Rote Grutze, Groats, Grits or Gruel

This Saturday marks one of the big days on our Barossa calendar, the Annual Tanunda show, held mid-vintage every year, a celebration of this valley that I am proud to call home, and one of the highlights is the hotly contended Rote Grutze championship.

For the uninitiated Rote Grutze is a dish originally from Northern Germany and Scandanavia where it also goes by the names Rodgrod or Rotezetke Gruetze, and is a kind of red fruit jelly, set with starch instead of gelatin or alginates.

Rotegrutze

With “rote” meaning red, “grutze” is related to the English words gruel or groats and even grits, all of which are porridges of cracked or coarsely ground grains like wheat, semolina, oats, barley, buckwheat, and in the Southern States of the USA, corn.

German Master Pastry Chef Christian Teubner describes Rote Grutze as “…. simply fruit juice thickened with cornflour, semolina or sago….” an accurate description, except European versions use fruits like redcurrants and true blackcurrants, but neither of these do too well in our Mediterranean climate.

By contrast, The Barossa’s Rote Grutze uses Grape juice (and there is a big disagreement whether it should be Grenache, Shiraz or Mataro) and while the pioneers that settled our valley may have been familiar the type of dessert Mrs Beeton called “Danish Pudding” (below) no local recipes for our dessert made with grapes exists until around 1920, some 60 years after the valley was settled.

Danish Pudding

However, such is the legendary status of this dish in the Barossa that I hadn’t questioned its origins, and so for the past 20 years, I have repeated the line that this sago and grape jelly, only exists in this form, in one place in the world, our “Barossa”. So imagine my surprise recently when I found out about an almost identical recipe, but originating on the other side of the world some 200 years ago!

Dating to when the Portuguese Royal family “The House of Braganza” fled to their Brazilian colony in the 1800’s to escape Napoleon and what would become known as the Peninsular wars. This dessert was apparently developed through the merging of  a traditional Brazilian tapioca or cassava porridge, but was sweetened with Portuguese grapes, spices and rich dark Port wine. Called “Sagu ao vinho tinto”  this dish is still made today as a regional specialty and is always served with fresh cream, just like Rote Grutze.

sagu ao vinho tinto

sagu ao vinho tinto

In fact our word Sago comes via the 16th century Portuguese Molluccas where the Sagu palm is naturalized, but today most of what is sold as Sago is actually tapioca. Of course, with this pudding hailing from around 1810, it pre-dates the arrival of Germanic settlers into South Australia and the Barossa by at least 25 years, but intriguingly there is another connection to Portugal through Colonel Light and his service in the Peninsula wars, notably the battle of Barrosa.

So did the good burghers and military men of early Adelaide know this Sago dessert from Portuguese connections or is our Rote Grutze just a coincidence, the result of fusion or evolution with Silesian settlers adapting to grape juice and sago instead of the redcurrants and semolina that would have been familiar, even if the local tradition of doctoring Rote Grutze with “Port” for extra flavor makes me wonder.

Anyway, whatever the origin of this recipe, German, Portuguese, Brazilian, or local invention, it’s simple, delicious and well worth making if you can get your hands on some fresh red wine grapes. I’ll leave you to argue about which varieties are best!

 

Rotegrutze

4 tablespoons       Sago / tapioca balls
500ml                    Grape Juice (Mataro preferably)
2 tablespoons       Caster Sugar
½ stick                   Cinnamon
2                               Cloves
1 strip                      Lemon zest

Method

Prepare grape juice by separating grapes from stems and place in a saucepan with a little water, cover pan and bring to a simmer,turn off heat and allow grapes to release their juices.

ready to juice

Press grapes to extract as much, juice, colour and flavor as possible and strain to produce clean juice, you will need about 1.5 – 2kg of grapes to yield 500g juice.

juice#1stems and seeds

Bring grape juice, sugar and spices to a simmer and leave to infuse off of heat for 20 minute and to dissolve sugar.

spiced juice

Strain off spices, stir in sago and bring back to a simmer stirring well to avoid clumping

starch ready to cook

Continue to simmer gently until sago is clear, about 20 minutes then allow to cool slightly and pour into serving dishes.

Rotegrutze

Chill for a few hours or overnight and enjoy it simply with fresh Jersey cream….. Delicious!

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

In Praise of a “Milky Mojito”

bar2

With the mercury set to top 37C in the Barossa this weekend I am going to want something long and cool to drink and following our cooking class today “A Provencal Lunch” I couldn’t help but think of my favourite tipples from that part of the world, Pernod and Pastis.

I have been a life long fan of these (well since I started in the kitchen at 16 at least). My introduction came literally days into my apprenticeship having to prepare a long drink of Pernod, iced down with mango sorbet and topped up with lemonade for our French pastry chef. In fact this became a common almost nightly treat for the senior members of the brigade especially on hot days, that and shots of Kirsch in the middle of service for our charming Hungarian assistant Maitre D’, or Whisky, that was destined for our crepes dessert for the Sous Chef, but that’s another story.

umbrella2

I’m sure the Exec Chef who was never in the kitchen after 5pm was concerned about the amount of alcohol we used as he started marking bottles, but Prawns with a Pernod cream sauce was a big seller back in 1977. Of course Pernod and its more complex cousin Pastis tend to inspire either love or hate. The common response from many Australian’s is that following teenage binges on Ouzo or Sambuca, they can’t face Aniseed. But Pastis and French Anis and are altogether different beasts…. Never ever mixed with Cola!

Now I definitely, fall into the love camp and I have great memories from the early 1980’s of being in Provence and visiting the village of Villeneuve Loubet, birthplace of the great chef Escoffier and the culinary museum dedicated to him. It was like many typical Provencal villages as I remember it, a market one midweek morning and then in the afternoon when the market packed up the outdoor tables filled with locals lazily drinking from their milky glasses, maybe it’s a romantic image but it is one that has stayed with me.

villeneuve loubert

Today, as most of those around me know, I will use these anise infusions on almost any occasion that allows me. Hence one of our more popular items in the early days of Appellation, a pineapple and Pernod sorbet was teemed with a chocolate tart (below). And so almost 40 years later there is always a bottle of either Pastis or Pernod (or possibly both) in our cupboard and I usually enjoy it as they do in  Provence mixed with chilled water 1:5 without ice, but todays heat calls for something a little longer and cooler.

choc tart 2

At first I am reminded of a cocktail made by a truly great bartender and friend, Matthew Williams. Over the years Matthew plied me with many amazing cocktails but his La Feuille Morte made with Henri Bardouin Pastis was always a standout. However as this relies on having both great pastis and grenadine on hand I have to defer. But after quickly consulting Diffords on-line guide I have instead, with a surfeit of fresh mint and limes from the garden, chosen to make what they call a “Milky Mojito”.

Its hardly ground breaking in concept, but supplementing Pernod for white rum gives the this drink a whole new twist, and while Cuban purists and white rum fans will doubtlessly be flabbergasted and roll their eyes it looks like I have found myself a new summertime favourite – Salut!

mixing

“Milky Mojito”

12-15 leaves                       fresh mint
1 cup                                     crushed ice
25ml                                      sugar syrup*
30ml                                      lime juice – freshly squeezed
60ml                                      Pernod
Chilled sparkling mineral water to top up glass

Method

  • Place mint in a highball or your choice of glass and muddle (bruise)
  • Fill glass to brim with crushed ice, and add sugar syrup , lime juice and Pernod
  • Top with Mineral water, stir and serve

*prepare sugar syrup in advance by boiling together ½ cup white sugar and ½ cup water until sugar dissolves, cool and store in the refrigerator in a clean jar or bottle for use in cocktails.

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.