A Sunday Savoiardi extravaganza

My godmother (or comare in Italian), who I adore, is a fabulous cook.  Like Mamma Rosa and others who grew up in Italy in the decades following the second world war, they took simple ingredients, often home grown, and figured out firstly how to make them go as far as possible, and secondly how to make them as flavoursome as possible.  Once in Australia they adapted and learnt new things and new ingredients – comare’s spinach and ricotta cannelloni crepes are to die for –  but may of the traditions and recipes remain true.

Also like Mamma Rosa, comare is a damn good biscuit maker, both of them can whip up amaretti and crostoli like nobody’s business.

A while back my comare bought me a particular plate of biscuits that I loved and I wanted to learn how to make them.  She called them savoiardi but was quick to point out that they aren’t “savoiardi della nonna”, the traditional variety.  So this morning comare and I met half way in Mamma Rosa’s kitchen for a Sunday baking session. Laughs were had, stories were told, hugs were given.

In typical Italian handed down fashion, there isn’t a strict flour measure.  It’s the good old phrase you’ll find even now in many an Italian cookbook: the flour should be “quanto basta” or “quanto se ne prende” (literally “however much is enough” or “however much it takes”, both extremely useful measures). You need a piping bag for these, the mixture is sticky and difficult to handle – if it is easy to manage with your hands then you know you’ve gone too far on the flour.

My comare’s savoiardi

These use only yolks, so you’ll have a dozen whites to use – so often after making a batch of these she makes almond bread.

Ingredients
12 egg yolks from large eggs, at room temperature
1 slightly heaped cup of caster sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 cup Grand Marnier liquor
2 teaspoons baking powder
Approx. 450-500g self raising flour, sifted

Making them

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees fan forced and line a tray with baking paper
  2. Using an electric mixer, whisk the yolks, then add the caster sugar and whisk until thick.  Then add the canola oil and the liquor and continue to whisk until combined
  3. Finally add the sifted flour and the baking powder and combine.  The mixture should be reasonably thick but quite stickysavoiardi (2)
  4. Put the mixture into a piping bag with a large attachment for biscuits (ie not one for pastry decorating).  Comare had a bad ass version, have to get me one of these. You can go for either ridged or smooth, but the ridges largely disappear as they rise. savoiardi (1)
  5. Pipe the biscuits to the desired length and then put in the over for 10-15 minutes until golden.

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So so good.

After we whipped these ones up, comare says “let’s make the other ones too”.  Who am I to argue?

Savoiardi della Nonna

These follow largely the same method, just a slightly different mix of ingredients.

Ingredients
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 slightly heaped cup of caster sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Grated rind of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons baking powder
Approx. 500g self raising flour, sifted

Making them

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees fan forced and line a tray with baking paper
  2. Using an electric mixer, whisk the eggs, then add the caster sugar and whisk until thick.  Then add the canola oil, vanilla extract and lemon and  continue to whisk until combined
  3. Finally add the sifted flour and the baking powder and combine.  The mixture should be reasonably thick but quite sticky
  4. Put the mixture into a piping bag with a large attachment for biscuits and pipe the biscuits to the desired length and then put in the over for 10-15 minutes until golden.

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Thank you comare xxxx

A Bromance and a Chinese dinner

Like me, one of my Sorelle also has two boys.  The bromance between her two and my Small People is a strong one; I often joke that we should park the four of them in an apartment and just pop in to visit once a week.  When the school holidays come around there is avid pestering by all parties to spend days and nights together.  So on the first Monday of these school holidays they were re-united, the joy on the occurrence giving the impression that they had not seen each other for months rather than weeks.

For dinner, my Sorella, who spoils them, took them all out for Chinese.   One of my Small People penned a review, which he insisted that I post.  I don’t think Terry Durack or Jonathan Lethlean are at risk just yet.

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On a Monday night, we all had different thoughts of which restaurant to eat at. The choices were Italian, Chinese or the Hunters Hill hotel bistro. The Italian restaurant was closed so there was two choices and by a unanimous agreement, we voted to go to Chinese.

The restaurant was called Grand View Restaurant and it was called Grand View for a reason. The view from our position was very exotic as we saw the sunset.

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Once we were seated, we chose what to eat. We ordered prawn dumplings, 2 servings of dim sims, fried rice, chicken chow mein and sizzling beef.
On arrival, we were given prawn crackers. They were peculiar, they looked funny, they were light pink and we all described them as “a crispy, hardened texture”. I though they tasted like fish, and I decided it was best to save some space to eat all the rest of my meals. My brother had the same opinion as me. On the other hand, Josh and Max really liked them as an appetiser

The prawn dumplings came first. They were definitely the dish of the night for me. It was interesting to see how Josh and Max would like them as they had never eaten them before. We had mixed opinions about the dumplings. I loved them both taste and texture. Josh said, “I liked the texture but not the taste”. My brother said, “These were the best prawn dumplings I have had” and Max said “the dumplings tasted really good

grandview2Not long after, the pork dim sims were served. This was my first time eating them and all of us thought they looked like brains. We all seemed to like them even if they did look like brains. Josh and Max liked them with soy sauce whereas my brother and I though they tasted good in their original formgrandview3

Although we gorged on the dumplings, we still had enough room to eat the fried rice. My brother and I split the rice in half. The fried rice was definitely a highlight of the night for me. The flavours were well balanced and it was very easy to eatgrandview4

The chicken chow mein was served a while after the fried rice. I didn’t order it, but I was lucky enough to try some of Josh’s chicken chow mein. The chicken was cooked in an unusual way, with a slimy texture. It tasted good own its own but was better when mixed with the noodles and other componentsgrandview5

The final dish of the night was the sizzling steak. It looked very appealing with its sizzling effect, this made us satisfied. I thought there was too much marination, which took away the flavour of the meat. I thought it wasn’t my kind of thing to eat. Even with all the setbacks, I thought it was well presented and with less marinating, it would be bettergrandview6

Overall, I thought the restaurant did a very good job. I rate it an 8/10. I liked all the dishes and I should come back some time soon.

The Festival of Nonna

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The Festival of Nonna celebrates the Italian matriarch, the epicentre of the clan, the recipes that have been handed down verbally by generation, without measurements but by feel, taste and a love of simple and fresh ingredients.  The series of dinners, being held in Sydney and Melbourne between 8 October and 26 October, feature Italian chefs and their mothers, Nonna to their children.

This evening we have Luca Ciano, who came to Australia from Milan Michelin starred restaurant Il Luogo, and his delightful mother Nonna Anita, at A Tavola in Sydney’s Darlinghurst.  She is full of energy and enthusiasm, in spite of having ended her 20 plus hour journey from Italy that morning, and just adorable.  Together they start making Anita’s Bolognese.  It begins with a classic “soffritto” of onion, carrot, and celery in olive oil, followed by the addition of mince of veal, pork and meat from an Italian sausage.  Red wine, crushed tomatoes, and bay leaves are next.  She also adds thyme, I’ll have to give that a try next time.  Like me, she does not include garlic, which would probably surprise a lot of people.

Such a sauce would typically slow simmer for hours, and Nonna Anita is a little mortified that we are tasting it before it is fully cooked, served with some fluffy gnocchi that Luca has whipped up in the blink of an eye in the meantime.  The gentle ribbing and arguing between them in Italian is very funny and reminds me of my conversations with Mamma Rosa.  There’s plenty of opportunity to chat to them both through the evening, as they hand out jars of special Festival of Nonna pasta sauce, and while we enjoy a beautiful and extensive Italian menu, accompanied by very drinkable prosecco and wine. The lighting is not great, so apologies for the photos which don’t do any justice to the food.

It is the nature of these special relationships, often developed in the kitchen, that led the Lubrano family behind Sandhurst Fine Foods to launch the Festival of Nonna last year. Mimmo, his wife and Nonna Geraldine, the Sandhurst Matriarch, are there that evening and I have a wonderful time talking to them.  I’ve always wondered why an Italian family company has a name like Sandhurst so it was great to ask them in person.  When they bought the farm in the 1960’s – then owned by a Russian, a Pole and an Englishman – it was called Sandhurst Farm and they never changed it.  Back then Geraldine and husband Vince ran a deli.  Vince was a fisherman in Italy before coming to Australia; neither of them really knew much about farming, manufacturing, and distribution.  But like many Italian migrants who came to Australia for a better life, hard work did not scare them and they seized the opportunity.  And so it began.

It was all in for the family, with their two sons Mimmo and Ray being embedded in the business from the beginning. I love hearing that the family still sits down to lunch every day, prepared by patriarch Vince who is 86.

Over time, they looked for other family businesses to work with who would provide them with the quality of ingredients they expected. Sitting next to us is a couple from far north Queensland, the Torrisi family, who’ve been supplying them all their basil for twenty years.  Similarly, the eggplant they use comes from a family in Mildura.  The importance to them of family relationships extends to long lasting business relationships.

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I want to adopt Nonna Geraldine, and I’m sure she means it when she gives us an invitation to join them for lunch one day.  A few weeks ago I became Nonna-less.  I was very blessed in both my Nonnas – kind, strong, selfless and loving women who never breathed a word of complaint about the hardships they endured and the poverty of post war Italy.  My Nonna in Italy, who I am named after, had a wicked sense of humour and was remarkably open minded for one of her era.  I’ll never forget her laugh.

The Festival of Nonna, October 2017
http://sandhurstfinefoods.com.au/nonna/events/

Napoli Restaurant Alert dined as a guest of Festival of Nonna

Jade Temple, Sydney

Neil and his new backers have swapped Australian fine dining for an attempt at high end Chinese speckled with (and I quote) “more contemporary interpretations”.  It is not very jade-y, nor very temple-y, and a few Rockpool bits still linger, covered up with some lanterns and windows of duck ready to be roasted.

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When word got out that this was opening, many commented how close in location it was to Mr Wong, and would it have any impact on that insanely popular venue, but really they are very different in atmosphere and style.  Mr Wong for me has more vibe.

I visited twice, once at lunch and once at dinner. The verdict – a mixed bag.  Great cocktail menu though, very reminiscent of Spice Temple which is a good thing.

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The oysters with ginger and black bean were delicious; loved the big green bowl even more.

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But were they kidding themselves with these chicken wings? Three little chicken wings for $19 (and some ordinary sweet and sour sauce), with a very sub par batter.

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Likewise these pork short ribs (I think that’s what it was, I tried to put it out of my mind) were rather ordinary.

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The pork and prawn shumai (3 for $12, same as Mr Wongs) were at standard.

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Liked the texture in these crystal dumplings with truffled mushroom but I found them a bit dry.

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The “pineapple” bbq pork bun was very good indeed, tasty pastry, flavoured meat, but really didn’t look anything like a pineapple that the menu description implied.

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I did love the XO pippies though, a great XO.  We tried them with the crunch noodles for something different but steamed would be better for absorbing the sauce.

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On the second visit I tried the XO with steamed scallops.

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The Madarin style bass grouper has unusual flavour, but in a good way, I can’t quite pick it.

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I recommend the rusty razor blades, had it on both visits, pork with caramel and chilli.  I was worried it would be too sweet but the balance of the sweet and the spice is spot on.

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Beautiful steamed noodles, so silky,  but the shrimp floss was too salty for me.

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So while the savoury was a mixed bag, the desserts shone.

The flavours of Phil’s vacherin must be a shout out to the Rockpool vacherin, and delightfully refreshing.  The lemongrass spoke Thai to me rather than Chinese, but that didn’t stop the enjoyment.

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I love sago, it’s one of those things people love or hate, so I really enjoyed the sago and mango pudding.

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And we all just adored the fried vanilla and date ice cream, splashed with maple sauce. So good.

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For groups, there are banquet menus for $75 and $95.

Jade Temple, 11 Bridge Street, Sydney
http://www.jadetemple.com.au

Jade Temple Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

In My Kitchen, September 2017

Spring has arrived and with it the September edition of IMK, a global monthly link up currently hosted by Sherry’s Pickings.   Here’s what is happening in the Napoli kitchen this month!

In my kitchen are lots of eggs. The girls are going great guns, and we are now occasionally in surplus, so it’s lovely to be able to give some home grown fresh eggs to people.  Rosie (aka The Unit) is producing double yolkers every now and again, while baby Grace produces these little mini pointy eggs.

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The Small People carefully collect the eggs from the nesting boxes every afternoon when they get home from school; they love the variation in size and colour and regularly send me photos of each day’s collection.

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Outside my kitchen window is an excavator.  It’s all systems go go go on the Grande Rinnovamento.  We are, I think, only the fourth family to own this grand old lady in it’s 127 year history.  These walls hold a lot of stories; the servant bells around the house with one for the “drawing room” speak of bygone eras, as does the little box at the back of the laundry with a door, which was once used for servant food deliveries. It is going to be a long, and no doubt sometimes complicated ride, but we are all very excited about it.

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In my kitchen is chocolate with white truffles, which the Sorella bought back from her recent trip to Croatia.  The fragrance when I opened the packet was incredible, and so was the taste, which was much more truffle than chocolate.

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I recently added to my cake tin stash with this great ridged tin.  It is a traditional shape for Amor Polenta cake which I made last week, but I’m sure other cakes will be great in it too.

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That’s it from my kitchen this month.  It’s going to be a busy few weeks as we plan to move out as the renovation accelerates, and onto a temporary kitchen until we can return.  Hope all my Australian readers have enjoyed a lovely Father’s Day today.

Today’s cake – Amor Polenta

Such a romantic sounding cake, one with the word love in the title.  Hailing from Lombardia in Italy’s north, it is not an extravagant cake, but typical of Cucina Povera where polenta or cornmeal was often used to take food a little bit further.   Traditionally Amor Polenta is prepared in a ridged cake tin, but no reason why you couldn’t use a normal loaf pan.  The tin I bought was a little too big for this quantity of mix, as the cake is usually nice and high, so next time I’ll make a double batch of mixture (or buy a smaller tin, but I think I’ll go with the double batch as it’s a gorgeous cake).   You need very very finely ground polenta or cornmeal for this, not the typical polenta used in savoury dishes, or you’ll get a very grainy texture.  The Strega – an Italian liquor and a favourite of Mamma Rosa, added a delightful subtle fragrance to it. The Marito loved it, so did I. This one is going to become a regular for sure.

Ingredients
120g caster sugar
100g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
8g baking powder
100g fine cornmeal (polenta)
80g flour, tipo 00
70g almond meal
Splash of liquor such as Strega or rum
Icing sugar, for dusting

Making it

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees and grease the tin with melted butter. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter until combined then add the eggs and beat till nice and creamy. Add the vanilla and baking powder and combine. Add the cornmeal and combine, then the tipo 00 and combine, and then finally the almond. Lastly add the Strega. Pour the mixture into the tin and use a knife to smooth the batter. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool and dust with icing sugar.

 

Bacco Osteria e Espresso, Sydney

A cobbled laneway.  An Italian osteria.  Chefs who know Italian food.  It’s all looking positive for Bacco, recently opened in Ash Street.  Since Fratelli Fresh fell into the hands of a large dining conglomerate and Andy Bunn left the scene, it isn’t quite the same, so was good to see a new casual Italian diner around this end of town.  It’s a handy spot to catch up with a friend for a chat, who is about to make me jealous with her itinerary of three months of travel.

The interior is unfussy, true to an osteria style.  And the menu is compact but broadly appealing, other than some specific offal dish which doesn’t tempt us.  Be prepared to get to know your neighbours, the tables along the side wall are so close to each other that they may as well have been joined.  Not the place if you’re looking for privacy.

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The dishes we try are tasty and the flavours good. What lets them down that night is the service. Drinks have to be chased, attention is hard to come by, and when my credit card payment doesn’t get processed properly there’s more waiting because the waitress disappears so fast that I can’t catch anyone’s eye to fix it. A runner would have been easy. So there’s a bit of work to be done but it’s early days. Anyway here is what we try

A couple of simple potato and prosciutto croquettes. I’m partial the odd croquette, especially when they have a good crunchy coating.

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The artichokes with straciatella is Italian simplicity done well. The straciatella is gorgeous

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Grilled quail with witlof and pine nuts.  Simple, nicely cooked quail but the dressing is a little tart for my liking.

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The pasta dishes are very nicely executed. Though at $24 and $26 they don’t have the portion generosity of a Flour Eggs Water. CBD rents and all that.

Gnocchi with pistachio – petite little pillows combine with nutty crunch

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Strozzapretti with a pork and guanciale ragu – very nice indeed.

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Bacco Osteria e Espresso, 1 Angel Place, Sydney Ph 02 9235 3383
http://www.bacco.com.au

Bacco Osteria e Espresso Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato