Saturday, October 25, 2008

Leftover love

Leftovers (soups and stews that benefit from a night of mingling in the fridge) were the love of my life while I was at uni and when I first ventured into the workplace, saving me time and money. This practise didn't do much to increase the variety in my diet though it did save me from sandwich monotony.

But the fact is: some dishes just don't improve. Take leftover risotto for example.. it never achieves its former glory reheated the day after. The flavours are all there but the texture leaves much to be desired (unless you had to patch a leaky roof). Its gluey texture IS, however, perfect for a magical transformation into wonderful little bites, arancini, perfect antipasti or as a snack with drinks.

Called arancini (little oranges) or, less commonly, suppli al telefono (telephone wires- after the stretchy cheese inside), these are an easy treat. Tuck a smallish cube of your preferred melting cheese into the center of a rounded tablespoon of the leftover risotto. Fontina is a flavourful favourite and gorgonzola is a delicious option over relatively tame-by-comparison scamorza (or domestic mozzarella). Then roll the shaped balls in flour and a quick egg dip before going into a seasoned toasted breadcrumb mixture. Allow to set for a few minutes before frying in 180C oil until golden brown.

The best thing about this dish is that it looks little like leftovers and takes on a new life as a little fritter. If you've no leftovers to play with, you needn't worry. An overdose of risotto isn't necessary.. Here's AGT's arancini recipe. While truffles are an ethereal addition, you could substitute a scant 1/8 tsp of slightly more economical truffle paste into the center with the cheese or even add it (a few teaspoons or so) to the risotto.

Buon appetito!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Finding funghi

It's that time of year again. The time to go looking for mushrooms. I look forward to hearing "Vuoi cercare i funghi?" every year. Boots on, I am out the door at the mere suggestion of a walk in the woods.

One of my favourite dishes to show off the seasons best is simply mushrooms on toast. Sautéed thick slices in butter with wine, garlic and fresh parsley makes for a quick fungus fix while oven roasting whole seasoned and dressed (with olive oil and rosemary) mushrooms makes for something slightly more posh.

When there is a bounty, we always indulge in an omlette or fritatta of mushrooms, herbs and a gorgeous complimentary cheese for a special weekend breakfast. Taleggio is a great match as are many of the more pungent washed rinds. A mushroom tart with caramelised cipolline and thyme or a filled pasta are worth any effort and are easy make-aheads for entertaining.

On our latest trip, we found a fairly substantial crop of field mushrooms lurking along the fenceline. That means we'll be adding them to dishes alot this week.

Starting with dinner.

Field mushroom risotto

olive oil
Rice ( I like vialone nano but arborio or carnaroli are good too.)
2 cups of rice, good for 4 mains or 6 entrée serves.
Mushrooms (as many as you like or as many as you've got, wiped clean and sliced as you wish.)
Hot broth/stock (vegetable, beef or chicken all work well here and rabbit is particularly nice.)
1/2 large yellow (or 1 meduim) onion, chopped fine
1-2 cloves of garlic
125mL white wine, approximate
Parmigiano reggiano or Grana padano
Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped fine

Have stock simmering on low heat. In heavy bottomed pot or enamel coated cast iron, melt a tablespoon of butter and add a tablespoon or so of olive oil. When butter is foamy, add the rice (you may need a little more butter) and turn to coat well. Cook rice until it is aromatic and takes on a slight golden hue.

Add a little wine and some stock. Continue to add stock in increments as it is absorbed, enough to keep rice from sticking to pot but not so much that the rice is swimming. Just as needed to keep coaxing the starch out of the rice.

In a sauté pan, over medium high heat, melt another tablespoon or so of olive oil and butter. Lower heat a little and add onions, garlic and mushrooms, cooking until onions and garlic are soft and mushrooms take on a golden edge. Deglaze pan with a splash of wine. While this could be a one-pot procedure, I like being able to better control the browning and the degree of doneness of a mixture of coarsely chopped and finely diced mushrooms.

When rice is done to preference and consistency is creamy but still relatively loose, remove from heat, and using a spatula, add the entire contents of the sauté pan and all cooking juices. Season with salt and pepper, stir in a liberal amount of grated cheese and a few tablespoons of parsley. Pass more cheese at the table, if desired.

Mushrooms work magnificently with many of my favourite 'off-the-beaten-track' wines. I often look for an unoaked (or minimally oaked) Viognier. Unoaked Morton Estate is all ripe peach and texturally wonderful as is Rongopai Ultimo, if you can find it. For something different, if your local carries a Marsanne or Roussanne, give them a go. Like Viognier, I find these rich, complex wines complement the herbs and mild earthiness of the mushrooms and that their acidity easily handles the rich treatment that mushrooms often get. In the red camp, where I often find myself, Te Mata Estate has a great value Gamay noir (the grape of Beaujolais) that is quite mushroom friendly and delicious.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Breakfast galette

A few months back, some plums arrived at the vineyard.. not a 'commercial' variety from one of the large local orchards, rather some small dark skinned, yellow fleshed plums that I would otherwise call Italian plums, or prugne.

They would have been perfect for drying: not overly juicy but packed with flavour. IF I'd had a dehydrator at my disposal, that is exactly what I would have done. Dry plums, or prunes, are easily rehydrated when the plum season is well past.

The other nice thing about these plums having so little liquid is that they also bake well in a free-form tart, or galette. There is enough juice to make a flavourful tart without massive amounts of seepage.

The pastry can be any favourite pastry, sweet or plain. I like to half this recipe plus add a little finely grated lemon zest and I don't mind if it is made ahead (the night before). I also like to use frozen butter, grating the required weight on a box grater into the bowl containing the flour. After mixing briefly to coat with flour then adding the ice water, I stir it only until the dough just holds together. A quick shaping (into a disk) and into the refrigerator overnight makes for stress free rolling in the morning.

The filling is easy as. In the morning, after rolling out the dough on a floured surface and applying a quick sprinkle of breadcrumbs (or ground almonds), place a pile of the diced fruit (about 1 1/2 c) in the center of the pastry with a liberal sprinkle of caster sugar. I help the edges of the pastry up and over the fruit with my pastry scraper making many, small-ish, and as-even-as possible folds of pastry so no one misses out on a substantial flaky edge on their slice. The whole thing gets another sprinkle of sugar and baked on a stone at 180C until well browned, say 30-40 minutes.

Alongside a steaming latté, a book or newspaper in a sunny spot.. a good morning indeed.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Roll call

Dinner rolls, brushed with butter, awaiting the oven (16/10/08).

Dinner rolls are something I always look forward to when I visit home. Tender, fluffy morsels that adorn the dinner table, always on special occasions and sometimes just when Ma felt like it. Their aromatic goodness fills the air and I know these are on the menu before I even get in the door.

Although they aren't a traditional staple for the Calabrese table, I decided to make them the other morning for a little something different for World Day of Bread and also because I' ve seen my suocero put away a few of these at festive events held at various banquet halls. For him, I suppose these seem almost cake-like in comparison to the bread roll to which he is accustomed.

Enriched with milk, butter and egg yolk, these are slightly reminiscent of brioche and are lovely with preserves for breakfast they day after they are made. Still, they aren't sweet and are very good for soaking up gravy from a weeknight roast as we did.



Recipe for Ma's milk rolls to follow.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Only a short hour ago, these silken tagliatelle were but a few eggs in the pantry and flour in the cupboard. The pasta was served al prosciutto (with ham) in another quick sauce.

I like minimalist 'sauces' and go for delicate flavours to showcase and complement the texture of fresh, homemade pasta. However, in your house, if pasta isn't pasta without a rich meaty sauce, ragu alla bolognese would be just as good.


Monday, October 06, 2008


glut: noun
1: an excessive quantity


According to my Oxford Dictionary, yes indeedy, I have a glut of zucchini.

Heaps, hoardes, tonnes aplenty.. small ones, big ones, ones that have eluded my garden knife (obscured by huge leaves) and are now ginormous! I've tried giving them away, abandoned a few on doorsteps.. but if I am to pawn away an oversized vegetable on unsuspecting neighbours, perhaps my green friend needs a disguise. All means of trickery are fair.

So, that's what I did. And I think it the perfect disguise. (No, not a hat, fake moustache and dark glasses. That's for potatoes!) I have spent all day turning my vegetables into perfect-with-tea (or coffee) loaf cakes (aka zucchini bread).

Wot? Bread with zucchini in it? Yep. That's what ma does. When there are way too many to simply eat as is (without turning into a zucchini), she shreds them up on the box grater and mixes the pale green shards into a dark dense batter (usually with walnuts, cinnamon, and cocoa). The result is a spice and chocolate scented loaf cake not unlike banana bread with its moist texture. But since zucchini is much more of a blank slate than banana, these could be spiced with cinnamon, cardamom, 'plain' vanilla or blended with added chocolate, walnuts or sultanas, as you wish.

I'm a sucker for loaf cakes.. lemon sirup, banana, any berry in season, strusel topped or enriched with honey.. you name it. If it can be baked in a lowly unassuming loaf pan, I'm in.

Now, I have a glut of zucchini cake.. and I'm off to the neighbours with my well camoflouged vegetable.

Ma's Zucc Loaf

Beat 2 eggs until foamy and mix in 2/3 cup of vegetable oil. In another bowl, mix 1 and 1/4 c sugar with 4 Tbsp of sifted unsweetened natural cocoa.

Make sure cocoa is lump-free and blend into egg oil mixture.
In another bowl, shred zucchini, you'll need 1 1/3 cup of the grated stuff. Although Ma used to drain this, I grate it last as I don't want it to lose all its moisture but don't add any liquid that does drain in the process..

Sift 2c flour, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp (level) baking powder and 1/2 tsp level baking soda. 2 tsp spices (I used cinnamon to accompany the chocolate but have used a scant tsp cardamon when not using chocolate for a subtle flavour).

Have loaf pan ready. Either a tin lined with parchment (and/or greased and floured) or a stoneware pan lightly greased around the edges.

Fold shredded zucchini into egg and oil then sifted flour mixture. Don't overmix, fold in flour until just mixed. I also grate some chocolate on the box grater, like 1/3 cup of the good stuff and add with the flour.

Bake at 165C (325F) for about 1 hour. My oven takes a little longer. Approximately an hour and 10-15 minutes. A toothpick will come out cleanish, perhaps with slightly moist crumbs (not goo). Let cool for 5-10 minutes and ease out of pan onto rack to cool. Slice a few pieces and pick the one with the biggest chocolately bits..

Boil the jug.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Roadside Asparagus, honest.

Two spears of asparagus on a plate. Artist: P. J. Hutchinson

Spring is nigh.. and it's accomplice, asparagus, is never far behind. I look forward to the arrival of this vitamin laden vegetable every year.  Part of it is the varied reppetiore that asparagus is able to play.. lemon and asparagus pasta, chicken breasts (or rabbit) stuffed with tender, fresh asparagus stalks and gruyére, an asparagus tart with goat's cheese or smoked trout or salmon.. or simply grilled topped with any variation of lemony dijon dressing, a poached egg (or boiled egg, crumbled),  and with shavings of parmigiano reggiano.

The other part of my asparagus obsession lies with the complimentary wines. While asparagus dishes lend themselves so well to the spring-iest of grapes, Sauvignon Blanc, they are also a good cause for breaking out a special bottle of local sparkling or seeking out one of the handful of delicious NZ Sémillon (and Sémillon blends).

Lastly, I enjoy gathering the asparagus.  Not out in a field as you may think but rather during many a leisurely cycle through the undulating back roads of Hawera, Normanby, Okaiawa and Tawhiti. There is always a roadside stall to stop at and, as there is no better time, I always do. There is no one around, just piles of fresh picked asparagus and a small box with a few coins.

The honesty box is still fairly common in NZ agricultural regions even in 'this day and age'. It is the system by which I also buy berries in summer and mushrooms in autumn. The prices are nothing short of a bargain and even though I always leave proper change, it still feels a little bit like theft.

So, because I never get to say it, thank you to the growers of Taranaki Asparagus!


The photo above, illustrating the painting entitled "Two spears of asparagus on a plate", appears courtesy of Paul Hutchinson of Taranaki. His unique and beautiful work is available for viewing and sale on his blog, Postcard from Puniho. Thank you Paul.