SBS Blogs - Food
Who would've thought that the Linzer torte is the oldest recorded recipe in the world? It doesn’t have the appearance, or ingredients, of a particularly aged dish, yet the first written recipe for it was found to have been written in 1653. However, history aside, I didn’t have great hopes for this dish – it just seemed too simple to be really delicious. The short pastry is enhanced with spices and lemon zest and also contains toasted ground almonds (which I did in a frying pan on the stovetop in a few minutes). A food processor made it easy to rub the butter through, although I probably took it a little too far beyond the “breadcrumb” stage, and then worked the egg yolk in with my hands.
I used a round, loose-bottomed tart tin and had more than enough pastry to line it with. I found the pastry a little difficult to work with – whether I roll it between two sheets of cling film or baking paper, it always seems to slide all over the bench. Any suggestions for how I can improve this would be happily accepted. Refrigeration is key for this recipe, so there was a bit of other kitchen action happening as it was in and out of the fridge. My lattice work definitely left something to be desired, but I managed to get a decent approximation – however, I won’t be setting up a patisserie anytime soon.
The big surprise with this torte was how good it tasted. Like I said, I wasn’t expecting much from jam with pastry, but the combination of nuts, spices and lemon zest worked brilliantly with the strawberry jam to create a dessert that is simple and very more-ish. And, yes, of course it works with ice-cream.
The long dry summer has given way to emerald green paddocks, but, still, most farms could do with a bit of rain. Our apples are just about finished on the trees. The quince are in, most rescued green from the parrots and the possums. We’ve harvested the first broccoli, the first cabbage; both while the tomato plants are still hanging from hooks in the shed, as we ripen the last few for the table. We’ve spun the honey from the hive, and left the bees enough to get them through winter.
Every year, I go through some kind of shock. Surprise at the pace of the seasons. Disappointment as I realise I’ve missed the moment for planting one crop or another. Elation at the new things coming from the garden. The lessened need for watering, or filling wallows. The incredible, exhilarating feel of cool air in the lungs as I climb the hill to move the cattle.
Our wood stack is finished, thanks to a couple of very hard-working volunteers who stayed most of the last month and helped with everything from waiting at table to picking up pig poo. The work is never done, and a couple of extra pairs of hands enabled us to catch up on chores. They helped ensure we have enough firewood for both the heater and the cooker. It’s an enormous sense of security when the firewood is stacked – at least we won’t go cold this winter.
When Christine Manfield’s glorious book Tasting India arrived in our office, the Feast team was literally queuing to browse its pages. Filled with vivid images and mouth-watering recipes, the flavours and aromas of this many-faceted country almost seemed to rise from the paper. Not surprisingly, we were all thrilled when Christine allowed us to use her curry leaf chicken recipe in this month’s curry feature. Mr Ed is a huge fan of Indian food, but not of chilli. As this curry isn't too hot, it seemed perfect.
Bags of dried chillies are something I tend to buy, use once, and then have them in the pantry for the next three years. So I split this packet with the team and am determined to get through my allotment. Fresh curry leaves are widely available – I picked mine up at the Fiji Mart in Sydney’s Newtown and emerged 30 minutes later laden with crunchy, spicy snacks, dried mango, Mexican chocolate and three kinds of pappadums. Everything else was already in the pantry.
The marinade was simple and, considering it only needs 10 minutes standing time, this quick meal is perfect for busy weeknights. However, my chicken ended up marinating for 24 hours as we made a last-minute decision to eat out – all well and good except that it turned out a little wetter than the original recipe. Our food editor Phoebe tells me that’s because the yoghurt would have leached some liquid over that period of time. It still tasted great and I’m never averse to mopping up a bit of extra sauce with a well-buttered piece of naan.
A few years ago, okay, almost 20 years ago, when I first discovered risotto, I went mad for it. I cooked a batch at least once a week and added all manner of elements to create Franken-risottos that were philosophically aligned with the originals, but truly had a life of their own. They were almost all delicious and made wonderful work lunches, but, slowly, risotto and I drifted apart.
That is, until I decided to renew the friendship by making the cauliflower and cavalo nero rice pie in our To Market story of the May issue. This filo pie, filled with a simple risotto, is very similar to burek, which is found up and down the shores of the eastern Mediterranean. I ate wheelbarrow-loads of it in Turkey and have even been known to make my own filo pastry as a starting point (it’s a nice party trick when there are kids around). I have tried burek (or pitta, as it’s known in Serbia) with a number of different fillings, but never with rice, so I was keen to try this version.
I enjoyed re-engaging with my old friend risotto and I find the constant stirring quite contemplative – it also prevents me from doing anything else at the same time – something of which I’m often guilty and which occasionally results in kitchen mishaps. Our recipe calls for vialone nano rice, which is imported from Verona, however I substituted Arborio, because that’s what my local shop had. I also used silverbeet instead of cavalo nero because I’m all about making life easy.
Birth. More birth. More and more and more births.
We had 14 piglets over the space of a couple of days. Our youngest and oldest sows decided to farrow (give birth) at pretty much the same time. The youngest moved from her warm, insulated shelter with plenty of straw, to the far corner of her paddock, where she built a nest out of dry grass she found herself. Out into the elements, with her back just millimetres from an electric fence. Thankfully, she had an untroubled labour, though it did take her a week to move her brood back to her house.
On the opposite hill, bigger animals were birthing. Due on or after one Friday, all six of our calves were born early or on the date. Mallee, the bull who came on loan from a mate, has left his reputation untarnished. The first calf surprised me, a tiny slip of a black Lowline Angus, trotting next to his mum when I wasn’t expecting it. Then each day another appeared, including Priscilla’s new bub, a Jersey/Angus cross. An incredible deep, almost fawn coloured heifer (young girl), with the finer bone structure of her mum.
Saffron is one of those spices that evokes memories for me. Growing up in the suburbs of Perth, my mother used to add a pinch of saffron powder to the rice that accompanied the curries we ate regularly. Also on the table was a bowl of cucumber slices in yoghurt, bananas in lemon juice and coconut, and, of course, a jar of Sharwood’s mango chutney. In an era before eating out became a regular occurrence, it tasted like the height of exotic dining.
I don’t use ground saffron now, preferring instead the tiny threads that are actually the stigmas of the crocus – with their signature aroma and intense orange-yellow hue, it’s a spice worth having in your pantry. In this case, I used it in Matthew Evans saffron-spiced apple teacake, and, unusually for me, I was organised enough to soak the threads in milk overnight as instructed, resulting in a small glass of bright yellow milk. The cake itself is an easy one and I took great delight in studding the golden batter with apple slices – it almost seems like too many, but it’s actually just the right amount – before topping it with brown sugar and cinnamon.
For once, my oven temperature seemed to be spot on and the cake was done right on time – risen and caramelised on top. It was hard to resist pulling a piece of apple out immediately, but I managed.
Another week. Another story of animal cruelty. It seems, as Anna Krien wrote for the Quarterly Essay, that our relationship with animals has reached a weird point. Some people fetishise animals; treat them as child substitutes, make them wear ridiculous clothes, jewellery even. Take them shopping in their hand bags. Feed them better than we feed hospital patients. Then, in another part of the same society, we also incarcerate them in ways we never have before. Feedlot them. Intensively farm them. And treat them inhumanely; these beings that are our charges, our responsibility. Though the mistreatment happens often where we can’t see it. Sadly, it’s often left to animal activists to find out the truth.
Which reminds me. Last year, I wrote a blog about our chickens at home and said I’d write more on the topic later. Well, because we filmed those chooks, and the show is running today on that, it seems a good time to give a bit of background to the filming. And only a very, very small story it is. I wanted to visit a modern chicken meat farm. One in my state. I had been asked by the Australian Chicken Meat Federation to visit one in NSW to “dispel some modern misconceptions” around chicken farming. But when I said I’d love to come, but that a film crew was following me, there was no “capacity to bring them along in this instance”.
We took a different tack. Through Gourmet Farmer, our researcher tried to get access to film at a chicken meat farm in Tasmania. That’s my home state, so it made sense to visit a farm that we could get some day-old chicks through. Like many of our stories, it would’ve been good to visit a farm that could help with my own attempts to rear animals. But not a single one, that we could find, would let us film.
There are two things in life that are universally liked by most people (yes, I’ve left myself some wiggle room in there): chocolate and pizza. So, put the two together and you’ve got a combination that’s going to prove pretty popular. It's a theory that was proven within minutes when I brought the pizza di cioccolata e nocciole (aka chocolate pizza) into the office. One minute it was there, the next it was gone, with nothing but a few shards of hazelnut praline to prove it had ever existed.
I made the pizza in two phases – the chocolate-hazelnut spread was the result of a lazy, rainy weekend afternoon, when toasting hazelnuts and melting chocolate seemed the perfect counterpoint to torrential rain and a mild case of cabin fever. My food processor was put to good use and every phase of this recipe smelled slightly better than the last. Although there’s no coffee in this spread, the aroma definitely had me in a coffee state of mind – maybe it was the bitterness of the cocoa powder. I only had dark chocolate (rather than milk) in the pantry, which I felt kept the spread from being too sweet. Everything came together easily and I ended up with two lovely jars of chocolate spread that could be eaten with a spoon… or used to top a pizza.
The pizza crust is a basic dough, however mine was somewhat hampered by the fact that my dry yeast wasn't as active as it could have been. I also made a half quantity of the dough, as my freezer is at capacity and the thought of squeezing one more thing in there was enough to take the shine off eating chocolate-hazelnut spread straight from the jar with a spoon. Ahem. Anyway, my dough wasn’t quite as smooth and elastic as it should have been, but it rose a little and was certainly easy to roll out to size. Twelve minutes in a hot oven and it was done. I took the chocolate spread out of the fridge and let it soften a little so I could spread it, rather than smear it, and it had a wonderful consistency with a lovely texture from the hazelnuts. Praline is a fabulous thing and I add it to lots of different desserts for a bit of crunch – this batch chopped up perfectly into shards and crumbs and made a spectacular topping. With a little bit leftover for Mr Ed’s ice-cream tonight.
The thing I’ve learnt since I started growing a bit more than the family can eat is that the hard work only begins in the garden. Once you’ve harvested two rows of broad beans, eating as many as humanly possible in the weeks before they are all ready for picking, you have to do something with the rest. Freezing, while easy and helpful, is a pretty inefficient use of resources, so while we freeze a small portion of our harvest, the rest has to be preserved somehow. This year, one of the things we’re trialling is dried broad beans.
I know they can be used in dips and pastes and in felafel. A local woman of Chinese heritage has given me a tip on how to stir-fry them after soaking. I’ve heard of using them in braises and the like, but after spending about eight hours podding the buggers, and still not finishing the job, I hope I can dream up enough ways to make them taste good. Or, even better, to taste great. Otherwise six months in the ground, then hours of work in the garden, along with more hours in the kitchen, will be wasted.
I think that’s why I like pork. A surplus can be cured easily, with little training and few special ingredients or tools. Prosciutto is better than fresh pork. Sausages can be a product of beauty if made using good-quality meat. Pancetta can hang for months in the right conditions, and salami can be brought out to make a meal at any time.
I reached adulthood about the time of the big NSW drought in the early 1980s. I remember the dust. Farmers could talk about nought but rain. I find myself doing the same.
Water issues plague me. Not just keeping seedlings and saplings alive, but the water trough for the cattle that has rusted through already, seeping water, drip by drip, for a couple of weeks before I noticed, as the paddock lay fallow. The siphon that failed in the next paddock down, where the cattle are today. The four pig drippers (drinking bowls) that leak. Or barely give out a drop of water. Water levels in dams, in tanks, in the creek. The pinhole leak in the water tank. The lack of drinking water at the farm.
So let’s talk tomatoes. We have about ten varieties in the ground. From tiny yellow currants to big beefsteak varieties, and the very, very first of them are starting to ripen. I know, I know, for mainlanders or even those in northern Tassie, this may seem a bit late. But for us, with no greenhouse or poly tunnels, our meagre first harvest is enough to make us swoon. Only homegrown tomatoes have real flavour. Only homegrown tomatoes have that pungent aroma, that mouth-satisfying flavour in the jelly around the seeds. Only the tomatoes you can ripen, gently, off the vine (on the kitchen table, below 25°C gives the best flavour) can have you giggling like a schoolgirl at the taste. If you don’t believe me, you probably don’t grow tomatoes. Or you grow them commercially.
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