Saturday, May 29, 2010

Savoury carrot tartlets with vanilla salt

The carrot is the orange constant, always just there and never really seen. Versatile, sweet, crunchy, easy to cook (steam, bake, poach, stir-fry) and delicious raw, useful as an aromatic in stock and in a sofrito base for risotto and ragu. Yawn. It is a vegetable easily taken for granted, eaten without thought or admiration.

It is a fact not generally acknowledged that carrots are a seasonal vegetable. Carrots are of course a remarkably resilient root crop, and will grow with good humour all year round in almost any conditions. But they really do come into their own in late autumn, which seems fitting as the beautiful rich orange of modern day carrots seems to fit so elegantly with the orange-red-gold-brown-purple of the autumn leaves and the dusky watercolour skies.

Modern day carrots, because like so make fruits and vegetables, the carrot has been subject to a process of long-term selective breeding, a natural genetic modification whereby the most delicious and desired crops are selectively chosen and reproduced*. Farmers markets and home vegetable patches continue to reveal heirloom varieties in yellow and red and purple and creamy white.

With their universal availability and their universal versatility, it is easy to let the carrot take a back seat, filling in the space around the main event, providing the background depth of flavour to a more interesting meal. Switching my thinking around to what goes well with carrot, as opposed to what will carrots go well with. The carrot at the centre and not just a side dish or base ingredient. What freshness is needed to offset the sweetness? What method of cooking meat will yield something soft and strong enough to enhance and showcase their woody earthiness? Can carrot truly shine on its own?

Carrot puree reduces carrot to the essence of carrot flavour. Without the characteristic shape or crunch, this method narrows the focus of the palate onto taste and taste alone. Healthy, unusual and visually striking. It is incredible just how intense the carrotness is: light and fluffy, it is beautiful warm as a sauce smeared underneath a thick slice of grass-fed eye fillet cooked sous-vide. Or with parsley and almond meal crusted pan fried fish. Or as below, chilled and used as a filling for savoury tartlets. In tart form, the carrot is on its own, entirely. It would have easy to enhance it with cumin or corriander or even maple or honey. But I wanted a pairing at once more subtle and more uncommon. Something that demonstrated the elevation of carrot from the background to star-status.

Hence vanilla: both carrot and vanilla, away from their familiar and comfortable surrounds. Not to be taken for granted.

* Rumour has it that our homogenous orange carrots are in fact the result of a preference in Holland for breeding vegetables in honour of the royal family (the house of Orange). However, the orange carrot, along with purple, red, yellow and white varieties is known to have been actively cultivated for thousands of years, across the Middle East, continental Europe, Asia and North Africa. The World Carrot Museum has a wealth of information regarding the origins, cultivation and use of carrots, as well as the history of carrots in art and world events.

Carrot tartlets with vanilla salt

These tartlets were inspired by the recipe for
vanilla salt from Not Without Salt, and the throw-away suggestion that the salt can be sprinkled on glazed carrots.

Carrot puree

Serves 4

4 or more large carrots, peeled finely grated
50 g butter or 2 tbsp olive oil

Melt butter in a large saucepan until foaming. Add grated carrots, stir. Reduce heat to very low, cover and let steam for about half an hour, stirring occasionally. Continue to cook until the carrot has collapsed (it is dissolve when squeezed between thumb and finger). Do not add any water – the idea is to concentrate the carrot flavour.

Let cool slightly, then transfer to a blender and blend until smooth and fluffy – the carrot will change colour sightly, turning a slightly lighter shade as more air is incorporated. (For the tarts below you can add ½ tsp scrapped vanilla if you like, otherwise season to taste and serve with poach vegetables or steamed fish or lightly poach beef fillet or grilled chicken).

For tarts shells:

1 packet phyllo pastry (8 sheets will make approximately 40-50 miniature tart shells)
¼ cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 200ºc.

Working with sheets of phyllo pastry, brush a sheet with olive oil, then place another sheet on top, and brush with oil, until four sheets are layered

Cut into squares big enough to make a rough little tart shell inside a muffin tray. Line a muffin tray, cook for about 5 minutes, or until brown and crisp. When cool enough to touch, remove and let on a rack to cool. Tart shells will stay crisp for about 25 hours (but will start to soften in contact with moisture, including a filling).

For carrot tarts:

Just before serving, fill each tart shell (I used a piping bag – it’s neat and quick). Sprinkle generously with vanilla salt, serve within half an hour.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sugar and spice and all things nice: Siena cake

As a small child I refused to eat cake. Christmas cake was the worst, being cake, with sultanas, and alcohol and without icing.

Birthday cake was also off the agenda: for the twelve years or so of childhood birthday parties I had ice-cream cakes. Or baklava. At some point I discovered chocolate mud cake, a barely set, gooey pudding like cake rich and fudge. This was acceptable. We bought a croquembouche for my twenty-first birthday.

I still dislike sponge cake, with its dry polystyrene texture and melted polystyrene flavoured fake cream. I will still most likely turn down cake when offered. I’m not on a diet: I just don’t like it.

And then I discovered panforte – a highly spiced very dense fruit cake also known as Siena cake. Siena cake was made in Siena as early as the 13th century, and was even an official part of the tithes paid to an order of nuns in region. Made sweet with boiled honey and dried fruits, this cake basically set itself up for sainthood when chocolate was brought back from the new world. More toffee-like than cake-like (the name literally means “strong bread”) this is cake I can get to know and love. It is rich, dense, nutty, spicy with cinnamon and pepper, and not too sweet.

Perfect for a grown-up after dinner sweet, with a little liqueur and very strong espresso. And I know I would have loved this as a kid: no icky dryness, no fake cream and no sultanas.

Chocolate Panforte

This recipe was originally from (note that I have tinkered a little with the quantities + ingredients from the original, but the method remains the same)

Olive oil (for greasing the tin)
100g whole blanched almonds
100g whole hazelnuts
200 g mixed dried fruit, roughly chopped. I like mixed peel, dried apricots and dried figs in about equal quantities. You can also use candied melon or dried cranberries or dried cherries. Even sultanas, which I don’t really like ...
100g (2/3 cup) plain flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp cinnamon powder
½ tsp powdered ginger
½ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cracked black pepper
¼ tsp powder chilli powder (optional)
100g good-quality dark chocolate (at least 75% cocoa solids), chopped
125ml (1/2 cup) honey
55g sugar
Icing sugar (or gold powder, which I use at Christmas), to dust

Preheat oven to 180°C. Brush a 20cm (base measurement) springform pan with melted butter to lightly grease. Line the base with non-stick baking paper.

Spread the almonds over half a baking tray and spread the hazelnuts over the remaining half. Bake in preheated oven for 8 minutes or until toasted. Place the hazelnuts on a clean tea towel and rub to remove the skins. Reduce oven to 170°C.

Place almonds and hazelnuts in a large bowl. Add the chopped dried fruit and stir until well combined. Sift over the combined flour, cocoa, cinnamon and mixed spice and stir to combine.

Place chocolate, honey and sugar in a small saucepan and stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves and chocolate melts. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, without stirring, for 2 minutes or until a candy thermometer reaches 116°C or 'soft ball stage' (If you don't have a thermometer, drop 1 teaspoonful of syrup into a glass of cold water. If the syrup becomes a soft ball it's at soft ball stage.)

Pour the hot chocolate mixture into the fruit mixture and, working quickly, stir until well combined. Spoon into prepared pan and smooth the surface. Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes or until just firm. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Will keep for about two weeks.

To serve, dust with icing sugar (or gold dust) and cut into thin wedges.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rosé veal with rosé sauce and tiny toasted flower buds

I love the soft, sweet flavour of veal. I love the gentle pinkness of rosé veal, the only kind of veal I can bring myself to eat.* From there it is all word association and day dreaming with me.

Given how perfect white wine sauce is with veal, it is only a short step to matching a dryish rosé. I’m not a wine snob (as evidenced by my choice of wine to cook with solely on the basis of whim and colour). Rosé veal with rosé wine sauce just sounds clever.

In my culinary fantasy-world I imagine a dish scattered with rose petals or perhaps preserved or jellied rosehips, sweet and sour and floral. I’m imagining Heston Blumenthal type presentation, with little petals cut out of veal scaloppine arranged like a flower on the plate. It’s twee and arty and probably has fennel pollen scattered on it.

Setting aside my rose coloured glasses I instead make something much simpler. In the real world dinner takes fifteen minutes to cook. It is light, easy and tasty. Tenderised veal scaloppine, lean and quick cooking. Browned on both sides in a very lightly oiled non stick pan and then removed. I deglaze the pan with a glass of rosé. Boiled, reduced. Add the veal back in. I could strain it, but seriously, I am firmly back in the real world. Simmer, whilst steaming some vegetables. Five minutes later, it’s ready. Tip onto a plate – rosé veal with rosé sauce. Clever, quick, delicious.

Except: I can’t resist. In the wiped out pan, I heat some olive oil to sizzling. And I scatter in some little caper buds, preserved in white wine vinegar. They start to pop and crackle, brown and turn a little crispy. Little tiny toasted flower buds, scattered over the top. Not roses, but a savoury-sour floral flavour addition, pretty and nearly as clever.

* I know that, like my reticence regarding rabbit, many people struggle with the idea of eating veal.
There is veal and there is veal. Rosé (or pink) veal is the kind that involves a more ethical and humane treatment – or at least avoids the worst treatments that have been traditionally associated with veal rearing. Please, please talk to your butcher about the origins of all your meat.
Rosé veal with rosé sauce and toasted capers

[Edited 24 May 2010] When Helen emailed me, from the other side of the world, I was a little surprised. I had sent her a recipe in response to her “Blogger Secret Ingredient Challenge” (capers) because there, in London, England, was a cook and writer and thinker who though things I would like to think and cooked things I would like to eat. To win, an even bigger surprise.
Serves 2

1 tsp olive oil
2 large veal scaloppine, tenderised
100 ml rosé (or dry white wine)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp capers in white wine vinegar (you could used salted, but rinse well first), drained and pat dry

Steamed or sautéd vegetables, to serve

Heat a non stick pan (big enough to fit the veal all at once – if your pan is only big enough to hold one piece, cook one at a time) to very hot. Add a teaspoon of olive oil. Sear the scaloppine on each side until quite brown and cooked through. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add wine to the pan – it will foam and boil almost instantly. Boil for a couple of minutes, until reduced and thickened slightly. Add the veal back to the pan and cook for a further five minutes. place a piece of veal on each plate and drizzle with remaining sauce.

Wipe out the pan (or use a clean one, it depends on how much washing up you want to do) and heat the olive oil. When hot, add the capers. Cook for about a minute, shaking the pan to prevent from burning or sticking. Scatter over the top of the veal.

Serve with a glass of rosé.

If you want dessert, try this.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Prosciutto wrapped roasted lapin: bunnies, bunnies, it must be bunnies*

This week has been marked by a restlessness: a desire to push my comfort zone and tackle the odd and the unknown.

The foray into rabbit, whilst not exactly a disaster, revealed for me the personal operation of a cultural taboo around food consumption. In short: I found this confronting. And I was surprised to be confronted. After all, I have autopsied calamari and daintily eaten a tichy-tiny whole quail and cooked live mussels and plucked a chicken and eaten raw horse. I have been offended when guests refuse to eat veal. I am not squeamish nor fussy.

Except: the consumption of the hoppity back legs of a little bunny: a bridge too far. It should have been delicious: wrapped in prosciutto, pan-seared in foaming butter and roasted in thyme and sage, served with pumpkin and parsnip puree and a reduced jus of wine and rabbit stock.

But there were tendons and unfamiliar bones and above all the little voice in the back of my head which kept saying ‘BUNNY’ over and over. The strength of my reaction was utterly unexpected.

I was reminded, both of Anya in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her dreadful fear of rabbits*, and the introduction to the Orders of Things*, because I found myself face to face with the laughter that shatters and the stark impossibility of eating that.

The question underneath this for me is: what other assumptions and cultural preferences am I blind to? Is irrational food avoidance (ie, not consciously chosen and without foundation) any different to other kinds of prejudice? And am I already too comfortable (and well fed) to even notice?

* For example: Episode 7, Series 6, Once more with Feeling: “Bunnies aren’t just cute like everybody supposes, they’ve got those hoppy legs and those twitchy little noses. And what’s with all the carrots, what do they need such good eyesight for anyway?”. (Directed by Josh Whedon).

** “This book first arose out of a passage in [Jorge Luis] Borges, out of the laughter that shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought—our thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography—breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction between the Same and the Other. This passage quotes a ‘certain Chinese encyclopaedia’ in which it is written that ‘animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) suckling pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies’. In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that.” Michel Foucault The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences Pantheon Books 1970

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Melt-in-the-mouth oven-roasted duck breast

There are lots of fancy ways to cook duck – sous vide, confit, whole-roasted, red-lacquered, tea-smoked.

Except, on the whole, most people don't cook duck. In fact, most people don't even eat duck.

Canada, so far as I can tell, is the only English speaking country with reliable statistics on the consumption of duck. Canadians consume around 200g of duck meat per annum.* That is: less than or equal to the daily (combined) consumption of pork, beef, lamb and chicken. One serve, approximately once a year.

Duck consumption isn’t even a blip on the statistical radar in America or the UK or Australia.** If we’re not eating it, we’re also not cooking it. And if we’re not cooking it, we aren’t learning how to cook it.

It is clear we have a general reticence to eat duck. Or indeed, any kind of meat you won’t find on a McDonald’s menu.*** It isn’t widely available, therefore we don’t eat it, therefore it is unlikely to become easily available.

I think some of this reticence is also about a fear of flavour. One of the most fabulous and misleading descriptions of not-so-common meat is that it is ‘gamey’. Which is fine, so far as it actually communicates anything. For those of us who have never actually tasted wild game, this makes no sense. What does ‘gamey’ taste like? Is it strong? Pungent? A bit sweaty? Rank? Nice? Compared to what?

In a sense we have been so gastronomically acculturated to tasteless meat (mass produced, heavily processed, fat-removed and salt enhanced) any hint of any flavour whatsoever can seem a little confronting. So what does duck taste like? Silky, rich, sweet, meaty, delicate and soft. A clean oiliness (like a lovely roasted chicken has around the drumsticks). Basically, quite delicious.

Because it is rich, duck goes well with citrus and vinegars and spices (as these cut through the richness). Because of the layer of fat between flesh and skin, high heats and/or long cooking times are also kind to duck. Peking Duck enhances its sweetness by marrying crispy roasted duck with a sweet and sticky hoisin sauce, and confit of duck involves overloading its richness, preserving the marylands by slow cooking in duck fat.

But the very, very easiest way to cook duck is to treat it almost like a really good steak. Sear, roast, rest.



*** Bacon, beef, chicken.

Duck breasts, medium-well done

Serves 2

Preheat oven, 220ºc

2 duck breast fillets, skin on.

Season skin side – salt, pepper.

Very hot cast iron grill pan on high heat.

3 minutes skin side down.


1 minute skin side up.

Oven, 8 minutes skin side up.


Rest, 4 minutes.

Eat with this, because it is delicious. And steamed green beans, because they are healthy and delicious.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Great American Recipe: chowder

America is not exactly renowned for contributing to the great cuisines of the world.

Lots of accomplished chefs, but more famous, perhaps, for hot dogs and doughnuts and frozen pizza and TV meals. For adopting imported culinary traditions – ergo the California roll, the apple pie, the pastrami sandwich. For showcasing the food of the world in some of the best restaurants in the world. But not for offering its own unique food tradition.

Scratch the surface, however, and you find food that is informed and shaped around the immediate environment, local produce and climate, people and history. Perfect regional cuisine.

The New England clam chowder is a perfect example of a definitive regional cuisine. Incorporating key ingredients that are local (corn, potato, clams), chowder, whilst inspired by European fish soups, is quintessentially North American. Rich, sweet but also restrained and economical, this soup captures the New England terroir, warming in the cold, cold winter and fresh in the humid summer.

God bless America.
Seafood, corn and potato chowder

Serves 4

¾ cup dry white wine
300 g green tiger prawns
350 g mussels
350 g clams
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 carrot, cut into ½ cm dice
1 leek, white part only, cut into ½ cm dice
½ brown onion, cut into ½ cm dice
1 small bulb fennel, cut into ½ cm dice
2 rashers really good smokey bacon, cut into ½ cm dice
3 cloves garlic, very finely sliced
1 bay leaf
750 mls water
2 small waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ cm dice
Kernels of 1 cob of corn
2 tbsp pure cream
2 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley

Heat a very large pan with the lid on until hot. Add wine and seafood and cover. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the clams and mussels are open and the prawns are pink. Strain the cooking liquid and reserve. Set the seafood aside until cool enough to handle.

When the seafood is cool enough to handle, peel the prawns and remove the clam and mussel meat from the shells. Coarsely chop and set aside.

Heat butter and olive oil in the pan, add carrots, leek, onion, fennel and bacon. Cook on medium low heat for ten to twelve minutes until the vegetables are soft. Increase the heat and add reserved seafood cooking liquid, water and bay leaf. Bring to the boil.

Add potatoes and corn, reduce to a simmer and cook for about ten minutes until the potato is cooked through. Add cream and reserved prawns, clams and mussels. Stir until warmed through.

Serve scattered with thyme and parsley.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Recipes of the Orient: rustic Indonesian chicken soup

In the early seventies my parents travelled to Java for their honeymoon. My mother made two crucial mistakes during this trip (not counting the whole motorcycle in the rice-paddy incident). The first: purchasing a bowl of “noodles” from a street stall. She struggled through a giant bowl of shredded steamed tripe. The second: made wise by her tripe experience, she purchased, in the twilight of an outdoor food market, a plate of long green beans. The first forkful revealed her error: each long, green bean was a whole chilli. This didn’t, however, deter her. The best food is always found by the side of the road, bought from makeshift ‘kitchens’, cooked right in front of you. The risk is tripe and chillies. The reward: fresh, local, flavourful, authentic deliciousness, the kind that defines a region or country or town.

When I was sixteen my mother took my younger brother and me on a holiday to Java. From Jakata to Jogjakata, she manoeuvred two children through language barriers and nine hour train trips without air-conditioning in tropical heat and strange food and upset stomachs and terrible hotel rooms.

This was an extraordinary experience. Ancient temples, magical palaces, tiered tea plantations, noise, stench, serenity, being-attacked-by-monkeys, religious shrines and rituals, military monuments, a live volcano.

Unsurprisingly my strongest memory* of this holiday is the temporary street stall that arrived at dusk outside out hotel and packed up when the last of the food disappeared. Comprising a single gas burner, a large pot, stackable plastic chairs and table, a tarpaulin canopy, and a shrivelled tiny ancient Indonesian women and her equally ancient and shrunken male counterpart, this stall purveyed chicken and vegetable soup.

The soup appeared to consist of nothing more that a truly ginormous pot, filled with ginger, garlic, onions and many whole chickens, which had simmered away until the chicken fell off the bones. The carcasses remained in the stock. When someone requested a bowl of soup (in my case, by pointing) various chopped vegetables were added, cooked and the soup served with a scoop of boiled white rice.

The make-shift tables were laden with various mismatched bottles of soya sauce, ketchup manis** and sweet chilli sauce, fresh chopped chilli and vinegar.

Relying on a combination of observation and Recipes of the Orient (published in 1968 and bought by my mother following her return from the honeymoon) my mother and I managed to develop a recipe which evokes (although never exactly captures) sup ayam in the twilight by the side of a Javanese road.

* other that the whole monkey incident, which occurred due to a misunderstanding about a breadfruit I had stashed in my backpack. Once I surrendered the fruit, the monkeys let me be.

** a lightly spiced and heavily sweetened soya sauce syrup

Sup ayam (Indonesian chicken soup)

Serves 6

1 whole chicken, free range. At least 1 kg (note – a 1 kg chicken will make enough for 4 people. For more serving, used a 1.5 kg chicken, or add additional vegetables)
3 inches ginger, grated (you can use less if you are not a big ginger fan, but it is a key feature of the soup)
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 onions, chopped into 1cm dice
2 tablespoon soya sauce
2 potatoes, cut into 1.5 cm dice
1 small head broccoli, cut into small pieces (use the stalk as well – trim and dice)
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1.5 cm dice
½ head cauliflower, cut into small pieces
1 bunch bok choi or choi sum or similar

Boiled white rice and sweet chilli sauce, to serve

In a very large pot, add chicken, garlic, ginger and half the diced onion. Cover the chicken with cold water, bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about half an hour (essentially this poaches the chicken)

Remove chicken and set aside. Top up the chicken stock with additional water (you could use chicken or vegetable stock, but I don’t bother) and bring to the boil. Add 1 tablespoon soya sauce. Taste. If required, add remaining soya sauce and/or sea salt. If I’m being fancy, I skim and strain the stock – but it’s really not necessary.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin, and shred the meat. Set aside. (This is both messy and time consuming. Alternatively, use 750 gm chicken mince, brown in a small amount of peanut oil, then add water, ginger etc).

Bring the stock back to the boil. Add potatoes and cook for about 5 minutes. Add remaining vegetables and onion, bring to the boil and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add chicken meat and heat through.

Serve with a spoonful of rice and sweet chilli sauce.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Summer love: kissing tomatoes goodbye

I have finally admitted the tomatoes are done until next summer. Between now and then I will live on dried, bottled and preserved tomatoes, lamenting my loss until I can consummate my lust with the ripe, firm, sweet juicy globes grown under the summer sun, drenched in warmth and olive oil. Goodbye to bell peppers, zucchinis, big purple eggplants and long skinny brinjals.

The supermarket, well-lit den of vice, will call its siren call. Like a corner-standing, trench-coat-wearing pimp, the supermarket whispers lies of eternal access and pleasure. Of constant supply. Of seamless, timeless, endless shiny foodstuffs. It is easy to be seduced. It is easy to be naive or forgetful - beneath the fluorescent lights and climate controlled air-conditioning and immaculately clean floors and shelving and plastic wrapped packaging - that our food grows in dirt according to the rhythms of the seasons and the turning of the earth.

On days when food is just fuel I do succumb. Of course I have eaten tomatoes in the dead of winter. I have bought imported cherries. Stored pumpkins and cold-storage apples and hot-housed cucumbers. But I remember one calabrese salad in August that was so distressingly tasteless that I couldn’t eat it. I picked out the bocconcini and left the basil and tomatoes. I should have known better. The supermarket quickie is not satisfying.

Seasonality is not about permaculture or organic farming or slow food or being a 'locavore'. It is almost inherent in all these things, but it is much, much more simple. You can eat seasonally shopping in your local supermarket. Seasonality is the idea that plants (and animals, really – although this is a bit complicated), when left to their own devices, naturally flower, fruit, ripen and grow in certain ways at certain times.

The secret of seasonality is that things taste best when allowed to grow according to this natural rhythm. The rocquette from my Dad’s veggie patch was the most peppery, fresh, flavourful rocquette I have ever eaten. My Mum’s tomatoes cannot be highly enough praised. Peaches warm from the sun? Mulberries eaten whilst climbing the mulberry tree? Pumpkin soup on the first day of winter? It just tastes right.

It’s not that tricky to work it out. Educate yourself. Get a list. And refer to the list. Try
Seasonal Cornucopia (it’s for the north west coast of America, but I make adjustments for being on the other side of the globe – where the seasons are reversed) – or this pdf for Australia. Ask questions. Visit farms. Look at price and availability. If it’s cheaper or there’s heaps more of it, chances are it’s in season. Things grow best in their natural season, therefore there is more of it, and (basic supply and demand) therefore it will likely be cheaper.* Try trial and error (I like this way best) – observe and trust your own senses. Taste things, remember how they tasted (you could be organised and keep notes, but seriously, who does that?).

And so: I admit that the tomatoes are over. But they tasted good while they were here. And we had time for one last steamy fling.

* This of course lead to the great asparagus over-indulgence of 1999 (which in turn lead to the great asparagus avoidance of 2000-2006).


Ratatouille is a French vegetable stew or sauce (depending on how long you cook it and how finely you cut the vegetables) made with vegetables from the tail-end of summer – and lots of garlic and olive oil. It is similar to the Italian caponata and the Catalan samfaina. It works well on its own, with grilled fish or meat, over pasta or rice, with chickpeas or other dried legumes, or crusty bread.

Serves about 8. Make a lot and freeze it.

½ cup olive oil (plus more to serve)
2 heads of garlic (or to taste), 1 head minced and the other peeled but left whole
2 red onions, roughly chopped into large dice
5 long thin aubergines (or 2 medium sized eggplants), sliced into ½ inch rounds
5 zucchinis, sliced into ½ inch rounds
1 red capsicum, roughly chopped into 1 inch pieces
2 yellow capsicum, roughly chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 kg really ripe tomatoes, blanched, peeled and chopped
Handful of green beans (optional)
½ cup roughly chopped parsley, to serve

Heat oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add onions and whole peeled cloves of garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Add minced garlic and cook until soft but not browning. Add eggplant and cook for three to four minutes. Then add zucchini and capsicum, stirring gently until softening.

Add chopped tomatoes and cook until the vegetables are very soft. Check for seasoning – add a generous amount of sea salt and pepper (I sometime like to add fresh chillies along with the capsicum for a bit of kick).

Add green beans (if using) and cover and cook until just cooked through (you could add them with the tomatoes, but I like my beans quite crisp, so I add them at the end – it’s a nice textual balance to the mushiness of the rest of the vegetables).

Serve scattered with chopped parsley.