Tag Archives: Vegetables

Australian garlic vs imported garlic – what’s the difference?

When you toddle off to the shops to pick up your produce do you ever wonder where it comes from? If you are anything at all like me, then you are probably trying to make the shopping as fast and as painless as possible, as you slot it in between the other multitude of tasks on your agenda on any given day. It is generally easy – and necessary – to just whizz through the shop, grab what you need and get on to the next thing and grocery shopping really shouldn’t take up too much head space – or should it? If we are to have any control at all over what we are putting in our family’s mouths we need to be as informed as possible because even the simplest of purchases can become an ethical dilemma these days.

Continue reading

Slow food

If you follow me on Twitter (although I seem to have lost the little birdy thingy off my blog page!?) then you will know that I have just returned home from the Slow Food national congress and annual general meeting in Canberra. The Slow Food movement was formed in Italy by Carlo Petrini in 1986 in response to plans to open a McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps in Rome. Since it’s beginnings, Slow Food has expanded and now boasts over 100,000 members in 132 countries, organized in groups called “convivia”. These groups are not just a bunch of people getting together for a nice long lunch, as some seem to think, but are people whose aim is to advocate for “good, clean and fair” food. In promoting this the movement cooperates with the development of seed banks, preserving local culinary traditions, preserving and promoting local food products, educating the public about the risks of monoculture, fast food, industrialized food production and agriculture and lobbies for and supports organic food production.

There were various speakers gathered for the congress, including Stephanie Alexander who spoke about her wonderful Kitchen Garden project, but the one I found to be most inspiring was the Slow Food International Secretary General, Paolo Di Croce, who had come to Australia specifically for the meeting.

Continue reading

“Fresh” food and tragic teens!

The Husband and I had a sudden and unplanned evening out at the movies last weekend, after a phone call from a friend during the day. Not at the glitzy, overpriced chain cinemas with the comfy chairs, but at a small, slightly draughty community hall in the hills. While the seating didn’t quite compare to the big chains, the $5 entrance fee for two movies, a cup of soup with bread and a cup of tea with cake at intermission more than made up for it! Presented by Adelaide Hills Sustainable Communities and the Adelaide Hills Climate Action Group, the two movies were “In Transition” and “Fresh”. The former is a film about what is known as the Transition movement, where a growing number of communities around the world are responding to the issues of peak oil and climate change on a local level and in an enormously positive fashion. Rather than feeling powerless and beaten by the inability/unwillingness of world governments to address these problems, this movement shows that it is truly possible for small groups of people to achieve change and positive outcomes. The second film gives us a glimpse of what the cost of the industrialization of agriculture really is, but focuses largely on some remarkable men and their responses to this. This, too, was a very positive movie which shows that there are real, workable, practical options available to those of us who would like to work towards more sustainable food production. Food Connect will be screening “Fresh” at the Mercury Cinema, 13 Morphett St., Adelaide at 7.30pm on July 7th – a great opportunity to see the film and listen to a couple of local speakers share their ideas on the same subject!

While Himself and I were out sipping herbal teas and kicking up our heels we left the teenagers palely loitering around the house for the evening. Contrary to my conviction that they were just trying to appear interesting, it has since become evident that they were actually sickening for whatever the latest viral lurgy is that is going around and have subsequently spent most of this week home from school. I have been stepping over their prone bodies as they clutter up not only the house, but my headspace too, reminding me of the days when I had very little time to myself! In an effort to get them well and out of my hair back to school I have been trying to feed them up with maximum nutrition coupled with – as ever – minimal effort. Our lovely hens are still laying very well, despite the shortening days, so eggs are still a popular standby for me. Looking for a way to use up some leeks and half a pumpkin, I came up with this easy, but very tasty little number – a frittata. These are so very simple that one barely needs a recipe, just some ideas and whatever is lurking in the bottom of the fridge and this recipe would just as easily make a very nice quiche instead. This recipe makes up a big pan of frittata and would happily serve 6 adults, but could be halved if desired. Served with a fresh green salad, this is just as nice cold or hot.

CARAMELIZED LEEK, PUMPKIN AND THYME FRITTATA

4 leeks, rinsed and sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
750 gms pumpkin, peeled and diced approx 2cm square
60 mls olive oil
8 eggs
200 mls light cream
bunch of fresh thyme, chopped
salt
black pepper
100 gms grated parmesan

Steam pumpkin until almost cooked through, drain, set aside.
In a large pan, saute leeks in olive oil, stirring occasionally, for about 15-20 minutes until golden and caramelized, adding the garlic for the last 2-4 minutes of cooking. Add cooked pumpkin and mix together gently.
Beat eggs together, add cream and season with salt and pepper, add chopped thyme and whisk through.
Pour eggs over vegetables, then cook over a gentle to moderate heat until the egg is set around the edges, but still quite moist towards the centre.
Preheat grill, sprinkle the top of the frittata with the grated parmesan and place pan under the grill. Cook until the top is set and starting to turn golden brown.
Let stand for 15-20 minutes before carefully slicing and removing from pan.

Printable recipe CARAMELIZED LEEK.

Cooks and carrots!

The biennial, international food and wine festival, “Tasting Australia”,  is coming up here in Adelaide in a few weeks time. It is a week long “foodie-fest” which also involves some industry events, including the awarding of the Le Cordon Bleu World Food media Awards. This year South Australia’s own Wakefield Press has had three of their publications nominated for the prestigious awards – “The Blue Ribbon Cookbook”, by Liz Harfull has been nominated for Best Hard Cover Recipe Book (under 35 Euro) and Lolo Hobein’s “One Magic Square” and John Barlow’s “Everything But the Squeal” have both been nominated for Best Food Book.  The nominations come from a jury of over 50 international food industry professionals looking at the best the world has to offer in the field of food media and Wakefield Press have every reason to be deeply chuffed for scooping three nominations in such a competitive arena!

To read the rest of the piece that I wrote about these three books you can look at the full article on Boomerang Books Guest blog!

I have previously mentioned my lovely eldest daughter, the Cupcake Queen, in my literary ramblings.  She is in her late teens and can be quite frustratingly faddish and picky with her foods.  One of her pet peeves is fresh coriander.  She seems to be able to sniff it out and repeatedly turns her nose up at it, picking it out of anything and everything or simply flatly refusing to eat it, just like a two year old!  I have put this behaviour down to her contrary teenage stage of life and tend to address it by threatening to strangle her if she complains about her meals which, admittedly, has had no perceivable positive effect to date.  So you can imagine my surprise when I came across an article in the Dining & Wine section of the New York Times entitled “Cilantro Haters, It’s Not Your Fault“!

Continue reading

Evolutionary eating

This morning I watched Jamie Oliver’s TED speech on the dietary crisis facing the US (and many other countries, including Australia) today.  I know that there are many who find him a little sanctimonious when he gets onto his hobby-horse and starts banging on about school lunches, but the simple, inescapable fact is that he is right.  Our dietary habits have changed and evolved – and not in a good way – with the result that the next generation will be the first to live a shorter life than their parents, largely because of too much of the wrong kinds of food.  It is deeply shocking to see Jamie stand up in front of a classroom full of kids who can’t identify a fresh tomato or a cauliflower. In another scene, Jamie sits with a sad and confused young mother, surrounded by the food that she feeds her family, and bluntly points out that she is killing her children with it.  Many believe that this is a result of modern living, lack of food education, capitalism, mass communication, the cultural hegemony of big fast food businesses, etc., etc., – but maybe this dietary evolution is a little more organic than that.

Quite coincidentally, just a couple of days ago, I read a report of a study undertaken by two brothers, one an eating behaviouralist and the other a professor of religious studies.  They looked at 52 of the most noted paintings of Christ’s last supper and found that the portion sizes of the meals had increased significantly over the last 1,000 years.  In general, the size of the main courses increased by a whopping 69% and the serves of bread by 23%!!  While this is obviously not a scientific study, these findings tend to indicate that overeating is possibly not the modern phenomenon we think it to be, but a more general trend over hundreds of years.

I find recipes, on the other hand, can very quickly evolve from one thing into quite another – especially in my kitchen.  I had been wondering how to use up the last of my lovely Food Connect pumpkin and came across a tempting recipe for little pumpkin tarts.  Deciding that this was what I wanted to make, I set about checking the pantry for the bits and pieces that I needed and along the way became quite side-tracked.   I ended up with a delicious meal that bore only a passing resemblance to the recipe I first started with, but one that I had tailored to my own personal preferences – I guess that is what they call “recipe development”!

I seriously dislike slicing onions, so the husband bravely volunteered to take on that task and I used my wonderful Thermomix to grate up all the pumpkin which was done in under 1 minute.  I have to be very honest and tell you that I used frozen pastry, just because I was short on time, but any nice short crust pastry recipe will do for this.

PUMPKIN AND CARAMELISED ONION TART

I quantity of short crust pastry
or
2 sheets frozen pastry

3 onions, sliced
50ml olive oil
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

750 gm pumpkin, grated
50 ml olive oil
2 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 eggs
100 gms parmesan, grated

Preheat oven to 190C.

Line a 24cm round fluted tart tin (I used a longish rectangular one) with pastry and blind bake for approx. 10 mins.

Heat olive oil in a heavy based pan, add onions and sprinkle with sugar and balsamic vinegar. Cook on low/med heat, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, for approx. 20 minutes until the onions are soft, sweet and caramelised. Set aside.

In a large pan, heat remaining olive oil, add grated pumpkin and thyme and cook, stirring, over low heat until pumpkin is just cooked.
In a large bowl, beat eggs lightly, then add pumpkin, 3/4 of the onions and 75gms of the parmesan. Fill the pastry with this mixture, sprinkling the top with the remaining onions and parmesan.

Bake at 190C for 25-30 minutes.
Let stand out of the oven for 10 minutes, before slicing and serving.

Connecting with our food

With the theme of food seemingly being at the height of fashion, there are any number of books available on all aspects of the subject, but I found one of the most interesting, entertaining, thought provoking and at times, confronting to be Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivores Dilemma” (Penguin, 2006). In this book Pollan, an American author and journalist, writes of how modern Western cultures (and specifically the US) seem to have become disengaged from the production of our foods, leaving us vulnerable to the seductive techniques of food marketers and the, frequently overblown, hype of food scientists, resulting in our nutritionally compromised modern diets. He writes about his journey following the path of three different food chains resulting in three meals that he then eats – the industrial (a fast-food meal), the pastoral (an organic meal) and what he terms the “Personal” – a meal which he has grown, hunted and killed himself. This book is guaranteed to make you have more than a passing thought about where the food on your plate has come from, how it got to you and whether it was worth it!

Since reading this book I have become, in a small way, a primary producer and, with Pollan’s words echoing in my head, the husband and I put quite a bit of thought into how our first herd of plump and glossy, happy, paddock-fed steers were to end up on someone’s plate. As omnivores at the top of the food chain, I believe that we owe respect for the lives of creatures further down. We were very fortunate in that we were able to get them into the cattle yards and onto the truck very calmly, using bales of hay as inducements, and they had just a very short drive half an hour up the road to abattoirs where they were “processed” the same day. They were not stressed, overcrowded, left in small yards for days at a time or driven long distances and I believe that their meat will be all the better for it.

In an effort to ‘connect’ with even more of our own food, we have just joined with a wonderful organisation new to Adelaide called Food Connect Adelaide . Originating in Brisbane, this organisation is dedicated to connecting consumers with local farmers and encouraging the eating of seasonal, local fruit and vegetables, produced using ecologically sustainable methods. The general public can become subscribers, signing up to receive a box of local, fresh produce delivered to various distribution points weekly. The distribution points are called “City Cousins” and are, in fact, other subscribers who elect to have their homes serve this purpose. This not only reduces delivery costs and greenhouse gas emissions from delivery trucks on large routes, but serves to promote a sense of community as subscribers become acquainted with others in their areas.

I picked up our first box of fruit and veggies yesterday and, as you can see, it was a little ripper, bursting with loads of fresh produce and topped off with a deliciously fragrant bunch of fresh basil! There is more than enough fresh product there and my mind was busy with cooking ideas as I unpacked it into the fridge. The two very good sized zucchini were the first thing that we have eaten from the box, using a delicious recipe for Zucchini and Herb Fritters from my patron saint, Claudia Roden and her book “Arabesque” (Penguin 2005). These are fresh and full of flavour from the added herbs and perfect for a lunch or as a side dish at dinner. Claudia says not to add salt as the feta is quite salty, but I disobeyed her (gasp!) and added just a little.

ZUCCHINI FRITTERS

1 onion, chopped
3 Tbsp olive oil
500 gm zucchini, grated
3 eggs
3 Tbsp plain flour
ground black pepper
pinch of sea salt
2 Tbsp fresh mint, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped
200 gm feta, crumbled
oil for frying

Fry the onions in oil until golden and soft, add zucchini and lightly saute until soft. Cool slightly.
Beat the eggs and flour together until well blended, add pepper, salt, herbs and mix well, then add feta and mix. Add onion and zucchini and mix.
Fry the fritters in small batches in hot oil and drain on paper towels.

These would be delicious served with a yoghurt and cucumber salad or a (mildish so as not to over-power the flavours) chutney.

Summer smells like this …

The smell of fresh picked basil and ripe, red tomatoes evokes summer for me in a way unlike any other! A whiff of basil conjures up images of hot sunny spots in the garden and the smell of damp earth in the evening as I recall standing with the hose, hand-watering my precious summer vegetable patch.

The flavours and aromas seem to belong together so completely that it may come as some surprise to find that it was only relatively recently that the two plants met. Tomatoes are native to South America, where they had them all to themselves until some time in the 16th century. It is believed that either Cortez or Columbus first introduced them to the rest of the world, via the Spanish colonies in the Pacific and the Caribbean, through Asia and then into Europe. They were cultivated in the Mediterranean and began to be introduced into local diets in the late 16th century, although in some parts of Italy they were only used as decoration and not incorporated into the cuisine until the late 17th century.

The origins of basil have been traced to India, where it was considered to be sacred, and it was also native to Iran and Africa. It, too, was introduced to Europe some time in the 16th century, becoming a popular plant to grow in the warmer, Mediterranean climate. It is considered a symbol of love in some parts of Italy, so maybe that is why it was originally paired with the pomme d’amour – the name given by the French to the tomato?

In summer, tomatoes and basil are generally plentiful and at their peak and this following recipe takes advantage of this. I know that I have been banging on about using the best possible products in your cooking, but this is one occasion where this is just not at all necessary. At the height of summer tomatoes can be bought in bulk at very reasonable prices. These fruit are often not in their best condition, with spots and bruises, but that doesn’t matter at all for this super easy and very versatile little recipe. I generally ignore most of the small marks, just cutting away anything too squishy or icky and cook up a great big batch and freeze it in individual containers, giving me a taste of summer all through winter. You may peel the tomatoes if you can be bothered – I have never bothered. This can be cooked on top of the cooker in a saucepan, but I would urge you to find a big ovenproof dish and cook it in the oven to get the very best, deepest flavour. This sauce can be used in as many ways as you can think of – as a pizza base, a base sauce for pasta, as a flavour base in soups or casseroles or as a soup itself!

One other thing – I never add the basil until after the sauce is cooked as that maintains the freshness of the basil flavour.

SIMPLE TOMATO SUGO

1 kilo ripe tomatoes
2 onions
2-4 cloves garlic
olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper
Large bunch of basil

Preheat oven to 170C.
Halve the tomatoes and remove the seeds and pulp. Peel and slice the onions. Crush or finely chop the garlic.
Toss all in a large baking dish with several good glugs of olive oil.
Season with salt and pepper. Will look like this.

Bake for about 90 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all the tomatoes have collapsed, the juice is running and everything looks yummy – a bit like this!

Tear the basil into bits and add to tomatoes, then push the whole lot through a food mill, or process in manageable amounts until completely smooth.
Put into containers and freeze.