Monday, August 30, 2010

Buckwheat Noodles with Lentils and Carrots

When I was 14, my mother went back to work with a vengeance. She had been working from home before then, forever talking on the phone cradled against her neck as she stirred pasta sauce or chopped onions.

But suddenly she was out of the house twelve or more hours a day. After about a year of two minute noodles and Dad's valiant attempts at cooking, I realised it was time for me to learn to cook – but like all good teenagers, I announced that if I was going to cook, then I was going to do it my way. This meant vegetarian.

Looking back, I realise I've been cooking almost completely vegetarian for twenty years now. Early days were mostly pasta, with a few forays into just plain gross; I particularly remember a fairly putrid recipe for bolognese sauce made from mashed tofu. I tried it once, but really there is no excuse. It was – and is – a horrible thing to do to tofu.

Now I have developed my own style and range of recipes, heavy on the pulses and leafy greens. But as much as I hate to admit it, even after all these years of vegetarian cooking and eating I still find it difficult to feel perfectly satisfied with a veggie meal. It's hard to achieve the complexity of flavours and textures that make meat so special.

However, I do have a shortlist of perfectly balanced, utterly satisfying meals. This pasta is one of them. The leek and carrots add a light sweetness, complementing the earthiness of the lentils, chard and buckwheat. Whether or not you add the cheese is up to you; but I find that the chévre is the difference between pretty good and spectacular.

Buckwheat Noodles with Lentils and Carrots

- 270g soba (Hakubaku noodles are from Ballarat)
- ½ cups green lentils (mine are from Horsham)
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ tsp salt
- olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, smashed with the side of the knife blade then finely chopped
- 1 leek, white part only, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 1 stalk celery, diced small
- 2 carrots, diced small
- 1 bunch chard or kale, or a mixture
- 5 stems flat-leaf parsley
- 150g chévre (optional. Meredith Dairy's goat chévre is perfect)

Sort the lentils, then cover them with cold water, add the bay leaf and salt, and bring to the boil. Simmer for 20 minutes or so, until they are tender. Check regularly to see if they're done. As soon as they're soft, drain them into strainer set over a bowl. Retain the cooking water.

Gently warm a good swirl of olive oil in a wide skillet with the garlic and a pinch of salt. (The salt prevents the garlic from sticking and burning.) Add the leeks, and sauté; then the celery and carrots. Leave them to cook over medium heat while you wash the chard or kale. Remove the tough stems, then slice the leaves into narrow ribbons. Add them to the skillet with the drained lentils.

Measure the lentil cooking water, and top up with water, if necessary, to make ¾ cup of liquid. Pour it into the skillet, then cover and leave to cook gently for 30 minutes or so, or until the carrots are soft. Stir from time to time. Add a little more water if necessary to prevent the vegetables from sticking, and to ensure there is a little sauce at the end.

While the vegetables are cooking, bring a large pot of water to the boil. When the vegetables are tender, cook the soba according to the directions on the packet. Place into a large serving bowl, and add the vegetables and parsley. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and mix gently but well. Serve as is, or with little knobs of chévre tossed through the noodles. Pass the pepper grinder.

Adapted from a recipe by Deborah Madison in The Greens Cookbook.

(Local: noodles, garlic, leek, celery, carrot, chard, kale, parsley, bay leaf, olive oil, chévre. Victorian: lentils.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Apple Dappy

Foxwhelp, Hockings Green, Lord of the Isles, Snell's White, Sops in Wine, Pig's Snout... Once, more than 2,000 varieties of apple dotted the English Isles, with all their peculiar names and particular uses. In Australia, we can buy perhaps a dozen varieties at the markets, perhaps twenty. Another hundred or so varieties are available as saplings from specialist orchards. But what happened to all the rest?

Loss of diversity makes me sad, so I have planted five old varieties in my backyard: Cats head, Beauty of Bath, Cornish Aromatic, Peasgood's Nonesuch, and Sweetman. While I wait for them to bear fruit, I make pudding. And I love old English puddings, with their odd names and not-so-sweet flavours. This week, we had apple dappy: a scone dough rolled around apples, sliced, and baked in lemon syrup. Any tendency to stodginess is offset by the spirals of apple and the tang of lemon; a truly comforting dessert.

Apple Dappy

For the syrup:
- the juice and zest of a large lemon
- 1 tbs golden syrup
- 15g unsalted butter
- 110g sugar

For the pudding:
- 450g cooking apples (Granny Smith cook nicely)
- 225g self-raising flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 60g butter, cut small
- 150ml milk (slightly sour milk or buttermilk would work especially well)
- 1 extra tbs sugar
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 190C.

Peel, core and chop the apples and place in a pan with a splash of water. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes or until slightly softened. Leave to cool.

Place the lemon juice, zest, golden syrup, butter and sugar into a small pan with 200ml water. Heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat and leave to cool.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture looks crumbly. Make a well, and pour in all the milk at once. Use a knife to mix*, then turn the dough onto a floured bench and knead lightly until combined. Gently pat into a 20cm square, about ½ cm thick.

Spread the apples over the dough, and dust with sugar and spice. Gently roll up the pastry like a Swiss roll. Cut into 2.5cm slices, and arrange them spiral-up in a buttered dish. I get eight slices, which fit nicely into a 15cm x 25cm pan.

Pour the lemon syrup over the slices, and bake for half an hour or until puffed and golden. Serve with cream.

It occurs to me that a handful of chopped walnuts sprinkled over the top might be a nice addition. If I try it, I'll let you know.

*For a discussion on how to handle scone dough, click here.

Adapted from a recipe by Sara Paston-Williams found in The Apple Source Book; her recipe adapted from a recipe in The National Trust Book of Traditional Puddings.

(Local: apples, lemon, milk. Not local: golden syrup, butter, sugar, flour, baking powder, cinnamon.)

Quince Marmalade, and Heavenly Baked Apples

I stuck my head deep into the preserves cupboard looking for jam, and found a long-forgotten jar of quince marmalade. More than two years old, it was still a lovely pink, and had retained its heady scent and delicate flavour. So we had toasted cheese sandwiches for lunch, with a good blob of marmalade on the side; and baked apples stuffed with quince for dinner. I dotted the apples with a bit of butter, and poured a little water into the pan in which they stood. Some of the marmalade oozed out of the apples and combined with the butter and water to make a luscious sticky syrup, which I scraped up and drizzled over the apples before serving.

Before you sniff that marmalade is made with citrus fruit, let me tell you that, according to no less an authority than the Oxford English Dictionary, the word 'marmalade' has its roots in the Portuguese word 'marmelo', or quince. From this came 'marmelada', referring to quince preserves (jam or paste), and from there, the English 'marmalade'.

Although it's a bit late for quinces, there are still a few bobbing around the markets. If you find some, put them in a bowl in your kitchen; the room will fill with their aroma. You can enjoy their scent for a few deliciously fragrant days before making marmalade.

Quince Marmalade

- 4 respectably heavy quinces, about 750g
- 4 cups sugar
- 3 cups water
- juice and grated zest of an orange

Rub the fuzz off the fruit, core them, then grate them coarsely. A food processor is the easiest way. If you are using a hand grater, really gouge the fruit into the grater to get good thick threads. Alternatively, julienne the fruit, cutting it into slender even strips.

Bring the sugar and water to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the quinces. They will float, so stir and push them under the water with a wooden spoon until they sink. Add the orange zest, turn down the heat, and leave to simmer very gently for 1½ hours, or until the quinces have turned deep pink.

Leave to cool overnight. The next day, add the orange juice and bring back to the boil. Turn down the heat and cook gently for another hour or so, or until you have a wet marmalade. Pour into clean sterilized jars and seal.

Adapted from a recipe by Deborah Madison in The Savory Way.

(Local: quince, orange. Not local: sugar.)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Onion Tart

I need a good cry from time to time, and these last few months, as grief sits in my stomach like a lead weight, I've appreciated the catalyst of external factors. Last week, I had a bout of gastro. Disgusting as it was, the pre- and post-viral weepiness was very cathartic. I may have been absolutely pathetic, but I felt much better for getting those tears out.

On the weekend, friends came over for dinner. The next batch of tears was settling in my stomach; it's the middle of winter; and my pantry was full of onions. So I made an onion tart.

I sliced up six onions as thinly as possible, which got the tears rolling. During the evening, we talked about death and bodies and sorrow and loss, and the richness of the custard and the smoothness of the onions salted by my tears felt just right.

This is a rich and sumptuous dish, just the thing to share. The onions take a long time to cook, but I make them and the pastry case the night before, once the kids are in bed and all is peaceful. The next evening, it takes just a minute to put together. Then all I have to do is slip the tart into the oven, assemble a salad, accept a glass of wine, and chat as the house fills with the smell of good food.

Onion Tart
For a 22cm/9 inch tart

For the pastry:
- 120g flour
- 50g unsalted butter
- 3 tbs water
- pinch salt

For the filling:
- 50g unsalted butter
- 2 tbs olive oil
- pinch of thyme
- 6 medium onions, thinly sliced into half moons
- 2 eggs
- 300ml double cream

Place the flour, a pinch of salt and the butter in a food processor. Process for 30 seconds, or until the butter and flour are incorporated; there will be no loose flour flying around. Add the water a tablespoon at a time, and process for another 30 seconds to a minute or until the mixture resembles tiny soft pebbles.

Flour the bench and a rolling pin. Tip the pastry onto the bench, and gently form into a flat disc with your hands. Roll it out, always rolling from the centre to the edge, until it fits your dish. Drape the pastry over the rolling pin and lift it carefully into the dish. Pat into place. Trim the edges.* Place the dish into the freezer, and leave it there until you need it.

Warm the butter, olive oil and thyme in a wide heavy-based skillet. When the butter has melted, add the onions and a good sprinkling of salt (the salt prevents the onions from sticking). Stir well, then turn the heat right down and place the lid on. Leave for 30 minutes, then stir gently. Cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the onions are completely soft but not coloured. Remove the lid, and cook for a few more minutes to evaporate any liquid, then take the pan off the heat and leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180C. If you are using a porcelain dish, place a baking sheet in the oven – this will give an the initial burst of heat which firms up the base.** Beat the eggs, then mix in the cream and the onions. Pour into the pastry case. Bake on the baking sheet for 40 minutes until just set – there should be a slight wobble in the centre. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for at least ten minutes. It will set further; and it tastes better tepid rather than hot.

*I use the trimmings to make mini jam tarts for my daughters – a good counterbalance to their usual diet of sourdough bread and chickpeas!

**I am assuming here the pastry is frozen. If not, you should bake it blind at 190C for 15 minutes, then empty out the beans, prick the base with a fork, and bake for another 5 minutes. Brush egg over the surface, and continue from the double asterisk.

Adapted from a recipe by Tamasin Day-Lewis in The Art of the Tart.

(Local: onions, thyme, olive oil, eggs, cream. Not local: flour, butter, salt.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Carrot and Beet Salad

It may be cold and wet, but I still like a bit of salad from time to time. This robust winter salad is very satisfying, either at dinner next to something more substantial, or at lunch with perhaps a poached egg on top. It also makes a spectacular sandwich with a good wodge of avocado or maybe a little crumbled feta cheese. This week we ate it with a pea and potato frittata.

I adapted it from a recipe found at the delectable Chocolate & Zucchini. However, the original recipe was too garlicky and heavy for my taste, so I switched from nut oils to olive oil, and from vinegars to lemon juice, and tweaked the proportions of this and that. Now it is, to me, just right!

Carrot and Beet Salad

- 2 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
- 1 pretty big or 2 medium beet(s), peeled and coarsely grated
- ½ clove garlic, minced
- 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
- the juice of a lemon
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 8 to 10 stalks flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- a good handful of sunflower seeds
- salt, pepper

Place the garlic, oils, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper into a small jar. Shake it up!

Mix the grated carrot and beet in a large bowl. Toss through the parsley and then dress with the vinaigrette. Mix well to distribute the dressing. Sprinkle generously with sunflower seeds, then toss again. Serve.

This salad keeps well in the fridge for a day or two. It's the sort of thing my husband and I eat for dinner one day, then lunch and dinner the next.

Adapted from a recipe by Clotilde Dusoulier posted at Picture shows the salad in a simpler incarnation, made with coriander and no seeds.

(Local: carrots, beets, garlic, olive oil, lemon, parsley. Not local: mustard, sunflower seeds, salt, pepper.)

Pea and Potato Frittata

Another weeknight, and I'm sick of the usual. So I looked up Nigella and found something do-able: a pea and potato frittata. But her recipe doesn't have enough veggies for me, so I doubled this and halved that, added some herbs, and called it dinner.

Nigella's recipe calls for the onion to be diced before it's sautéed. I don't like little squares of onion in my eggs, but for some reason I don't mind shreds. In any case, I think onions taste sweeter when they're cut into half moons, so I sliced my onion instead.

I also added marjoram to give it a lovely velvety sweetness. If you don't grow marjoram, a little thyme would go nicely with the potatoes and onions; or you could always use that infinitely versatile herb, flat-leaf parsley.

I served a robust winter salad of beets and carrots on the side, and between the softness of the egg and potatoes, and the crunchiness of the salad, it all came out rather nicely!

Potato and Pea Frittata

- 1 onion, halved and thinly sliced into half moons
- 200g potatoes, peeled and diced small
- 150g frozen peas
- 8 eggs
- 1 tbs marjoram, chopped
- a generous handful of grated parmesan
- salt, pepper
- olive oil

Place the diced potatoes in a saucepan of cold water. Bring to the boil, and simmer for 5 or 6 minutes, then drain. Boil the kettle. Place the peas in a bowl, pour the boiling water over them, and leave them to soften.

Warm a good drizzle of olive oil in a wide skillet. Fry the onion until it softens, then add the potatoes and cook for 7 or 8 minutes. Don't brown the veggies, just let them cook through. Drain the peas and add them to the skillet. Cook for a few more minutes, then remove the vegetables to a bowl.

Turn on your griller.

Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk. Season, and add the marjoram and parmesan. Add the vegetables and stir to combine.

Reheat the skillet with another drizzle of oil, if necessary. When it is good and hot, pour in the egg mixture – it should immediately frill around the edges. Turn down the heat and cook at medium heat for 7 or 8 minutes, running a flexible spatula under it from time to time to prevent it from sticking. When it is mostly set, but the top is still runny, place it under the griller for a minute or two. It is done when the top puffs slightly.

Remove from the heat. Run a flexible spatula underneath it, hold a large plate against the pan, and flip! Sprinkle with extra herbs, and serve.

This tastes best tepid. My husband ate it with beetroot relish on the side.

Adapted from a recipe by Nigella Lawson in Forever Summer.

(Local: onions, potatoes, eggs, marjoram, olive oil. Not local: peas, salt, pepper, parmesan.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Vegetable Stock

Now that I've given the recipe for chicken stock, I've been asked how to make vegetable stock. For a comprehensive discussion of vegetables and their qualities in stock, I highly recommend the section on stocks by Deborah Madison in The Greens Cookbook. Madison uses many different vegetarian stocks, providing recipes for four general stocks and many individual stocks to complement the flavours of particular soups or stews.

But for an all-purpose stock which provides body and flavour to a dish without dominating, and is made from readily available ingredients, here's my recipe.

Vegetable Stock
- 4 little red onions, or 2 brown onions, peeled and quartered
- 6 cloves garlic, bashed with the flat of a knife blade and the skins flicked off
- 2 or 3 outside stalks celery, coarsely chopped (save the hearts for salad)
- 2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
- some fennel stalks, if you have them, coarsely chopped
- 8 to 10 stalks flat-leaf parsley, bruised and torn (stalks included)
- a few leftover chard stalks or a few outside leaves of lettuce, roughly chopped
- a handful of dried mushrooms or mushroom stalks (When I'm cooking mushrooms, I freeze the tough stalks ready for stock.)
- 2 bay leaves
- 5 peppercorns
- 1 tsp salt
- olive oil

Warm a good drizzle of olive oil in a large soup pot. Add the vegetables as they are prepared, so that each has a few minutes to sauté before the next is added. Add the aromatics, salt, and 3 litres of cold water and bring to the boil. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface, then lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Strain.

For a stronger flavour, return it to the pot and reduce further. Taste for salt.

Pour into small containers. Cool, then store in the freezer. I freeze my stock in single-cup portions, easy to measure when making a soup, stew or risotto at a later date.

(Local: onions, garlic, celery, carrots, fennel, parsley, chard, lettuce, mushrooms, bay leaves, olive oil. Not local: salt, peppercorns.)

Lemon Suck

Lately I happened to mention to someone that we never get enough lemons. As if to mock me, three unrelated people each presented us with a bagful last week, and we were faced with the delightful prospect of too many.

Given how hard it is to drink water in winter, we whipped up a fresh batch of lemon cordial to help the water slip down. And then we turned our attention to Lemon Suck.

Lemon Suck –what a wonderful name – is nothing more than a runny marmalade mixed with walnuts. Americans use it to flavour and sweeten their tea (they suck the remains, hence the name); we use it heaped on scones, or for a sweet-sour spoon treat in the mid-afternoon, or as a tangled garnish over lemony desserts. However you use it, it's delicious.

I begin with a Deborah Madison recipe, but as we don't use it in tea, I reduce the water to make it slightly less dribbly; and I quadruple the walnuts because I love the way they become almost candied and infused with lemon.

Lemon Suck

- 1 dozen organic unwaxed lemons, washed
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup shelled walnuts

Slice the lemons into thin rounds, discarding the ends. Place the water and sugar into a heavy based pan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Gently lower the lemons into the pan – they will not be completely covered by the water, but as they soften they will submerge – and turn down the heat. Cook gently, moving the slices around from time to time, for 1 to 1½ hours, or until the lemons turn golden and the pith, opaque. Add the walnuts, stir gently to combine, and cook for another 5 minutes.

Pour into sterilized jars. Store in a cool dark place.

Adapted from a recipe by Deborah Madison in The Savory Way.

(Local: lemons, walnuts. Not local: sugar.)

Monday, August 9, 2010



I love Mondays. Grandpa picks up my six-year-old from school, the four- and not-quite-two-year-olds sleep, and I get to do stuff. Actually, I doze on the couch, fluff around on the computer and bring in the washing, but it's lovely just the same.

When everyone's home and the younger girls have woken, we're ravenous. And having been saved an hour and twenty minutes by not doing the school run (ever walked a mile with a four-year-old?), I graciously donate 15 minutes to making scones.

As they come out of the oven, kids and Grandpa rush to the table and choose a plate from our op shop collection: sprinkled with flowers, pink with blue polka dots, cornflowers and butterflies, or blue peacocks. They open the honey and the jam and wait for the cloth-covered board bearing its hot little bundles of puff straight from the oven.

"Wooooow!" says the toddler. "Yum!" says everyone else as they break open their scones and the steam swirls up.

O wonderful me!

Scones are very easy to make, but if you bash them around and moon about, they will be stodgy. The trick to making little clouds of pleasure is to be light and quick. Don't mix them, but combine with a knife; don't knead them with the ball of your hand, but with your fingers; don't roll them out, but pat them down gently. And get them into the oven as fast as you can!

This quantity makes 8 or 9 medium-sized scones. They don't keep well. If you do have leftovers, you can re-heat them in the microwave – but it's better to invite a neighbour over, or Grandpa, and demolish the lot in one sitting.

If you want to make more, make two batches – you can move quicker and faster and they will come out lighter than if you make them all in one big batch.


- 2 generous cups self raising flour
- pinch sugar
- 1 tbs butter
- 1 scant cup sour milk. (The best scones are made from milk which has soured slightly. You can use off milk, off yogurt, off cream thinned with water, or buttermilk. If you don't have any sour dairy, use milk but squeeze a little lemon juice into it before you start. You can even use soy milk – it's a very forgiving recipe.)
- butter and/or cream and/or honey and/or jam to serve

Preheat the oven to 220C.

Whisk a pinch of sugar into the flour, then rub in the butter.

Make a well and add all the milk (cream, yogurt, soy milk) at once. Using a knife (I have an ancient flexible bone-handled knife which is perfect), combine the milk and flour with a slicing motion, then turn the mixture onto a lightly floured bench and knead lightly until fully combined.

Gently pat into a disc about an inch thick. Using a scone cutter, cut out your scones; or use a knife and slice it into wedges. If you use the cutter, gather up the remaining dough and lightly shape into extra scones. Don't use a glass to cut them out, as it will compress the dough and make the scones stodgy.

Place scones on a greased tray, or a tray lined with a silicon baking sheet. Brush gently with milk and slip into the oven for 9 or 10 minutes, depending on your oven.

To check they're cooked, tap one on the bottom. They are ready when they sound hollow.

Bundle them into a clean tea towel to keep them warm, and eat as soon as possible with butter and honey, jam and cream, honey and cream, just butter, butter and jam... oh, just gobble them all up!

(Local: flour if you're lucky, milk, honey, jam, cream. Somewhere in Victoria: butter. Non-local: sugar.)