Tag Archives: food

In my Spring kitchen, October 2018

How lovely that Spring is here, which means there is a lot more going on outside the kitchen.  The chooks are past their winter slow down, and laying up a storm, and lots of planting is going on.

Outside my kitchen is a collection of fruit trees.  A couple of months ago I pre-ordered some rootstock from Yalca Fruit Trees – a dwarf pear, dwarf apple, dwarf peach and dwarf plum, which we plan to put in the courtyard once the renovation is done, as well as a fig and two mulberry trees. Two months later and they are thriving! I can’t wait till we pick our first fruit.

I’ve also planted several tomatoes and zucchini which are coming along nicely.  Everything has to be carefully netted at our temporary home as it’s a possum festival at night.  The chooks also adore tomatoes.

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I still have to plant a few more things, having bought an interesting collection of seeds from The Seed Collection.

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Back inside, recently I took a look at Jamie’s new book, Jamie Cooks Italy.  I don’t buy too many cookbooks these days, partly because at the moment I have nowhere to store them, but also because our local library has a rather amazing cookbook section.  There are some nice recipes in this one.  I tried his vegetables al forno (before and after shot), which is really a cross between a zucchini parmigiana and an eggplant parmigiana.  It was very tasty. There are a few other recipes I have bookmarked.

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The (not so) Small People had a birthday and it was baking time for a family afternoon tea.  I made an apple cake, a blueberry crumb cake, some M&M cookies and a lemon ricotta cake.  It won’t be long till they are taller than me, but they will always be my Small People.

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Have a lovely Spring! Have a peek at other kitchens on Sherry’s Pickings, our lovely IMK link up host.

 

Foogoo, Lane Cove

(August 2018) Lane Cove food is on the up.  There’s been a spate of new openings in the last twelve months, prompting even the likes of Terry Durack to venture to this side of the bridge.  Foogoo, a modern Chinese diner, is among them and we’re here to exchange some post Europe travel stories with some friends.  A rustic style clock with French text gives away the venue’s previous incarnation, and it’s simply but pleasantly decked out.

And as we marvel with our friends over the fact that we bumped into each other in the Vatican, where some 25,000 people set foot each day, we enjoy some very tasty Chinese.  The ingredients are very obviously fresh, the quality good, and the service quite pleasant.  And we love that it is BYO. Pricing was very reasonable, though the serves are on the smaller side and we could have ordered a couple more dishes for our bottomless pit Small People, but even then it’s a good value meal and you can eat here for $30 a head or less.

The crispy soft shell crab is exactly that and not at all oily as it often is at many restaurants.  The chilli and lemon salt give it a lovely flavour.

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And we were very happy with our soupy xialongbao.  There are plenty of dumplings on the menu if you’re in the mood for pure yum cha.

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Also on the menu:
Delicately steamed barramundi with ginger and shallot

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Kung pao chicken with a pleasant but not overpowering amount of heat

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Wok fried black pepper fillet with oyster mushrooms and blackbean – I loved this

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We all really liked the Shanghai style dry noodle with shallot oil, sweet soy and crispy shrimp

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And there was a good amount of tasty BBQ pork in the special fried rice.

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The steamed Asian greens were so fresh.

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It’s a good addition to the ‘hood, and we’ll be back to try the rest of the menu.

Foogoo, 94B Longueville Road Lane Cove, Ph (02) 7900 7081

Puglia, part 1

Age. History. It surrounds you in the heel of Italy’s “boot”. The stone – on the floors, walls, ceilings, and paths – the castles, the churches. Modern and shiny would look very out of place here.

I’ve wanted to come to Puglia for some time now – the food, the architecture, the food, the beaches, oh and did I mention the food? It delivered on all fronts, and then some. We already know we’re coming back.

And people were so very kind. We have a few Pay It Forwards outstanding. One night when we got a flat tyre, a man and his son, and then a friend, came and helped us and walked away with a wave before we barely had time to thank them. At a beach, when I realised I’d run out of cash and there were no ATM’s nearby, the gentleman at the umbrella counter gave us an umbrella and said not to worry about it. On a pitstop to get the Small People some lunch at a bar in a pretty town, the credit card machine wasn’t working, and the guy behind the bar said no problem, feed the boys, come back and pay me later.

Tourism is a relatively new thing here, really only emerging in the last ten years. And then, most of the tourists seemed to be Italians from other regions – we heard comparatively few foreign voices. I suspect the next then years will be very different, as the word is spreading about this southern jewel.

Tips on visiting Puglia

If you’re thinking about this lovely part of Italy, here are a few tips

– Puglia has two international airports, Bari and Brindisi, which have direct daily flights from several European cities, mostly serviced by discount airlines. British Airways does fly to Bari and Brindisi from Gatwick, but only on certain days. Depending on where you base yourself (see below), it may be more convenient to use one airport or the other to minimise long driving times. We flew into Bari and out of Brindisi.

– If you plan to explore, you will need to hire a car. There are some trains and buses but it will take you a long time to get to sites. The roads are quite good, but some of the speed limits and road signs are shall we say for “guidance” purposes only. Also in many of the towns you cannot park right in the historic centre, so will need to park a few streets away. Where parking is ticketed, it is pretty cheap, €1 an hour or in some cases 60 cents an hour

– Have some mobile data and google maps at the ready. The in car GPS is broadly fine but does not cope well with some of the more rural roads, especially the Strade Provinciale (“provincial roads”) in the bottom half. It would sometimes tell us to turn left into a non existent road or send us down a complete dead end.

– It can be tricky to know where to base yourself if you don’t want to do too much driving. If you opt for instance for pretty Polignano a Mare or Monopoli, then it’s an easy drive to places like Alberobello or Bari, but a hike to places like Lecce and Gallipoli. Likewise if you opt for the coastline down the bottom half, then pack a picnic lunch for Alberobello and surrounds. We solved this by splitting our stay between the “top half” and “bottom half” which worked really well.

– Credit cards are fine, in fact Amex was much more widely excepted than in Australia (and never did I encounter a credit card surcharge like here). You will need some cash for your €1.50 scoop of gelato, or your €1 espresso or for parking meters – I could never get my credit cards to work on parking meters – and for market stalls.

– The afternoon siesta tradition is still in full swing down here so a lot shuts between 1pm and 5pm. Most restaurants don’t open for dinner until 7.30/8.00pm.

– Beaches are either a “spiaggia publica” (public beach) or a Lido (organised beach). At a Lido you pay anywhere up to €30 per day for an umbrella and a chair whether you stay one hour or ten, though down at Pescoluse it was €5 an umbrella and €3 a chair for the whole day. The beaches here aren’t pebbles like much of Italy, they are either sandy or large rock formations.

– There are very few large hotels in Puglia. Accommodation is largely smaller boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts, or “masserie”, old restored farmhouses, typically with six rooms or less (have a look at the lovely one we stayed at here). So if you’re like us an need a family room or two rooms, and you have your eye on a particular place or area in peak season, do book ahead. Some places were booked out six months ahead.

Places to see

Monopoli
This was our base for the first half. What a charming seaside town with a very pretty historic centre, fishing boats, cafes and restaurants, bed and breakfasts and small hotels. It’s a very “house proud” town and the centre is beautifully maintained with lovely potted plants and flowers. In the mornings sometimes there would be a smattering of cigarette buts from those strolling the evening before, and out would come the nonnas with their brooms.

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There is also a small public beach with lovely sparkling water. There was a sandy area but plenty would just sit or lie on the rocks.

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We had some lovely dinners here too after venturing out exploring all day. The best pizza in town was at La Dolce Vita in the piazza with a light crust and excellent cheese. Here I also had an absolutely fantastic pasta dish of squid ink orecchiette with fresh tuna, baby peppers and breadcrumbs, one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten; once the others on the table tried it, I almost had to fight them for it. Gorgeous fresh seafood too.

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We also really enjoyed Il Guazetto, a small restaurant in one of the smaller streets. My homemade spaghetti with seafood was full of fresh scampi, crab, and prawns and just so tasty. The fritto misto wasn’t far behind.

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At Piazza Palmieri a highlight was the mixed seafood plate. We couldn’t believe what came out for €13. It was huge, and beautifully cooked.

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The pasta dishes were good, but not as good as what we’d had elsewhere.

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At every restaurant when we sat down we would get a basket of taralli, a Puglian munch. Feathery light and crunchy, these were very moreish.

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I loved the bakery in the piazza, Gran Forno Santa Caterina. Lovely biscuits, taralli, focaccia and more.

Now I know Pasticceria Ascalone in Galatina is famous for its pasticciotti, and I tried theirs along with several others, but this bakery’s pasticciotti were my favourite. Their pasta frolla (pastry) had a texture and taste that won me over.

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They also sold deli goods and beer (we couldn’t believe how cheap the beer was, and then we went to the supermarket and saw that you could get a three pack for 1.50. Love those little fresh cubes of yeast, wish we had them here!

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There’s also other entertainment, like the occasional triathlon.

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In one alleyway there was an elderly gentleman’s workshop. Where he was making boats.  I’m not sure where the boats ended up as it wasn’t a shop.  He’d sit at his workbench working by hand, then shuffle over to some hand operated machinery, then shuffle back to his bench.  I wanted to chat to him but he didn’t look keen on interruption!

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Monopoli Accommodation
We stayed at Don Ferrante, a lovely small boutique hotel in the historic centre. They had a great sized family room (though they only take children over age 11) and beautiful stone interiors. There was a dipping pool which was good for a refresh before dinner. There is a rooftop balcony, but they only serve dinner there, breakfast is served in the basement.

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Polignano a Mare
Polignano is a ten or fifteen minute drive from Monopoli and lovely for a wander, or to stay. Like Monopoli, there are no big hotels but small boutique ones and B&Bs. It has a stunning ragged coastline, and like Monopoli a pretty historic town centre. There is a gorgeous cove with a public beach.

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Grotte di Castellana
After a dip in the Polignano beach, we hop back in the car and see the sign for the Grotte di Castellana. We weren’t sure what kind of caves were there but thought we would check it out. There aren’t a lot of people around and the lady at the ticket counter tells us there’s a group leaving in about two minutes for an Italian speaking tour (there are two or three English tours a day). You can’t wander in on your own but only with a guide; there is a shorter one hour walk or the standard 1 hour 45 walk, which is about 3.4 kilometres.

Well, were we blown away. These caves are rather amazing, though hard to get good photos without a top of the line camera I think with the lighting, so my photos don’t reflect just how amazing it was. These formations are believed to be as much as 90 million years old, though the caves were not discovered until 1938. The guide tells us that the stalactites grow one centimetre every 80 years! The extraordinary opening is eerily called “The Graves” but is often referred to as a “natural pantheon”, reflecting the famous Roman building. Don’t miss this if you are in the area.

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Bari
For some reason Bari gets a bad wrap, and you’ll often get told to skip it if you’re heading to Puglia. It may be because of the history of high crime, and I don’t know if it is different at night, but it was perfectly fine during the day and a really lovely waterside city. It of course has a castle, which seems to be a pre-requisite for every town in Puglia, but there’s a good shopping area too with lots of Italian and international brands, and plenty of restaurants and cafes.

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The Small People feel like their go-to Puglia snack, panzerotti, and we see some nice looking ones in a hole in the wall where an old man is standing behind the counter. One of the boys says he feels like arancini and the old guy yells out “Maria, do we have any arancini?”. “We do”, yells back his wife, “give me five and I’ll cook some”. For ten euro we have panzerotti, focaccia and arancini; nourished we continue exploring.

Of course we had to stop by “Nonna Alley” in Arco Alto in the historic area where the Nonnas are making orecchiette and cavatelli at unbelievable speed. Often they are working out in the alley, but it’s quite hot so many of them opt for in doors, and they are quite happy to chat when I stick my head through the door and ask if we can watch for a bit. They sell a lot of what they make to local restaurants, though some of the Nonnas will cook you lunch for whatever you negotiate! While I’m chatting to two of them a man walks in who usually brings them cime di rapa (chicory). They take a look at it and shoo him away, telling him it’s not good enough today. Its very cool to watch and I hope their daughters and granddaughters learn the art (I did try and tell them they should also teach their grandsons but this suggestion got an eye roll).  These women are national treasures!

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More Puglia to come in the next post!

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Carriageworks Farmers Markets, Eveleigh

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A friend and I went for a wander to the Carraigeworks markets.  I’ve been wanting to get here for the longest time, but often Saturday schedules with sport and other Small People commitments make it tricky, so took the opportunity to squeeze in a visit before that all starts up again. But having visited and been very favourably surprised by the variety and quality of produce and the reasonably sized – not too big and not too small in my view – and generally well priced market, I’ll have to find a way to get there again.

There are all sorts of goodies on offer – fresh produce, cheeses, flowers, bakery items, and a few food stands such as Bar Pho and frequently (though not that day) Billy Kwong.  Sonoma was doing a roaring trade with some of the most giant loves of bread I’ve ever seen. There’s a little sign above each stall showing where each business is from.  Some were in striking distance of my house, others from far afield, but all NSW based. There were a few ingredients for recipes I’ve struggled to find in supermarkets and even specialty grocers, but they were all here!

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Flour and Stone are also a regular there. I tried one of their caneles which I adored and will find hard to resist on my next visit.

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Check out other markets I’ve visited in San Francisco, Tel Aviv, and Florence.

Carriageworks Farmers Markets, Saturdays 8am to 1pm,
245 Wilson St, Eveleigh

In My Kitchen, January 2018

Kicking off with the first 2018 edition of In My Kitchen, a global monthly link up currently hosted by Sherry’s Pickings which gives a peek into kitchens around the world.  Here’s what’s in the Napoli kitchen this month.

We were dragged to the Boxing Day Sales by our Small People who were very keen to spend some of their Christmas gift vouchers.  The Marito and I picked up a new NutriBullet as our previous one had died after a good few years of use.  Beginning the year with good intentions to counter Christmas excess, we’ve been starting our day with various vegetable and fruit blends.  My go to has been beetroot, baby spinach, a bit of mango and plain yoghurt.

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In my kitchen is a very sad looking tomato plant we are trying to revive.  At the house we are renting while the renovation is going on, there are some rather large trees.  We hear the possums scurrying at night and they have decimated everything we’ve tried to plant. Last night I think they may have been practicing for this year’s 2018 Commonwealth Games relay. I’ve put nets on things now, but we’re probably a bit late to get a good tomato crop. Anyone know any good natural possum deterrents?

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I recently saw at Coles a new line of pasta called Rana.  I have to say, for shop bought ravioli and tortellini, it’s among the best I’ve come across.  Really fine casings compared to others which tend to be on the thick side and cooks in a few minutes.

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In my kitchen is some beetroot marmalade a friend bought for us to try, it’s made in Tasmania. Being a marmalade, it is sweet, but works well on burgers and sandwiches, the Marito is a fan, we’ve already gone through half of it!

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Also from Tasmania is this apricot and Armagnac conserve that the Marito received in a Christmas hamper.  I’d love to use this as a glaze on a cake or a tart.

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In my kitchen are scraps for the girls and lettuce heads I am sprouting to grow for them (if the possums don’t eat them first, they’ve devoured all of my attempts so far).  They wait expectantly at the coop door every morning for my delivery, it’s quite funny.

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At the Italian deli this morning I picked up some buffalo ricotta….mmmmm……I will eat some as is on toast, but haven’t decided what to do with the rest.  Some fritters perhaps?

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I also bought some Caputo flour.  It’s meant to be the flour for pizza and I thought I’d try it; I will use my neverfail pizza dough recipe.

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And finally in my kitchen is some pasta made from chickpea flour.  I was watching a documentary about US startups and one of them was a company that made a chickpea pasta which was having huge success.  San Remo seem to be the only company here that do it and curiosity prompted me to try some.

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Wishing you all a happy 2018 filled with fun food adventures!

LP’s Quality Meats, Chippendale

As many of you will know, we have a resident vegacaquarian in the Napoli household.  This has meant a largely vegetarian diet for the family, with seafood every now and again.   Regardless, the (Not So) Small People are die hard carnivores, and would happily demolish a steak every night of the week if it was presented to them.  So when their birthday rolls around, and a special family dinner out is called for, the request is always for a steak restaurant. “Would you like to try somewhere new or somewhere we’ve been before?” I ask, when the big day is approaching.  “Somewhere new” they say.  So here we are at LP’s which I’ve been keen to try since it opened in 2014. It’s consistently scored a hat in the Good Food Guide Awards.

There’s plenty of wood going on, between the communal tables, the tables, and the long bar, next to which a giant ham is being carved.  There’s a definite saloon vibe, and a cowboy hat or two would not go amiss. We are warmly welcomed and the staff all night are lovely.

I start with the chicken liver pate and it’s a winner. Great texture and flavour. I didn’t appreciate pate till I was an adult, and I encourage the Small People to try some. They don’t mind it. It’s served with some great big chunks of delicious sourdough rye.

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The Marito doesn’t miss out, he starts with an Applewood smoked ocean trout, served with crème fraiche and capers. We are both pleasantly surprised by the generosity of the serve, and it has a lovely delicate flavour.

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He also has an eggplant parmigiana with burrata. It’s not done traditionally but with crumbed slices of eggplant and stacked, which give it some nice texture. The burrata is gorgeous and creamy. The non meat specials change regularly; I notice a week later they have a crab with squid ink and spaghettini and would have loved to try it.

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The Small People start with the sausage of the day, a cotechino. It has a good amount of spice and is really tasty though very rich and good to share.

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Then comes out the 1kg t-bone steak. Beautifully cooked, they demolish it, though they do let me try a little bit.

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On the side we try the potato gratin. The potato is sliced in paper thin slivers, and it’s creamy and buttery and delicious. We also have a green bean and radish salad; when we comment that someone has been a bit too heavy handed with the salt, they replace it with no fuss at all, a very good sign.

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There is no capacity for dessert after that meat-fest; the Small People are happy and on their birthday that’s all that matters.

LP’s Quality Meats, 16/12 Chippen St, Chippendale Ph 02 8399 0929
http://www.lpsqualitymeats.com

LP's Quality Meats Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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