Crisp polenta & chunky pesto - easily helped by the Thermomix
Someone has asked about the Thermomix, (wondering why, I presume, I didn’t call on its services when I was “without stove” for five days?)
A few years ago, after an extremely busy time at the restaurant leading up to the end of the year, I felt I needed a personal present and bought a Thermomix. I love it, but wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. Here are my pros and cons.
In case you don’t know, the Thermomix is a combination food-processor – blender with built-in cooking ability. In restaurants you would need a bank of them. (The erstwhile El Bulli had six, I believe.) They are definitely for home use.
There have been claims against Thermomix for accidents while using. This I put down to the fact that it’s very powerful and needs to be sold only to sensible, intelligent people who will treat its power with respect.
It’s large and takes up lots of bench space. It’s quite noisy in operation.
You can have faith in its German engineering.
I’ve heard raves and sighs at how good it is for baby food. It makes marvelous baby food but then again, babies grow up. All the food prepared in it is “sloppy” food.
Frankly I could love it for the polenta and hollandaise alone but is the price tag worth it to you? Perhaps I haven't explored the suggestions of the on-line "community" enough.
I’m told about someone who knows someone whose niece knows someone else who uses it all the time. Not sure what that means but it does tell me that, all the time, they’re eating sloppy food.
If you’ve got the bench space, can blow a couple of thousand or are simply bored, you might look forward to the polenta. I’d recommend an ice-cream making machine or an upgrade on your Breville Whiz if you don’t have “the really good food processor”.
Thermomix Polenta (4 -6 depending on how you use it)
This works very quickly so have all ingredients ready to hand.
Pour immediately into a bowl and serve or better still, pour into a dish approx. 150cm x 270cm. Cool, cut into squares or slices, brown in butter and serve.
*Polenta can be "enriched" by using part water part stock or part water part milk.
**There is no salt because the Parmesan is salty. For next time, season with a little salt if you think it's needed. Nutmeg is also nice.
Throw into the Thermomix bowl...
Scrape into a bowl. Wonderful fresh but will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.
Comments - see below to add...
Started off on the right foot with my 2018 resolutions - the important one being to regularly keep up with friends. We had dinner here the other night on a ludicrously hot day – 40˚C. Furthermore, I wasn’t sure whether the new stove might land unannounced or whether the old one would behave. So we did it all cold. Here’s the menu.
Iced pea and mint soup (So, so pure)
Eggs mayonnaise – our eggs, boiled, yolks just firm, masked in real mayonnaise. Not the sweet stuff in a jar, I made it. Each half had an anchovy fillet and tiny capers.
Whoops – forgot to make a main course
Cheese, grapes and a fougasse* – (Cheese - see previous post.)
Pavolva with strawberries, passionfruit and cream – large and lavish. I macerated the strawberries for the day with some castor sugar and kirsch. Whipped the cream.
Licorish & red berry tea and some too, too delicious sweeties from Iran (praline and cardamom) brought by Angela and Hossein Valamanesh and chocolate fudge brought by Mirna & Ian.
Now, this menu was cold, was prepared well beforehand, was easy to serve, immensely satisfying and totally non threatening, even if I say so myself. (I bought the Pavlova base, for heaven’s sake, leaving the guests to boast about how they all made theirs from scratch.)
Try this soup, if you like chilled soup. You won't believe it. It’s beyond zen.
Iced pea and mint soup - easy for 6, and a little over, in case.
1 kilo frozen baby peas**.
Mint leaves 1-2 per person
Seasoning & 2 tbsp of EVO (optional)
Place peas, just covered in water, in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil, lower heat a little and simmer, uncovered for about 2 minutes.
In the meantime, have ready a deep bowl in which you place your colander. This is VERY important because you have to save the cooking liquid. (It's so easy to tip it down the sink.) Have also another bowl with a tray of ice cubes.
Drain the peas into the colander, reserving all the cooking liquid. Dump the peas onto the ice cubes and toss about to quickly chill them, keeping them bright green.
Set aside 6 generous tablespoons of peas, covered in a small bowl.
Measure out 800mls of pea cooking liquid.
When cool enough to handle, "blitz" the peas, adding the liquid bit by bit, until you have a creamy consistency. This must be done thoroughly to obtain a totally smooth purée, (otherwise, you might have to sieve it, which would be a shame).
Season the soup with salt. You will need to balance the sweetness of the peas.
Chill. Making it the day before (if you're going to be busy) will not "tarnish" the colour.
To serve - check the consistency of the soup. It should be creamy not what I call hippy-soup. (See next post.)
Sliver the mint leaves not too long before serving so they don't blacken. Give each guest a bowl with the reserved peas and some mint in the centre.
Serve the soup (over which you have poured a thin stream of EV olive oil) in a tureen, at the table.
I had this first in Paris served in a martini glass with a small spoon. Set aside a larger quantity of peas and hold back the pea liquid to obtain a heavier purée.
I matched the plates to the peas - Bing & Grondhal, Erantis. These from around 1955 but the design carried through from 30s to the mid 70s.
*Fougasse - a flat, slashed bread, chewy and studded with black olives, made here in Adelaide by Muratti Patisserie.
**Frozen peas - of course we all want food home-grown, organic and fresh but like sweetcorn, when you pick peas, you need to have the pot bubbling on the stove beforehand. When peas are picked, the sugar starts converting to starch, practically immediately. I've bought organic peas, shelled them with my own bare hands and they were like bullets. Frozen peas are fantastic, as are broad beans.
I like starting a dinner with soup. And of soup, there are various.
There’s cream soup – a combination puréed so smoothly that it’s cream-like. It may even contain cream. Needless to say, mine generally does. It has a silky mouth-feel (You might need to help it with a little thickening such as an egg yolk or roux).
There’s consommé (ah, if only) – the most elegant are clear, perhaps with something delicate floating. It might be a simple chicken broth with a few floats of white meat. It could be a miso soup with silken tofu cubes or a Thai soup, clear, sweet and hot, dotted with herbs and straw mushrooms.
There’s chunky soup – with nourishing bits in it like minestrone or a Swedish bean & pork hock soup, which could be a meal.
Then there’s the dreaded thick soup or what I’ll politely call hippy soup, more like a thick gruel, so thick that a spoon could stand in it. This soup needs thinning. It is just not nice in the mouth. If you want the soup to be a meal, do chunky.
If following a recipe slavishly, you may have to add more liquid like "tap stock" (i.e. water) or stock or cream.
The travel writer Paul Theroux scathingly describes his mother’s cooking (in Mother Land) – “soup so thick a mouse could have trotted across it”. This is an image good enough to remind you to check your soup's consistency.
In case you didn't know, ciabatta is Italian for slipper, the type of slipper that keeps your feet warm and in which you shuffle, rather than the kitten-heeled, marabou-tuffted sort. The crust is crusty, the loaf is flattish with a small drop in the centre, the interior is soft but slightly chewy with large holes (for trapping thick butter). If you were to have any left over long enough to go stale, it’s perfect for tearing up into a panzanella – half salad, half soup of super ripe tomatoes. It is of course a combination to highlight perfect tomatoes.
In our inner suburban garden, Roger has planted 46 tomato plants, about 6 different varieties in all. Some are from obscure, smuggled seeds and shaped like a large chilli. (If I told you from where, I'd have to kill you.)
The ultimate "poster boy" for the destruction of flavour in commercialised food is surely the tomato. The skin is tough, the flesh is acidic, the colour insipid. (I'm sure you're not fooled by what are called "vine-ripened" tomato.) I'm seeing at my local, very good greengrocer, tomatoes of different colours, striped tomatoes and some very gnarly, funny shapes. Some are called heirloom. Unfortunately, even they all taste pretty much the same. So what can you do if you can't grow your own?
Doctoring a poor tomato... Let's analyse the symptoms.
Tough skin - Removing the skin is easy and really helps. Put a small slash in the skin and drop into water that is just below boiling. Count to three and remove with a slotted spoon and drop into cold water. Skin will come off easily. Really worth doing.
Acidic - Picked when unripe (although it may look red & ripe). It hasn't developed its natural sugar. When slicing or chopping for a salad, sprinkle with sugar, perhaps 1/2 tsp for every tomato (or more).
Flavourless - as above, lightly salt. Salt highlights flavour and used well, is not the ogre it once was. It also helps soften them.
Result - a better tomato. You can call them "confit" tomatoes.
So simple so perfect but here are some quantities. It's very much a guesstimate sort of recipe and I recommend you keep notes until you can just "sense" it.
50gm bread, preferably stale ciabatta. You'll soon work out the size of a slice. (Don't go health-foody and use wholemeal IMO, although no-one will really complain.)
150 gm ripe tomato (medium size), peeled if shop bought.
1/4 medium red onion, finely sliced (or substitute similar amount of spring onion)
6 leaves of basil, torn, not cut. (Use more or less, depending on your source.)
1 tsp red wine vinegar & 2tbsp EV Olive oil
Seasoning to taste.
Cut the bread into small cubes (1.5 cm square, or bigger, or smaller) and lightly dampen with water.
Cut the tomatoes (doctored or not) in similar cubes. Keep all juice and seeds.
Mix these with the onion.
Allow it all to sit and mingle for an hour, so that the tomato juices are soaked into the bread and it's nicely soft.
Add the basil, check and adjust the seasoning. Allow to sit for a further 1/2 hour (or more) before serving in a beautiful deep bowl.
Needless to say this recipe is very forgiving and flexible. Don't tell the purists but there are suggestions out there of adding a few rinsed capers, chopped anchovies, garlic, leaves of flat parsley, black olives, even, heaven forbid, some cubes of cucumber. (I wouldn't.)
The best I've ever tasted, made of course with perfect tomatoes and good bread, came from Gay Bilson, legendary "chef emeritus" and restaurateur of Barowra Waters Inn and Bennelong, someone with impeccable taste buds, where the tiniest cubes of a little celery were added to give crunch. I've stuck to that ever since.
Hoping for a beautiful photo in a week's time - not quite enough ripe tomatoes on the vines.
*The bread was made by Barbara Santich simply because it's fun and she can.
What is it about bread? It's so alluring, appetising, aromatic. And it's so photogenic.
This is not a recipe blog simply because there are far too recipes out there -thousands of new cook-books every year and an uncountable number on the net. If I want fresh inspiration (or want to keep up with emerging trends) I will trawl through newly published books. If it's a classic or regional dish, perhaps something I've read about in a novel or seen on a program such as Italy Unpacked or Rick Stein - Mediterranean, I go to the net.
On the net of course you’ll find everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. Lately, for example, I've enjoyed “researching” the following…
Sunshine Salad - Retro Sunshine Salad –read in a novel set in the American mid-west. As my life is lived in a totally retro midcentury modern house, I enjoyed the retro recipe. Note, I enjoyed reading about it, rather than making it. Perhaps one day.
Sugee Cake – Sugee Cake – The recipe wherein, to begin, semolina is soaked over-night in melted butter. (I simplified it by using almond meal rather than chopping my own.) This was from an “airplane” novel (you know the sort, thick, hot pink cover, raised gold lettering) – Crazy, Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Not only is it fabulous - the book and the cake - (OK, it’s not Pride & Prejudice) but it introduced me to some great food, three forms of architecture and two ceramic traditions I knew nothing about.
Timpano (or Timballo) as seen in the film Big Night and described beautifully in the novel The Leopard by Lampedussa. (A recipe I’ll give attention to in the new year.)
“The burnished gold of the crusts, the fragrance of sugar and cinnamon they exuded, were but preludes to the delights released from the interior when the knife broke the crust; first came a smoke laden with aromas, then chicken-livers, hard-boiled eggs, sliced ham, chicken, and truffles in masses of piping-hot, glistening macaroni, to which the meat-juice gave an exquisite hue of suède.”
But I digress. Now to the bread.
Fancy making a loaf without getting your hands sticky, without kneading, just a bit of hanging around? This method, with a 24 hour rising time, was "invented" by Jim Lahey, a NY baker . It was a huge hit and was taken over by scores of bloggers, subtly hinting they may have been the instigator. "Jenny" is such a one and is actually worth watching - no-knead-bread - as she's a bit of a hoot, but below is my adaption, even easier (after you've got the idea from Jenny or Jim).
Important - you need a heavy cast iron casserole (or Dutch oven) such as Le Creuset or Staub.
400gm plain flour (any sort - play around)
generous 1/4 tsp dry yeast
1 tsp salt
1 2/3 mls (1 2/3 cups) hot water (not boiling)
Have ready two similar sized bowls, a tiny bowl and some parchment-type baking paper.
There are more and more great, small artisan bakeries around so why bake some bread? No other reason than you can and it's fun!
We could make cheese next time. Why? Because we can and it's fun.
The occasion was really to celebrate the 19th century fish service; 12 plates, a long platter and a sauce boat. This has been sitting in a glass-fronted cabinet in a room of Barbie’s rambling house, set in possibly Hobart’s best garden.
We were there for a four-day break. I cooked a simple dinner, trying to put as little pressure as possible on the kitchen. Fortunately, Tasmania has a thriving food scene. We started with half capsicums stuffed with cherry tomatoes of many colours, thyme sprigs and feta, roasted with local olive oil.
Next was the pièce de résistence, a whole Blue-Eye Trevalla pre-ordered from the local fishery. This went with creamy pink-eye potatoes and sauce vierge. Apart from the fish plates themselves, the hit of the night was the sauce. (See below.)
We finished with an extravagant Pavlova and huge, perfumed strawberries. The evening was meant to be easy so I bought the Pavlova base. (There I’ve said it!) With tons of cream on top, deep red, sliced strawberries and passion-fruit pulp, no one could believe that I’d bought the base. I should have kept quiet.
There are many versions on the net (Jamie Oliver, Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Michael Guérard, even the Irish Times) but this is what I did, because the herb garden held an embarrassment of riches. The sauce will turn fish, scallops, chicken, beef fillet, cauliflower, haloumi, anything into a masterpiece.
For eight people
(Quantities of ingredients are very “flexible”. Chop, then measure.)
150 ml EV olive oil
3- 4 ripe tomatoes, in tiny dice (Keep juice & seeds)
1/3 cup finely chopped shallots or red onion
2 tbsp rinsed small capers
½ cup chopped herbs
(I used tarragon, marjoram, chives. I could have also used basil or parsley – all together or singly.)
Mix all together and check if you’d like seasoning – salt or even a splash of sweet vinegar (I won’t call it balsamic) or brown sugar (depending on the tomatoes). It will sit patiently until you need it.
The fish service is unmarked but probably French, 19thC. It is wonderfully vulgar with an acid green edge, pink orchid-like flowers and realist underwater scenes of different fish, seaweed and anemones. The sauceboat is very OTT. Very petit bourgeois. We all adored it and I’m sure the service was happy to have come out of seclusion for the evening.
The Calm Before The Fish
My mother died two years ago. She was 96. The mind went a bit fuzzy but until very near the end, the body was strong. My brother reminisced that when she set out to cook dinner, the first thing she did was peel an onion and a few cloves of garlic.(Who ever does just one clove of garlic?) It's hard to imagine any of the dishes we ate without garlic and onion.
She was a particular whizz with vegetables. We liked potatoes of course but they were not automatically part of every meal. There were other ways to have a starch or something to soak up the sauces.
For a long time Australia killed vegetables by boiling (and more boiling). When the backlash came in the '80s, keen cooks served hot raw vegetables with crunch (which some people pretended to like). No, that's for salad.
Look to Turkey for great vegetable dishes. Rick Stein noted on his food tour of the Mediterranean that he hadn't set out to do a set of vegetarian T.V. programmes but that was what had been most delicious.
So as a family, we got used to lots of delicious vegetables. My mother's peas are a standout and I'll share with you that there's no 5 minute boiling here. They simmer for 3/4 hour with spring onions, lettuce and optional bacon pieces. Heavenly.
Tomatoes stuffed with parsley, garlic & breadcrumbs
(and I think they are classically called Tomates Provençale).
4 ripe tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped parsley
3-6 garlic cloves depending on taste and size
1/3 cup coarse breadcrumbs (home-made or Panko)
The plate is a small oval platter, part of a 48 piece service for 12, - Sarguemines Royat, Faïence c.1910
What did we have for dinner?
When friends come, we hope for left-overs the following night. (This time we had pie, tomatoes and salad.)
Last dinner, we served...
Pappadams as pre-prandial nibbles with Cloudy Bay Pelorus sparkling (fried off 30 minutes beforehand and arranged in a teak bowl - the pappadams, that is, not the sparkling.)
Eggs mayonnaise (from our girls out the back), my mayonnaise, topped with anchovy and capers.
Pork & veal pie (but one guest suggested it be called Hot Pâté en Croûte), red wine gravy, tomatoes baked with parsley, garlic & breadcrumbs, ragout of assorted mushrooms in sour ceam.
Cheese - Irish blue cheese (Cashel), a washed rind & a goats’ cheese (or to be posh, Chèvre) the latter two made by me, large golden sultanas and a salad of baby cos and “frizzé” dressed with vinaigrette.
Coffee and tisane of lemon verbena (from our garden bush) and various bonbons & sweeties brought by Rosa.
Standout wines (amongst others) Pierre Brévin Puilly Fumé 2014, Bleasdale “Generations” Malbec 2014 (Langhorn Creek), a Spring Vale Pinot Noir 2014 (Freycinet Coast Tasmania).
Pie Recipe (there are no secrets) - for 8 guests
1 ½ kilos Italian-style pork and veal hamburgers
1 packet Carême sour cream pastry
quatre épices (optional)
Mix together the hamburger mix with one egg and ½ tsp quatre épices. (Blend some up yourself.)
Make the pie with the just de-frosted pastry, brushed with a beaten egg. Hold in the refrigerator until needed.
Bake until golden. (Put into the oven when the last guest arrives). I loathe anaemic pastry.
Sour Cream Pastry – We first made it in 1986 at Petaluma Restaurant, recipe brought to the kitchen by Libby Tinsely who thinks her mother got it years ago from the Women’s Weekly. (Back then, fabulous recipes, all tested twice in the “Test Kitchen”.) It’s now become well-known enough to be part of this frozen pastry range. It’s a great, no compromise product. If I’m tired I use it. It has a strange quality, probably from the sour cream (and butter). It doesn’t need resting and it flakes deliciously.
My pie filling came from Marino Meat & Food Store, a high quality butcher in the Adelaide Market. If I’m tired I use this.
Any good Italian-style butcher will be able to offer you sausages (squeeze out the filling) or meatballs or hamburger. Doctor them at will with more herbs, orange zest or spice. Play.
Notes on the tomato recipe to follow with “Parsley”.
Asparagus Minmosa (with egg & coated breadcrumbs)
For every four people…
2 to 3 bunches of cooked asparagus (warm or room temperature)
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
¼ cup coarse breadcrumbs
2 tbsp chopped parsley
For the bread-crumbs, I use the Japanese-style panko crumbs. Easy.
In a small frypan, with a little olive oil, lightly brown the breadcrumbs.
Just before serving, lightly dress at the asparagus with vinaigrette.
Mix together eggs, breadcrumbs and parsley. (Keep the crumbs crisp.)
Arrange on top of the asparagus.
Serving platter - a "Barbotine" by Sarguemines c.1950
Couscous steamed in my battered old couscoussier.
Couscous is the national dish of the Magreb, the area of North Africa comprising Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. It’s a long simmered stew of assorted vegetables, cut into large chunks along with meat (generally lamb or in Tunisia, often fish), spiced perhaps with cinnamon or saffron. The stew is served over a “grain” confusingly also called couscous and doused with the cooking broth. Statistics show it’s the third most popular dish in France, just as Chicken Tikka Masala is Britain’s most popular dish (and in Australia, it could be pasta).
This “grain” is made from semolina, the “hard” interior of durum wheat. Semolina is rolled with dampened hands to form tiny, tiny balls. Tell your conservative old uncle it’s really like mini pasta. Women used to gather together to make large batches, which they dried and stored for months until needed.
Today, you can buy “instant”, packet couscous, machine made, pre-steamed, dried, ready to go. Most likely it will become a salad base, like tabouli or a quick alternative to rice. And that’s where the trouble starts.
Couscous should be light and fluffy and smell like freshly baked bread. It is not damp, sticky, gluggy and washed out.
The packet can be a quick fix but the instructions are vague and you won’t know what the final result should look and taste like. (See post “Cooking outside my culture” 5 October 2017) If you’re serious, cook it properly once and then do it the fast food way but at least you’ll know what to aim for.
Cooking couscous (the “grain”)
Only a couscous nerd will do this every time but as I said before, just once will show you what real couscous is like.
As children, we hoped there would be enough grain for the following day to eat it reheated with nuts (pistachios), cinnamon, dates and sultanas.