In My Kitchen, March 2015

We’ve somehow crept into another month.  Summer is technically over, but Sydney remains hot and humid, with the occasional cooler night.  I’m thinking about what I could plant in my small garden plot once my basil is gone.  But that’s outside, so here’s what is inside my kitchen this month.

An old pot of my Nonna’s.  When we were packing up the house when my grandparents passed away, I wanted a little kitchen keepsake.  She used to use this little pot, which is from sometime in the 70’s, to boil and egg or make a bit of tomato sauce.  I think of her when I use it, such a kind and gentle woman whose eyes lit up whenever she saw her grandchildren, and more recently her great grandchildren.

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Homemade vanilla extract – using vodka and vanilla beans.  Its about 3 weeks old in this photo, the beans need to have steeped for 3 months or so before its ready, but it already is smelling devine.  Apparently doing it this way gives a much better flavour than the store bought stuff (which apparently goes through all sorts of chemical processes) – I’ll let you know in June!

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Truffle butter.  The boys’ lovely Italian teacher was kind enough to bring this jar after her recent trip to Italy.  On my freshly baked homemade bread, its devine.

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And here is the aforementioned homemade bread.  My starter, La Figlia, a descendent of Priscilla, Celia’s starter (check out Fig Jam and Lime Cordial who hosts this In My Kitchen series each month), is going great guns and I now bake bread every Sunday morning. The boys love it.

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I also got some wicker bread proofing baskets, or bannetons as they are known in bread making circles. I made a small loaf of rye (that’s the rye on the right in the picture above) and left it to rise in one.

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In my kitchen you’ll find a food vacuum sealer, which Aldi had recently as a special buy.  Given my work schedule, I do rely on the freezer a lot (I figure its still better than takeaway) and my husband and I thought it would keep certain foods better (it does).

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And finally in my kitchen you’ll find a book I stumbled across, Amo la cucina Calabrese (“I love the cuisine of Calabria).  Calabria – the boot of Italy – is where my family hails from, and where my other Nonna (who I am named after) still lives.  This book contains some hardcore old school recipes.  Many of them are similar to Mamma Rosas in that they have no quantities and use phrases like “quanto basta” ie “add however much it needs”. Mamma Rosa’s recipes also contain “a piacere”, which means “however much you like”.  Both are very useful measures when cooking.

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What’s in your kitchen this Sydney Autumn?

Three Michelin Star Italian? Otto e Mezzo Bombana, Hong Kong

It has taken me a few months to write this post up, which I suppose tells you something. I was in Hong Kong for a couple of days last December, and after a busy day of meetings, a few colleagues and I decided to try the Three Michelin Starred Otto e Mezzo Bombana, so named after Federico Fellini’s 1963 movie, and executive Chef Umberto Bombana.   It’s the only Italian restaurant outside of Italy to get three whole sparkles, so I was expecting big things. It is in a shopping centre which does make for somewhat of an odd window view if you sit in that section of the restaurant; in Australian shopping centre fine dining has failed miserably.  But in places like Hong Kong, a city of giant interconnecting malls and hotels, that is where you’ll find a lot of the high end eats. There is an a la carte menu but most opt for the degustation, as did we. I wouldn’t call it traditional Italian, rather Italian influenced.

There were moments of brilliance, but only moments, and for A$280 each with only one glass of wine, we do much better in Sydney. Service was faultless which took it up a notch, but I doubt Jill Dupleix and Terry Durack would hand over three toques so readily.   So here was our menu:

Broccoli puree with house mortadella. Interesting combination – good as an amuse bouche – don’t think a big serve would have workedottoemezzo (2)

Seared red tuna with fennel pollen, tomato and citrus emulsion, calvisius elite caviar. Looked pretty, but unremarkable flavour. ottoemezzo (3)

Fresh porcini salad. I love fresh porcini, which had no doubt been flown in at great expense (this was an extra dish we ordered and not part of the degustation). I thought it had some kind of tiny egg on it, but it was actually a curd which I thought was unnecessary. ottoemezzo (4)

Artisanal trenette – scampi and Mediterranean flavour. I’m not quite sure what the “Mediterranean flavour” consisted of but this dish tasted strangely sweet, almost like it had sugar in it. Odd. One of our non-scampi-eating group had the ragu, and I had order envy – that smelt devine.ottoemezzo (5)

Roast blue lobster – winer salad, topinambur (that’s Jerusalem artichoke for the layman), lobster and mushroom jus. Nothing special here, the quality of the lobster was disappointing.ottoemezzo (6)

Maruya beef sirloin signature series – roast root, aromatic herbs and natural jus. Outstanding beef, perfectly cooked. Finally we’re talking.ottoemezzo (7)

Montebianco – marron ice cream, meringue and Chantilly. Loved this dessert, original, not too sweet, just the right size, good texturally. We end on a high note. What I did find odd is that an Italian restaurant would use marron in the name, the French word for chestnut, rather than castagna.ottoemezzo (8)   The price included some (fairly pedestrian) petit fours and tea and coffee.ottoemezzo (9)

Otto e Mezzo Bombana, Shop 202, Landmark Alexandra, 18 Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong, Ph +852 2537 8859

http://www.ottoemezzobombana.com

LuMi Bar and Dining, Pyrmont

With a name like Federico Zanellato you couldn’t be anything other than Italian. But don’t go to LuMi, Pyrmont’s new waterside diner, expecting Fede’s take on Nonna Rosaria’s gnocchi or Zia Maria’s tiramisu. Having worked in some fine dining establishments in Italy and throughout Europe, followed by Japan and most recently as head chef at hatted Ormeggio, Australia is now his adopted home – how fortunate for us. He realised our multicultural and food adventurous society would be willing to explore a fusion of Italian and Japanese, which on the face of it sounds a little worrisome. But any concerns are completely unfounded. He pulls it off. Beautifully.

Dinner is an eight course degustation for $95. Waterside, with nicely spaced tables, lovely crockery, and handsomely plated food, it is well worth it. In the style of Momofuku, the chefs deliver the plates to you and talk you through the course, which sound so much better accented with Italian (Zanellato’s brother is also in the kitchen, and his wife on the floor). And we both agree we’d rather come here than Momofuku across the road, which is double the price, any day of the week.

First up is a plate of “snacks”: a cheese tartlet with corn and parmigiano; salt and vinegar rice chips; and a potato and rosemary focaccia, the last probably being the closest thing you’ll find resembling traditional Italian. I enjoy them all, and the interesting flavours and textures make you look forward to what’s coming.

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Chawanmushi, a Japanese egg custard, in a savoury style with tomato water. Texturally perfect custard with a tomato accent, I love it.

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White cucumber with apple and sour cream. So pretty on the plate and a refreshing dish.

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Veal tartare with tarragon mayo roasted capsicum, buckwheat.  This is the only one that didn’t do it for me (and normally I love a good tartare) but just a personal flavour preference, my partner in crime thought it was great.

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The fragrance as each of the pasta dishes hits the table is incredible. Our first pasta course is spelt ravioli with burnt butter, pumpkin, Avruga caviar, and chives. Its a rich dish so just the right size.

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Our second pasta dish is spaghetti alla chitarra with orange buerre blanc, bottarga, and scampi. “Alla chitarra” refers to how the pasta is made, a stringed contraption that looks like a guitar (chitarra).

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We adore the Pork Jowl with, Celeriac, Quinoa, hidden under a layer of spinach. It’s a knockout dish and one of the stars of the night.

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The “Evergreen” pre dessert – Sorrel,Lemon Basil, Mint, Shiso, parsley – is like walking in to a delicious cold pressed juice bar, imparting a feeling of good health.LuMi (11)

Zanellato generously sends over an extra dish, his take on strawberries and cream – strawberry granita with whipped cream and ice cream. It’s a good lead in to dessert.LuMi (12)

To finish is a ginger ice cream, white chocolate, passionfruit, yoghurt crumble. Its thankfully not too sweet and the crumble gives it texture. LuMi (13)

I doubt I’m making a big call when I say there’ll be a hat or two coming LuMi’s way in the next Good Food Guide line up. The phones will start ringing like crazy when then happens, so go discover it before then.

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LuMi Dining, 56 Pirrama Road, Pyrmont, (02) 9571 1999
http://www.lumidining.com

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Today’s cake – Pasticciotti – Italian custard tarts

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I’ve visited lots of parts of Italy over the years but never Puglia – the heel of the boot – though in recent years the tourism to this relatively unexplored region has grown a lot. Some of the beaches look amazing.  Pasticciotti are essentially custard tarts that Puglia is famous for, in particular in Lecce and neighbouring Salento, and they are often called Pasticciotti Leccesi.  They were first made in the 600’s (yes that’s  over 1400 years ago) and are so much a part of the culture that there is now even a feast day every 28 July – la festa del pasticciotto of course!

I had a good look at several recipes in Italian, and had to look up “strutto” which was an unfamiliar ingredient.  Turns out it is shortening, I didn’t know where to get that so used butter, so not sure how much impact that has on the texture – I guess I’ll have to visit Puglia one day and find out.  As with every classic sweet there are so many versions of this – here is mine. For a first attempt they were pretty good.  The custard was devine, I figured if my pastry was a flop I could just enjoy a massive bowl of custard which would not have been a bad outcome. I loved the hint of lemon in it, but many other versions use a vanilla bean instead of lemon rind.

Traditionally these are made in little oval shapes, but if you don’t have these a cupcake tray will work just as well.  Makes 12.

Ingredients for the pastry
500g of 00 flour
250g unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
5 egg yolks
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt

Ingredients for the custard
500ml milk
50g of 00 flour
6 egg yolks
150g caster sugar
Rind of one lemon

To make the pastry

  1. Place the flour, baking powder, and sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse for a few seconds to combine
  2. Cube the butter, add to the food processor and pulse until coarse in texture
  3. Add the egg yolks and pulse until just combined
  4. Tip mixture out onto a benchtop or surface and gently bring together with your hands then knead for a few minutes until smooth. Shape into a disc and refrigerate for two hours

To make the custard

  1. Combine flour and sugar in a bowl
  2. Place the milk and lemon rind in a pot over low heat, and heat to just before boiling point. Remove pot from heat and allow to steep for 10 minutes, then remove rind
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks. Constantly whisking, gradually add about a third of the milk. Keep whisking then add the flour and sugar mixture, and continue to whisk while gradually adding the rest of the milk
  4. Return the mixture to the pot, and continue to whisk over low heat until it thickens. Pour custard into a bowl, place a piece of cling film directly on top of the custard (so a skin doesn’t form on it) and allow to cool

Assembly and baking

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees
  2. Roll out the pastry and shape into your twelve oval tins. Fill with custard, and then top with pastry and seal. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden. Slide out of tins and eat warm.

In My Kitchen, February 2015

I’ve said before how much I love the summer months. The warm weather, the long days, it creates the illusion of more TIME, that precious commodity. I’m more energetic at this time of year, wanting to pile more in the day before the cold months arrive. So there has been plenty going on in the Napoli kitchen of late.

In my kitchen you’ll find little fingers that want to lick the bowl. Remember that? I am one of four, and we always used to fight over who would get to lick the cake beaters. The cake is called a Bung In Chocolate Cake, by Kate Bracks from Masterchef (whatever happened to her?). It’s an easy cake made from ingredients I always have in the pantry, and the boys love it.imkfeb (4)

You’ll find a batch of my morning coffee biscuits. I usually make these every few weeks, but hadn’t for a while with other things going on around Christmas and New Years. I was getting complaints from the office (you know who you are) so it was time to whip up a batch. Since I make these so frequently, as well as other biscuits, it made more sense to get the Silpat baking mats, rather than go through reams of baking paper. They are a little big for my baking trays though; in my “next kitchen” (one day) I dream of a monster sized oven.imkfeb (3)

In my kitchen you’ll find pasta sauce. There is nothing better than sauce from home grown, ripe, summer tomatoes. I had so many and they were getting too ripe for salad, so I made a batch of sauce with some basil from the garden thrown in. I always keep some sauce in the freezer, so after work all I have to do is cook up some ravioli or pasta. Presto – a ten minute meal (take that Jamie!).imkfeb (13)

Something to hang onto for your pasta sauce – Parmesan rind. I buy my parmeggiano in big chunks from the Italian deli, and grate it as I need it. Keep the rind – when you are making sauce or stock, chop off a bit and put it in, it’s an extra little flavour dimension. Scoop it out before serving.imkfeb (14)

This is “biscotto” care of Mamma Rosa. I don’t actually know what the proper Italian name for this is, but that’s what we called it growing up. My boys call it “crunchy bread”. It’s a lightly crisped bread, ideal for bruschetta, braised eggplants, cheese, ricotta and any other antipasto. I have the recipe, Mamma Rosa wrote it out for me in my little book of recipes, and its very long! I’ve tried a few people’s versions of this, but no one else’s has this feather light consistency.imkfeb (15)

In my kitchen you’ll find baker’s flour, for my first attempt at baking bread.imkfeb (16)

Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial , who hosts these In My Kitchen sessions each month, sent me a packet of Priscilla, her sourdough starter. Priscilla has been around the world and borne many an offspring with a variety of interesting names. I decided to call mine La Figlia di Priscilla (daughter of Priscilla). Following Celia’s instructions, I bought La Figlia to life.imkfeb1

I then made a dough, shaped a loaf…..imkfeb2

And wow!! My first loaf of homemade bread! It was pretty good for a first attempt.imkfeb3

The following weekend I tried again – this time it was much better as I was much more confident about what I was doing. The first loaf disappeared in the blink of an eye. (Even Mamma Rosa gave it the thumbs up).imkfeb (10)imkfeb (11)

I’m loving my new dishrack from simplehuman. (Do I need to start getting out more when these things excite me?). It has a built in knife block, holds wine glasses, and has a little spout that runs water into the sink. Clever design!

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And finally, in my kitchen you’ll find Sydney grown mangoes! My parents have a lovely mango tree in their backyard, and it produces fruit towards the back end of the Queensland season, so we get to enjoy them a little longer. Its the Kensington Pride variety, my favourite. They don’t colour like Queensland mangoes, in fact often they will still have green skin even when completely ripe, but the flavour is amazing.

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So long Summer, it’s been great, see you next time.

Today’s cake – Francesca’s frangipane cake with blueberries

My “cyber friend” Francesca writes a really lovely blog called Almost Italian which I stumbled across one day some time ago and love to read.  One of her most popular posts has been her apricot frangipane cake, which she then tried with raspberries. Since I’m somewhat neutral on apricots, and raspberries and I don’t get along, I thought I’d try a blueberry version; as advertised it is ridiculously easy to make.  It was a hit with the crowd.  Thanks Francesca!

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Ingredients
125 g softened unsalted butter
150 g of castor sugar
4 eggs
50 g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
375 g almond meal
2 Tablespoons Amaretto liqueur (I buy Disaronno)
250g fresh blueberries
25 g flaked almonds
Icing sugar for dusting

Making it
1. Preheat oven to 180c or 160c fan forced. Grease a 25 cm loose bottom tin. Line base with baking paper
2.Place butter and sugar and eggs in a mixer bowl and beat for 5 minutes until thick and pale.
3.Stir in the flour mixed with the baking powder, then fold in the almond meal, followed by the Amaretto. Pour into the prepared tin.
4.Arrange blueberries over the top and lightly press down so they are submerged. Scatter the top with the flaked almonds.
5.Bake for 45- 50 mins. Cool in tin, remove and dust with icing sugar.

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Sud, Concord

It’s no secret that Italy has been in some fairly dire economic circumstances in recent years. This has meant there has been an exodus of its young, highly educated workforce. I was surprised to find on a trip to our Hong Kong office last year a cluster of people from Milan and Rome – extremely talented, they couldn’t be in an environment more different from home (“have you seen the price of prosciutto here!” one of them said to me), but necessity has meant they had to leave it behind and find employment elsewhere.

Australia has also been the beneficiary of this exodus, particularly in hospitality and food. Attracted by our climate – which is not that dissimilar to Southern Italy – our great produce, and an existing large Italian population (they’re bound to find a long lost relative or a cousin somewhere), we’ve seen some very talented Italian chefs, pizzaioli and gelato makers arrive on our shores. Paolo Gatto is one of those. He and his wife Rita arrived in Australia in 2008, and opened Gatto Matto in 2011. It has gotten better and better since my first visit, driven by Paolo’s passion (the name Crazy Cat is no coincidence) and Rita’s warmth. They have now opened a second venue, Sud, which simply means South. Southern Italian street food is the order of the day – it is where they are from, and it is the food close to their heart.

We arrive relatively early but within half an hour the place is buzzing, pretty good just one week after opening. While I sip my Bellini we peruse the menu, which is charmingly smattered with Sicilian dialect, and debate what to order – over-ordering would be very easy here because there is plenty to tempt. Fortunately most dishes are for sharing so we get to try quite a bit, though I see plenty of other dishes emerging from the kitchen, including a fabulous large antipasto platter for a big group, that we will have to try next time. The pizza bases are excellent and so are the toppings. But one of the favourites of the night is the baby octopus that comes with the spiedinu. I find out that it has undergone six hours of confit – if that’s Sicilian street food, unemployment be damned, I’m moving there; the rosemary flavoured wedges that accompany it are delicious too. The trofie cu sugu is also another winner (if it is nonna’s recipe as it says on the menu then to be expected), a fragrant, rich, robust meat sauce.

We are wondering what to order for dessert and aren’t convinced when the raviolo di ricotta is suggested to us, but decide to give it a whirl and we love it. It is a giant raviolio which can easily serve 4, and I’m glad the honey is on the side because I don’t think this light dough with a gorgeous creamy filling needs any further embellishment. The cuzzoli, light ribbons of dough to be dipped in the accompanying Nutella, are a crowd pleaser, but anything with Nutella always will be.

With generous serves, great flavour, and an attractive price point – the most expensive menu item is $28 – you’ll find a great little slice of Southern Italy in downtown Concord.

Arancini – deep fried rice balls filled with ragu and peas
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Panzerotti fritti – fried calzone filled with mozzarella and ham
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Calamari and chips
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Pizza Margherita
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Pizza vegeteriana – fiordilatte mozzarella, mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini and truffle oil
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Pizza Italiana – fiordilatter mozzarella, prosciutto, rocket, cherry tomatoes, parmesan
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Trofie cu sugu
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Spiedinu di pisci – prawn and swordfish skewer with baby octopus, salad and potato wedges
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Raviolo di ricotta – sweet ravioli stuffed with candied fruits
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Cuzzoli
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Sud, 10 Cabarita Road, Concord Ph (02) 9739 6120
http://www.sudfood.com.au

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