Wednesday, September 30, 2009

There's ricotta in my sausage!

Woe is me, or rather, woe is my camera, which is forever finding new ways of driving me nuts - so there will be no photos this post, but there will be not one but two delicious recipes!***Revision - there are now photos! Woohoo

Football in Melbourne is like fashion in Milan, or patisseries in Paris, or super-whitened teeth in LA, everyone should know something about it, and the more the better. So when the AFL Grand Final rocked around last Saturday I thought I should throw some sort of celebration for those of us who may otherwise be shunned for asking questions like "What happens when the ball hits the goal post and then goes through?" (That question really was asked, but I will save the offender mortal internet embarrassment and not reveal their name.) Plus, throwing a little party allowed me to experiment with cooking a bunch of party food that I would never otherwise make.

For the St. Kilda v. Geelong clash, Melbourne served up some classic freezing and hailing then sunny and shiny football weather and I served up some classic football party fare, complete with sausage rolls! Oh yeah! After all, who can watch the footy, drink beer and not eat something meaty wrapped in puff pastry - well, as it turns out, us! The entire party was veg friendly "sausage rolls" included - there were many who never even guessed at the deceit. Mwahahahaha.

As it turns out, we all ended up glued to my tiny, fuzzy TV screen by the last quarter, yelling at the players, calling the umpires rude names. As BJ pointed out, even if you don't care about footy, it is strangely addictive. Kind of like my other party snack success; cheese thins. (Good little segue there huh!?)

So, with a nail biting finish, and the last of the snacks polished off, my guests headed home for the evening - except for when we re-grouped about an hour later at 400 gradi in East Brunswick to munch down some pizza (like we hadn't eaten enough already!) but that my friends, is for another post.

Sausage Rolls
Adapted from Where's the Beef


250g ricotta cheese (fresh not the one from the tub, it's too wet)
3 eggs
1 cup chopped pecans
1 medium onion finely diced
1 clove of garlic minced
3tbs soy sauce (don't leave this out, it's what makes it brown and look really authentic)
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Puff pastry (if you were a wonderful person with bucket loads of time, you could make your own, but as it happens, due to an incident earlier in the day when I dropped an entire 6 pack of little creatures in Dan Murphys and had to flee the scene in tears of embarrassment, I had neither the time nor the will power to start the pastry process, so I bought some, and it was damn fine!)

Thaw out 3 pieces puff pastry and preheat the oven to 180c

Mix all the ingredients (except the pastry) together in a large bowl till it's at an eerily similar consistency to mince meat.

Take one piece of pastry and chop it in half.

Using one half at a time, put the filling down the centre of the pastry longways, then fold the long-side of pastry closest to you over the filling once, and then again, so it makes roll... You need to fold it in thirds like this, rather than just in half to get the sealed "roll" that you want.

Seal with a little milk or beaten egg if it's not sticking closed.

Repeat with the rest of the mixture and pastry.

At this stage your could cut some slits in the pastry and bake as is, but because mine were for a party I cut them into party sausage roll sized pieces, brushed them with a beaten egg and baked for about 20 mins.

Serve to unsuspecting carnivores with lots of dead 'orse.

Cheese Thins
Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

These were given the ultimate compliment at my party of tasting "exactly like those Phillipa's parmesan sables!" What else can I say but woohoo! Except for maybe, if something made with butter and cheese as its two main ingredients isn't drop dead delicious, you're probably doing something very wrong!

170g grated hard aged cheese (I used a particularly crumbly vintage cheddar that I buy from the market but the original recipe uses comte and I think pecorino or parmesan could be equally if not more delicious)
55g softened butter cubed
100g plain flour
1/4tsp salt
1/4tsp smoked paprika or freshly ground pepper or 1tsp carraway seeds - basically be imaginative, whatever goes well with cheese (um, everything!?) throw in a tsp
dash of milk (or I used a tsp of natural yogurt)

Pop all the ingredients (except milk) in a bowl and rub the butter into the flour and cheese like you're making pastry. It will start to resemble fine breadcrumbs. At this point, if your mixture comes together nicely as a dough, that's it, you're done. But if it doesn't quite come together, add a tiny bit of milk or yogurt just to bring it together into a ball of dough.

Form the dough into a nice log - it can be as fat or thin as you'd like, depending on how big you'd like your biscuits to be - mine where about the size of a 50cent coin.

Wrap the log in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 180c

Pull the log out of the fridge, and slice it into very thin rounds. They won't all be even sized, but that's fine because as I discovered some people like the slightly thinner crunchier ones and others like the fatter softer biscuits. Personally I'm more inclined to the thinner, well baked variety.

Pop some waxed paper on a couple of baking trays and distribute the rounds - leave a bit of space because they will spread a tad.

Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve with beer and a major sporting event.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The pie period

I'm going through a bit of a phase at the moment - I believe everything should come wrapped in pastry. I know, I know, phase or no phase, things are always better in pastry - but this has become serious. In years to come I will look back on those last weeks of winter 2009 and wonder why everything came in pie, tart or parcel form! It will become known as my pie period.

Anyway, all this pie can weigh on a woman's mind (and other more external body parts) so when I found a pie that was made with pizza dough, rather than buttery pastry and stuffed chock full of broccoli in my favourite new cookbook - it was straight to the kitchen with me.

The pie I speak of is called Schiaciatta and it features in Rosa Mitchell's aforementioned book "My Cousin Rosa." The quantities that she calls for in her recipe would be fit to feed an army, or, probably, an extended family - but being just two people to eat, I cut the recipe WAY down, and still had enough for delicious lunch left-overs (it is really good cold with some cheese and a little salad on the side.)

Here's to healthy pie!

Broccoli pie
Adapted from Rosa Mitchell's My Cousin Rosa

5g instant dry yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
230g plain flour or Italian pizza flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbs olive oil
1/2 cup water

1 head broccoli - washed and chopped into small chunks (including stem)
2 green garlic (or spring onions or even 1/4 normal onion) finely sliced
30g grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil + 1 tbs extra
2 anchovy fillets (chopped finely) - totally optional
Pinch of chilli flakes - to taste/optional

Mix 1/4 cup water and sugar together and sprinkle the yeast on top. Leave it in a warm place for 15 minutes until it starts to froth and bubble a bit.

Mix flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Into the well pour the remaining 1/4 cup water, oil, and yeast mixture. Mix well and add a bit extra water/flour if the mixture is to dry/wet.

Knead well, roll into a ball and cover. Leave for 1.5 hours.

Preheat the oven to 190c.

In a large bowl mix together all the ingredients.

Halve the pizza dough and roll out each piece into a rounded rectangle kind of shape.

Generously oil a baking sheet and place one piece of dough on top.

Spread the filling over the dough, leaving about 3cms around the edge.

Place the second piece of dough over the top and seal the edges by pinching together.

Brush the top with the remaining oil.

Bake for about 1 hour until it's lovely and golden on top and a bit crusty.

Leave it to rest for 20-30mins before serving.

Eat and feel virtuous about pie!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Artichokes across the seas

I have a lovely friend who has gone to live overseas. In fact I have a number of lovely friends who are living very far away at the moment, but I’ve been missing one in particular a lot recently, and largely because I recently bought a new cook book. Hmmm, that doesn’t sound like it would make you miss a friend really does it, maybe I need to explain a little more.

The book I bought is My Cousin Rosa, by Rosa Mitchell. Rosa runs “Rosa’s Kitchen” or “Journal Canteen” or “that little place upstairs next to CAE”, and my lovely friend loves to lunch at Rosa’s – and I can’t blame her. Like the restaurant, Rosa’s book is full of homely, simple, rustic and delicious Sicilian recipes, and, like eating in the restaurant, the book makes you feel as if Rosa may really be your cousin, sharing family stories and memories about food and life growing up in an Italian family in Melbourne.

So with thoughts of friends far away, I bought some new season artichokes and set to work on a special Rosa recipe – Sicilian stuffed artichokes. Served at room temperature as part of a antipasto type meal on a warm Saturday evening with a glass of wine, these artichokes were delicious... perhaps almost good enough to bring a friend home to try a taste.

Carciofi ripeni - Stuffed artichokes
Adapted from My Cousin Rosa by Rosa Mitchell

2 globe artichokes (they should be firm with tight rather than wilting or separated leaves)
2 slices stale ciabatta or similar finely chopped or whizzed in the food processor into coarse crumbs
½ bunch flat leaf parsley finely chopped
1 clove garlic minced
¼ cup grated grana padano or similar
1 egg lightly beaten
1 lemon
Olive oil
1 can tomatoes
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180c

Trim off the top third of the artichokes and chop off the stem right at the base. Keep the top 2-3 cms of the stem and peel it - discard the rest. As soon as you’ve trimmed the artichokes and peeled the stem, throw them in a bowl of water with the juice of 1 lemon and the bit of reserved – they discolour very quickly and this will help to stop that.

In a small bowl mix together breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic and cheese.

Take one of the artichokes and roll it around on the kitchen bench with a bit of pressure from the heel of your hand to open up the leaves a little. This actually didn’t work particularly well for me, so I was just more forceful with the stuffing.

Take small handfuls of the breadcrumb mixture and stuff it in between the layers of leaves. You’ll have to really stuff hard. Try to get some in between each of the layers – or just distribute the stuffing throughout the artichoke as much as possible. Repeat with the other artichoke.

Heat some olive oil in a pan and dip the top of each artichoke into the egg. Quickly pop them egg-side down into the hot oil. This is to seal the stuffing in the artichoke and will only take a minute or two.

While they’re frying, empty a can of tomatoes into a small baking dish, along with a good grind of pepper and salt, and maybe a bay leaf if you’re feeling fancy.

Take the artichokes out of the pan and place them egg side up in the tomatoes. Throw the stems into the tomato, cover the whole lot tightly with silver foil and bake for about an hour, or until a skewer goes through the centre of an artichoke easily.

Eat with some crusty bread and a salad for lunch or along with some other antipasto delicious bits and pieces for a leisurely dinner.

Enjoy with good friends, near and far.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Springy soup

Blossoms are out, the weather is getting warmer, and I can smell Honey Suckle in the laneways of Elwood... Spring is in the air.

So before the warm weather starts in earnest (don’t get me wrong I’m very much looking forward to it), I would like to write a little bit about soup. There’s something deliciously special about soup – you sauté some onion or leek, throw in whatever you’ve got on hand, cover the whole lot with some stock and walk away. When you return you’ll have a flavoursome, comforting bowl full of dinner, and lunch the next day, and probably the next one as well.

The best soup I’ve ever eaten was the first time I ate Ribollita. I was in Tuscany with my family and we had gone for a drive, and gotten lost, quite spectuacularly lost, so we did what every self respecting person should do in times of despair... stop to eat. And eat we did, at a little roadside restaurant which served up hearty Ribollita and some of the finest hand-rolled Pici pasta this world has ever known.

Ever since that first mouthful of bread and olive enriched minestrone soup I’ve wanted to make my own Ribollita – but I’ve always felt a little silly because the whole point of Ribollita is to use left overs and stale bread and re-boil the whole lot. Also, one of the key ingredients in the soup is cavolo nero, which, until I started my bi-weekly shops at the Queen Vic Market, I had never seen in Melbourne.

The opportunity presented itself to make authentic Ribollita a little while ago when I made some boiled kale for dinner. I must be honest here and say that in my enthusiasm to shovel boiled kale and googy egg into my mouth I got a little lazy and left the left-over kale drowning in the still warm stock in the pot. Once I got around cleaning up the kale had become quite soft, and the stock was really green! The cogs in my brain started turning, and with a quick ingredient check, I knew what I’d be making for dinner the next night – real Ribollita with some left-over soupy kale and stale bread! Woohoo.

While I’m not going to claim it was anything like the soup I ate at that roadside Tuscan restaurant (could anything ever taste as good as it does when it’s eaten in the Tuscan sunshine?!) it was an excellent soup – and the perfect thing to eat when the Melbourne spring-time weather tricks you and turns cold again.


Olive Oil
1 brown onion finely diced
2 sticks celery finely diced
1 carrot finely diced
2 cloves garlic minced
¼ cup red wine
5 dried asian mushrooms reconstituted in about ½ cup boiling water and finely chopped
2 cans tomato
About 3 cups leftover cooked cavolo nero and stock
1 can mixed beans (optional)
1 piece parmesan rind (optional)
1 bay leaf
1 spring fresh rosemary (or a tsp of dried)

To serve

1 slice of day (or 2 or 3) old bread per person
Olive oil
Half a clove of garlic
Grated parmesan cheese

Heat a glug of olive oil in a big saucepan. Add the onion, celery and carrot and cook slowly until translucent but not browned (about 10 minutes.) Throw in the garlic and cook off for another couple of minutes. Turn up the heat a bit, pour in the wine and cook until it’s almost all evaporated. Throw in the mushrooms and reserve the soaking water. Pop all the other ingredients in the pot, bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and let it go like that for about half an hour. Give it a stir every now and then – especially to make sure the parmesan rind hasn’t gotten all melty and stuck to the bottom of the pan.

When the soup is ready, grill one piece of bread per person under the grill or pop them in the toaster. While they’re toasting, remove the bay leaf, rosemary and parmesan rind from the pot. When the bread is toasted and still warm, rub both sides of the bread with a cut clove of garlic. Place a slice of bread in a shallow bowl, give it a seriously generous drizzle of olive oil and then ladle some soup on top.

If you’re me and would like to drink olive oil straight from the bottle, drizzle a bit more on top of the soup and then sprinkle on some parmesan cheese. Enjoy on a wintry spring day.

The other option is to break up the bread into thumb-sized pieces and throw it into the soup too. This makes for a very hearty, thick soup and is probably a good idea if you have left over soup AGAIN and even more stale bread the next day – it’ll change things up a bit and you can pretend you’re eating a whole new dish!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Where does this taste like?

Some food you put in your mouth, chew and swallow. It tastes good and it rids you of hunger. Other food you put in your mouth, chew and are transported to the first time you experienced that flavour or the place where you most often eat that particular food.

For me, fairy bread tastes like parties, Nutra-Grain tastes like my grand-parents' house in the country, tuna melts taste like Sunday night and pumpkin ravioli tastes like Milan.

When I was 19 I set off to Europe for what was meant to be a nine month adventure roaming the continent. Instead, within the first couple of months I had found myself a tall, dark and handsome Italian man and took up his offer to go live with him in Milan. While I didn't get the traditional European backpacker experience I had my heart set on, I did get an exciting but lonely, homely but unique experience of Italy - a country which, long after the relationship in Milan ended, stays in my heart.

One of my favourite authentic experiences was Sunday lunch at a friend's parents place. Each week family, friends and ring-in girlfriends who spoke no Italian would gather in Giorgio's parents' apartment in the middle of Milan and eat all afternoon, and often well into the evening.

The first time I went, Giorgio's mum was in the kitchen making pumpkin tortellini when we arrived. We were quickly ushered into the kitchen to assist with the pasta folding - although I tried my hardest, when it came time to serve the pasta, everyone could tell which tortellino was made by the clueless Australian girl.

The pasta course at Sunday's lunches changed most weeks, and I think I only had the pumpkin tortellini there one more time, but it stays with me as the best pasta I've ever eaten.

So, this week, armed with half a pumpkin, a lot of memories, and a desire to be part of the blogging Pasta Presto phenomenon hosted by The Crispy Cook, I attempted my own pumpkin ravioli (I chose ravioli rather than tortellini because no matter how many times that Italian mama showed me how to fold the tortellini properly, mine always seem to come out messy, lopsided or inside out.)

The verdict: it was delicious... and tasted like Milan.

Pumpkin Ravioli

The key to this recipe is the simplicity - so many filled pastas have fillers like breadcrumbs or even just too much ricotta - you really want the sweet roasted pumpkin to be the star here.

Quarter pumpkin (I used Jap because that's what I had but any sweet pumpkin will do)
100 grams ricotta
2 ammaretti biscuits crushed (optional)

200 grams flour (preferably Tipo "00" flour or fine semolina flour but plain will work)
2 large free range eggs
1 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 180c. Chop the pumpkin into wedges, sprinkle them with a little olive oil and pop them into the oven to roast (about 40 mins)

Mix the salt and flour together in a bowl or on the benchtop. Make a well in the center and crack both eggs into it. Beat the eggs with a fork, slowly incorporating the flour. When it becomes too stiff to keep mixing with the fork keep mixing with your hand and knead the dough for a minute or two. If you find the dough is too dry, add a teaspoon of olive oil or water.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and leave to rest for half an hour.

When the pumpkin is cooked through, remove it from the oven let it cool enough so you can handle it. Scoop the flesh out of the skin and into a large bowl. Pop the ricotta and biscuits in and give it all a good mash. You could food processor it, but a) I don't have one b) it's quite nice with slightly bigger bits of pumpkin.

Unwrap the dough, divide it into 2 balls and start working it through a pasta machine. While you can do this step by hand, it'd be very difficult to get the pasta thin enough and a complete pain - considering I bought a pasta machine from the Salvos for $10, they're not exactly an expensive addition to the kitchen. I like to work the dough through the first and second fattest settings on the machine about 5 or 6 times until it's smooth and elastic. Then keeping going up settings until the pasta is so thin you could read this recipe through it.

At this stage, pop a large pot of water on to boil.

Repeat with the other ball of dough.

At this stage you should have two long, thin, rectangular pieces of pasta. Put teaspoons of pumpkin mixture in a straight line down the middle of the sheet of pasta at about 3cm intervals.

Fold one half of the pasta over the filling and press down on either side of the filling to stick the pasta together and get out any air holes. Then fold the other side of the pasta over and repeat and pressing. This double fold method means that there's no annoying forking of each raviolo and they're much less likely to spill their insides during cooking. If you have a ravioli cutter then you can use that, or just a sharp knife to separate the ravioli.

Pop them all in the boiling water and cook for 3 mins.

Serve immediately with sauce of choice - I served mine with brown butter and parmesan cheese, which is the way Giorgio's mum served it, but it would be equally delicious with a simple tomato sauce.

Serves 2.