≡ Menu

okonomiyaki

My cabbages are getting away from me now too, the last of the winter crops colliding with the first of the summer ones.  We’re just about to pass Beltane, the point on the calendar when the day length curve flattens out into the long hot days of summer.  From now on, leafy greens are hard. Those big green leaves are adapted to catching every bit of scarce sunlight, not to avoiding sunburn.  The grasshoppers and cabbage moths are getting active.  And everything wants to reproduce.  As fast as I harvest them, another makes a bolt.

So we are eating a lot of cabbage. Okonomiyaki are a Japanese cabbage pancake, and if you are conjuring up images of British boiled cabbage or bubble and squeak, you’re on the wrong track.  Okonomiyaki are comfort food, crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, not very cabbagey at all but a vehicle for the toppings, nothing at all of acquired taste about them.  I’d be willing to bet you could get them past the pickiest of non-vegetable eaters.

Proper Okonomiyaki have several special ingredients that are hard to get in my little country town.  But inauthentic Okonomiyaki are fast and easy with just what I have in the garden and in an ordinary pantry.

The Recipe:

Makes two large, dinner sized Okonomiyaki, or four small ones.

The toppings make it, so start with them.

Proper classic okonomiyaki have a whole range of toppings including Japanese mayonnaise and seaweed and bonito flakes.  I never have the right toppings in my pantry, so I make do with homemade mayonnaise with a little honey added, Worcestershire sauce mixed half and half with tomato sauce, chopped spring onion tops or chives, and toasted macadamia flakes.

Have the toppings ready because the okonomiyaki are best topped and eaten straight away while they are hot and fresh.

  • Finely shred a couple of cups, packed, of cabbage, and two big spring onions (the whites and some of the green)
  • Put in a big bowl and tip in half a cup of wholemeal flour and a pinch of salt.
  • Toss the cabbage and spring onion in the flour so that they are coated. (I just use my hands for this).
  • Beat two big or three small eggs till they are frothy.  Tip into the floury cabbage and mix until it is all just combined.  Don’t overmix it – you want the gluten undeveloped. (Again, I find this easiest with hands).  You want the flour to be all wet and the mix to stick together if you squeeze a handful.  If it is too thick, add a little water.
  • Heat some light olive oil in a pan. Spoon the cabbage mix in and flatten it with the back of a spatula (or your hands) to make a thick pancake, or a big, thin pattie.
  • Fry for a few minutes until it is browning and crispy on the bottom  and the top is more or less set.
  • Now comes the tricky bit.  I find it easy to turn by putting a plate over it and flipping the pancake onto the plate, then sliding it off the plate back into the pan.  If the top is not set enough, you can flip it again onto another plate, then into the pan. I think you would have to be very skilled to flip big ones with just an eggflip without breaking them.
  • Cook until the other side is brown and crispy too, then serve hot with toppings.

{ 4 comments }

roasted-cauli

My caulis are getting away from me.  Only three or four left in the garden now, which is fairly nicely timed because the white cabbage moths are just starting to appear and in a couple of weeks it will become a battle not worth the prize to keep them off the Brassicas.  Fairly nicely. We’re not quite keeping up with them and the last few are being harvested a little late, heads loosening up and florets with longer, light green stems.   I could, I should, harvest them while they still look like perfect supermarket caulis and give the extras away.  But we’ve developed a bit of an addiction to roasted cauliflower, and these slightly blown ones make the best roasted cauli.  And there’s only a few left.  Greedy.

cauli

Roasted cauli is a surprise. It is so so so much better than you would think.  The basic recipe is:  just chop the cauli into florets, not too small.  With these ones I cut lengthwise through the florets to leave quite a lot of stem on. Put them in a big bowl, sprinkle generously with olive oil and salt and pepper, toss well to coat, spread in a single layer in a roasting pan, and roast in a hot oven for around half an hour until they are just tender and getting little caramelised browned bits. Best just that little bit undercooked but browning, which needs a hot oven.

Just like that is hard to go past.  We ate this bowl for lunch with fingers straight from the bowl.  But it’s also good hot as a side dish or cold in salads or blended with stock as a soup.  From there though, there are any number of elaborations possible.

  • A s sprinkle of finely grated parmesan and back into the oven till it melts and browns (this is probably my favourite).
  • Or a generous sprinkle of dukkah
  • A squeeze of lemon juice and a couple of cloves of garlic crushed in with the olive oil (or perhaps this is the favourite).
  • With some dried chili if you like it spicy (Lewie’s favourite)
  • Or a spoonful of tomato paste
  • Or a couple of big spoonfuls of tahini

Really though, I think you can easily overelaborate food. Maybe just salt, pepper and olive oil is the favourite.

{ 2 comments }

roast pumpkin and feta pie

The wildlife doesn’t share my sense of frugal.   The pumpkin stack is slowly going down now.  The cold has killed off all the vines so no new ones are being added. The bush turkeys going to town on the ones left in the garden, and I think it is a possum raiding the verandah stack because I keep coming out in the morning to find pumpkins with wasteful bites out of them. I’ve tried many ways over the years to store pumpkins, from suspended in nets just under the verandah roof to tea chests and trunks, and I’ve decided they are just too attractive.  Those oil rich seeds, that lovely orange carotene flesh.  At some stage (and often much earlier than this), the creatures just decide I’m being greedy trying to keep them to myself.

This is just my Pumpkin and Feta tartlets baked as a pie instead, and with the feta crumbled over the top rather than blended in with the egg mix.  And with an olive oil crust, though you could just as easily make it with a wholemeal shortcrust pastry instead.   Worth a post though because it was so good.  It’s been lunches for us for a few days now, eaten cold straight from the hand.  We still have a couple more weeks of them, then pumpkins are over for another year.

{ 0 comments }

pumpkin wat

I first had injera at an Ethiopian restaurant in Coffs Harbour, lovely spongy sourdough crepes that are the perfect soaker-upper for spicy stews and curries.  But a little internet research discovered they are made with “teff”, or Ethiopian gluten free flour made from a little grain the size of a poppy seed, and being as how I live near a little country town with an African population you can count on your fingers, the idea of trying to make them disappeared for a while.

Then on a run-out-of-eggs day with mushrooms and cream in the fridge and the idea of mushroom crepes that wouldn’t let go, I decided to have a go at making eggless crepes with sourdough culture, and they turned out pretty much exactly as I remembered injera.

So these very inauthentic teff-less injera have become somewhat of a staple in our house, preferred to chapati for going with curry, preferred to flatbread for going with tagines, preferred to crepes for going with creamy garlic mushrooms.  And all the better because, if you have sourdough starter, they are practically instant.

The pumpkin stew is slightly more authentic but not much. It’s a surprisingly sweet spicy stew that makes a meal that is mostly pumpkin and still desirable, even this close to the end of a long haul pumpkin season.

The Pumpkin Stew:

Makes four serves.  It looks like a lot of ingredients, but like most spice mixes, they are just a sprinkle of this and a dash of that, and everyone no doubt has their own version so if you don’t have an ingredient, you are probably just making a different version.

Pu a heavy pan or pot with a lid on a medium-low heat.   Add a large onion finely diced, then, in more or less this order, stirring as you go and keeping it all moving enough so the seeds pop but don’t burn:

  • ½ teaspoon  cumin seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon coriander seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom seeds (not the pods, just the seeds)
  • Small thumb of ginger, grated (or a scant teaspoon powder)
  • Small thumb of turmeric, grated (or a scant teaspoon powder)
  • Chili – more or less depending on how hot your chilis and how hot your taste.  I use a teaspoon of dried bishops crown chilis.
  • 3 scant teaspoons paprika
  • pinch cinnamon
  • pinch cloves
  • grinding of black pepper and some salt
  • 4 heaped cups of pumpkin, chopped into 3 cm pieces
  • a jar of tomato passata
  • a bit of water, depending on how thick your passata is, just enough to give a nice stew consistency.

Turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for about half an hour till the pumpkin is very soft but not disintegrating. Taste and add salt to taste. Sprinkle with fresh coriander.

Meanwhile, make the injera.

Injera:

My inauthentic injera are just fed sourdough starter, cooked as crepes.  So you need to start ahead by feeding your sourdough starter and keeping it in a warm spot for four or five hours, or overnight, till it is bubbly.  Add a little water if you need to to get a thin crepe batter.

Wipe a large, flat pan with oil and put it on a medium slow heat.

Add a ladle of batter and use the back of the ladle to spread it thin.  Put a lid on the pan and cook slowly till the batter is set but not browning.  You generally only cook injera on one side so it should be set all the way through.  You may need to flip it onto a plate.  They should end up soft and spongy and tender.

Serve under or alongside the pumpkin stew, or any kind of curry or stew really, and break off bits to scoop with.

{ 4 comments }

pumpkin feta tarts

Basic shortcrust pastry is so so so easy, I don’t get it why people buy frozen?  Puff pastry, ok, that’s  a bit tricky (but still worth making your own).  Phyllo, yep, right, I buy that most of the time.  But shortcrust – nah,  it takes less to make your own than it does to peel off that blue plastic, and you get to use real butter and no nasty transfats.

The recipe quantities and temperatures and times are a bit vague, because it really doesn’t matter too much.  The more butter (and the less water) in your pastry, the more melt-in-the-mouth it is, but also the harder to handle (and the more calories).  If you use lots of butter, you need to get it quite cool, or the butter melts as you are trying to roll it out and it gets sticky.  But it’s very delicious and you can make the pastry quite thick and the star of the dish.  If you are in a hurry, or the pastry is not the star of the dish, you can go light on the butter and roll it out thin for a more cracker-like pastry that is easy to handle.

That’s it really.  All the rest is elaboration on the theme.

You can use cream or sour cream or oil in place of butter, but it works like melted butter and the pastry is harder to handle and might need to be rolled between sheets of greaseproof paper.  If you have an egg white elsewhere in a recipe, you can substitute an egg yolk for part of the butter and it makes it slightly less “short” but still delicious and easier to handle than all butter.  Any saturated fat (that sets solid at room temperature) can be substituted for the butter and you are just thinking about the taste rather than the texture. If you are using a low fat pastry and a low fat filling, a bit of “blind baking” first stops the filling soaking into the pastry and making it soggy.  Blind baking just means covering your pastry with greaseproof paper and filling with uncooked beans, or rice, or chickpeas or something similar, and cooking for 10 minutes or so before filling.  The beans are dry already so it doesn’t hurt them.  If the pastry, or the filling, has a lot of butter, oil, cheese or eggs it, the pastry won’t go soggy and there’s usually no need.

The flour needs to be flour – it is the little grains of starch in it exploding that makes pastry. It can be wholemeal or unbleached, but other flours like besan behave differently.  You can make pastry from them but it is a different story.  Self-raising flour is a different story too.

The recipe makes 12 tartlets. They are perfect for lunch boxes, or party finger food – which is where these went. These are really quick and simple, and they were a party hit.

The Pastry:

You can do this in a food processor, or just cut the butter into tiny cubes and rub it into the flour with your fingertips, till it resembles breadcrumbs. (My nanna used to say that the best pastry makers have cool hands, because the object of the exercise is to have tiny flecks of un-melted butter mixed through the flour.)

  • 1 cup of wholemeal plain flour (wholemeal or unbleached)
  • 2 heaped dessertspoons of cold butter
  • pinch salt

Add just enough cold water to make a soft dough.  Add it  carefully, spoonful at a time.  Put your dough in the fridge to cool down while you start the pumpkin off.

The Filling:

Peel, dice, and roast a cup and a half of pumpkin and one larg-ish red onion.  Dice the pumpkin into 1 to 1.5 cm dice.  You can sprinkle with a bit of fresh thyme if you have some.  It will cook really quickly – you’ll just have time to roll out the  pastry.

Blend together:

  • 2 eggs
  • a big dessertspoon of plain yoghurt (or cream, or sour cream)
  • 100 grams Danish or Greek feta (the smooth kind, preferably)
  • A little grating of parmesan

I use my food processor for the pastry, then without needing to wash it, for the filling.  But you could also just beat them together with an egg beater.

Assembling and baking:

Grease 12 muffin tins or tart cases.

On a floured benchtop, roll the dough out, cut out 12 circles and line the tart cases.  My regular sized muffin tray is perfect for this, and the lid from one of my large storage jars is perfect for cutting the pastry out.

Spoon the pumpkin and onion evenly into the tart cases. Spoon the egg and feta mix evenly over them.

Bake in a medium-hot oven for around 20 to 30 minutes, till the tart cases are crisp and colouring and the egg mix is set.

They are best is you let them cool before eating. No Teo, they aren’t cool yet.

{ 5 comments }

honey roasted figs and pecans with feta salad

The riff of sweet, caramelised figs, salty white cheese, peppery leaves, and nut crunch is a classic one.  And like most classics, for very good reason. This salad was so good it’s been repeated regularly this year since the figs started coming on.  It’s a starring role salad – a dinner party first course, or a totally indulgent lunch, or a plate to take to a party.  If you are in Australia, figs are now in season, and only for a little while.

The Recipe:

Turn the oven on to medium hot to heat up.

Quarter the figs, spread them out on a baking tray and drizzle them with equal quantities of balsamic vinegar and honey.  I used a tablespoon of each with six large figs cut into quarters for this platter salad I took to a party.

For the pecans, in a small saucepan, melt together a teaspoon of honey, a teaspoon of butter, juice of half an orange, a scant teaspoon of garam masala, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of chili powder. Toss the pecans in this mix and spread them out on another baking tray. (I thought about using macadamias first, but the first of ours are only just coming on now, and I still have some of last year’s pecans needing using.)

Put both trays into a medium hot oven and roast for about 20 minutes until the figs are soft and caramelised and the pecans are roasted and their marinade reduced to just a coating.

You should be left in the  fig pan with a couple of tablespoons of juice.  If it is already reduced to a syrup, then you can just cool the lot.  If it is not syrupy yet, pour it into a small saucepan and reduce. If it has turned to sticky toffee, take the figs out and add a little water to dissolve.

Arrange a bed of rocket on a serving tray. Cover with a good sprinkle of cucumber quarters, then a layer of crumbled feta, then the figs and pecans, then a light sprinkle of mint and/or basil leaves.

Drizzle the fig juice over and serve.

{ 8 comments }

salmorejo

I have tomatoes.  Tomatoes for giving away.  The brandywines are still fruit fly free, this late in the season.  Up here in northern NSW, I can usually get them fruit fly free for a few months, but often by now it is one for us and one for the chooks.  I love giving them to people who don’t have a garden and watching that moment of stunned surprise as they taste them.

Tomatoes for drying.  The Principe Borghese make the best dried tomatoes.  They’re small enough to sun dry in one hot day on the dashboard, large enough to be not too fiddly to halve, dense and fleshy without being too juicy. Fully dried they go in a jar covered in olive oil for storing, semi-dried they go in the fridge in olive oil with some garlic and oregano, for adding to pizza or pasta or on crackers or made into tapenade.

Tomatoes for eating fresh, in salads, on sandwiches or as my current favourite breakfast, soft boiled egg and tomato mash on toast.  The yellow cherries are great for this.  They are sweet and not too acid, and they pick without splitting which means I can keep a bowl on the kitchen bench.

Tomatoes for passata and tomato sauce. The little cherries that split easily are great for this.  They are juicy and flavoursome and you don’t need to worry about splits or go to tedious work cutting them.  But I have enough passata on the shelf, and still lots of cherries.

So Salmorejo is a favourite lunch lately.  Salmorejo is a cold soup but that idea doesn’t do it justice. It’s very fast and easy, and it will keep for a day or two in the fridge so you can make ahead of time (which also makes it great for a first course for summer dinner parties or barbeques).  You can also blend left overs with semi-dried tomatoes to make a dip or spread.

Like many really famous traditional recipes, it is simple – just three real ingredients.  But they all have to be nice enough that you go yum even when just tasting them alone.

Salmorejo

Makes 2 serves for lunch, or 4 for as a dinner party first course, or probably even 6 if you serve in cocktail glasses. Multiply by as many as you need.

You need 1 ½ cups of tomato juice.  I blend the little cherry tomatoes in the food processor then strain out the seeds and skins, spending a little bit of effort to stir through as much as I easily can of the jelly surrounding the seeds, since according to Heston Blumenthal that’s where the unami is.

Add a couple of cloves of crushed garlic and salt and black pepper.

Blend the tomato juice with a cup (loosely packed) of sourdough bread, minus crusts.  I’ve made it with wholemeal and even multigrain but this is a recipe that really calls for white bread.  Stale is fine.

The next bit is easy to get right, but also easy to get wrong.  Blend till smooth, then, with the blender going, add ¼ cup nice tasting olive oil in a thin stream.  Thin stream.  If you add it slowly, it will emulsify like mayonnaise does, making the soup creamy.  If you add it too fast it will split.  Stop the blender as soon as it is all in – you don’t want to split off the bitter aromatics in the olive oil.

Traditionally salmorejo is served topped with chopped hard boiled egg and crispy ham, but I like it best with lots of finely chopped cucumber.

{ 0 comments }

spinach and pumpkin pasta drying

Yes, yes, a hundred times yes from me.

It’s good, good and good.

♥  You get to use real eggs, which makes pasta not just empty calories but a decent protein and nutrient source.  If you use wholemeal flour and vegetables in it as well, it can be super food. Who ever thought spag bog could end up a superfood?

♥  You get to use ethically produced eggs and locally produced and/or organic flour and avoid packaging and food miles and the energy costs of processing and storage. And with some flour and an egg or two in the house, a near empty pantry and a teeny herb garden, you can make something so enticing that takeaways or a quick trip to the supermarket lose their lure.

♥  You get to eat something delicious even if it’s just cooking for one after a hard day when boiling water is about the extent of the energy left in the pot. Or if it’s five unexpected teenagers staying for dinner.  Or if it’s a dinner party with a friend’s new partner who just happens to be a five star chef.

Nearly four years ago I found a pasta machine at a garage sale.  I had been making pasta from scratch before that but rolling it out with a rolling pin, which meant that lasagna and ravioli were much more likely than spaghetti or tagliatelle.   I wrote at the time that “I’m not sure at all whether it will be a stayer.” But it has.  It has joined my (short) list of loved kitchen stuff, along with my pressure cooker, food processor, maca cracker (and a tortilla press has joined since then too, but that’s another story).

Mine has no brand name on it and a dodgy handle that looks like it isn’t original.  This post was inspired by a comment from Katie on the last post asking if I know how to choose one.  I’d love your thoughts.  Do you have one you love? Or know what to look out for to avoid?

There are hundreds of pasta recipes on the internet, and I really use just one varied in a few ways – just whole egg, plain flour (preferably high gluten but any will do), a little olive oil, a pinch of salt, knead to make a soft dough, rest if possible (but it works anyway), fold and roll several times to laminate if possible (but it works anyway), roll out thin, cook in boiling water for just a couple of minutes.

I have just a few tricks perhaps worth sharing:

  • Fast, simple pasta is still way better than bought dried pasta, and it can be made in literally 5 minutes.  Skip the resting, laminating, drying, fancy shapes – just blend, knead, roll, cook.  It isn’t going to impress the chef, but it works fine.
  • A bit of extra effort and you can impress the chef: an egg yolk or two along with the whole egg and it’s a bit richer, rest the dough for an hour or so before rolling it out and it’s a bit more elastic, laminate it by folding it and taking it through the pasta machine a couple of times on each setting and it’s more al dente.  The kids won’t notice but the Masterchef judges might.
  • Flour the bench, the machine, your hands, the pasta dough. Toss the rolled and cut pasta in flour and if you are cooking pretty well straight away you don’t need hang it up to dry.
  • Get the water really boiling before you put the pasta in, and have the sauce ready too. It cooks in two or three minutes.
  • Fresh, home-made pasta is wonderful just tossed with olive oil, finely grated lemon rind, garlic, and maybe some olives or cherry tomatoes or chopped parsley or basil.  Or some cooked pumpkin and crumbled feta.  “Sauce” doesn’t have to be fancy.
  • If you are drying it, a broom suspended between the bench and a shelf, or a clothes horse, or a baby gate all make good drying racks.
  • Blend cooked vegetables with the pasta dough to make rainbow pasta. Silver beet, spinach, pumpkin, carrot, beets, sweet potato all work really well.  If you use high gluten flour, you can add quite a lot and the pasta is a bit more fragile but it works.
  • It goes a long way.  One egg and half a cup of flour makes pasta for two. We had a pasta night at the community centre a while ago, where everyone brought a sauce, and I made pasta for thirty with a dozen eggs and it was eminently do-able.
  • It’s very easy to make a double batch and freeze some for when even five minutes of pasta making is beyond the call of duty.  It cooks really well from frozen.  Just dry the pasta enough so that it isn’t sticky (not too long or it goes brittle).  Twirl it up into little nests like in the photo, freeze the nests in a single layer, then when they are frozen you can pack into a container or bag and take them out as needed.

spinach and pumpkin pasta for freezing

{ 17 comments }

celeriac laktes

There’s usually a reason why popular vegetables are popular, and ones nobody has ever heard of are ones nobody has ever heard of.

If you were starving celeriac wouldn’t make it into the garden – five months to harvest a root the size of a beet from a plant that takes five times as much room. If you were broke celeriac wouldn’t make it into the garden – an ugly knobbly hairy root that can’t be cleaned up for sale without the cut surfaces oxidising.  If you were on subsistence rations celeriac wouldn’t make it into the garden – even though it’s loaded with good fibre and minerals,  it is only about a third of the kJ of potatoes.  But hey, I have enough time and space, I’ve learned not to judge a vegetable by its cover, and I’m not in any great need of calories!

I plant celeriac same time as celery, from early autumn till mid-winter.  They both have a long slow start, the plants staying small and very vulnerable to drying out for a couple of months.  So it is  May before the first of them get out of the shadehouse and into the garden and August before the first harvest.  Those late winter harvests go wonderfully well as mash with stews and caseroles – a mild creamy sweet flavour perfect for soaking up rich sauces.

celeriac

These ones were the last of the harvest, cleared out of a bed that the chooks will be going into this week.  This time of year they are either julienned into slaw with cabbage and carrot and roasted pecans and homemade mayonnaise.  Or made into latkes like this.

The Recipe:

This makes eight latkes.

Celeriac oxidises (like potatoes) once it is cut, so you can’t do any of this ahead of time.

  • Finely chop a good handful of parsley (or you could substitute dill or fennel).
  • Finely dice a small onion or a spring onion (greens and all)
  • Put them in a bowl and add salt, pepper, two eggs and a small handful of plain wholemeal flour (or you could substitute besan or polenta or semolina).
  • Peel and grate two celeriacs and add to the bowl.  Use your hands to squish it all together.
  • Heat up a pan with a couple of centimetres of oil till quite hot, then drop in balls of the celeriac mix and flatten them with the back of a spatula.
  • Fry until golden both sides.

The flavour of celeriac is delicate and creamy and sweet, so to my taste they are best just on their own with a side salad, but a yoghurt or sour cream based sauce is ok too.

{ 4 comments }