Archive for the 'vegetarian' Category

Mushrooms baked with raclette, greens and sourdough

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Last weekend I lay in the garden under a brilliant blue sky, wearing a t-shirt and short skirt, shading my eyes and wondering if I was going to get sunburnt if I stayed out there and finished reading the next chapter of my novel.

Yesterday, I was balancing on a garden chair to pick figs from our tree, smelling chimney smoke from the neighbour’s fireplace, and pulling my cardigan closed against a shiver.

Today I wore jeans and wooly jumper and was slightly too cold in my office all day, then caught the train and walked home through a miserable drizzle. I’d planned to make a lentil salad for dinner, but when I recognized myself sulking, I asked myself what I really wanted for dinner – and warmish lentils were not the answer.

Instead, I was thinking of mushrooms, and winter herbs, and savoury, stinky cheese. I stopped off at the grocer for a couple of bags of mushrooms, a bunch of English spinach and a piece of raclette. Got home and picked herbs from the garden. Remembered that we had half a loaf of sourdough left over from the weekend. HELLO.

The mushrooms are seared to get them golden on the outside and avert soggy beigeness. Onions are slow-cooked for sweetness and a rich base note. Herbs and spinach for a bit of lift. The sourdough soaks up all the liquid released by the mushrooms during cooking, softening and absorbing flavour. Stinky melty cheese melds it all together.

This dish is squishy inside, crispy on top, warming, tasty, comforting. Should serve four, but could probably be eaten by two hungry, greedy people. I’m congratulating myself that we managed to have enough left over for lunch for one tomorrow.

Cheesy, bready, mushroomy baked thing

2 onions, quartered and finely sliced
olive oil
a palmful of finely chopped rosemary, oregano and/or thyme
a large bunch of english spinach, stemmed, washed and chopped
900 g mixed mushrooms (I used field and button)
half a loaf of stale sourdough, crusts removed
200 g raclette, cut into 1 cm cubes
parmesan
salt and pepper

Heat some olive oil in a frypan over medium heat, and add the onions with a good pinch of sea salt. Cook for about 15 minutes or so, stirring now and then, until the onions are golden and very soft. Add the herbs and spinach, and cook another few minutes until the spinach has wilted. Set aside.

Meanwhile, clean the mushrooms and cut into pieces about 1 x 2 x 2 cm in size (very roughly!). Heat a heavy frypan over high heat, add olive oil, and sear the mushrooms in batches. I add the mushrooms to the hot pan (just enough mushrooms so they are all touching the base of the pan, without piling on one another), leave them to sit for a minute or two, then stir, leave another minute, repeat once more, then take them out. They should have some colour on the outside and have released a little liquid, but not be fully cooked. Tip the mushrooms and any liquid they have released into a bowl, then repeat with another batch of mushrooms until they’re all cooked.

Roughly tear the sourdough into pieces about 2 to 3 cm cubed. In a ceramic baking dish, combine the onions and greens, mushrooms and their juices, sourdough pieces, and raclette. Season with salt and pepper, and toss well. Scatter grated parmesan over the top.

Cover the dish with alfoil and bake in the oven at 180C for 15 minutes, then remove the alfoil and cook a further 15 minutes, or until the dish is bubbling and the parmesan is golden and melted. Remove from the oven, rest for 5 minutes, and serve.

I made a pile of crisply blanched green beans to eat with this for textural and healthfulness contrast. (Cut tops off green beans, cook in rapidly boiling salted water for 3 minutes, drain). With beans, and a good bottle of red wine, serves 4.

Excellent things from the last few weeks

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

I’ve been running a bit ragged recently, so it’s a perfect time to have a pot of tea, take stock, and list a bunch of good things.

 

1. I recently learned to add a star anise when making a long-cooked beef stew. Transformative!

 

2. I give thanks for dumplings, and that it is so easy for me to get good ones here. Recent standouts have been the steamed wontons with chili oil at Hutong (tender skins, good filling, perfect chili), xiao long bao at Shanghai Street Dumpling, and everything in general at my beloved Gourmet Dumpling.

 

3. The midwinter arrival of citrus and avocado season. I made this salad for dinner one night last week. So good and refreshing.

Salad of hot-smoked salmon, avocado, blood orange and watercress

80 g hot-smoked salmon, flaked
a small palmful of pine nuts, toasted
1 large blood orange, supremed
half a smallish avocado, peeled and cut into 1-2 cm pieces
the leaves of a decent bunch of watercress
good olive oil
wholegrain mustard

Combine the salmon, pine nuts, orange, avocado and watercress.

Make a dressing by whisking together the juice that escaped from the orange, a dash of olive oil, a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard, and a pinch of sea salt. Toss with the salad.

Serves 1.

 

4. Having watercress growing in the garden at last after a couple of failed attempts. Such a great winter salad green.

 

5. The Egyptian eggs (poached, rolled in dukkah, then lightly fried) on a potato and pumpkin rosti, with rocket and chili jam, at Dood328 in Brunswick. So good, and the staff there are lovely too. Also, not having to queue for brunch = a good, good thing.

 

6. Dainty Sichuan in the city. This place gets a bit of hate but I love it. Went there for dinner last night with the lab and ate 10 fantastic dishes. Fish-fragrant eggplant, chinese leeks with tofu threads, chili chicken wok, ultra-spicy black fungus, many other things I can’t remember.

 

7. This morning’s breakfast, which was delicious but, even I recognize, slightly crazytown. Man I love savoury breakfasts with greens and asian flavours though.

For the steel-cut oats, I use this recipe and make enough for four days at one time. I also usually make two or three serves of the greens and use them for multiple breakfasts, or add them to lunches.

Steel-cut oats with asian greens and a runny fried egg

dash of olive oil
2 shallots, sliced
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 small thumb of ginger, finely minced
chili flakes
150 g of mixed greens – I used a mix of what looked good in the garden: sprouting broccoli, cavolo nero, purple kale, a couple of broccoli leaves and red mustard leaf

1 serve cooked steel-cut oats

1 egg

tamari
sesame oil
sesame seeds

Chop the greens into smallish pieces. For broccoli and kales, I blanch them until they’re becoming tender, then drain. The softer greens I just chop.

Heat a dash of olive oil in a large pan, then add the shallot and cook a few minutes until golden. Add the garlic, ginger, and chili flakes to taste, and cook a further two minutes, then add the greens. Stir well, add a slosh of tamari and another of water if necessary, and cook until everything is tender.

Fry the egg. I do this by heating a pan over low heat, adding a dash of olive oil, cracking in the eggs, and putting a lid on top. Cook until the white is just set and the yolk is still liquid.

Put the oats into the middle of a flat bowl. Spoon the cooked greens around the oats. Slide the egg on top. Over all of this, sprinkle drops of tamari and sesame oil, more chili flakes, and sesame seeds. Eat at once.

Serves 1.

After work dinner: roast vegetable frittata and salad

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Helen and Heather came over straight from work for dinner tonight, and we had a lovely time cooking, eating and chatting. I went a little crazy with the vegetable-buying at the St Kilda markets on Saturday, so we took this opportunity to cook up loads of veggies and get them consumed (not that the consumption was much of a chore). I’d done a bit of the preparation last night by roasting the pumpkin and beetroot, but everything else was easy to get done this evening while we drank a glass or two of pinot noir.

Heather was keeping a close eye on the frittata making, because she said she always forgets how I do it when she goes to make one herself. Heather, here are instructions as precise as I can get when it comes to frittatas!

These two dishes together fed all four of us very well, with enough leftovers for a lunch or two.

 

Pumpkin, cauliflower and silverbeet frittata

750 g pumpkin, peeled (I used a combination of Kent and trombone)
olive oil
cider vinegar
half a large head of cauliflower
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
1 large bunch silverbeet/chard
275 g marinated goat cheese (e.g. Yarra Valley Cardi or Meredith Dairy)
6 eggs
salt and pepper

Cut the pumpkin into pieces about 1.5 cm square. Spread the pieces out in a baking dish, making sure they’re not piled up on one another, and toss with olive oil, a good splash of apple cider vinegar, sea salt and black pepper. Roast at 180 C until soft and golden at the edges – this could take between 25 and 45 minutes, depending on the pumpkin.

Cut the cauliflower into florets a couple of cm in size. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast until somewhat softened and golden brown at the edges, around 20 minutes.

Saute the onion in a frypan until golden and soft (I am seeing a bit of a trend here with the goldening and softening).

Remove the stems from the silverbeet, and roughly chop the leaves. Blanch in boiling water for a minute or two, until soft but still bright green. Drain and gently press the water out of the leaves.

In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, cauliflower, onion and chard and mix together. Remove the feta from its oil and crumble roughly, and mix through the vegetables. Whisk five or six eggs with a little salt and pepper, then mix into the veggies. There should be enough egg to hold them together, but not much more than that – if you press a spoon into the mix, you should see a little egg appear, but not pools of it. Add another egg if there isn’t enough.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large non-stick frypan over low heat, using a heat diffuser if you have one. Tip the mixture into the pan and smooth it out. Cook over that lowish heat for 15 minutes or so, until almost cooked through. Place the pan close under a grill to cook the top. Check that it is cooked through by pressing a knife or a spatula into the middle of the frittata. If it is still raw in the middle, put it back on the low heat and keep cooking until it’s done. It’s best if it’s cooked slowly and taken off the heat as soon as it’s done – if you cook it over too high a heat or for too long it can become tough.

 

Beetroot and avocado salad

3 beetroots
1 avocado
1 large handful pine nuts, toasted
several sprigs of dill, chopped
several sprigs of mint, chopped
3 or 4 large handfuls of baby spinach
1 cup of frozen peas, defrosted in hot water
good olive oil
aged red wine vinegar
wholegrain mustard

Scrub the beetroot and cut off the stems. Place in a baking dish, cover with alfoil, and bake at 180 C until they are completely soft and a butter knife goes into them easily. This takes ages – lots of recipes claim that it only takes half an hour but this is nonsense – it always takes closer to a couple of hours for me. When they’re done, remove from the oven and allow to cool completely (I usually do this step a day or more in advance). When they’re cool, peel the skins off with a knife, and cut them into 1.5 cm pieces.

Cut the avocado in half, remove the seed and the skin, and cut into slices.

Toss together the beets, avocado, herbs, spinach, peas and pine nuts. Make a dressing by whisking together the olive oil, vinegar and mustard. Dress the salad and toss well. Serve at once.

 

Secrets of the salad, for Luciano and Eliane

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for well over a year. (Can that really be right? Yes, it is, horrifyingly.) I started writing it when Luciano and Eliane were leaving Brisbane to go back to Brazil. They’d often asked me for recipes for the salads I brought to lab parties, and I wanted to write the recipes down for them as a farewell present. Then I couldn’t work out how to write an intro paragraph that would convey just how much I loved them and would miss them when they left, so I wrote the recipe part, stored it in the drafts folder, and put off writing the personal part. I should have just written “I love you and I’ll miss you!” and published it.

I love the fact that academia has let me be friends with so many lovely people from all over the world, but I hate that everyone (including me) always moves away, eventually. Sure, I now have places to stay in a dozen different countries when I travel, but I’d swap that in a second for all my scattered friends from the last decade or so suddenly deciding to move to Melbourne together. I’m a crappy email correspondent, so I know I don’t say this (or anything else) often enough, but I hope you all know that I miss you like hell.

 

Anyway, I’m dusting this draft off now because Begoña is going to come over on the weekend to cook with me and we’ll make a couple of salads, so I was looking through my old recipes to work out which ones we might make. Bego, here are some possibilities!

Almost all of the salads I make in this style are just variants of the same master salad, which combines the five components below. They last well, so are good for taking to parties or barbeques, and they’re substantial enough that leftovers make good lunches.

1. A grain. You can use wheat grains, spelt or farro, barley, quinoa (white, red or black, or some combination of the three), cousous, israeli couscous, fregola sarda, burgul, freekeh, red or brown rice, orzo, even ravioli. Cook the grain, drain it, and if you think the grains might stick together, toss it immediately with a little dressing.

2. Vegetables. Raw or cooked, commonly roasted. There should be more vegetable than grain in the salad. I try to chose a seasonal combination from veggies like tomatoes, capsicums, zucchini, eggplant, spinach, chard, radicchio, pumpkin, butternut squash, sweet potato, asparagus, broad beans, peas, mushrooms, cucumbers and fennel.

To roast, I generally cut the vegetable up into small pieces, toss them with oil, salt, pepper, and sometimes a dash of vinegar, spread them out on a baking tray, and cook them in the oven at 180 C until they are browned and softened – 20-60 minutes, depending on the vegetable and the size of the pieces. Make sure you spread them out so they roast rather than steam. I often roast halved tomatoes more slowly at about 110 C, so they lose more of their juice and taste more intense.

3. Herbs. For greenery and flavour. I almost always use chopped soft herbs, especially parsley and mint, but sometimes also chives, basil or dill.

4. Protein. Usually white cheese of some kind (feta, goats cheese, fresh ricotta, ricotta salata), nuts (toasted pine nuts, roughly chopped hazelnuts, slivered almonds), chickpeas, smoked fish, or some combination of these.

5. Dressing. Oil (usually olive oil, but I also sometimes use hazelnut oil or macadamia oil) and acid (usually sherry vinegar, cider vinegar, or lemon juice). Sometimes the residual olive oil and vinegar from the roasted vegetables is suffient; other times I taste the salad and then shake up a little extra oil, vinegar and mustard and stir through. If I’m using a nut oil or lemon juice I add that at the end, rather than during roasting. Occasionally I use home-made pesto, thinned a bit with lemon juice and/or olive oil or a nut oil, as a dressing.

 

There are infinite variations possible, but here are a few combinations I’ve tried before and liked.

A green and white spring salad

white quinoa, cooked
broad beans, double-podded (or use green peas)
asparagus, blanched or grilled and cut into 3 cm pieces
parsley, mint and chives, finely chopped
preserved lemon, finely chopped
feta
good olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt, mixed to emulsify

Combine everything and toss well. Taste and add more lemon juice or other seasoning as needed. Great eaten with a piece of salmon and maybe some grilled zucchini.

A summer salad with roast vegetables

israeli couscous
ripe roma or cherrry tomatoes, halved and slow-roasted with olive oil and sherry vinegar
slender zucchini, cut into coins about 3 mm thick, tossed with garlic-infused olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted at 180C till soft and golden
eggplant, sliced, grilled, and cut into pieces
crumbled goats’ cheese or grated ricotta salata
parsley and basil
olive oil and sherry vinegar

Cook the couscous until al dente, drain, then toss with a little olive oil and sherry vinegar to stop it sticking together. Combine with the roasted vegetables, herbs and cheese. The oil and vinegar remaining from cooking the vegetables may be sufficient dressing; if not, whisk up a little more oil and/or vinegar and toss it through.

A quick summer salad

fregola sarda
cucumber, halved lengthways, seeds removed, sliced
sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
avocado, chopped
feta, crumbled
parsley and mint
olive oil and lemon juice, combined

Cook the fregola sarda until al dente. Drain well, then mix with olive oil and lemon juice and set aside. It’s best if you can do this in a wide bowl so it cools quickly. Stir it now and then while it’s cooling, to make sure it doesn’t clump.

Toss the fregola sarda with the vegetables, herbs, cheese and avocado. If the avocado is very ripe it will probably mostly melt into the salad as you toss it, making an almost creamy dressing. Taste for lemon and seasoning and add more if needed.

An autumn salad

barley, cooked and drained
butternut squash, cubed, tossed with garlic olive oil, cider vinegar, salt and pepper, and roasted until softened and browned
slender zucchini, cut into coins about 3 mm thick, tossed with garlic-infused olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted till soft and golden
chickpeas, cooked (if from a tin, drain and rinse them)
feta or goats’ cheese, crumbled
parsley and chives
olive oil, cider vinegar, seed mustard

Toss the barley with the other ingredients.  Make a dressing of olive oil, cider vinegar and a little bit of seed mustard, and toss through.

A winter salad

wheat grains, cooked
kabocha squash, cubed and roasted as for autumn salad
chestnut mushrooms, finely sliced (can either saute or leave them uncooked)
lightly wilted spinach or chard
radicchio, a few torn leaves
hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
aged goats cheese, crumbled
olive oil, hazelnut oil, cider vinegar

Toss the wheat grains with the vegetables, hazelnuts and cheese. Whisk up the dressing of olive oil, hazelnut oil and cider vinegar, and toss through salad.

 

Other salads in this vein from my archives:

Couscous, chard, feta and pomegranate salad
Red quinoa, cauliflower, green garlic and feta salad
Couscous, eggplant, dried fig and orange salad
Pearl couscous, roast vegetable and harissa salad
Spiced burgul salad
Burgul, tuna and parsley salad

And from elsewhere on the web:

Farro salad with roasted red grapes, kale and swiss chard
Wild rice salad with miso dressing
Bulguf ‘pilaf’ with swiss chard and dried apricots
Quinoa with peas, beans, lemon and herbs
Red quinoa and quail egg salad
Beetroot and moghrabieh salad
Roast cauliflower, chickpea and quinoa salad
Quinoa salad with persian dried lime
Green bean and black quinoa salad
Quinoa with currants, dill and zucchini
Bulgur salad with corn, feta and basil
Brown rice with shiitake, ginger and arame
Hazelnut and chard ravioli salad

Couscous, chard, feta and pomegranate seed salad

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

I’m going on holiday tomorrow (yesssssssssssssss), and still need to pack, so this is a quick one. We have been rocking the salads recently. Love spring, love the greens my garden is producing; love love love. This salad is crunchy, fresh and light, with a savoury base note contributed by the chard, onions and chickpeas.

125 g couscous
1 handful pinenuts, toasted
1 large handful each of mint and parsley, leaves picked and chopped
1 large onion, sliced finely
olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
4 large leaves of yellow-stemmed chard, stemmed and chopped
1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
80 g feta
seeds from 1 small pomegranate

Cook the couscous according to the directions on the packet. Place in a salad bowl and toss with the pinenuts, mint and parsley.

Heat a little olive oil in a pan and fry the onion over moderate heat until golden and soft. Add the garlic and cook another couple of minutes. Add the chard and chickpeas, and cook until the chard is wilted. Tip over the couscous, and toss together.

Strew crumbled feta and the pomegranate seeds over everything. Eat.

Serves 2 very generously.

Red quinoa, cauliflower, green garlic and feta salad

Monday, October 1st, 2012

We’ve made this salad twice in one week – it is that good! A delicious combination of flavours and textures, it also uses the produce available at this change of seasons: cauliflower from the end of winter, green garlic, peas and herbs from the start of spring. I think it is worth seeking out red quinoa to use here if you can – it has a little more flavour, and more resiliance to the tooth, than white quinoa. It also adds a great colour to the salad.

We have been trying lots of interesting and delicious vegetables for the first time recently – cime de rapa, chervil, new kale varieties, and now green garlic as well. I’d read that it was mild enough to use uncooked, but it was still too garlicky for me to eat raw, so I sliced it finely and briefly sauteed it before adding it to the salad. The second time we made this, I knew Begoña would be eating it and she doesn’t like garlic, so I swapped in some (uncooked) chopped chives instead and the salad was still great.

 

1 cup red quinoa
1 head cauliflower
olive oil
sea salt and black pepper
2 cups of frozen peas, defrosted in hot water, or similar quantity of cooked fresh peas
2 stems of green garlic
lemon olive oil (optional)
several large sprigs of mint, leaves picked and chopped
150 g feta, crumbled
Dijon mustard
hazelnut oil
white wine vinegar

Rinse the quinoa well in running water, then drain and put in a saucepan. Add two cups of boiling water, cover, and simmer over low heat for 15-20 minutes until all the water is absorbed and the quinoa is cooked. If it is ever so slightly too firm still, leave the lid on for another 5 minutes or so to let the quinoa steam before using it.

Cut the cauliflower into florets, spread them on a couple of baking trays, and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 180 C for about 20 minutes, until the cauliflower is getting golden on the edges, and starting to become tender, but still has some firmness to the bite.

Let the quinoa and cauliflower cool slightly (or to room temperature, if you prefer) before proceeding, so that the cheese doesn’t melt when you mix the salad.

Finely slice the bulbs and the lower, tender parts of the leaves of the green garlic. Heat a drizzle of lemon olive oil (if you have it, otherwise just use normal olive oil) in a small pan, and gently saute the chopped garlic until it loses its raw sharpness.

In a large bowl, combine the cooked quinoa and cauliflower, the peas, green garlic, mint and feta, and toss well. Make a dressing for the salad from hazelnut oil, white wine vinegar and mustard. I love dressings that are quite vinegary and mustardy, so I would whisk together about 2 tablespoons hazelnut oil, a dash of olive oil, two tablespoons of white wine vinegar, and a very heaped teaspoon of mustard. Make the dressing to your own taste, season it, then stir it through the salad.

The salad is great if eaten at once, but survives well if made in advance. This quantity would serve about 4 people generously by itself, or about 8-10 people as a side salad with other dishes. We ate it for dinner by itself one night after work, and made it again for a Sunday lunch with barbequed chicken thighs and a pile of roasted asparagus.

 

Roast rhubarb with lime and cointreau

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

This is so basic it’s hardly worth writing, but for my own records, it was great.

500 g rhubarb stems (weighed after trimming)
2/3 cup sugar
juice of 1 decent-sized lime
a good glug of Cointreau

Cut the rhubarb into 3 cm lengths. Put in a baking dish, and toss together with the sugar, lime and Cointreau. Roast, uncovered, at 180 C for about 20 minutes, until the rhubarb is softened. The pieces will still be intact and beautiful red. Let it sit for a couple of minutes before eating, or eat cold later. Good with yoghurt for breakfast, or creme fraiche and crisp almond biscuits for dessert.

 

Fritter science, non-best-practice version

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

I like to do my culinary science the right way. Standardisation, controls, a well-thought-out experimental design. This isn’t always possible to achieve on the fly, however, so tonight’s dinner should be considered as exploratory experimental work that will require rigorous follow-up. Fortunately fritters lend themselves to this kind of experimentation, as you can fry a couple, taste, modify the batter, fry another couple, modify again, and so on.

I felt like corn and zucchini fritters for dinner, and wanted to try making them with besan flour. I prepped the vegetables: corn, zucchini, scallions, coriander leaves and chili flakes. I then made up a batter based on this recipe: besan flour, plain flour, salt and water. Mixed the vegetables and the batter, fried the first batch of four, and split one with Ted for a taste test. Not bad! They were particularly good hot off the pan, crispy on the outside and light and toasty inside. I wondered, however, whether they might not be better with a little bit of feta crumbled in. So I added some feta to the mix, and cooked up another four. These were also good straight off the pan, though the feta was a little dominating in flavour. Still, the cheese was in there now, so we pressed on and cooked another four, leaving the rest on a plate underneath a tea-towel to stay warm until we were ready to sit down.

We were pretty peckish at this point, so while cooking we split another one of the first feta fritters once they had cooled down a bit, and actually the flavour was pretty good – more appealing than the no-feta version. Both the feta-free and feta-ful versions, however, were getting slightly lumpen as they cooled. There was enough mixture left for two more fritters, so I added about a quarter of a teaspoon of baking powder to this before frying them off. Ah ha! Now we see a difference – there were a few little bubbles rising to the surface as we cooked the first side, and the fritters were puffier and had straighter sides. Fresh off the pan, the first one of these that we shared was softer and lighter than the previous versions, and tasted great.

We sat down to eat a few more, with some salad and roast tomatoes. After about 5 minutes, when all of the fritters had had a chance to cool down a bit, we did a side-by-side tasting of the three versions. The first version (no feta, no baking powder) was ok, but quite dense. The second (feta, no baking powder) was noticably softer than the first version, and the feta added some more interest to the flavour. The third (feta, baking powder) was quite similar to the second, but still a little lighter.

So, the secret is feta and/or baking powder, right? Perhaps, but I am tormented by the confounding variables. The feta-free fritters were cooked earliest, so were the coldest, and maybe that’s why they seemed less good. What if I cooked the different batches for different times, so that the first set were actually just overcooked? What if the performance of the batter improves with sitting – some fritter recipes do call for a resting period before you start cooking. There’s no way to disentangle these factors! I need to make three batters in parallel, rest them the same amount of time, and then fry a fritter from each batter in the same pan at the same time, using the same amount of batter for each one. Only then will I know the truth. Until then, the recipe below is the one I currently hypothesise to be the best. Further testing required (and I will be happy to oblige – these were damn good fritters).

 

Corn, zucchini and besan flour fritters

2 medium zucchini, finely julienned on a mandoline
kernels cut from 2 cobs of corn
4 scallions, finely sliced
2 large handfuls of coriander leaves, chopped
2 large pinches of chili flakes, or to taste
150 g besan flour
3 tablespoons plain flour
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
salt and pepper
170-200 ml water
80 g feta, crumbled
olive oil

Sprinkle the julienned zucchini well with salt, and leave to drain in a colander or sieve for 30 minutes. Squeeze out excess water, the spread out over a tea-towel, roll it up lengthwise, and twist to squeeze out all the remaining liquid. Put the zucchini into a bowl with the corn, scallions, coriander leaves and chili flakes, and mix.

In another bowl, sieve together the besan flour, plain flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Stir in the water, to make a thick batter. Combine this with the vegetables and the feta. The mixture should be thick but not excessively stiff. Add a little extra water to thin if necessary.

Heat a little olive oil in a frypan over moderate heat. Spoon fritter-sized portions of batter into the pan, and flatten them out so they are about 1 cm thick. Allow them to cook until browning on the bottom, then flip and continue to cook until golden on the other side and cooked in the middle. Remove to a plate and keep warm.

Makes about 14 fritters (about 7-8 cm in diameter).

We ate the fritters with some roast cherry tomatoes  and some snow peas and pea shoots (all harvested from our garden! I was overly pessimistic about our chances of getting more ripe tomatoes on the weekend).

 

Baked eggs with backyard tomatoes

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

This summer was the first time we’ve ever had a garden we could grow things in. We’d previously attempted (and eventually killed) many pots of herbs in many apartments, but nothing more. Despite this not very stellar record, I was smitten with horticultural lust when we moved into a house with a sunny back wall and a fallow garden bed. I went a bit overboard ordering heirloom vegetable seeds from Diggers, then carried through a major operation starting seeds of seven different kinds of tomatoes, two kinds of peas, many different herbs, Italian broccoli varieties, and so on. And then, after preparing the soil (and filling quite a few pots as well) I planted them all out, pruned, staked, weeded, picked caterpillars and treated for whiteflies. It was a joy. It made me happy every morning when I went outside and checked how much things had grown, what varieties were flowering, which was the first to set fruit, which the first to ripen.

Like I say, it was blissfully satisfying. And I will do it all again next summer. But with one difference: I will start about three months earlier. I knew I was getting everything started late. We’d just moved to Melbourne, I was trying to catch up with things in the lab, we worked some weekends, I delayed putting in the seed order because was I really sure that I was going to do this, given my previously black thumb? By the time I committed and put in the order, it was the start of November. The first seedlings came up in late November, and I transplanted them outside in late December. This might have been ok in Brisbane, but Melbourne was not quite so forgiving. Our garden has been a lush, gorgeous, endlessly enjoyable paradise in which I have spent scores of happy hours working or sitting, but our first tomatoes only ripened a couple of weeks ago. About the same time, in fact, that I was writing an entry about how the autumnal weather was making me long for osso buco.

Since then, despite the recent rain and cold nights, a handful of tomatoes have slowly ripened, turning yellow or orange or red one by one, like lights coming on at night. Their texture wasn’t the best, but the flavour was excellent – sweet and sharp, each variety distinct. This morning we harvested all that were ripe, to roast for breakfast. We got one jaune flamme, several brown berries and lemon drops, a couple of black cherries, and about twenty incredibly tiny wild sweeties. The plants are becoming decrepit now, dropping brown leaves and looking exhausted. I’ll leave them in for another week or so to see whether any more fruit ripens, and if not then pull them out for compost. But even if this morning’s small dish of tomatoes is all we eat from this crop, it’s still been absolutely worth it. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve shown myself that my thumb is not entirely black, and I’ve gained hours of relaxation and pleasure. I’m without regret, though I have put a reminder in my diary to start the tomato seeds in August this year.

 

Baked eggs and tomatoes with sourdough and chevre

This wasn’t the prettiest dish, but it was delicious. I took our bowl of mixed tomatoes (probably the equivalent of about 25 cherry tomatoes), halved all but the smallest, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted in a smallish baking dish in a moderate oven (about 160C) until they were softened, about 15-20 minutes. I pushed the tomatoes aside to make a couple of indentations, into which I cracked eggs. Back in the oven for 5 minutes or so, checking frequently towards the end, until the whites were cooked but the yolks were still runny. Meanwhile, I’d toasted a slice of sourdough, and spread with some young chevre. I spooned the egg-and-tomato mixture out of the baking dish over the toast, and ate immediately.

Sunday lunch of three salads

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

It’s summer officially, but not quite really. We’ve had some hot days, but they’re rare interruptions in the temperate progression of 20-degree days (and 12 degree nights). But when the sun is out, as it often is, I’m starting to get to wanting crispy salads and cold beer. We had Iñaki and Begoña, and Henry and Linda, and all the kids, over for lunch today. Henry brought a fantastic roasted spatchcocked chicken, I made these three salads below, and we finished with Greek sweets from Iñaki and Begoña, and this orange and lemon poppyseed cake. The sun stayed out for us during lunch, and while Iñaki let his gardening urge take over in the back yard (gardening date next Sunday, Iñaki?), and for a walk to the Union St park. Now it’s 7 pm and the sun is still up, but I’m thiiiiiis close to turning on the heater. Doesn’t matter, summer lunch was awesome while it lasted.

 

Couscous, eggplant, dried fig and orange salad

185 g couscous
250 ml boiling water
2 largish eggplants
olive oil
sherry vinegar
1/3 cup pine nuts
180 g sheeps’ milk feta, crumbled
1/4 cup currants
8 dried figs, chopped into 1 cm pieces
1 large orange, zest and juice
lots of fresh mint and parsley, finely chopped

Cut the eggplants into 2 cm cubes. Divide between a couple of large baking trays or dishes. Make sure that the cubes are in one layer, not piled up, otherwise they will steam rather than roast. Toss the eggplant with a glug or two of olive oil, a splash of sherry vinegar, and sea salt and black pepper. Roast at 180 C for about 30-40 minutes, until golden and soft.

Toast the pine nuts in a fry pan over low heat, stirring often, until they are lightly golden.

Put the couscous in a large bowl, add a good pinch of salt, and pour over the boiling water. Leave for 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork. I like to make the couscous early and let it dry a little before using it, but you can eat it warm if you like.

Once the couscous is cooked, add the roast eggplant, pine nuts, feta, currants, figs, the orange zest, half the juice, mint and parsley. Toss and taste. Add more juice and/or salt if needed.

 

Kipfler, green bean and smoked salmon

10 medium kipflers, peeled and cut into 2 cm pieces
about 40 green beans, tops trimmed
400 g hot-smoked salmon, skin removed
1 small bunch dill, leaves chopped
a couple of tablespoons olive oil
juice of half a lemon
2 teaspoons seeded mustard
sea salt and pepper

Steam the kipflers in steamer baskets over boiling water until they are tender. Boil the beans for about 4 minutes, until they’re cooked to your liking. Break the salmon into bite-sized pieces.

Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper. Put the potatoes and beans in a large bowl, and toss with the dressing. Add the salmon and dill, and toss again, gently. (You toss it in two stages so the salmon doesn’t get broken up.) Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

Summer salad, inspired by Jess

2 handfuls baby spinach leaves
2 handfuls rocket
2 handfuls baby cos, torn into pieces
2 cobs of corn, kernels cut off
1/2 yellow capsicum, finely sliced
1 small cucumber, halved, seeded, and sliced
8 giant cherry tomatoes, quartered
8 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
1 avocado, peeled and chopped
olive oil
vinegar (sherry, champagne, tarragon, your choice)
salt and pepper

Toss together all the vegetables. Whisk together the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Dress the salad and serve at once.