Sunday, September 19, 2010

Beet salad

Being Australia, beetroot from a can is eaten on a lot of things, such as burgers. However it is nothing to write home about. One of the places I eat in the city has a gorgeous beet, feta and greens salad that Victoria fell for and so she decided to have a crack recreating it.

Victoria peeled and chopped the beets before baking them in olive oil and mint. We then turned to Marcella for guidance and she suggested dressing it with olive oil, vinegar and salt. This we did, also adding feta and mixed greens.

Beautiful! First time either of us has baked beets. It certainly will not be the last.

(And not a soup can in sight)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Gratineed cauliflower with butter and parmesan

I've been trying to eat more veges. I like the idea of basing every meal I have around one. To me, that is what mediterranean cooking is all about. This week I have been having a fair crack and have cooked 2 eggplants, a head of broccoli, a sweet potato, and, tonight, a head of cauliflower.

You have to boil the bugger for 20 minutes to make it soft. Modern home cooks, in Australia at least, do not boil their vegetables like this for perceived health reasons. But I really like boiled broccoli tossed with salt, pepper and olive oil (about 5 minutes). And Marcella does the same with boiled cauliflower, although I think she tosses hers with red wine vinegar, olive oil and salt.

This is a gratineed dish. My favourite gratineed dish is that of potatoes from Alice Waters Art of Simple Food. It is absolutely delicious. I have been dreaming of cauliflower all day, so it seemed like a good choice.

I wasn't really sure how much cheese to put on, as I didn't weigh my head. I just grated an amount I thought was generous. Similarly with the butter, although I did not want to go overboard with that.

So how did it taste? Not as obviously delicious as my potato gratin, and I initially thought it was a bit dry. But it drew me in, and the parts that had cheese or butter contributing to it were less dry. In all, it was an enjoyable way to eat a cauliflower head, and I'm going to be making it again to improve how I put it together. None remained, which I think is the ultimate test of a vegetable dish of this size.

We ate it with pan fried steak chopped and tossed with garlic and parsley, which is something from Giuliano Hazan's blog. It was ok although I would cut down on the garlic next time.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Don't have two first courses if you want to eat like an Italian

Marcella kindly provided some feedback on me having two first courses which I thought I would share with all those who have an interest. She has told me before that she does not mind if I reproduce her advice to me:

"It's the business of two first courses - unless deliberately conceived as consecutive small tastings, which you wouldn't do except in a restaurant - that doesn't jibe with the Italian way of eating. It doesn't have to be a heavy meat course after the risotto, it could be a gratin of vegetables, or grilled fish, or scaloppine handled lightly and fragrantly, with a green salad after. When you get to be old like us, fresh, ripe fruit is all you might want. But you wouldn't have two first courses for the same reason you wouldn't have two meat courses, two salad courses, two gelato courses. It's not a law, it's just a style of eating."

It is interesting, isn't it, the perspective at which two different cultures can come at the same food prepared in the same way. Any Australian would be extremely pleased and grateful that I had cooked them a beautiful risotto and competent pasta for dinner. An Italian, it would seem, sees it as wrong and greedy.

I should acknowledge that Marcella has been exceptionally generous with her time over the past year and as I always suspected she is an extremely smart lady, which is I think the reason I was attracted to her writing (I persisted with it because of the results). What I didn't initially appreciate is that she also has a sharp sense of humour and clever turn of phrase - I see it now in her books. The quality of her written expression, even on the internet, exceeds that of most native speakers.

Here's hoping I am as articulate and interested in 50 years time.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A lazy Hazan Saturday

Nothing new here, but I thought I would post about the food I cooked yesterday, pretty much on a whim, drawing on my Hazan training.

I was off in a shopping centre looking for some walking shoes, and thought about buying some lunch. I preferred not to, and instead wandered into the supermarket where I bought a nice looking eggplant, a punnet of blueberries, an onion, a potato and some rosemary. I felt quite virtuous queuing up at the checkout, with my real food, especially looking at some of the processed crap other shoppers had selected for themselves.

Lunch was blueberries followed by baked eggplant slices and a rosemary, onion and potato frittata, cooked carefully with my specially bought non-stick frypan. It is true you only need two tablespoons of oil when you have a non-stick pan. It set more than my prior effort, although it was perhaps not quite as delicious not being as creamy. It was still quickly devoured and appreciated and will be cooked again. It looked more like a frittata should.

I managed to go for a reasonably long walk around the mountain with my new shoes, and as it started getting dark I dreamt of risotto for dinner. Although I had not shopped for any special ingredients I knew I had precious meat broth in the freezer. I started this on my return, and as I was cooking for three I also attempted a pasta sauce. I spotted a red capsicum, which I dutifully peeled and then cooked with onion, garlic, chili flakes, canned tomatoes and, as a last minute addition, olives.

And so dinner was butter and parmesan risotto, which was a triumph, followed by a competent pasta that was made sweet by the capsicum and given some intrigue by the olives and chili.

Not a bad dinner given I had not shopped for it and on first glance there was nothing in the house.

One thing I have noticed about Hazan risotto, when cooked with real parmesan and real meat broth, is that people are absolutely stunned the first time they eat it, as I was. I suspect they have never eaten risotto like it in their lives, and perhaps feel differently about all of the tired, packet stocked, chicken breast ridden travesties they have cooked proudly for themselves following recipes of dubious origins.

I had lunch the other day with a client at what I consider to be the best restaurant in town. He told me he often cooked risotto, and had in fact just cooked it the night before - from a packet. It just had to be heated up.

I told him Marcella would not approve.