Friday, September 28, 2007

A busy time of year..

When it rains it pours, the saying goes. And so it has this past few weeks. On one hand, all those tomatoes have to be preserved (aka doing the tomatoes) and Ivonne knows how much work that is. She has posted the best idea that I have heard in a long time. I'll be over in a heartbeat if there is some of that cake left.

Although they seem to have center stage, it isn't ALL about tomatoes.. other garden goodies are ready and need tending to. These peppers are drying for their spicy contribution to the salami in January, eggplants are undergoing a slow, salted and pressed transformation to their preserved state, and I am awaiting the cooler weather to begin the harvest of rapini and other lettuce.

For as much work as this time of year can be (and it'll be flat out around here for awhile yet), it is as much a social event as anything else. And we know that honouring these traditional methods brings us together today and will again over meals throughout the winter.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Melanzane alla griglia for Barbara

Barbara, at winosandfoodies, has just been dining with the Societa Dante Aligheri during their Italian Day celebrations in Auckland. Her photos capture the food beautifully and I love the particular variety of colourful antipasti, especially the grilled eggplant.

Thai makeua oop, rataouille, baba ganouj and grilled haloumi 'sandwiches' all use this interesting fruit and varieties can be found in cuisine from Japan, across Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North America. Most Italian cooks have a large regional reppetoire of ways to prepare and preserve it, especially in the south.

Historically, it has enjoyed a reputation as an aphrodisiac, thought to invoke insanity and is also a bit of a chameleon. It is available in many shapes, sizes and colours, ranging from white, yellow and all shades of purple. Flavours vary too but generally can taste quite bitter when raw. After cooking, it is delicious, (and not at all evil).
Since Barbara has given me the inspiration to think about eggplant, and I just happen to have a few rows of these 'insane apples' in the garden and it IS lunchtime, here is my interpretation of melanzana alla griglia. Not so much a recipe as you can easily make this to your personal taste or for as many servings as you require.

Melanzane alla griglia: Thinly slice 4-5 smallish (no bigger than the length of your hand) eggplants lengthwise into approximately 1/2 cm slices (or therabouts). You don't want the slices to be so thin that they char quickly on the grill but thin enough to soften and absorb all the flavour from the marinade and cook through in a reasonable amount of time. The long variety (as per Barbara's photos) are also fine to use, just make sure to choose young fruit.
Cover sliced eggplant with a good coating of salt and set aside in a colander. A weighted plate/press on top is optional.
Prepare marinade: mix your best olive oil (maybe 125mL), a splash of aceto (wine vinegar, white or red will do or a mixture of vinegar and lemon juice). I generally use whichever oil I have on hand and add a few drops of lemon juice over the final salad before mixing. Smash a peeled clove of garlic (or two) and drop into the dressing.  You can slice it if you don't mind the pungent bits popping up in your salad.  I love raw garlic, so I just give it a smash and a coarse chop.  Rub some dried oregano over the dressing and season (a good grind of black pepper and a light smattering of sea salt).  I also add some coarsely torn fresh herbs but remove them before grilling the eggplant to prevent burning.
Rinse eggplant of salt and dry on a teatowel with a little squeeze.  Add to marinade and toss well.  Marinating time need not be lengthy, eggplant absorb flavours quickly.
Grill eggplant either over coals (after the sauce fire has lowered to glowing embers is perfect), barbeque grill or in the broiler oven.  Some will swear by charcoal, which I adore, but the other methods do the job in a pinch (or if you live in a location where an open fire is frowned upon).  Take care to either slightly drain eggplant of marinade and remove chunky herbs thus preventing flare-ups and burnt bits.  On the barbeque, I like a medium to high heat for great marking while the oven method can vary (all depending, of course, on the proximity of the grilling rack to the flame or element).  Grill eggplant until browned and tender.  I replenish the remaining marinade with a liberal amount of good olive oil, a splash of wine vinegar, a few drops of lemon juice and some more fresh parsley and basil.  The amount of oil you can add depends on the amount you prefer, in a typical dressing this is about 2:1 oil to vinegar, but I tend to use more oil..  This is a great contorno alongside grilled meat or chicken or as an antipasto with crusty bread and a glass of wine.  The procedure works equally as well with grilled zucchini, capsicums, mushrooms or a mixture.  Serve warmish or at room temperature and, depending on your preference, allow some set time so the dressing can infuse to suit your taste. (The longer it sets, the more oil is absorbed by the eggplant).


Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Shooting stars, crop circles.. and, what have we here??  When a lover of (almost all) things beer related sees a sign bearing a foaming handle (the universal sign for beer) on the side of the road, what's a girl to do?

Since I'd conveniently done my driving shift for the day on the 1500km road trip, I got to sample a few of the offerings at this wee brewhouse in St-Germain- de-Kamouraska. It was well worth the 1km diversion and I'd have, quite frankly, driven much further.  Stellar brews. More later.


Monday, September 03, 2007

A Prince Edward Picnic

We've been on a road trip through Eastern Canada and picnicing across Ontario, Qu├ębec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  Along the way, we've enjoyed enough tomato salad to satisfy all my cravings until the vines are again laden with these jewels of summer.  With some crusty bread (to clean the bowl of its oils and juices!) and a few slices of pecorino to finish the glass of local Sandbanks Estate Baco Noir, our picnic was complete.

Tomato salad is a summer staple and a much-harped about dish here at la tavola. But if you think summer tomatoes are all about salad, wait until sauce season (which is nearly here) !

So if we aren't too late for Festa al Fresco, we'd love to share our Prince Edward county picnic with you.

Thanks to Ivonne and Lis for hosting another great party!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Speaking of tomatoes..

A mere 10 minutes ago, these lovelies were ripening on the vine about 20 meters from the back door. Now, they are fulfiling their destiny: as sauce. Specifically as the vehicle for tuna in a quick pasta con tonno, with salty tangy capers, a handful of fresh torn herbs, a few anchovies for depth and a tin of tuna in olive oil.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


Gardening (Giardinaggio) has its rewards. Those rewards being tomatoes, peppers and zucchini flowers, all of which are present and accounted for in the garden today. I've got a few varieties of tomatoes. I love heritage varieties and the depth of flavour and colour they add to any dish.. and of course, the tomatoes for sauce are a given.

Most of the veggies have taken their time making an appearance this year. Seems that there were only anything but flowers for the longest while but now that summer is dwindling, these same plants are finally yielding their fruit. Their green couture is fading, in favour of shades of red, yellow and orange and they can be found making their fashionably late appearances in all the right places. Mostly in my salad bowl.