Category Archives: Eating In

Meals i’ve made, possibly with recipes.

Gnocchi with the Papas

What is wrong me ? Seriously. I have been looking back at photos on my computer this evening and it’s criminal the amount of things I have taken photos of, loved, absorbed as part of my very being, and then promptly forgotten to write about.

One such occasion was a couple of years ago in a small kitchen at my dear friend Alex and Linda’s place in Inglewood. When Linda’s parents announced that they would be making gnocchi. What this meant in reality was a full scale production that would take over the majority of the house and end up preparing enough food to feed a small army.

The menu was simple. Gnocchi, and red sauce. Now I’m not sure Italians are necessary well known for understatement, but “red” was by no means the defining quality of that sauce. Of course the people preparing the mean were no ordinary hosts. Italo and Grazia have a love of food and hospitality engrained into their very fibre. At home in Adelaide Italo makes his own sausages, grows every kind of vegetable under the sun in his backyard, and has a cellar full of wine that he’s made himself.

I was fortunate enough to be adopted into the family that day, as we fed mounds of freshly boiled potatoes through the ricer and Italo methodically worked in just enough eggs and flour for the mixture to bind into a light smooth dough. Then the real work began. As Italo rolled out long thin logs of dough and swiftly flicked off bite sized pieces for Alex, Linda, and I to roll down the back of the gnocchi board.

All the while Grazia stirred a giant pot of “red” sauce that constantly evolved with each thing added to it. First went in chicken drumsticks, then a rolled fillet of pork (maybe beef), then a deceptively simple rolled egg omelet, then a couple of rolls of thick slices of pig skin with a layer of stuffing on top made from breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley and egg.

The sauce bubbled away for a couple of hours absorbing all the delicious flavours from the meat and then we gingerly slid the now multiple trays of pillowy gnocchi into another big pot of salty water. As they slowly started to float their way to the surface Grazia would scoop them out and into a large bowl ready to be mixed with spoonfuls of the sauce.

Italo fished out the meat from the sauce and sliced it all up and onto a platter. This would be the traditional style of eating, with the first plate being the gnocchi, and the second plate being the meat and a light salad.

I’m going to let the photos do the rest of the work because my meager superlatives can’t really do justice to just how wonderful this meal was.

To make this less of a gloat fest, I may as well include a recipe for the gnocchi themselves. Italo’s basic recipe for the gnocchi dough was 250 grams of flour to 1 kilo of potatoes, two eggs, and salt. Boil the potatoes and then feed them through a ricer, before very gently mixing the flour, eggs, and salt in. Try not to overwork the dough as the more you activate the gluten in the flour, the harder the gnocchi will become. When the dough is smooth and firm, roll it into small logs and cut into bite sized pieces.

The gnocchi board isn’t essential, you could just use the back of a fork if you wanted to. The idea is to give the gnocchi some texture that the sauce will grip onto, but I think most sauces do a pretty good job of gripping on their own.

Most importantly, invite some good friends to help you, don’t attempt it on your own or you’ll wonder what the hell you’re going to all this effort for. Food as good as this deserves great company.

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Pulpo a la Gallega

Octopus. The idea of it is so appealing when you see it on a menu… slow cooked, char grilled, tender and fleshy, new born into a sea of olive oil and garlic and Mediterranean fantasy. You could be sitting in a trattoria in Italy, a taverna in Greece, or a whatever they call a place where you get drunk and eat good food anywhere else. It’s a holiday dish, the kind of food you eat when you’re off somewhere else far from home pretending to be young and adventurous and carefree. “I’ll have the octopus and a carafe of the house white” You say with a confidence born from a sun tan you really don’t deserve.

Then long after the memory of the holiday and the tan have faded, you’re back home trying to explain to all your friends just how amazing this octopus dish you had was…So you pick up one up in the local fish monger, and the grim reality of this carnivorous marine mollusk sets in. Octopuses are not pretty creatures. They’re long, wet, slimy, unwieldy things that defy your attempts to nicely put them in a bag, and once you do, more closely resemble the contents of a larger animals stomach, than something you should consider eating.

Of course, we are in the fortunate position in 2012 of knowing that millions of people have gone before us to both cook and enjoy this wonderful creature, and the advent of modern fishing has made it’s capture and transportation to our homes much simpler than bygone eras where you had to wrestle with one yourself. Risking life, limb and ink-eye to get your evening meal.

So in true “What I did on my holidays” fashion, here is a dish that I came to love while traveling around the north of Colombia. It is of course of a classic Spanish dish from the North West region of Galicia, from which it’s name is derived Pulpo alla Gallega (Galician Octopus).

Now there are many areas of conjecture as to which approach to take to cooking the octopus, so I’m not going to go out on a limb and say that my way is the right way, but it worked well for me the few times I’ve made it, so let your conscience be your guide as to how you do yours.

Ingredients

  • 1 large fresh octopus (~1kg in weight)
  • ~1kg potatoes (waxy ones like Ruby Lou or Kipfler work well)
  • The best Spanish sweet paprika you can find
  • Good quality olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Fresh flat leaf parlsey
  • 1 bay leaf

How I made mine

Gingerly take your octopus by the top part, which hopefully has the head and beak removed, and is comprised of a ring where all the legs are attached. In a large bowl in the sink, wash the octopus well in cold water. Some people say you should freeze the octopus before you start, as that helps to tenderise it, but I haven’t felt the need to do that (it gets perfectly tender when it’s cooked for long enough).

Then in the biggest pot you can find (the Spanish say it needs to be a copper pot, but I think you can do just fine without), fill with water and a bay leaf and bring to the boil.

Once the water is boiling carefully dunk the octopus into the water and leave it there for 30 seconds. You’ll see the water stops boiling as the cold octopus lowers the temperature, so after 30 seconds, take it back out and let the water come to the boil again. This process of dunking into boiling water is supposed to set the gelatine in the legs and helps to preserve the texture you want.

Dunk the octopus back in and out of the water 3 more times and then leave it in there for around 40 minutes on a high simmer until you can pierce it with a knife and it’s soft inside with some resistance outside.

About 20 minutes into the cooking processes, peel the potatoes and drop them into the pot with the octopus whole. They’ll cook along with the octopus and absorb all that briny flavour. They’ll also turn a slightly alarming shade of red, which you shouldn’t be scared by.

Then when the potatoes and octopus are cooked, take them out and let them cool down on a board, before cutting the octopus into round slices along the leg, and slicing the potato into slightly larger rounds. The arrange the potatoes on a plate or board, season liberally with good sea salt and olive oil, and then add a layer of octopus to the top. Season again with more oil, a healthy sprinkling of paprika, and some finely chopped fresh parsley.

Serve it on it’s own, with some crusty bread, or as the first course in a Spanish feast. Make sure you have plenty of crisp white wine, invite a few people who understand what it’s all about, and enjoy the satisfaction that you can bring the best of the world to your door step if you really want to.

Pulpo all GallegaPulpo all GallegaPulpo all GallegaPulpo all GallegaPulpo all GallegaPulpo alla gallega

Faux Risotto of Squid

I headed out to the suburbs recently to watch a cooking demonstration inside a big fancy kitchen store.

Not being averse to buying multitudes of shiny expensive things at various times in my life, I find myself naturally at home in kitchen stores. Perusing the many isles and fondling crockery. Asking the difference between all the different pressure cookers, running my fingers across the knife blades to feel how sharp they are, and making a coffee on whichever mostly automatic machine they have setup on a bench, just to marvel at how bad it is.

The main reason I was there though, was that the cooking demonstration was being given by Hadleigh Troy, head chef of Restaurant Amuse, and not your average chef. So when I saw “squid risotto” on the menu, I knew it wasn’t going to be the kind of squid risotto your Nonna might have made.

Hadleigh takes an approach to his cooking that borders on the experimental. His use of sophisticated techniques and a focus on textural elements means his food is always unconventional, but always within the bounds of good taste. This “risotto” was no different.

The idea being that instead of cooking rice, you’re actually *making* rice out of squid. Boom. Mind explosion.

Ok, so it may not be the craziest thing you’ve ever heard (I did in fact see Mark Best from Marque Restaurant in Sydney make a similar dish on the Martha Stewart “Australia Week” show last year), but it was novel and delicious, and so I just had to try it myself.

Of course squid is not the same as rice. Arborio or Carnaroli rice commonly used for risotto is a starchy grain. over the period of time you cook it slowly in stock it releases the starch into the liquid which creates the beautiful creamy texture. We need to fake that with the squid version, and so the base “stock” we’re using is actually a cauliflower puree.

And so the recipe goes a little like this:

Recipe: Squid “Risotto”

Ingredients

  • 4 x squid tubes
  • 1 x onion (finely chopped)
  • 1 x clove garlic (finely chopped)
  • 1 x cauliflower
  • ~ 1/2 Litre of milk
  • 1 x small bunch dill
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Jamon Serrano (Cured Spanish ham – to garnish)

Instructions

  • Put the squid tubes into the freezer til they are partially frozen, this makes it much easier to cut them up
  • Cut the squid tubes open, lay them flat, and using a sharp knife, very finely slice each tube into tiny “grain sized” pieces.
  • Cut your cauliflower into pieces and put it into a pot with enough milk to cover it, and simmer it gently til soft (I actually used a Thermomix to heat mine, but the concept is the same).
  • Once the cauli is cooked til soft, drain most of the milk and blend it til it’s a very fine puree. Keep the milk and add it slowly til you get a smooth consistency that’s not too runny.
  • In a hot pan with some olive oil, quickly fry your garlic and onions til soft and golden, then add the squid “rice” and fry over a high sheet for about a minute, until it’s just changing colour.
  • Pour the cauli puree into the rice, and stir through, seasoning with salt and pepper, and a little butter.
  • Finish the dish on the plate with a healthy sprinkling of dill (or other fresh herbs) and a slice of jamon serrano.

Serves: 4

And there you have it. From the shoulders of giants… I served this dish up to some seafood loving friends and it got a great response. I’m not sure I’d go through the pain of cutting squid into rice grain sized pieces on a regular basis, but the textural “crunch” of the squid, and the richness of the cauliflower puree was a great combination that was definitely worth the effort.

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Tea Smoked Trout

Home Smoked Trout

This is one of those lazy posts that I’ve had sitting in my drafts folder for about 2 months now. I have lots of others too, in various forms of shabbiness that will hopefully one day see the light of day. This however sparked an interest in smoking (insert joke about which end of the fish do you light) in general that has opened up a whole new world.

Since realising how easy it is to do some casual smoking at home with nothing more than a gas burner, a wok, and a steamer of some description, I’ve turned my hand to many different things. Smoking onions, garlic, capsicum, and soon plan to get a slab of beef brisket in there and made some home made pastrami.

Fish though, are a great thing to smoke. It’s been done throughout the years to cook and preserve food in lots of different cultures, and adds a richness of flavour that works so well. Trout I think is one of the best fish to smoke, and these rainbow trout I picked up at Kailis in Leederville are great value too, at around $12 per kilo.

Incidentally, if you’re after smoking wood, I just happen to know a guy (aka Dad) who has a business selling saw dust and wood chips for smoking, and if you were after serious quantities you should get in touch

Without further ado: here’s the technique – possibly also called Hunan Style – Tea Smoked Trout.

Recipe: Tea Smoked Trout

What you Need:

  1. 2 x whole rainbow trout
    1 cup jasmin tea leaves
    1 cup white rice
    1 cup brown sugar
    Salt

How I Made Mine

  1. Dry the fish thoroughly with absorbent paper, and then rub salt all over each of them. Leave the skin on, and the fish intact, as this will provide a barrier for the smoke, and is easy to discard afterwards.

    Find a deep wok, and in the bottom put down a few layers of aluminium foil.

    In a bowl, mix together the tea leaves, rice, and brown sugar, and then place the mixture onto the foil in the centre of the wok.

    Place the wok over heat and wait for the tea to start to smoke.

    If you have steamer inserts for the wok, then put them in and lay the fish on top and cover the top.

    I had a bamboo steamer, so I lined the edge of it with more foil and positioned it on top of my pan, then put the fish inside and closed the lid.

    Smoke the fish for around 15 – 20 mins or until it’s starting to turn a golden brown colour.

    Take the fish out of the smoker and let it rest, then carefully remove the skin and flake the flesh away from the meat, being sure to get rid of the small bones at the edge.

    Smoosh the smoked trout onto bread with some good butter and enjoy.

Oh, and if you’re a vegan, don’t leave comments about how much more beautiful this fish would be if it were swimming free. Do I come to your blog and leave snide comments about tofu and wheatgrass and how plants have feelings ? No, no I do not.

$20 from any asian supermarket = portable cooking bargain.The home smoking setupTwo rainbow troutThe smoking mixHome Smoked TroutHome Smoked TroutHome Smoked TroutHome Smoked TroutHome Smoked TroutHome Smoked TroutThe finished product

Sole Meuniere

Sole MeuniŤre

Sole MeuniŤre is a beautiful dish. That is, if your understanding of beauty is watching a whole fish being powdered with flour and sauteed in butter, which of course it should be.

The MeuniŤre part of the name comes from the French word for Miller’s wife. Supposedly she’d come in from a hard days work helping out in the flour mill with her hands covered in flour, and basically anything she touched would end up covered in it. Which I can see getting tiresome after a while, and may have very well driven her husband to douse her in beer at some point, which of course led to beer battered fish and chips.

But I digress… randomly.

The classic version of this dish is made with the flat fish Sole (or Flounder), but Trout is also a very popular choice. The technique itself is simple and lends itself to many different types of fish.

How to do it

So take one fish, scaled and gutted. Dust it lightly in seasoned flour (salt and pepper). Add a few large knobs of butter to a hot pan and wait for them to melt and foam. Add the fish to the pan and sautee on both sides for about 5 – 10 minutes, or until the fish is firm but yielding to the touch.

Spoon the hot butter over the fish while it’s cooked, and towards the end of the cooking, add the juice of half a lemon to the pan.

Finish the dish with a handful of fresh chopped parsley, and some pan roasted flaked almonds (if you so desire).

Then serve onto a plate with a light green salad and a crisp glass of white wine. Enjoying it all the more because you didn’t have
to work in a flour mill all day long to be able to recreate it.

Incidentally this dish was shown to great effect in the movie Julie & Julia (It was apparently Julia Child’s first dish upon her arrival in France), and was given a revival from bloggers the world over not long after it’s release. In typical style, I’m slow to the party :)

For Perthians, this fish was bought at the Canningvale Fish Markets. They’re only open on Saturday mornings from 6am til 10am.
It’s a great place to pick up very cheap seafood in a range and quantity that you rarely see in a lot of fish mongers in the city.

Sole MeunièreSole MeunièreSole MeunièreSole Meunière

Truffle season

Asparagus / poached egg / truffle

Yes that’s right folks. Whilst it may also be duck season, and rabbit season. It is now most importantly truffle season ! As the weather cools and the rain falls, you can take some comfort in the fact that those little nuggets of earthy goodness have been slowly growing in their special funghi like way for the past year (or 6 or 7 years perhaps) and are now ready to be harvested and savoured.

W.A is fast becoming a truffle haven it would seem. With the Mundaring Truffle Festival going from strength to strength each year, and Manjimup truffles being joined by Pemberton (The Stone Barn has just harvested it’s first truffles), and others in the works. It’s a boutique industry success story.

I picked up a little truffle at the Perth edition of the Good Food & Wine Show last weekend. It was from the Manjimup Wine & Truffle company who currently supply most (if not all) the black truffles you find in restaurants and gourmet stores across the country. Apparently the little 15gram piece I bought had been harvested the day before, and was vacuum sealed with a little padding for maximum freshness so it would still taste as strong as it did when it came out of the ground.

I like to do as little as possible to truffles. I think their uniquely pungent flavour should be the star of any dish they’re added to, and my lack of finesse when deal with fancy ingredients tends to lend itself to simple classics.

As such, the two dishes I made with this truffle were: Asparagus / Poached Egg / Black truffle, and a very simple truffle risotto with scallops.

My egg poaching method these days involves boiling water, white wine vinegar, and then just dropping the egg directly into the water without swirling or wrapping anything in cling film. The secret to the beauty of this is using really nice fresh eggs. The eggs I had this time were sourced from a stall at the Subi Farmers Market, and based on shape and consistency alone were obviously far superior to the supermarket eggs I’ve dealt with in the past.

Manjimup truffle risotto with scallops

The risotto was made using a chicken / rabbit stock as the base, and a little milk added along the way. I got the idea for the milk from Vince Velletri who used a similar method to cook the risotto for the Slow Food Perth lunch at the Mundaring Truffle festival last year. I was responsible for stirring about 10kg of rice that went into one massive pot and the memory still sticks in my head. The idea behind the milk is really just to mellow the flavours of the onion etc in the base so that the truffle has more poignancy in the dish.

The rest was simply frying some scallops in butter for 20 seconds or so on each side, and then shaving what was left of the fresh truffle over the top.

Served with a Bellarmine 2004 Riesling, it wasn’t a bad meal at all.

Really looking foward to the upcoming Truffle Festival at the end of this month, and you should all get up there and check it out.

Rabbit ragu with pappardelle

Rabbit ragu with Pappardelle

This is going to be another post for the eyes. Where words take a backseat to the photos. This is mostly because it’s freezing at the moment, and my frozen fingers are less inclined to sit here tapping away than they are to be wrapped around a mug of something warm. So click the images below to make them big and feel the warmth radiating back at you.

Home made parpadelleHome made parpadelleRabbit raguRabbit ragu with parpadelle2007 Chard Farm 'Finla Mor' Pinot NoirRabbit ragu with parpadelleRabbit ragu with parpadelle

I made this dish a few weeks back after Domenic, man of the land, hunter, and all round nice guy, brought me a couple of rabbits that he’d recently caught while on a farm down south. I’m not entirely sure what it says about me that I get most happy when friends bring me dead animals as presents, but the sight of a freshly killed rabbit was a beautiful thing.

Bunny lovers beware, you’ll find no sympathy on this site. Wild rabbits in W.A are very much in the unwanted visitors category, having been introduced by English settlers a couple of hundred years ago who wanted to bring a touch of the English countryside to Australia and carry on with their Sunday afternoon hunts. The result of which was a massive population explosion that has led to significant loss of native plants, and a large contribution to erosion of top soil from the land.

Not that I need to justify anything, because the only real reason to eat rabbit is that they’re delicious. When the meat is fresh and the rabbit is young there’s a gamey sweetness that you can’t help but appreciate. And so my great rabbit ragu plan was hatched.

The basics of the dish are really very simple. Take one rabbit, separate the legs from the body, remove and debone the saddle, and cut it into pieces. Sear the rabbit quickly in a hot pan til it’s brown all over and set it aside. Make a mirepoix (onions, carrot, celery) and cook it down in olive oil and a little butter, then when it’s getting soft, turn up the heat, add a splash of wine (white or red both work), then put back the rabbit, a can or two of crushed tomatoes, a teaspoon of sweet paprika, a bay leaf, some thyme or rosemary, and enough stock to cover the meat (chicken or rabbit stock work well). Then put the lid on, turn the heat down to a simmer, and let it cook for a good couple of hours.

After that length of time, the meat on the legs should be falling off the bone, so take them out, put all the meat off and shred it up, then turn up the heat a little, reduce the sauce, and stir the rabbit meat back through.

The pasta I served this with was not the worlds greatest pappardelle, so perhaps use someone else’s recipe. My basic pasta making method is 200 grams of flour, 2 eggs, a splash of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a tablespoon or two of water (if the eggs don’t give enough moisture). Then knead it all together into one consistent ball, flour up your bench and roll it out as thin as you can.

Home made Pappardelle

Unfortunately my pasta roller is broken since I tried to take it apart and clean it last year (note to self, never take things apart), and so I was left to do it Nonna style[1] with an olive oil bottle as a rolling pin . I didn’t get it to quite the thickness I was after, but otherwise it tasted fine. After flattening it out into sheets I just rolled it into a tube and used a knife to cut thick slices out for very “rustic” Pappardelle.

Then cooked it for a few minutes in salted water and tossed it through the rabbit ragu at the last minute. A little fresh parsley and a glass of pinot, and the result was one of the best meals I’ve cooked all year.

Notes:

[1] I’m not assuming all (or any) Nonnas still use an olive oil bottle to roll out pasta, I’m sure many of them have machines to do that.