red peppers and fresh green herbs in a simple salad, and for me, this alone is a perfect reason to put some of these winter preserves away for a (not so) sunny day.

Pickled Lemons

5 lemons
5 tablespoons sea salt
125ml lemon juice

Method

  • Wash lemons well and cut into quarters lengthwise without quite cutting through so that the lemon remains in one piece joined at the stem end.

lemon 4

  • Sprinkle inside the lemons well with salt and pack tightly into a preserving jar adding remaining salt between layers.

lemon 2

  • Fill jar with lemon juice and seal, place jars in a warm place for about 4 weeks turning jars occasionally

lemon 1

 

 

 

 

In a bit of a pickle …..

 

dead leaves

Our house smells kind of awesome right now, let me explain why….

The weather in our fair valley has turned, autumn seems to have come to a premature halt and it certainly looks and feels like winter out there right now. Of course that means our little vegie patch, along with everyone else’s, has entered that semi dormant state, which means before we can recondition the soil and sow our cover crops and some broad beans and garlic for spring, we need to clear the remnant summer vegetable fruits that are clearly struggling now that the cold snap has bitten. Luckily, we have already eaten most of the eggplants and there were only a few lonely zucchini bravely hanging on, but our tomato plants were still hopeful, holding a couple of kilos of green tomatoes that were never going to get any riper or sweeter.

green-tomatoes-600x400 (2)

 

Being a frugal type I really didn’t want to waste them so we decided to preserve, but following which process. Frankly I am not a fan of green tomato chutney but I do love a good South Indian Style Pickle. As with all recipes there are many variations and methodologies but when it comes to green tomato pickles there are a few main schools of thought. Starting out with pretty much the same ingredients, they are either simply salted and fermented or cured in the sun, but both of those take patience and time. Others fast track the process and involve a little cooking, and the following recipe takes this route.

ingredients

At once salty, sour, bitter, spicy and pungent, these pickles are kind of addictive, but oh so simple. Mustard seed and fenugreek are really the heroes and that’s what’s making the house smell so good, but on the down side as a fresh unfermented pickle they don’t last long, but that’s not going to be a problem. And so as I write this blog, despite the cold weather and drizzle, I have fired up our tandoor for some smoky grilled eggplant, yogurt marinated lamb, naan bread and those delicious green tomato pickles…. Excuse me while I eat!

lamb n naan

Green Tomato Pickles

60ml                           mustard oil
1 tablespoon              black mustard seed
½ teaspoon               asafetida powder
1 teaspoon                 fenugreek – ground
1 tablespoon              Kashmiri chili powder
750g                            green tomatoes – roughly cut in 1cm dice
50 ml                          fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon              salt

Method

  • Heat oil in a stainless steel saucepan until almost smoking, remove from heat and allow to cool, then reheat oil, add mustard seed frying gently until it starts to crackle and pop

mustard seed

  • Add asafetida, fenugreek and chili powder and continue to fry for one minute

sizzling spice

  • Add tomatoes, lime juice and salt and bring to a simmer

green toms

  • Cook for 20 – 30 minutes or until the oil starts to separate then remove from the heat, fill into sterilized jars and seal or place in a storage container and refrigerate until needed

pickle

Note: if not sealed into sterilized jars this pickle is best eaten in between 7– 10 days if covered and stored in the fridge

 

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