In my Christmas kitchen, December 2016

‘Twas three weeks before Christmas, and in the Napoli house,
the KitchenAid was stirring, much faster than a mouse.
Pretty boxes were laid with paper doillies with care,
Wouldn’t St Nicholas have a feast if he arrived there.

I think St Nicholas would be pretty delighted if he stumbled into my kitchen in the midst of my frenzy of Christmas sweet making in my kitchen. At this time of year, I love to make biscuits and sweets to give to friends, the boys’ school teachers, work colleagues, and clients. It is even more fun hand delivering them.

This weekend’s haul included crostoli, recipe here

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Some moreish little whiskey biscuits, recipe here

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Almond bread, which turned out particularly fantastic, I had to put it quickly in boxes before I ate it all, recipe here

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And some pistachio biscotti, recipe here.

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After that I needed to sit down for a bit.

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Fortunately, with all the eggs I needed, our chooks have been going great guns, each of them laying every single day for the last ten days or so.  One of the girls (my bet is on Lily), has been laying some whopper eggs.  We were pretty impressed with this 88 grammer a week ago

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But then, last Friday morning out of the nesting box came this one, 105 grams! I liken this to giving birth to a 14 pound baby, and I’m surprised whoever laid it didn’t sit down for a week to recover. But no, she laid the next day too.

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Here is the Monster Egg as we called it pictured next to a 70 gram egg, which is considered “extra large” in the supermarket.  It is exactly fifty percent more in weight. And here it is in my hand, to give you a feel. I’m hoping this means the girls are happy!

I hope you are having a lovely December in your corner of the world.  Have a peak at other kitchens in the In My Kitchen series, hosted by Lovely Liz at Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things.

Buon Natale from the Napoli Household.

Panettone and Pandoro

To me, it never feels like Christmas is coming until I open the first panettone.  In late November, the Italian delis around Sydney are filled with different varieties shipped from the big brand Italian bakeries – the more traditional with candied fruit or sultanas, or more recent varieties with flavours like limoncello cream and chocolate.  I am a bit  particular about the ones I buy, and that means mostly avoiding the ones you’ll find in the major supermarket chains. Among the mass produced ones, brands I like include Motta, Paluani and Bauli, which you’ll typically buy for $10-$15. Pay up and you’ll get something more bespoke or artisan.

There are lots of stories about the origin of panettone, including one that it was named after some bloke called Tony (“pane di toni”). In any case it is known that it originated in Milan and was always made for Christmas and New Year, with Angelo Motta becoming one of the early large producers back in 1919.  Pandoro (“bread of gold”) on the other hand comes from Verona, and, as its name implies, is a golden fluffy sweet bread without any fruit.  Typically made in a star formation, give it a shake in the bag with the provided icing sugar and it is meant to resemble snow falling down a mountain.

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If you are ambitious, you could try and make some of your own, but its a three day proving process and a real labour of love.  I’ll leave it to the experts thank you very much; but if you’re up for it, you’ll find a recipe in a book I have and really like, The Italian Baker.

I love my panettone and pandoro straight up with a good espresso.  But there are plenty of other things you can do with it, starting with making it French toast for breakfast. Slice your pandoro or panettone to the desired thickness; in a bowl beat an egg, a little milk, a little icing sugar and some vanilla extract, dip your pandoro and fry in a pan with melted butter.  Add some yoghurt and fresh fruit and dust with icing sugar.  Buonissimo.

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Then there are plenty of desserts, like this Amalfi lemon delicious with limoncello custard, recipe here.

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Or this caramelised panettone with grilled peaches, recipe here

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For a very rich and very extravagant dessert that will feed a crowd, try this blueberry, mango and praline trifle, recipe here

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A family favourite is this Torta di Verona recipe.

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How ever you have it, you can’t go too far wrong. Buon natale!

Spaghetti with zucchini and baby spinach

This recipe of Adam Liaw’s that appeared in the paper a few weeks ago has become a regular one in the Napoli household. All that lovely green! The original recipe is here but I’ve made some minor tweaks. I’ve upped the quantities to make it a main course instead of an entree, and I’ve swapped some of the butter for olive oil as I found it a bit too buttery. I used a mandoline with the finest Julien setting for the zucchini. And I made it with wholemeal spaghetti which added to the flavour. You could probably also add some nuts to this, either toasted pine nuts, some slivered almonds or chopped pistachio. You could make this vegan by using all olive oil instead of butter and omitting the cheese.
Serves 4

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Ingredients
40g butter
250g baby spinach
1 brown onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 medium/large zucchini, cut into matchsticks
salt for seasoning
500g Barilla wholemeal spaghetti
Grated parmesan cheese, to taste

Making it
1. Heat the butter in a pan over low heat, saute the spinach until wilted, season then transfer to a small food processor and puree until smooth

2. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large frypan, saute onion until softened, then add zucchini and toss for a few minutes until softened. Drain the spaghetti and add to the frypan, season then stir through the spinach puree an combine well so that all the spaghetti is well coated. Serve with parmesan cheese as desired.

Bouche on Bridge, Sydney

Bouche is the latest venue to join the blossoming line up on Bridge St, but one that is easy to miss with a discreet and slightly set back door.  Chef Harry Stockdale-Powell presides in the kitchen, hailing from Rockpool and Marque.  The influence of the latter is evident in particular, with some decidedly Marque-esque plating and little, but not too much, trickery.   The vision is a “new take on fine dining” and you can see where they are going – no tablecloths, an attractive bar, and quality produce on the menu, sparsely worded as seems to have become the norm. But the staff, as I found on my couple of visits, are truly excellent and more than happy to fill in the blanks and aid your decision making, or not.   The food itself was mixed – some excellent dishes, some good, and some a miss; I’m sure a kitchen team of this pedigree will iron out the kinks over time.  It was the smaller dishes overall that didn’t hit the mark for me.

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We start with oysters with a blood orange granita and wakame.  Great oysters, but too much blood orange and they were a little drowned and lost.

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The combination of kingfish, beetroot and pomelo is a good one but it was a little dry and needed some dressing.

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It was the duck neck sausage with marsala prunes that disappointed most, we were looking forward to it but it just lacked flavour and tasted very fatty, nor did I enjoy the marsala prunes. It was also a cold dish which was unexpected.

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However I loved the Jerusalem artichoke, an underrated vegetable, done sous vide and then grilled, served with a parsley root oil and sheep’s milk.

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The eschallot tarte tatine with parmesan ice cream is a clever dish.  Generously sized, it could be shared as an entrée between four trying a few plates or make a main course for a vegetarian. A little more seasoning wouldn’t have gone astray, and the ice cream is silky but the parmesan flavour too subtle.

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The main course proteins though, rock it.  The short rib with horseradish and sorrel is butter meltingly tender and just delicious.

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So too is the Wessex saddlebag suckling pig.

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And then oh! The baked mash! Don’t miss it whatever you do.

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If you do feel like dessert but not something overly sweet go for goats cheese with beetroot and liquorice sponge.  I’m not a fan of the sponge but I adore the texture and freshness of the beetroot sorbet.

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The caramelised nectarines with a fine honeycomb disk and a frozen sorrel also wins me over.

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The hazelnut and chocolate ball with malt is huge and easily shared (in fact, all the desserts are generous) and a bit too rich for me, but any chocolate lover would be very happy indeed.

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Bouche on Bridge, 6 Bridge St Sydney, ph +61 2 8278 9400
http://www.boucheonbridge.com

Bouche on Bridge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mamma Rosa’s rice balls (polpetti di riso)

Mamma Rosa rules supreme in the “rice ball” world, as we call them.  For as long as I can remember, a plate of steaming hot rice balls appears at any family get together for us all to snack on before the main event.  Countless times over the years she’s been asked to make them for parties of family friends and relatives too.

One Sunday I say to the Marito “I’m going to have a crack at making them myself”.  There is a sharp intake of breath – it is like I am committing a transgression, or heading into some seriously dangerous territory.  I use the recipe she scribed in my little book. I need about another twenty years practice to get them like hers, but I’ll get there.  These are best if you cook the rice a day ahead of making them.

Ingredients
500g long grain rice
200g grated Parmeggiano
5 eggs, lightly beaten
Finely chopped parsley, to taste
Breadcrumbs
Salt
Oil for frying

Making them
1. Cook the rice in a large pot of well salted water. Once cooked, let strain for at least an hour then put the rice in  a large bowl. If you are making them on the day, wait till the rice is completely cooled, otherwise put the rice in the fridge for assembly the next day.

2. To the rice, add the eggs, cheese, parsley and season.  Combine well with your hands.  Once combined, start shaping the mixture into rissoles then roll in breadcrumbs to coat. Once formed, put them in the fridge for at least an hour before cooking.

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Here are my uneven, awkward, and slightly too big ones

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Here are Mamma Rosas petite uniform ones

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3. Heat the oil in a heavy based frypan and fry gently until golden. Serve hot.

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Fred’s, Paddington

Unlike many of Merivale’s other venues, Fred’s, on Oxford Street, is a little more intimate, seating only sixty. But that may well be intentional, because they want it to feel like a bit of a home away from home. Walk past the bar at the front (where you can also eat the full restaurant menu)….

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…and into the warm dining room, where the kitchen is more than just an open kitchen, it’s an integral part of the room. You can sit at the kitchen bench, as you would when you are visiting a friend, or at the various tables. Head chef Danielle Alvarez, whose impressive resume includes Chez Panisse and French Laundry, is all warmth and delight.

Fred’s took a lot longer to open than planned, but it seems that this has resulted in a better end product, giving the team time to source from the farmers and suppliers they wanted to work with, and more importantly to Danielle, develop personal relationships with them.

We start with some fougasse, which is meant to be the French equivalent of focaccia. Light and airy, it comes with some delicious whipped butter, and we spread generous lashings of it on the bread.

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The Merivale group’s head sommelier, Franck Moreau is in the house that night. One of only three Master Sommeliers in Australia, and one of the top ranked of his ilk in the world, Franck oozes passion and French charm. Lucky for us, he married an Australian who dragged him over here to live. I can’t get a good shot because he is so animated talking about wine! I tell him I’m partial to pinot noir and he selects one from the New Zealand’s Marlborough region by Pyramid Valley which we all rate.

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The food comes out much quicker than you’d expect. Why? Not because anything has been pre-cooked, but because the quality ingredients, all ethically and sustainably sourced, have been tampered with so little. An entrée, main course and dessert will set you back about $90 – or you can have the 5 course “Danielle’s menu” for $95 – but you can pay for it with a  very clear conscience.

There are two pasta dishes that night, the asparagus triangoli and the casarecce with rabbit. The first is all spring freshness; and in the second the rabbit is beautifully braised. There is also a woodfired squid dish which one of our table tries and loves, and I earmark it for next time.

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We also try a simple salad of golden beets and radicchio. So pretty and so refreshing.

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For main course we try roast duck, ocean trout (which has been cooked rapped in fig leaf), and lamb (roasted over the hearth), with a side of roast potatoes. It is all brilliantly simple and enough to (temporarily) silence a group of feisty talkative women as we savour what is before us.

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We order one of each of the desserts . A chocolate mousse, the rhubarb tart, and the macadamia meringue –  or you can also opt for a cheese plate – and for me the meringue is the stand out, with strawberry and yoghurt sorbet on top.

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Underneath the restaurant is a bar, Charlie Parkers, which has its own bar food menu, and is heaving with patrons trying the inventive drinks menu one week into opening. And although we have already had dessert, I have to try the burnt salted caramel ice cream with rum. So good.

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There are cosy nooks in Charlie Parkers that you can book for groups of six or more, as well as a small private room at Fred’s.

But who exactly is Fred? That will remain a Merivale Mystery.

Freds, 380 Oxford St Paddington, Ph +61 2 9240 3000
http://www.merivale.com/freds

Charlie Parkers
http://www.merivale.com/charlieparkers

Fred's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

In my kitchen, November 2016

Halloween has just passed and the boys’ haul sits on the kitchen counter.  I must say it was so lovely seeing so many children and parents wander around the neighbourhood.  Some familiar faces, plenty of new ones, lots of smiling and such a pleasant community feel to it.  It made me think how nice it would be if it happened more often; the Italians know what they are doing in those little villages with their evening passeggiata.

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I found a little surprise in the letterbox the other day.  I was puzzled at first as to what it was, but further inspection showed it to be an antique stamp with the name of the house and the address.   The daughter of house (of the previous owners) found it and thought we might like it; her father had it made several decades ago.  Wonderful!

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Meanwhile, over the last few weeks the garden has come alive with colour, there are blooms everywhere.  Our chooks are loving exploring it all.  Though I think I may be overfeeding the girls, they’re getting awfully big and have been producing some whopper eggs – this one weighed in at 79 grams.

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The other day I bought some mulberry seeds.  I adore mulberries, but they are quite hard to find and the season is short.  Occasionally I stumble across them at farmers markets.  They will take quite a long time to grow, the Marito and I have to figure out where in the yard they will end up once they graduate from the pots, as the trees do get quite big.

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In my kitchen is some granola I bought. Most granolas have dried fruit and maple syrup which automatically rule them out for me as I just find them too sweet.  This one had neither and a just dash of honey, though I did find the cinnamon a little strong for my taste.  I think I will try making my own.

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IMK regulars will recall that last month I bought some San Marzano tomatoes that most pizza chefs rave about.  A few of you wanted to know if they were any good. So when I made pizza the other day I gave them a test. “What did you do differently to this pizza?” said the Marito.  They definitely resulted in a more flavoursome sauce (and yes, that is a Lego tablecloth in the background, its from the boys’ birthday party a few years ago).

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For all of you IMK’ers who are baking sourdough from Celia’s Priscilla – a party trick for your starter (though maybe everyone knows it and I’m just late to the party) to know that it is ready to turn into dough – put a dollop in a glass of water.  If it floats, you are good to go! If not you may need to wait for your starter to get bubblier or it may need another feed and another few hours.

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What’s happening in your kitchen? Thanks to Liz from Bizzy Lizzy’s Good Things who is now hosting this monthly linkup.