Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Spring has Sprung

I'm a huge advocate of grow-your-own organic, pesticide-free vegies. I know it's challenging especially when you live in the city in a high-rise apartment with just a small balcony or window-ledge. But herbs and vegetables need remarkably little room and as long as you have a few hours of sun each day you can tailor your crop to suit your space restrictions. Nothing tastes as good as fresh hand-picked rocket or tomatoes and you'll be saving yourself money at the same time!
With Spring just around the corner I've cleared out the remnants of my winter vegetable crops and put in some sunny greens and herbs. Emptying out old pots and refilling them with fresh potting mix, blood and bone and chicken manure (if you're lucky enough to have some handy) is back-breaking work. Skip your gym workout one day, dedicate your morning to planting instead and watch your little babies bloom into delicious produce..hhhmmmmmmm...

First plantings: Tom Thumb tomatoes, sweet basil, peas, and rocket. To give my seedlings an extra boost I've used a nursery quality potting mix, blood and bone fertilizer and chicken manure.

I should have my first tomato crop in about eight weeks' time. I can just picture it now....toasted sourdough rubbed with a cut garlic clove, thick sweet slices of tomato, a few aniseed-flavoured basil leaves, cracked black pepper and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Recipe: Apple and Fig Jam Crostata

Remember my search for the perfect dessert?

Well here's tart No.2 from a recipe from chef Alex Herbert in this month's 'delicious' magazine - an apple crostata (I didn't have any quince paste handy so I used a luscious Lynwood Cafe fig jam instead. The crostata was surpringly light and tangy with a melt-in-your-mouth sugar pastry crust. It gets 8 1/2 out of 10. Perfect with a dollop of cream and an afternoon cuppa.
3/4 cup fig jam
2 granny smith apples, peeled,cored, and thinly sliced
Icing suagr to dust
Thick cream to serve
200g chilled unsalted butter, chopped
2 cups (300g) plain flour, plus extra to dust
1/2 cup (110g) caster sugar
grated zest of one lemon
1 tspn vanilla extract
2 free-range eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
For the pastry, combine chilled butter, flour, sugar and a pinch of salt in a food processor and whiz until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add lemon zest, vanilla, 1 egg and extra yolk, and pulse until dough comes together to form a ball. Tip out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently but very quickly until smooth. Enclose in plastic wrap and chill in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 170 c and grease a loose-bottomed tart pan.
Separate two-thirds from the dough portion, then return remaining third to the freezer. (It's important to work with the pastry while very cold.) Roll out dough on a large sheet of baking paper to 5mm think and use to line the pan. Prick base all over with a fork than freeze for 30 minutes.
Line tart case with baking paper, then fill with pastry weights or uncooked rice. Blind-bake for ten minutes. Remove paper and weights and bake for a further 8-10 minutes until light golden. Cool slightly.
Meanwhile on a lightly floured sheet of baking paper, roll out remaining pastry to a 25cm x 18 cm rectangle. Cut into 1.5cm- wide strips. Carefully transfer the baking paper and pastry to a tray and freeze until needed.
Spread most of jam over cooked pastry base reserving some for glaze. Lay apple in a circular pattern, starting at the edges and working towards the centre. Arrage pastry strips in a lattice pattern over apple then trim to fit.
Beat remaining egg, then brush a little over the pastry. Place pan on tray. Bake for 20-25 minutes until light golden.
Glaze the crostata with the remaining fig jam and dust with icing sugar, then serve warm with thick cream.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pasta - Make your own

I love pasta particularly the freshly-made, hand-fashioned variety. When I feel the urge I head to one of my favourite restaurants in Sydney, 'a tavola' on Victoria St in Darlinghurst which does it as well as mama does. When you enter the restaurant's long, narrow front room in the early evening you're greeted with wooden racks of fresh egg-yellow, fringed curtains of fettuccine and spaghetti drying in the breeze. It's rustic and authentic and you just know that slow-cooked duck ragu is going to taste so much better.
Every Italian household has a pasta machine the way every Australian home has a toaster - they couldn't imagine a kitchen without it.
So after much consideration, I decided to purchase my own pasta machine and make my first home batch of angel-hair spaghetti. I bought an Italian 'Atlas' brand machine with four cutting settings for $129.99 from Wheel and Barrow and got to work last night. The machine was very easy to use and as long as I remembered to keep the dough well-floured I didn't have any real disasters with dough sticking or getting caught in the machine. I dried it overnight and will cook it tonight with a sauce and give you my verdict. Here's the very simple recipe I used.
Pasta dough recipe
300g 'OO' Plain flour
3 medium eggs
Sift the flour onto your workbench. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs and a pinch of salt. Work the mixture until it comes together, scraping the bench to pick up any sticky bits.Wash your hands. Now knead the dough for 10-15 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. Let it rest for 30 minutes covered in cling wrap. Cut into 5 to six pieces and start putting through your pasta machine starting at the widest setting and moving through to the smallest until you have a translucent sheet to put through your preferred cutter. Flour well as you go. Hang pasta on a suspended wooden spoon or broom handle to dry slightly before boiling in salted water for five or six minutes.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Winter Tomato Harvest

Well here it is folks! Our winter harvest of sweet delicious Tiny Tim tomatoes from our high-rise balcony. Not many I know but three good handfuls is not to be sniffed at! Even though we've had a cooler winter than we usually have in Sydney, there have been some unseasonally warm days that gave these luscious red rubies the extra sun they needed to ripen. I was very happy with this variety even though they were not supposed to attract fruit fly and they did.
And now how to eat them?....I think we may toss them through a fresh salad or make some tomato tarte tatins.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Food Porn

Like many foodies the first thought I have when I wake up in the morning is 'What am I going to eat today?' Sadly work and time constraints often prohibit my wildest cravings such as fresh white truffles from Alba, Italy, shaved over fettuccine or 8 hour slow-cooked lamb shoulder or briny Coffin Bay oysters freshly shucked with buttered bread fingers. Even though I can't have I can still dream and that's where my favourite food mags come in. While food blogs are a great standby, nothing compares to having a glossy close-up picture of a roasted leg of baby suckling pig surrounded by cooked apples, crispy spuds and sage leaves in bed with you to run your fingers over. Hmmmmm......

My favourite food mags are -

1. Australian Gourmet Traveller
2.Vogue Entertaining and Living
3.The Sydney Morning Herald's 'Good Living' supplement
4. delicious.
5.The Sydney Morning Herald's 'Weekend Magazine' Food Column

For those who know me, desserts and sweets aren't really my thing. An occasional Kit-Kat is all I need to satisfy my sweet tooth. Hence my dessert repertoire is woeful. Why cook what you're not going to look forward to eating, I say! But my coterie of friends and family are like the majority of people who would crawl over broken glass for that last bite of chocolate cake or spoonful of creamy creme brulee! So, I am on an adventure to see if I can find a dessert to cook that makes me go all weak at the knees. Here goes..........!

ALMOND TART WITH FRANGIPANE AND VIN SANTO PRUNES - from a recipe from Ginette Falvo of Gertrude Street Enoteca in Melbourne.

(you'll need to put aside at least 3 hours to prepare this delicious tart)

Almond pastry
100g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
100g caster sugar
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
200g plain flour
70g natural almond meal (or grind almonds yourself)
Pinch of salt

In a mixer, beat the butter and sugar until pale and free of lumps. Add egg and yolk and mix in. Combine flour, almond meal and salt then add to the bowl, combining until just incorporated and the mixture comes together to form a dough.
Transfer dough to a floured work bench and gently knead to form a smooth ball. Do not overwork the pastry. Press down to form a disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 mins.
Grease a 24cm loose-bottomed tart tin. Roll out pastry to about 5mm thick and line tart tin. Prick the pastry with a form and refrigerate until required.

150g unsalted butter(at room temperature)
150g caster sugar
150g blanched almond meal
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 small egg
40g plain flour
In a mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix through almond meal and vanilla. Add egg and flour and mix well until combined. Refrigerate until required.

Vin santo prunes
150g caster sugar
150ml water
25ml vin santo
250g pitted prunes
1/2 cup slivered almonds
icing sugar, for dusting
Dissolve sugar in water in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Bring to the boil without stirring. Remove from heat, add vin santo(or brandy or marsala) and stir through. Add pitted prunes and soak them in this syrup for about 20 minutes. Drain, reserving syrup.
To assemble, spread frangipane evenly over tart shell and place prunes on top, pressing lightly into frangipane mixture. Sprinkle with slivered almonds and bake at 160 degrees from 35-55 minutes, until golden brown and set. Allow to cool in tin, dust with icing sugar and serve drizzled with vin snato syrup and whipped cream.

VERDICT: A sublime tart with wonderful texture and flavour - particularly the prunes. A winner at anyone's dinner party. Does it come close to white Alba truffles? Almost. 7/10