Toshiya, Cremorne

I’ve loved seeing the palate of the Small People develop over time.  With lots of exposure, and gentle encouragement, they have gotten more adventurous with their food.  While at home they usually like me to dish up the same Italian rustic favourites, when we eat out they enjoy all sorts of new flavours.  Chicken liver pate? That was interesting, mum.  Confit of duck, roast quail? Yes please.   And where a visit to Japanese once meant them ordering steamed rice and perhaps chicken karaage, now it’s miso tofu and kingfish with a ponzu dressing, and I’m lucky if they leave me a sliver of beef tataki.

So here we are at Toshiya on the busy Military Road strip, and I watch them planning to order at least half the menu; at the moment their legs seem hollow and the hunger is perpetual.   It’s a fairly standard family friendly neighbourhood Japanese, with bouts of inventiveness on the specials menu.  I watch other youngsters battling their parents for the last piece of salmon sushi.   The service is efficient, the prices reasonable and the produce fresh.  The highlight for me was the straight up sashimi, excellent quality; the lowlight duck dumplings, which didn’t taste at all like duck and were a bit meh.   The calamari was also very tasty.  A few pictures of some of what we ordered below.

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Toshiya, 283 Military Road, Cremorne, Ph 02 8969 6989
http://www.toshiya.com.au

Today’s cake – plum and vanilla cake

I’ve had some really delicious plums this season, juicy and with varying degrees of sweetness, depending on the variety.  When my friend Francesca over at Almost Italian posted a plum cake recipe, and The Marito started dropping not so subtle “I haven’t had cake for a while” hints, I knew it was time for  plum cake in the Napoli household. I remembered a good Bill Granger recipe I had made a long time ago, and hoped it wasn’t in one of the cookbooks I’d boxed up in the renovation move (one of the reasons for the lack of cake making is the very ordinary oven in our cheap and nasty rental while we renovate, but needs do as needs must).  Lucky day, the book was in the unboxed stash.  It’s a simple cake with plenty of flavour, and I’m sure the homemade vanilla extract helps. You may need 4 or 6 plums, depending on how big they are.  I must make this again before the autumn plums finish, it really is delicious.

Cake
180g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature plus a little extra for greasing
250g caster sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
185g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
5 plums, cut in half and seed removed

Topping
90g plain flour
100g cold unsalted butter
90g caster sugar

Making it
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees fan forced and grease a 24cm springform cake tin with butter

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time beating after each addition, then add vanilla extract. Fold in the flour and baking powder until well combined. Spread the mixture evenly into the cake tin then gently press in the plums cut side up.

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To make the topping, place the flour, butter and sugar in a bowl and rub with your fingers until crumbly. You can also do this in a food processor (I used my mini whizz for this small quantity).

Sprinkle the topping over the top of the cake and bake for one hour or until a skewer in the centre comes out clean. The top should be nice and golden. Remove from oven and cool in tin for 10 minutes before removing. Yum.

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Torta Pasqualina – Savoury Easter Cake

This savoury Easter cake, which is really more like a pie, hails from the Northern Italian region of Liguria.  It is traditionally served on Easter Monday, and once upon a time it used to be made using 33 sheets of ultra thin pastry, each layer representing a year that Jesus was alive.  These days most recipes make it with four, which is what I did (and if you really don’t want to make pastry, store bought will do).  I needed five bunches of silverbeet to get to one kilo of leaves, it will depend on how big your bunches are; the stalks can be used for stock or soup, they are tasty and often get discarded. A lot of eggs are required here, so it was lucky that the girls had had a prolific laying week. Like lots of old recipes, you’ll see variations on the theme – some combine the spinach and ricotta, as I did, and others do them as separate layers. There are also artichoke versions.

Pastry
600g Tipo 00 flour
350ml water
1 teaspoon salt
35ml olive oil

Place the flour in a bowl, add the salt, water and olive oil and mix gently with a fork until it comes together. Tip onto a floured surface and kneed until smooth. Divide the dough into four balls – two of 300g each and the other two approx. 170-180g each. Place on a tray, cover with a tea towel and allow to rest for one hour.

Filling
1kg silverbeet leaves
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 twigs marjoram
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
250g of well drained ricotta
7 eggs
1 egg extra, lightly beaten for brushing pastry

While the pastry is resting, make the filling. Blanch the silverbeet in boiling water for five minutes and drain. Squeeze out as much excess water as you can and chop finely.

Place the olive oil in a pan on medium heat and saute the onion with a pinch of salt until softened, add the chopped silverbeet and combine and cook for a couple more minutes, then remove from heat. Season. Add the marjoram, nutmeg, ricotta and parmesan and combine well. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. Take one of the seven eggs, lightly beat, then add to the mixture and combine well. Set aside.

Assembly
Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees fan forced. Grease a 26cm springform tin with butter or olive oil.

Take one of the 300g balls of dough, and roll out thinly on a floured surface so that it is big enough for the cake tin. Gently lift it into the tin and line. Repeat with the second 300g ball, so that you now have two layers in the base. Gently spoon the silverbeet mixture into the cake tin and smooth out. Then take a spoon (I used an icecream scoop) and make seven round impressions in the silverbeet mixture. Into each one crack one of the seven eggs. Season the eggs lightly.

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Now take a 180g ball of dough and roll out big enough to form a lid, and gently place on top of the cake tin. Repeat with the second ball. Trim the excess pastry around the edge of the cake tin, and then curl into a crust to seal (I probably made it a bit too thick, I would do it thinner next time by trimming the pastry a bit more). Take the extra beaten egg and using a pastry brush, brush over the pasty and season the top lightly. Bake in the oven for about 50 minutes or until nice and golden. Remove and allow to sit for a few minutes before serving.

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In My Kitchen, March 2018

Autumn has begun but it’s still warm and balmy in Sydney, after an exceptionally dry Summer.   The weather has meant that lots of salads, grilled fish, and omelettes with fresh herbs have been coming out of the kitchen.

In My Kitchen is a monthly link up of kitchens around the world, currently hosted by Sherry at Sherry’s pickings. It has been going for eight years now, started by the lovely Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. A few things to share from the Napoli kitchen over the last few weeks:

With the new year in full swing it was time to wrestle control of the pantry.  A lot of the containers I bought sixteen years ago as a newlywed (sixteen years!) were worse for wear or no longer sealing properly, so it was time for some new containers, and also labels to make it easy to find everything.  I ordered a standard pack from Pretty Pantry Labels (product certainly as described!) and a handful of custom ones from The Pantry Label Shop, and we were good to go.

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On a recent trip to Carriageworks Markets, I liked the sound of these eggplant ravioli from Pasta Gallery and bought some to try.  I served them simply, some baby spinach, semi dried tomatoes, spring onions, olive oil and shaved parmesan.  They were delicious.

I also bought these carrots – aren’t the colours glorious?

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In my kitchen is a new apron, butcher style, that a generous friend bought for me at a recent cooking night.

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I mentioned recently that Mamma Rosa has discovered technology.  In her sixties, Mamma Rosa is texting, emailing and YouTubing with the best of them. She loves watching recipe videos in Italian. I discovered that Mamma Rosa and the Small People are now texting each other – pretty much exclusively about food.  Mamma Rosa writes in Italian, and the Small People text back in a combination of Italian and English.  Their funny little conversations are often about special menu requests (“can you please make us arancini”).  One of them was for a batch of “biscotto”, or what the Small People call “crunchy bread”.  Mamma Rosa’s feather light biscotto – also often called freselle – is ideal for a snack with any topping – avocado, cheese, ricotta, tomato.  We all love it.

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Our chooks have been laying well in this warm weather, although we have encountered a couple of stubborn brooders.  The girls are over a year old now, so officially “hens” rather than “pullets” and the eggs are getting noticeably bigger.  We get a consistent stream of 70 gram plus eggs, except for petite and dainty Grace, who produces corresponding cute petite and dainty eggs.  I do have to be careful when I am baking because of the size as it can result in distorted proportions. Don’t tell the others, but I think Rosie’s eggs are my favourite.

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I’ve been spending a good bit of time thinking about kitchen layout and other cabinetry for the renovation and build, which is slowly making progress.  Hafele have some really clever storage solutions for internal cupboards.

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In my kitchen is a great buy from Aldi recently – dual lemon and lime pack! They will be making their way to our new garden.  They also had fig plants but these disappeared too quickly.

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I hope you all have a lovely March!

Greek stuffed vegetables

Recently, a friend asked me if I’d show her how to make my silverbeet and filo scroll, which of course I was delighted to do.  We gathered at her place with a couple of others, one of whom showed us her Greek stuffed vegetables, called “yemista”, for a very relaxed and fun night of cooking and chatter.   I knew The Marito would like this, so had a go at making it myself a few nights later.

Like a lot of my Italian recipes courtesy of Mamma Rosa, she made it on look and feel so I’ve done my best on quantities.  Also like a lot of our Southern Italian recipes, there are many many versions of this Greek dish, depending on the village or how it was tweaked over the years.  Often, currants and nuts – either toasted flaked almonds or toasted pine nuts – are added, particularly at Christmas.  You can also add garlic when frying off the onion, but my cooking companion, like me, doesn’t cook with garlic (her husband doesn’t like it, and neither does my father, so Mamma Rosa never cooked with it and so I don’t), and other herbs such as fresh oregano if you have it on hand.  For our vegetables we stuffed tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant, but you could just do one of those if you prefer.  Capsicum are also often used. You can also do a meat version of this using a mince combination of your choice. I really loved the use of mint in this dish.

Ingredients
6 tomatoes
2 medium eggplant
4 medium zucchini
1 large red onion, diced
50ml olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 cup medium grain rice
500ml chicken stock, plus a few tablespoons extra
1 cup continental parsley leaves
1 cup mint leaves
100g feta
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Making it
1. Slice the tops off the vegetables (about 1cm from the top, maybe a little more for the eggplant) and set aside. These will be the “lids” later on

2. Using a spoon, scoop all the pulp out of the tomatoes, chop coarsely, and set the pulp aside in a bowl

3. Similarly, scoop the flesh out of the zucchini and eggplant, to form a boat shape. Leave a good rim otherwise they will collapse during cooking. Chop the flesh coarsely and set aside.

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4. Add the olive oil to a pot with the onion and a pinch of salt, and fry off on medium heat until the onion starts to soften. Add the reserved eggplant and zucchini flesh to the pot and continue to cook for a few minutes until softened, then add the tomato pulp. Cook for a few more minutes and add the rice and 250mls of stock and cook for another 5-7 minutes. Coarsely chop the parsley and mint, add to the mixture, combine and remove from the heat. Check for seasoning at this point and add if needed. Note the rice will still be on the crunchy side, don’t worry about this, it will cook in the next stage.

5. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees fan forced. Place your vegetable “boats” in a baking dish (you might need two dishes) and then loosely fill each with some of the rice mixture. Don’t pack it down or overfill (you’ll see I overfilled my tomatoes and little as a couple split) as the rice will expand during cooking. You might have a little rice mixture left, if so you can add more stock and keep cooking and turn it into a bit of quasi risotto for another day!

6. Cut the feta into small pieces and place one piece in each tomato, two or three pieces in each of the eggplant and zucchini depending on the size. Then spoon a teaspoon or two of stock into each vegetable. Next, place the “lids” on each vegetable, season to taste, and drizzle with a little olive oil on the top. Pour about half a cup of stock into the bottom of the baking dish. Put the dish in the oven and cook, uncovered, for an hour. Remove from the oven and serve, hot if you wish or at room temperature, which is typically how they are served in Greece. Delicious!

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Bennelong, Sydney

Recently, I was invited to a lovely lunch at Bennelong.  Now in the hands of Peter Gilmore, I haven’t been here since Guillaume was at the helm.

When Guillaume’s lease was up back in 2013, the space was put out to tender with a brief that it would be “more accessible”, and Guillaume wasn’t keen on a more casual type venue.  The Van Haandels, behind Melbourne’s Stokehouse, won the tender and planned to open it seven days a week including breakfast on weekends.  While it was not going to be cheap, the plan was to make it more affordable than a fine diner and not such restricted opening times.  Imagine going there for a breakfast or brunch on a special occasion like Mother’s Day or a birthday, or going just because it’s a beautiful Sydney morning.  It never happened though, with the Van Haandels’ Melbourne restaurant tragically falling to a fire, and their attention had to be focussed on rebuilding that.

In steps Peter Gilmore to take over. And I’m not sure what happened to the whole desired more casual vibe that made Guillaume walk away, as it’s very much a fine dinner, with lunch only three days a week and dinner seven days.  And I don’t think the whole “accessible” thing has really been achieved with a three course meal at $135 for lunch and $145 for dinner; add a few wines and coffee and $200 per head is not a normal meal for most people, even the well healed, so special occasion it is.  Bit of a shame as more people should get to experience this unique space.

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Now I will say that I’ve always thought Peter Gilmore’s Quay was a little overrated, and I’ve been a few times.  If I was going to splash out, it wouldn’t be on my list. So I was curious here.  And it was a really lovely and beautifully presented meal – with entrees outperforming mains –  but I didn’t walk away thinking I’m dying to go back, and there is a dish I must have again, and I must take the Marito and and and…

On the menu that day:

Tartare of Rangers Valley wagyu with horseradish cream, capers, parsley and crispy beef tendon.  I love a good tartare and this was well balanced with the horseradish and the textural element.

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Confit tomatoes with straciatella, smoked almonds, sherry caramel and linaria (which is a herb apparently).  Essentially Italian cheese and tomatoes – a very classic combination, but a richness was added with the caramel.

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Yellowfin tuna with kohlrabi remoulade, anchovy emulsion, black rice and lava chips.  Beautiful quality tuna.

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And for the mains, pink snapper with radish, shellfish broth and lobster roe emulsion.  So tiny for a main course, and not sure where the broth was.

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Grass fed lamb, spring cabbage, fermented rye peas and blossoms.  Again a very small main course, and this was disappointing as the lamb was cold and a bit chewy.

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Onto dessert. Now this dish, strawberries and cream, did wow me.  I don’t really do strawberries much, but this was just a wonderful combination of flavour and texture and tasted so lively and fresh.

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Finally chocolate cake from across the water (does that mean Tassie?).  I’m not big on chocolate and found it bitter, but the chocolate fans on the table liked it.

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Bennelong, Sydney Opera House, Ph 9240 8000
http://www.bennelong.com.au

Mushroom and filo scroll

Always on the hunt for good vegetarian recipes for The Marito, I thought I’d give this recipe, courtesy of Belinda Jeffrey, a try. I did make a few changes, using less butter, less and lite sour cream and skipping the garlic. You’ll serve 4-6 with this, more if part of a banquet. I think this is one of those versatile “any time of the day” dishes – it would easily work for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, or a late night supper! I used a good variety of mushrooms – other than standard cup I used oyster, Swiss brown, enoki, shemeji and shiitake, about half cup and half the others. It can turn into a costly dish if you go all exotic varieties, and nothing wrong with just using standard cup for the whole thing.

Ingredients
Mushroom filling
80ml olive oil
50g unsalted butter
2 medium brown onions, finely diced
1kg mushrooms sliced
100g lite sour cream
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
lemon juice, to taste (optional)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup (about 15g) tightly packed finely chopped dill
60g pecans, coarsely chopped

Pastry
12 sheets filo pastry
100g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Poppy seeds for sprinkling

Making it
1. First make the filling. Place the oil and butter in a large frypan on medium heat, then add the onion and cook for 8-10 minutes or until softened. Then add the mushrooms and cook for 15 or so minutes. All the juices will need to evaporate or your scroll will be soggy.
2. Remove the pan from the heat and add the sour cream, mustard, lemon juice (I just used a squeeze), season with salt and pepper and combine all ingredients. Allow the mixture to cool and once cool add the dill and the nuts
3. Pre-heat the oven to 190 degrees. Place some baking paper on a baking tray and place your 12 filo sheets on a slightly damp tea towel.
4. Take one filo sheet, lightly butter, then place another sheet, until you have three sheets. Repeat so that you have four lots of three sheets. Divide your mushroom mixture into four and spoon in a “log” shape down one long side of the filo. Then roll each of the four lots into logs. Take the first log and shape it into a coil and place it on your baking tray. (You can if you like place the logs inside a springform cake tin to ensure it holds its shape). Lightly butter the outside edge so that the next log sticks and then coil the next log and the next and you’ll end up with a large coil. Brush the top with butter, season the top with a bit of salt and pepper and sprinkle the poppy seeds. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the filo is nice and golden. Slide it onto a serving plate. I find it is easiest to cut using a serrated knife.