Suppa Zuppa

Free Range - Acrylic on Canvas - Jo McNamara 2015

The cold weather of recent days has had me thinking about soup. Always a great warming stand by, offering some of the most diverse dishes available, limited really only  by ones imagination. Of course traditionally in addition to providing warming nourishment, these “wet” foods would have provided much of ones daily liquid intake, and I clearly remember as a young chef being told by my first mentor, a chef of Indian extraction that we didn’t “eat” enough liquid in the west and to be honest he was right.

Our western diet today tends to be over processed and “dry”  with moisture ironically provided by bottled water or other beverages. By comparison Southern India has broth in the form of thin clear rasam at the centre of its cuisine. Take “Milagu Thanni” or pepper water for example, unfortunately we probably know it as the anglicized Mulligatawny, a heavy, creamy curried chicken soup thickened with rice and garnished with apple, but this is a far cry from the original almost  clear, spicy, tomato, tamarind and curry leaf broth that aids digestion and helps with hydration.

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Of course right now because of the Paleo fad and the fuss that has surrounded the bone broth craze, there is renewed interest in nutritious stocks and consommés. But nutritious broths are nothing new, every carnivorous culture knows and has valued the restorative power of soup (this is supposedly how the term Restaurant was first coined, but that’s a story for another day). In Victorian Britain, Eliza Beeton recommended Beef Tea for invalids, the famous Chicken Soup of Eastern European/Ashkenazic tradition and so beloved in my Barossa homeland (albeit with noodles instead of matzo balls) is often referred to as Jewish Penicillin and the Vietnamese pay great attention to the health and strength given properties of a long simmered Pho.

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More to the point our modern English word soup comes from the old English “Sop” to soak bread in liquid, which in turn is related to “Sup” meaning to swallow and certainly soaking stale country bread in hot broth made these early soups thicker and more filling. Continuing on this theme, some of the worlds best known national dishes are really soups or soupy stews, for example: Bouillabaise, Minestra, Gulyas, Borscht, Cock a leekie, Waterzoi, Chowder and the list goes on, but the  thing these all have in common is that they were originally simple peasant foods, basic dishes that formed the basis of most meals.

Today’s blog is about one such soup, one definitely not as well known as any of the soups mentioned above, but absolutely and fundamentally peasant in origin. I am talking of the Italian classic Zuppa Pavese. Hailing from Pavia, near Milan in Northern Italy. Romantic legend has it that it was created in the early 1500’s by a peasant farmer for the then King Francis I of France who was fleeing a defeat in the battle of Pavia, though this is highly unlikely seeing as he was captured on the battlefield, nice story though…

portrait-of-francis-i-king-of-france

As far as my history with this soup is concerned, I first came across it as a young chef dining at a tiny, rustic, Italian restaurant in Adelaide in the 1970’s, the type with gingham table cloths and ruffina flasks as candle sticks.  I recall it was both cheap and the special of the day and completely unknown to me, but to my surprise it was a revelation remaining a personal favourite to this day.

Simply put it is perfect for lunch or a light “Supper” being very quick and easy. To prepare it, take a good slice of crusty country style bread, fry it in butter until crisp and golden on both sides, place in a heated bowl, break a couple of very fresh eggs  on top, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and pour well flavoured,  boiling broth over to just set the eggs and serve immediately…. nothing too it really!.

Sure it’s not modernist cuisine, though I am sure someone out there will have by now put together a ludicrous deconstructed version with a “40 minute sous vide egg, buttered sour dough gravel, parmesan foam and gelatin filtered consommé” . Of course in its own way that idea ’s not very different from Escoffier listing a recipe for “Mille –Fanti” in his Guide Culinaire. This was an Italian inspired egg drop soup made with strong consommé, eggs, bread and parmesan, precisely the same ingredients as Zuppa Pavese and one can only wonder if the Thousand Footmen of the name is another reference to Francis’s and his army.

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No, for me Zuppa Pavese  is a perfect example of a simple peasant dish that to succeed only needs great ingredients and absolutely no embellishment. Now my poor old dad would have never come at this, the thought of what he would call a “snotty egg” being just too much, and another very good chef friend of mine will probably be equally repulsed at the thought of a “soppy, soggy croute”. But this soup is a restorative in every possible way. The protein of the egg, gelatinous broth and umami rich cheese combining with the butter fried bread to make a simple and honest, healthy and hearty meal, seriously can good food be any easier?

Buon Appetito

Zuppa Pavese – per person

200ml                chicken stock- well seasoned– recipe following
2 teaspoons       butter
1 slice                  day old crusty bread
1 or 2                  eggs – very fresh & at room temperature
2 tablespoons   Parmesan cheese – grated

Method

  • Warm bowl(s) with boiling water and place eggs in bowl to warm slightly

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  • Bring stock to a simmer and ensure it is well seasoned
  • Pan fry bread until golden on both sides, drain water from serving dish

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  • Place fried bread in the base of bowl, crack egg(s)onto bread and sprinkle with half the parmesan
  • Ladle boiling stock into bowl and over egg – stock must be boiling rapidly

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  • Cover bowl with a lid or plate for 30 seconds, remove, add remaining parmesan and serve

Chicken stock

1kg      chicken bones
1kg      chicken wings
1           carrot
1 stick  celery
2          onions
1          bay leaf
6          peppercorns
20g     parsley stalks
1.7      litres water
Sprig thyme

Method

  • Rinse bones and wings well, place in a pressure cooker with all other ingredients
  • Close and seal vessel, bring to pressure and cook following safety instructions for 20 minutes.
  • After cooking time is complete, follow your appliances safety procedures to reduce pressure and only open when fully depressurised.
  • Strain through a fine filter, allow to settle for 10 minutes and remove as much fat as possible from the surface and reserve for later use.

Note: if not using pressure cooker, use recipe but increase water to 3.5 litres, bring to a simmer uncovered and cook very gently for 3 hours, strain and reduce by boiling to 1200ml

Lemon tree very pretty

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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.

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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.

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

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

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Kale…FFS……its just ancient cabbage …..

To be honest I have had it with the mania surrounding Kale, not that I don’t like the stuff, it has its place, but talk about over exposed and over hyped. Seriously does anyone really “love” the taste of Kale juice or think that shredded kale in a salad is “amazing” and don’t get me started on Kale chips…..

Sure it has really healthy properties, and can taste pretty good when cooked correctly, but these simple “headless” members of the cabbage family are punching way above their weight right now and I have no doubt that down the track this “healthy trend” will be consigned to the “loony fad” bin along with pet rocks, cabbage patch kids and hopefully cold drip coffee but that’s another rant!

yummy kale juice

So this week when the “latest” Kale phenomenon “Kalettes” hit the media with a fanfare, enough was enough. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3088556/Meet-Kalette-hottest-new-vegetable-hybrid-hitting-Australia-mash-trendy-Kale-BRUSSEL-SPROUTS.html So now we have a new hybrid that apparently took the Northern hemisphere by storm last year so now of course its our turn. In reality of course this “new vegetable” is just another branch among many in the Brassica family.

Maybe it’s best to get a few things straight about Kale. Firstly all members of this genus started life from a humble wild cabbage or Colewort as is was known historically, and over the past 3000 or so years we have seen this “weed” (for that’s what wort means) gradually “improved” to develop the vegetables we know today that include: Cauliflower (Cole-i-flower) Broccoli (Broc-cole-i) Collard greens (Cole-ard) and Borecole (Bor-i-cole) amongst others.

Wild Cabbage

 

Essentially variations of  the English “Col” meaning cabbage or kale  are used similarly in different languages to name members of this family, for example, Col (Spanish) Kool (Dutch) Kohl (German) Kail (Celtic) Kal (Scandinavian) Couve (Portuguese) Cavolo (Italy) and finally Chou (French) and Choy (Chinese). For those interested the following is worth reading http://wordhistories.com/2014/03/24/cabbage-chou/

Now, taken to its logical extension, this “Kalette” hybrid is simply put, Kale, an ancient improvement on Colewort, crossed with Brussels sprouts, one of the more recent cultivars from the same plant with the result a kind of reverse engineering and I’m pretty sure we’ve probably been here before except we didn’t have major seed companies and supermarkets invested in their success.

So what’s my objection to humble Kale?, well its certainly not the vegetable itself, I actually really like it as part of my Dutch mother-in-laws’  “Stamppot” where the Borecole or Curly kale or Boerenkool as she calls it, is cooked with potatoes, mashed and served with rookwurst  (a delicious smoked pork sausage) and with my Irish heritage I am no stranger to it through that stalwart of the Gaelic kitchen, Colcannon (pictured below) which is equally good with pork sausages, chops, crispy belly or maybe its just good with pork full stop.

colcannon

I also remember a stomping great plant that towered over me in our backyard in the UK when I was a little tacker and back then, Kale was a very common veggie patch and allotment staple (think community garden) because it grew like a weed at a time during and post WWII when nutritious vegetables were in short supply, no hint of its rock star status back then, so yes I have had my share of Kale, boiled or steamed with lots of salted butter and white pepper and its fine this way as well.

No, its just that frankly, despite what some may say its not a cure all, its just another cruciferous vegetable, and there is a whole big world of brassica’s out there to choose from, (and that come with a lot less self righteous indignation I might add). No please give me gai lan, bok choy, or a nice small savoy cabbage or heaven help me tiny sweet baby Brussels sprouts that have been grown somewhere nice and frosty (which brings out the sweetness) rather than pander to yet another super food trend.

So in keeping to my rant I post the following recipe for one my favourite cabbage dishes. Not surprisingly for those that know me it is Indian in origin (actually specifically Bengali) but it is comfortingly enough familiar to the western palate to be a great winter food to accompany rich meats like Duck, Goose or even pork . However at risk of being labeled a hypocrite, I need to note that it does contain that other recently lauded “super food” turmeric, except here it is performing its ancient role as a calmative along with the other digestive spices, not only to help make it delicious but to mitigate the potentially sulphurous effects of these leafy greens and definitely not to save the world or make my skin more lustrous, Enjoy!

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Bandhakopir Bhaji

1 tablespoon      sunflower or mustard oil
2 teaspoons       panch phoron
2 teaspoon         turmeric
1 small                green chilli – chopped
1 small                onion – chopped
1 clove                garlic – crushed
1 cm                     ginger – grated
¼                        white cabbage – shredded
2 teaspoons       sugar
1 teaspoon          salt
2 tablespoons   tamarind water

Method

  • Heat oil and fry panch phoron until seeds pop, add turmeric and chilli and fry briefly

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  • Add onion and ginger and cook golden then add garlic and cook briefly until fragrant.

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  • Toss cabbage through, then add all remaining ingredients, cover and cook quickly until cabbage wilts and liquids evaporate

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Just Nuts about Hazelnuts…

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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.

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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!

 

What’s Hiding In The Pantry

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While most of my posts celebrate seasonality, just occasionally something comes up that has nothing to do with my obsession that “fresh is best” and this is one such occasion. In fact for more than one reason this will probably give those that know me reasonably well, cause for a good old chuckle. Firstly because, I seem to have garnered a reputation over the years of being somewhat obstinate about accommodating dietary requests, even to one year being presented a “I don’t do dietaries” t-shirt by one of my team (thank you Cassaly) But to be honest I feel a little hard done by, I have always tried to ensure that the people I cook for have plenty of delicious options. For example many of what may have been considered my “Signature” dishes during my restaurants days were Vegan or Vegetarian, we just never made a lot of noise about that. 

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In fact I am pretty sure we were well out in front 10 years ago when we started asking guests on booking, if they had any food allergies and intolerances so that we could make sure they had a special dining “experience”. But take my word for it, in recent years the pendulum has swung, and now it is more common for someone to have special requirements than not. In fact trying to balance a menu to allow for the inevitable has become a nightmare, take designing deserts that are gluten, dairy, nut and egg free …. yet we chefs have stuck with trying to make it work for everyone.

But sometimes in the press of a busy service, when someone presented with extreme or downright odd dietaries I may have channeled Gordon Ramsay because:  

A) Some notice would have been nice.

B) There’s only so much that can be done when your docket board is full.

C) Your Mise en Place is well, in place and that’s what you have to work with.

D) The entire team is fully engaged doing the business for all of the other paying guests and cant drop the ball to create that sulphur, fructose and nightshade free, low fibre, low sodium dish of ancient grains and kale because that’s all you can eat…..

 Ok, so maybe I don’t do dietaries!

But why is this relevant? Well today’s recipe is for a Gluten Free Mango, Lime and Coconut Cake, not only is it dietary friendly (if you can eat eggs and nuts that is) but its neither seasonal nor local, but as I hinted above sometimes you have to be able to crank something out from simply what is in the cupboard. You see a good friend was joining us this evening, someone that genuinely can’t tolerate gluten, and we needed a simple dessert to share, and to be honest she has probably had her fill of figs at our place over the last month.

To cut a long story short for many years I have been preparing a gluten free cake based on Claudia Roden’s famous boiled orange and almond cake,  sometimes I substitute a specific quantity of fruit puree for the oranges, but today this recipe was nowhere to be found. However determined to make it work, we set about chopping another recipe apart and well, the result was this delectable little cake, beautiful with our local Jersey cream and dare I say it, ripe figs.

But the genius was we had everything in our pantry and with 15 minutes prep it was in the oven. Seriously it will be my new go too, definitely not as syrupy as my previous recipe, and if I didn’t know it was gluten free, there is no way I would ever be able to pick it.

Gluten Free, Mango, Coconut and Lime Cake

270g Tinned mango cheeks* (drained weight)
1 lime- zest of pinch citric acid
165g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste/extract
3 eggs
100g polenta
100g almond meal
45g desiccated coconut
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Method

Blend mango with lime zest and citric acid to a smooth puree blending mango Whisk eggs with sugar and vanilla paste until very thick and foamy (like shaving foam) , then fold in mango puree sabayon Combine remaining dry ingredients and mix well then fold into mango and egg foam fold dry Fill into a greased spring form pan (20cm/8inch) lined with non stick baking paper for easy removal ready to bake Bake at 170c for 35 minutes or until lightly golden and a skewer comes out clean when inserted cake Allow to cool for 15 minutes before removing from tin, dust with icing sugar and serve with Jersey cream.   Note: *other well drained tinned fruits like apricots and peaches should work well as would frozen or fresh mango cheeks.