Category Archives: Comestibles

Some postings about what I’ve cooked, what has been cooked for me, maybe an occasional restaurant review …

A spring vegetarian risotto

It’s been a while since my last post – what can I say?  Life takes over sometimes …

Anyway, my English family is in town to celebrate the conferral of my PhD, and my brother-in-law is vegetarian.  We eat mostly vegetarian these days, but I thought I would invent a new risotto recipe in his honour, so here it is, step-by-step.  It is based on the classic Milanese recipe as espoused by the inimitable Stephanie Alexander, but with enough significant alterations for me to claim originality.  Here’s a step-by-step guide for making it, and indeed, making any risotto.  You can replace the spring vegetables listed with anything else.  Just make sure you use complementary flavours.  A list of suggested variations are at the end of the post.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large lemon, zested and juiced
  • A few strands saffron (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon of tarragon, finely chopped
  • 90g best-quality parmesan, grated finely
  • 1.5L good quality vegetable stock (you can make this if you have time)
  • 2 small onions, finely diced
  • 2 x 60g of butter, splash of olive oil
  • 600g carnaroli rice (believe me, buy the carnaroli – it’s so much better than arborio)
  • 1/2 cup vermouth (I use Noilly Prat, but you can use white wine if you wish)
  • 200g shelled peas (frozen are acceptable, fresh are better)
  • 1 packet samphire (sea asparagus), if available
  • 2 bunches asparagus
  • Freshly milled black pepper

First, zest and juice your lemon(s), and then steep the tarragon and/or saffron in the liquid:

Place your stock in a separate pot close to your risotto pot, and heat slowly.  I used a very good quality commercial stock because I ran out of time.  If I was making a classic risotto, I would use home made chicken stock, and in the past I have made my own vegetable stock.  This time it was a bit of a compromise.  Avoid using a tetra-pack stock unless you know it is of exceptional quality.  You get what you pay for.  The stock must be hot, but don’t let it boil.

Then heat the first 60g butter in a pan slowly with a splash of olive oil (the latter will stop the butter going brown too quickly).  Throw the onions in and fry gently – do not let them colour, as this will carry through the entire dish and make it bitter:

After the onions have softened and turned translucent, throw the rice in, turn the mixture to coat all the rice in the buttery-oily goodness, and keep turning until the rice is toasted, or as the Italians say, ‘until it screams’.  You will hear the sizzle and see a slight change in the colour – it’s not dramatic, and for goodness sake do NOT burn it!

Once the rice is at this point, turn up the heat to absolute highest point and add the vermouth.  You will want it to evaporate as quickly as possible, and burn off all alcohol.  Turn the heat down at this stage to the minimum flame.

Okay, now is the boring part – it will take 20 minutes or so, but this is what makes a risotto truly creamy and proper.  Ladle the hot stock into the rice whilst stirring, constantly.  Is your arm tired?  Get your beloved to stir for 5 minutes or so whilst you prepare the vegetables.  In this case, I had a pack of samphire, or sea asparagus, which just needed a wash under cold water.  The land asparagus was snapped off at the ends and then cut into 1.5 inch pieces on the diagonal.  I shelled the peas and added them too.  Here they all are:

Okay, you’ve prepped your vegetables. Meanwhile, your beloved will have incorporated the rest of the stock into the risotto, and it should be looking delicious and creamy now.  If this is the case and the rice is just cooked (a tiny bit of give left in the centre is perfect), then turn the heat off, drop in the butter and parmesan, give a good stir, and let that incorporate into the risotto.  Then add the lemon juice and zest.  Give yourself a good grind of pepper at this stage if you so desire.

The vegetables will need only a modicum of cooking.  Bring a pan of salted water to a rolling boil, drop the vegetables in, bring back to the boil, turn to medium and leave for 3 minutes maximum.  Drain.

Drain the vegetables, and add to the risotto.  Enjoy!

Serves at least 6 people.

 

Alternatives: if you are a vegan, omit the butter and just use olive oil for the frying; and use a vegan cheese instead of Parmesan.  If you are kosher, then you will use kosher Parmesan – this is a milkhig meal, so don’t try and modify it to be pareve – it won’t be as good without the butter.

Other alternative spring vegetables to add could include haricots verts (green beans), mange-touts (sugar-snap peas), and broad beans (I would double peel them).  I will put up other vegetarian risotto recipes in the future.  Enjoy!

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Savoury tart

When I first moved out of home in 1990 (temporarily), I lived in a flat at the top of Paddington, right near the corner of Queen St and Oxford St.  A block down the road from my place was a wonderful shop called Simmone Logue Fine Foods.  Simmone continues to be a reputable caterer in Sydney, and I think she operates two shops as well as a catering business, also supplying some of the fancier food shops around Australia.  Her food was generally beautiful and delicious, but one of her best offerings were baked tarts, both savoury and sweet.  Being the poor student, I couldn’t shop there often, and I was very grateful when the recipe for her most famous “Savoury Tart” was shared in a newspaper.  I don’t know if it is really ethical to share the exact recipe (after all, Simmone is still around and it is her recipe, not mine), but here’s some pics of my most recent version of the pie.  I added roasted tomatoes and garlic as well as leeks into the filling.  Other key ingredients include eggs, cream and parmesan.  I didn’t have access to a Kitchenaid or Mixmaster, so I made the pastry by hand (it calls for cream cheese, polenta and flour, and it works very well).  It resembles a quiche, but is denser and richer.

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Fanks …

When I arrived in the USA, it was the week before Thanksgiving, and some very kind friends welcomed me to their family Thanksgiving in Boston.  It was quite an evening, and presented below is my first plate of gluttony.  Thanksgiving is quite a unique festival, and seems far more important in American consciousness than any other holiday for many reasons.  Here are some of my own thoughts as to why this holiday captures the imagination:

1. It is an adaptable festival according to the ethnic/religious/cultural tradition of the celebrants

2. It transforms the harvest festival celebration into a homecoming festival for American families (indeed, the first Thanksgiving in Canada was celebrated for the latter reason, the safe return of Martin Frobisher in 1578 after his search for the Northwest passage)

3. It is secular in flavour, even though I have no doubt that there are evocations of divine benevolence in religious households (and a religious connection to harvest festivals)

4. In the popular imagination, Thanksgiving commemorates an event in 1621 where the indigenous Wampanoag tribe assisted the Plymouth colonists by teaching them to fish and providing them seeds for cultivation, thus saving the nascent colony.  One might see an irony in the elevation of this act to the national consciousness whilst generally ignoring the wholesale dispossession, assimilation and genocide of Indigenous American culture and peoples in the 390 years since.  Perhaps that is a little too cynical a view on my part.

5. It is the only 4-day holiday period in the US calendar.  The United States does not observe Boxing Day or the Monday after Easter Sunday.

6. It is the only truly uniquely North American holiday.

So, here’s the food I heaped on my plate – unique to the family Thanksgiving that I attended.  There’s a cranberry jello (to be eaten with main course); turkey and stuffing, zucchini bread, cranberry sauce, apple sauce, sweet potato casserole, green beans.  Many of the foods I had expected to see were not in appearance – the famous green bean casserole (developed by the Campbells Soup Company in the 1950s, a miracle of modern food technology) was absent; there was no Southern touch on the food (no candied yams with marshmallow); and being  Jewish household, obviously no ham.  The desserts are portrayed below – pumpkin pie, chocolate cream pie and apple pie.

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Yes, Virginia, there is a brussels sprout …

I’ve always loved brussels sprouts … I don’t know why.  As a young child I would watch with fascination as my father pushed them endlessly around the plate, in the vain attempt to deceive my mother into thinking he had eaten them.  His visceral reaction was similar to that of my partner Al when I proposed to cook them a few years ago.  There was no discussion.  Then one fine winter’s day we visited Bistrode, a very fine restaurant in Surry Hills in Sydney.  Jeremy and Jane Strode had brussels sprouts on the menu – pan-fried in nut-brown butter with chestnuts.  For Al, it was the light on the road to Damascus.

Here’s my take on the Strode recipe, without chestnuts.  I love chestnuts, but I’m not going to stand around boiling them, peeling them and cutting myself in the process.  This is easier, and really, one can substitute any mealy nut for chestnuts.  This was my first home-made dinner in Washington DC – I purchased the sprouts at the Dupont Circle Sunday farmer’s market.

Ingredients:

1 punnet brussels sprouts (maybe 350g?)

50g unsalted butter

A touch of olive oil

50g  nuts – I suggest almonds, hazelnuts or macadamias, chopped roughly

salt and pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Trim the brussels sprouts of outer leaves, and cut in halves.  Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil.  Cast the sprouts in, bring back to the boil and cook for 4 minutes.  Drain immediately, pat dry with a paper towel.  Heat the butter on medium until it foams; add the oil, and wait until it starts to turn a little brown.  Add the spices to the pan, and throw the sprouts in immediately, face down, give a shake for them to absorb the spices and wait until they crisp up.  Shake the pan, throw the nuts in to warm, season well with salt and pepper, and serve.

This is actually a satisfying light meal in itself, and also a good side for something like roast chicken or a vegetarian dish.  If you are kosher, please don’t destroy this dish by using margarine – just eat it as part of a milkhig or pareve dinner.  The butter is a crucial flavouring ingredient.

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Testimony comes with delightful morsels …

Recently I had the privilege and pleasure of interviewing Edgar and Hanka Krasa, two remarkable survivors from Terezín living in the Boston area.

Edgar sang in all the performances of the Verdi Requiem that Rafi Schächter staged in the ghetto, and he is a major contributor to the dialogue and presentation of Defiant Requiem, a work incorporating the Verdi Requiem and Terezín testimony written by Murry Sidlin, resident conductor of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra. [Disclaimer: I haven’t seen this production].  Edgar was asked to join the first group of the Aufbaukommando, 342 young men sent in late 1941 to set up Terezín as a ghetto for the Jewish population of Bohemia and Moravia.  Because of his training, Edgar assisted in the setting up of the kitchens in Terezín. Hanka worked in the Landwirtschaft (agricultural labour force) and escaped deportation to the East because of this work. The initial meeting with Edgar and Hanka took place at the home of their friends, Ralf and Basia Gawlick.  Ralf works at Boston College with my dear friend Michael Noone, hence the introduction. It was a very meaningful afternoon, but I felt we needed to talk in more detail one-on-one, so we arranged another meeting with Edgar and Hanka, this time at their home.

Together with Michael we sat around the Krasa’s dining room table and talked about features of musical life in the ghetto, both formal and informal.  We discussed all different aspects of society in the ghetto.  And of course, being a Jewish home, we were offered an abundance of food – all traditional Czech biscuits (cookies, known as vánocní cukrový) and a seriously delicious plum cake (švestkový kolác). Hopefully I will get some of the recipes from Hanka in coming months.

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Best cake I’ve eaten in DC

For my friend Jessica’s birthday, we met at a great little konditorei (cake shop) in Georgetown called Leopold’s. I don’t know if they named it after Stokowski or Mozart’s father – probably neither. It’s hidden away off the main drag, so it’s less touristy than other places, and the best thing about it (naturally) are the cakes. They serve coffee in the traditional Viennese manner, but one gripe: if one orders eine Mélange in a café in Wien, then it comes with a glass of water (no ice, please!) and a silver spoon perched precariously over the glass.  Anyway, this was the cake I had there: the Karamell-Grey, a dark-chocolate cake with Earl Grey scented caramel ganache.  I couldn’t quite taste or smell the distinctive bergamot note of Earl Grey, but then again, I have a lousy sense of smell.  In any event, es war sehr köstlich (vielleicht der richtige wort ist “delikat”).

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Greek lentil stew

Ah, the joys of running out of money … it prompts one to reach for the tried, true and economical in the cooking repertoire.  Here’s a delicious soup/stew that I make during winter, but you can eat it all year round.  I got the recipe on the web some years ago, but have modified it enough to feel confident about claiming it as my own take on the traditional faki or lentil stew.  It’s incredibly cheap to make, all the ingredients are vegan/pareve, and it uses a very different technique to a traditional soup/stew method, starting off with boiling stock rather than building a base on a mirepoix.

Ingredients:

1.5 cups brown lentils (dried)

2 L vegetable stock

1 medium bulb fennel, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 bottle of tomato sugo (pureed tomato – 750ml – buy the italian brand from the supermarket, or puréed tomatoes, or blend canned tomatoes to a purée with a stick blender)

2 bay leaves, 2 sprigs thyme

Rinse the lentils thoroughly.  Now here’s the strange part.  Start by boiling the stock – must be a good rolling boil.  Then add all the vegetables (fennel, carrot, garlic, onion) along with the lentils, oil, sugo and herbs.  Bring back to the boil, take down to a simmer.  Cover partially with a lid, and cook for just under an hour, stirring occasionally.  If you like, you may add some greens towards the end – beetroot greens, silverbeet or spinach about 10 minutes before the hour is up, heavier greens like kale or chard maybe 20 minutes before.  Once the hour is up, check for seasoning (it will definitely need salt and pepper).  This should make up to 6 servings, and costs well under $10 to make.  I like to garnish with a bit of crumbled feta – but any cheese would be nice.

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