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.

Le Pain Quotidien – and more of London

You *are* being watched *

And so we walked… and walked…. and walked. I guess that’s what you do on holidays when you actually want to see some of the city. In London it’s pretty easy to get into a rat like mentality. Using the tube system it’s pretty easy to stay underground all day and only pop up in a few places. Super convenient once you get used to where to change lines and how not to get your arm caught in the doors, but not the best way to see the sites.

So we strolled through town, down Regent Street, and Oxford St, though we did not pass go, and did not collect $200 (and there is no such thing as free parking). Then down past the horse guards and over the bridge to the London Eye. Being one of the touristy things I figured I should do, we bit the bullet and got in line. 30 minutes and a couple of cavity searches later we were at the top. Surveying the shabby historic beauty that is London.

Le Pain Quotidien Swirly

With a fierce hunger now brewing but no idea where good food was to be found in Southbank we did a little divining and ended up at Le Pain Quotidien, which looked like a chain, but an up market one. Turns out they are a chain, and in fact have stores in most of the known world… including Australia.

The basic premise at Le Pain Quotidien is quality bread, made on the premises from organic flour, and shareable plates of organic charcuterie and other tastiness. Founder Alain Coumont was apparently a Belgian chef dissatisfied with his choice of bread to serve in his restaurant, so he ended up developing his own loaf and then opening a bakery. From humble beginnings it’s now spread to 10 countries and many stores.

So I went for a simple charcuterie plate loaded with hams, prosciutto, sausage, bread, sun dried tomatoes, pickled veges, and olive. Just what I was after, and a lovely way to relax after a long walk, with a delicious glass of Ch‚teau Couronneau Bordeaux to wash it all down.

Probably highly presumptuous, but this may have been my most enjoyable experience in a franchised establishment to date… which normally exude a cold sterile vibe that makes me want to wash myself with steel wool.

Le Pain Quotidien
Royal Festival Hall
Festival Terrace, Southbank Centre
Belvedere Road
London SE1 8XX
Tel.: 0207 486 6154

Our next destinations were more snapshots of the city. We went to Camden and checked out the infinite row of piercing places and enjoyed the parade of Camden Leisure Pirates swaggering about. A peak through Camden Markets unveiled rows and rows of crap, and then even more crap hidden behind that crap. I did particularly like the “Chinese Food All Mixed Together” sign hanging above a particularly fine example of salmonella fodder, but yes was strong enough to resist the lure of cheap greasy nasty looking food.

We then hopped back on the tube and jumped off at Covent Garden. I forget why, but Amanda said there were some nice places there. Though the only one we actually ended up going into was the Australian Shop, so Amanda could buy twisties… which apparently are no readily available in the UK (the horror).

More walking and now it’s getting late and we pick up another Perth ex-pat, my friend Sam, who proceeds to lead us on another merry dance through the streets once more. Giving the seedy Soho by night tour that every tourist really wants but doesn’t know how to ask for.

A chance to see the London Eye by night as we cross back over the bridge, and then meander our way towards The Cut near Southwark to try our luck with some of Davy’s recommendations. Sadly we couldn’t get in to most of the places on the street as they were completely packed on a Thursday night and not taking bookings meant we were out of luck.

So then, we made our way via Black Cab to Farringdon Road to check out The Eagle, the original gastropub… which is where the story will continue shortly…

The Wines of Margaret River

* *

Are good. As a group of good friends and I discovered this past weekend at a birthday weekender down in this glorious little wine region with such a big reputation. Of course I’ve liked Margaret River wines for a long time, but perhaps didn’t have a full appreciation for the beauty and finesse of good Cabernet and Chardonnay.

Specifically the Cabernet from Moss Wood, where we were given a great tour by wine maker Josh Bahen (cheers Max!) and had a chance to try some of the blended 07 Cabernet, and unblended batches of the 08 Cabernet Sauvignon. A great experience and also a learning opportunity for most of us (well some of us, who weren’t trying to get drunk by 11am).

Of course, it is hard to maintain an air of sophisticated wine appreciation when you are being chauffeured around the place in a limousine while wearing novelty hats… but I think we almost managed to pull it off.

Other stand outs were the Grenache from Moss Brothers, the 07 Chardonnay and 05 Cabernet from Hay Shed Hill, 07 Riesling from Clairault, 04 Cape Grace Cabernet, and 07 Lenton Brae Semillon Sauvignon Blanc.

Of course the region is not just about Cabernet and Chardonnay. It’s increasingly becoming know for producing excellent Semillion and Sauvignon Blanc blends, and there are many a great drinking Shiraz to be found as well.

If you haven’t been for a tour and you live in W.A… shame on you :)

Chorizo Ragu with Polenta

Chorizo Ragu on Polenta

Just to prove that I can and do still cook on occasion, what with all these fancy schmancy restaurant reviews peppering the pages of late.

This dish is a highly unfaithful recreation of a dish I was fortunate enough to enjoy at a Slow Food Perth lunch in a what seems like a lifetime ago, making sausages at the home of Vincent Vitrelli. After wading our way through a good 100 kg or so of pig, we had time for a spot of lunch. The dish of the day for me was a delicious creamy polenta topped with Monte San Biagio sausage mixture, simmered in a little white wine.

This attempt had nowhere near the finesse of course, but I am happy to announce that my love of polenta is now assured, as is my ability to think of it as something other than the dry brick served at some Italian restaurants.

For the Ragu
Take a couple of good chorizo sausages (I had neither so I used some fairly ordinary chorizo and upped the paprika , chilli, and garlic levels myself) cut them up into chunks and set them to simmer in a glass or two of red wine. Add chopped garlic, onions, and tomatoes, and let it simmer until it starts to break down. At this point I added some chicken stock, salt, pepper, and passata, and then just let it all reduce down to a stewy consistency. A dash more paprika, and some fresh parsley finished off the dish, which was probably cooking for 30 mins or so.

For the Polenta
Despite what you may be thinking, there is no real trick to it. Aside from make sure your polenta is well lubricated with water, a little milk to finish, and I season mine with butter, salt, and cracked pepper. I’m not sure if this is heresy or not, it may well be, but it personally tastes like cardboard otherwise…
Whilst I’m happy for the polenta to be the starchy vehicle to drive the ragu home in a nice marriage of texture with flavour, I would prefer to be able to do something with it on it’s own.

I used a pretty standard brand, and initially used 3 cups of water to 1 cup of polenta. Set this on a medium heat and bring it to the boil… then reduce and let it simmer and bubble away until it gets thick. At this point I add more water, half a cup at a time, and continue stirring until it absorbs. Somewhere down the line, add some milk, a 100g of butter, and a good dose of salt and pepper, until the flavour is something in the realms of tastiness and the texture is soft and gooey. I like my polenta quite runny, and find it cool to watch the science experiment take place as it firms up on the plate when served.

I’ve been told its ready when the polenta starts to stick to the sides of the pan properly, but that seems an inexact method for me, so just let you conscience be your guide.

Serve it with a rioja or perhaps some fava beans and a nice chianti…

Fettucini Amatriciana

Fettuccini Amatriciana

The alternative title to this post is “I can’t believe it’s not Adelaide”.

It’s a lazy Saturday afternoon. You’ve slept in well past the time where it’s even remotely acceptable to have breakfast (and you don’t have any milk for cereal anyway). But now there’s is a rumbling in your stomach that’s sending all the dogs in the neighbourhood mental, expecting the next earthquake. A quick glance into the pantry shows pasta… this is a good sign. A check of the fridge shows half an italian sausage, some tomatoes, and most of an onion. You’re in business.

The sweetener in this scenario for me, is that I also found a small jar of olives. Made specially by local olive nut and wild food lover Kamran of Fiori Coffee. I won’t give away all the secrets, but suffice to say, there is a lot of food around if you’ll willing to look for it. These little gems have been marinaded in oil, and are delicious on their own, but also add substance and depth when added to pasta and other dishes. A wonderfully complex saltiness that really gives it a lift.

Now bearing in mind that I cannot guarantee that this dish can be legally called Amatriciana (or if I’m even spelling it right), here is my version of the ultimate quick and easy dish. It really doesn’t get much simpler than this.

Fettucini Amatriciana

  • 1 Italian sausage (mine was hot cacciatore)
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Tomato passata, or lots of fresh tomatoes, or a can of crushed tomatoes
  • black olives
  • a splash of red wine
  • Fettucini

How I saved Saturday

Slice the sausage up into thin pieces on an angle, and the slice those slices into mini slices. Then slice the slices of slices … actually no, that’s enough. Chop up your onions and mince the garlic, then fry all of that in a bit of olive oil, and splash over the red wine at some point for tasty goodness. Add the tomatoes / passata to the pan and stir the mixture through well, letting it simmer away nicely and reduce a little.

While you’re doing all this, cook your pasta. I cook mine in as big a pot as I can find, with a little olive oil, and intermittently with a pinch of salt. I’m not sure whether that makes any difference, but it feels right… so I go with it.

Once the pasta is almost al dente, take it out and drain it. Then add a little more tomato passata to the pan, add the olives, stir them through well, and then toss the pasta through. Give it a minute or so for the pasta to absorb a little of the sauce and soften up a bit until it’s just the texture you prefer, then serve it up.

Suddenly Saturday is starting to look a whole lot more productive :)

Adelaide – Day 4 : Barossa

a glass half there

Now to the final words on Adelaide, and what a time it was. This day sees us in that holy land of wine country… the Barossa valley. So often lauded as Australia’s greatest wine growing region, and I can now see why… Which is of course because everyone from the Barossa keeps telling you that so often, you eventually start to believe it :)

However, there is something about the Barossa and the people of the Barossa Valley area that is very unique. They are bound together in their love of food, wine, and the life gastronomic. Many times throughout the day of travelling through wineries, tasting delicious wines, did I hear stories about how people in the Barossa stick together. There was no bad mouthing of other wineries, and a helpful suggestion of other places in the area who we should definitely go and check out was often offered. Having been a fan of the tv show “The Cook and the Chef” for a while now, I’d been making stupid jokes about dropping in to have lunch with Maggie Beer (as well as how she can’t go 5 minutes without mentioning how much she loves the Barossa Valley), but I should probably have shut my mouth. Not only did I meet someone who sang in the local choir with her, but her daughter (who runs a catering company) was setting up for a cellar door managers dinner at one of our last stops of the day. It’s two degrees of separation in that neck of the woods. Cocky food bloggers beware, or there’ll be a Beer Lynching squad after you in no time… :)

So we whisked our way through Trevor Jones / Kellermeister wines, Charles Melton, Rockfords (managing to snag a tasting of the Basket Press Shiraz), Rolf Binder / Veritas (meeting Rolf the wine maker and purchasing a bottle of his Hanisch Shiraz), and finally Torbreck.

The lineup

My impression of the day and the wines can be summarised in one simple statement.

“Shiraz is not just shiraz”

The quality and depth of flavour from the different styles we tried was remarkably varied across all the wines we tried, which was barely a smattering of the wineries the Barossa has to offer. From spicey and peppery styles to smoother more fruit driven styles of the cooler Eden Valley, there really was something for everyone.

My only regret being that I didn’t have enough time or enough money to get all the wines I wanted. But with a few essentials under our belts (mainly the Charles Melton Nine Popes), it was a wonderful day. Very nearly surpassed by a great night to follow.

So following up on more website comments and suggestions, we’d given Melting Pot a call earlier in the day to try and get a reservation for Saturday night. Unfortunately they were completely booked that night, and so it looked like we were going to miss out. I figured I might try and put on my important / desperate voice for one last try though, and on calling back, found out there was a table for 2 available for that evening, Friday night. We booked it in, and hastily made our way back from the Barossa to be dropped ever so graciously by Serena (our chauffeur and future wine connoisseur) right out the front, and just in time.

Melting Pot

Melting Pot is hard to describe. I suppose you’d have to settle on Modern Australian (whatever that means) if you needed to find a label. The menu is centred around the degustation style that so many haute cuisine restaurants prefer these days, with matched wines for each course. We chose a 6 course tasting menu with wine, and a few extras thrown in for good measure.

Now while I’d love to write a glowing review about how every dish was a fantastic revelation of culinary amazement. The sad reality was that the majority of the courses were average at best, and just strange at worst. The popcorn quail in particular (which featured actual popcorn strewn across the plate, along with some “popcorn” quail pieces, reminiscent of KFC’s efforts at using up the left overs).

The wine matched with each course was mostly nice, though we’d been far too spoilt over the last three days of oenophilic
indulgence to get a lot of enjoyment out of run of the mill wines. Plus a day of tasting intense Shiraz had left my palate cleft of all love for subtle light wines that chefs like to serve with their dishes.

Still, by the end of the 4th course things were starting to pick up. The culmination of wines throughout the day and with each course started to work it’s magic, and as a light headed fuzzy feeling of mild intoxication came over me, everything started to taste a whole lot better.

By the end of the meal we were quite merry indeed, and can honestly say we enjoyed the experience. Though perhaps not as fully as I was hoping for.

The night still being young however, we decided to try our luck getting a taxi into the city and checking out the other “must go to” place on my list, Apothecary 1878.

Apothecary 1878

Now if you’re familiar with Adelaide, you’ll know all too well what Hindley Street is known for. It’s essentially the nightclub, late night, red light, anything goes district in the city centre. Bars, pubs, and clubs are full of people who have had too much to drink, and not enough clothes to wear.

So coming across a place like Apothecary, in the midst of the debauchery that is the rest of the street on a Friday night, was like a breath of fresh air. Walking in to what seemed like near silence, as the door closed behind us and our eyes adjusted to the subdued lighting and the relaxed mood that only truly cool places can so effortlessly attain.

The name comes from the fact that the place is fitted out to look like an 1800’s style chemist. All of the cabinets and bar had actually been bought and shipped over from the UK, so they do actually date back to 1878. No ikea style renovations for these guys.

The wine list was similarly impressive. Around 20 pages or so of every major style and region around the world. With plenty there to keep the wine geek in me flipping back and forth for a good 10 minutes before finally settling on something. If you live in Adelaide, you had better be making the most of this place, because it really deserves it.

Chorizo from Apothecary

But wait.. what’s that you said.. you serve food too ? Well, we have just had a 6 course meal with wine, and dessert… but what the hell, lets have a look. So after another couple of glasses of wine, some meatballs, chorizo, and olive tapas dishes, another chocolate pudding for Sharon, and a couple of glasses of sparkling wine, we concluded what was possibly the most gastronomically extravagant days of my life.

Before I could start thinking about whether it was possible or reasonable to have three dinners in one evening, fatigue start to set in. Still, it was a great day, and great night, and a wonderful trip all round to Adelaide, with some very memorable experiences with good wine, good food, and good friends.

Kara and Paul were married on Saturday to a wonderful reception. I didn’t cry once… but some dust may have got into my eye at one point. Anything is possible in Adelaide.

Adelaide Day 3 – Handorf and the Hills

Thinking about bubbles Reidel vampire bat glasses

This will be a short one. Day three in Adelaide was spent trekking up to the hills to check out the venue for the weekends wedding. The wedding and the reception both being held at Mount Lofty House, and everyone we met all said “Ohhh, Mt Lofty… it’s lovely up there”. They were right, it was.

So after doing a prerequisite tourist stop at the lookout nearby, we made our way through the hills to the small town (?) of Bridgewater, home to the famous Bridgewater Mill restaurant and Petaluma wines.
We didn’t have time to stop for lunch, which did look appealing despite the price. But a sampling of the wines was definitely on the cards. I particularly liked the Reisling and the Croser Sparkling White, and the Bridgewater Mill Shiraz was a very decent drop too. So a couple of bottles later and some shabby photos from the window of the car because it was raining and I didn’t want to get wet, and we were back on the road.

Now getting close to lunchtime, what better place to get your fill than at a pub in a German tourist town ! I’m still trying to make my mind up about Hahndorf. It has a certain shabby charm that is quite interesting, and the town is clearly clinging to it’s German settler ancestors roots as hard as it possible can. But there was a certain lack of sincerity about it, and a far too blatant feeling that it was all a big joke on tourists for me to feel entirely comfortable.

Certainly if I’d known the pub we went into for lunch had a spruiker out the front (who we had somehow avoided) we probably wouldn’t have stopped there at all. But still, the food was ok, if not cloying after three mouthfuls, and it was nice to sit down and chat to some apparent German enthusiasts who had driven four hours from Mt Gambier to get a bratwurst hotdog. But then who knows, maybe they were onto something. Perhaps bratwurst is the perfect fodder for a travelling wine taster to stock up on precious fat stores to absorb the alcohol. Or perhaps not.

Trio of Wurst

The final stop of this day was Nepenthe. A winery I’ve really enjoyed in the past, and maker of one of Australia’s best Sauvingnon Blancs. Not that I really like Sauvingnon Blanc that much, but I’m always willing to pretend I do if it makes me seem more in vogue :) I did quite like their Fugue, which is a Bordeaux style cabernet blend, and the Charleston Pinot Noir went a long way to convincing me I should try to get back into Pinot, after a prolonged spell of not trying any that I’ve liked.

NePenThe

Happy to have conquered another South Australian wine region (albeit briefly), we headed back into the city and did a little wander down the east end of Rundle St. Stopping by chance (or perhaps because of my preoccupation with lane ways), at East End Cellars, to be greeted by the affable Michael Andrewartha, who sold me a bottle of aged Henschke GewŁrztraminer (1999), and gave me a few tips on where to check out in the Barossa.

Which is where we’re heading to next :) (oh the suspense!)