Bitter Chocolate Mexican Zucchini Torte

Zucchini cake 1

I deliberately planted minimal zucchinis this year – initially just one of the light green Mexican (Cucurbita pepo) heirloom plants.  Since then I’ve put another two in for late season crops of another variety called Cocozelle – which produces stunningly striped fruit.

Interestingly the Mexican zucchinis are supposed to be heat tolerant and this summer’s heat wave with the mercury hitting 46 degrees on one day certainly showed it to be resilient.  The only issue stopping me growing this variety again is the small super fine spikes which are nettle thin and even made it through my garden hardy fingers.  Gloves are a good idea until they’re inside and you can scrub the spines off with a scourer in water.

Being a big fan of baking with beetroot, I’ve been looking at another way of stuffing some fibre into sweet dishes to slow down the sugar hitting our systems…yes basically any excuse to continue eating chocolate cake.

This recipe has a few differences due to ingredients I had on hand, namely the addition of Tasmanian wholemeal spelt flour which I used for half of the flour requirement.  I’ve also used a tad less sugar than similar recipes so if you’re baking for really sweet tastes you may wish to substitute the 70% cocoa chocolate with higher sugar varieties i.e. normal cooking chocolate (milk or dark)

Zucchini cake 4

Ingredients

2 cups of grated zucchini

2 eggs

1/2 cup of milk

125g grass fed butter (at room temp)

1 1/4 cups of Plain flour

1 1/4 cups of wholemeal spelt flour (I used Callington Mill’s organic stoneground wholegrain spelt from Tasmania)

Salt – pinch

1/2 tsp dutch cinnamon

1 tsp baking powder

4 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 vanilla bean (or tsp of extract)

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup 70% cocoa chocolate chopped

Method

Usual cake stuff applies; sift your dry ingredients into a bowl and mix together.

Cream butter with the sugar in a large bowl add the eggs and beat.  Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the lovely insides with a sharp knife and add.  Mix in the milk and then add the dry ingredients.

Zucchini cake 2

Finally add the two cups of zucchini and grated chocolate.

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I used a spring form 26cm round tin (torte in Italy is ‘torta’ which means a round cake so how could I use a square tin!?)

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Cook at 165 degrees C (fan forced) for 40-50 mins until springy and a knife comes out clean when carefully stabbed!

I finished it with a ganache of dark chocolate melted into cream.

Best served with Creme Fraiche

Zucchini cake 6

Fried Green Tomatoes!

Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green tomatoes.7

This recipe has been inspired by a challenge reluctantly put forward by BayFM’s Karen Mason.  You see Kaz doesn’t like tomatoes.  She never has.  So I’ve stepped up to the crease and have accepted the challenge to create something containing tomatoes that Kaz can actually stomach.

Fried Green tomatoes_Kaz 1

I started off a little optimistically, by offering Kaz two home grown varieties; Green Zebra and Money Maker.  No sale on the Money Maker I’m afraid.  Just as well radio isn’t a visual medium, as there were some interesting facial expressions taking place in the studio.  While Green Zebra was received more warmly, there was still no way Ms Mason was going to make her way to the nursery any time soon to start growing her own.

Time to bring in the big guns – Southern American cuisine.  If anyone can make a vegetable tasty, it has to be the home of fried chicken ’n’ grits!

Fried Green Tomatoes

For this recipe I used Amish Paste tomatoes as they are a good size and are producing large quantities of fruit, hence I was happy to use a few ‘experimentally’.

Ingredients

4-5 green tomatoes sliced 5-8mm thick (1/4 inch)

I egg

Splash of milk

Oil for shallow frying

Plain flour

Polenta

Salt

Pepper

Method

It’s a pretty standard battering process, but anytime you’re using hot oil it pays to get everything ready before starting the cooking.  Another great tip I’ll tell you for free is that you should try to keep one hand clean and dry.

Start by slicing your tomatoes quite thickly – another reason to choose larger tomatoes in the first place. Discard the ends and any blemishes.

Fried Green tomatoes.2

Place your sliced tomatoes in a bowl of plain flour.  This removes the moisture and helps provide a good surface for the egg and milk mix to stick to.

Mix a splash of milk and one large egg with a fork until combined.  Dunk your floury tomatoes into this mix until coated.

Fried Green tomatoes.4

Next comes the ‘dredge’  This basically a seasoned flour mixed with polenta.  You can also use breadcrumbs instead of the polenta or a mix of both!  Season pretty heavily with salt and pepper – I probably used a good teaspoon of salt.

Fried Green tomatoes.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coat your tomatoes well with the dredge before popping small batches into hot oil.  I used olive oil as coconut oil is too damn expensive to use in bulk and I no longer keep any vegetable/seed oil in the house.

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Many recipes from the U.S. suggested ‘ranch dressing’ which I assume is a ketchup-sweet mayonnaise dressing – not swapping your clothes for a cowboy suit.

I was actually surprised to find them really tangy, refreshing and a great late summer dish – perfect for the impatient amongst us who can’t wait for their tomatoes to ripen…

Oh, and Kaz loved them!

Fried Green tomatoes_Kaz 2

Marianna’s Polish Potato Salad

A bag of home grown spuds from my Dad has inspired me to revisit this recipe.  Plus, with Christmas just around the corner the more recipes that can be made in advance the better!

I was shown how to make this potato salad about 15 years ago by a great Polish cook called Marianna and it remains a favourite recipe today.

Potato salad 6

Especially good when made the day before, it packs a much bigger flavour punch than your average spud salad (it’s really a vegetable salad) and is great for summer and winter alike.

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Ingredients:

7 average sized potatoes (desiree are the best for this recipe but I’ve used Coliban as that’s what my Dad gave me)

6 carrots

1 leek (just use the white)

5 pickled dill cucumbers (seek out Krakus brand)

6 hardboiled eggs

1 can of peas or approx 400g fresh peas cooked

1-1.5 cup of mayonnaise (Marianna always uses Thomy brand egg mayo)

Salt and Pepper

Method:

Cook your potatoes and carrots together, but DON’T peel or cut them into pieces!  They should be ready at the same time – check using a skewer through the largest carrot.  I noticed my colibans started to disintegrate which make sense as they’re a fluffier spud that the waxy desiree.

Potato salad 1

Put your eggs onto boil – for newbies the trick to cooking good eggs is to get them out of fridge and up to room temperature.  Place into a saucepan of COLD water and gently bring to a simmer.  Once simmering cook for a further 8 minutes.  Cool down and peel.

While all this cooking is going on dice the leek finely and sprinkle with a good pinch of salt.

Potato salad 2

Peel the dill pickles and dice those finely too.

Cook your fresh home grown peas (or drain your tinned peas…shhh) and pop these into a mixing bowl with leek and pickles.

Potato salad 3

Drain and cool your potatoes and carrots.  When cool enough to handle, peel and dice and pop into a big mixing bowl.  Dice your eggs and add them to potatoes and carrots.

Potato salad 4

Add 20 good grinds from a pepper grinder and a really generous pinch or three of your best salt.

Combine all ingredients and mix until evenly distributed.

Add the mayo (I used around 380g of a 470g jar of Thomy)

Potato salad 5

I haven’t changed the recipe at all to date, but would love to add some fresh dill (none growing just now) and use my own pickles next time.

Potato salad 7

Spring Nettle Tart

I’ve been obsessed with eating nettles for a little while now, so I’m always after a new way of preparing them! This is a tasty tart that’s filling enough for a main meal where you’ll want to serve it with a salad (it’s pretty rich!)

I actually made this with my Mum as I wanted to learn our family’s shortcrust recipe (actually belonging to my Dad’s mum – Una Lucas). While catching up with Mum she showed me her first cook book!

yvonne school cook book no label

Una’s Short Crust Pastry

10oz plain flour (approx 300g)

2oz S.R. flour (approx 50g)

6oz butter (approx 150g)

3 tbsp cold water

1 whole egg

pinch salt

(and if making a sweet short crust add 1 tbsp of caster sugar)

I found this left enough shortcrust over to do almost another tart…maybe a dessert?

First up you need to rub the diced butter into the sieved flours and salt. This helps to coat the flour and prevents the gluten forming. VERY important as while we want gluten when making bread it’s the enemy of delicate short crust pastry!  Okay now give the egg a quick whisk then add it and the cold water to a well in the flour mix…

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Using a cold knife helps to keep your warm hands off the mix, and cutting the ingredients together rather than kneading helps prevent the dreaded gluten forming!  Once the mix is just starting to come together, tip onto a dusted surface. Gently knead until it just forms a ball…well kind of a ball.

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Wack some plastic wrap or a damp tea towel around the pastry and pop it in the fridge for approx 30 minutes.

This gives plenty of time to prepare the other ingredients:

8-10 slices of pancetta (chopped)

1 large leek (sliced, mainly the white)

2 spring onions (sliced)

2 cloves garlic, finely sliced

Approx 400 grams of tender stinging nettles (I harvested around a 9 litre bucket loosely filled and this was the correct amount) These need to be dropped in boiling water for a few seconds to lose their stings, then you can go ahead and chop the leaves off the stems.

3 eggs

150g nice cheddar or Gruyere cheese (grated)

50g parmeson (grated)

200ml milk

150ml pure cream

seasonal herbs (I used dill this time around)

Asparagus – trimmed to fit (about half a small bunch)

Cook the diced pancetta and once the fat yields, pop in your garlic and spring onions – you won’t need extra oil.  Squeeze the excess water out of your nettles and chop them finely

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Take your nice and chilly pastry out of the fridge and roll it out until it’s big enough to fit comfortably over a pie dish. I’ve used a 23cm pie dish that’s around 5cm deep.

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Gently push the base down and use a spoon or fork if you’re feeling like making fancy patterns.

Now you NEED to blind bake this pastry so it stays nice and firm after cooking. Pop some baking paper in and cover with beans (keep using the same ones)

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Blind bake for about 15 minutes in a 180 C fan forced oven

While that’s going on you can whisk the three eggs, milk and cream. Add the chopped herbs too.

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Once your shortcrust is done take the beans out and if the base is still soft, pop it back bean-less for another 5 mins.

From here it’s an easy few steps of assembly. Put the nettle and pancetta mix in first.

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Then cheeses and finally the milk/cream mix and top it off by pushing in the asparagus spears…

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Drop the oven temp to around 160 degrees for a fan-forced unit and cook for a further 30-40 minutes until just set and golden.

 

Kaleslaw!

kaleslaw main

If you’re lucky enough to bring little people into this world, please DON’T let their first experience of Coleslaw be from Kentucky Fried Chicken AKA – ‘The Dirty Bird’!

KFC coleslaw

Even well paid food stylists can’t make this stuff look good…

 

This sickly sweet sloppy mess remains one of the few salad offerings from the big fast food providers and really doesn’t deserve the name sake – originally taken from the Dutch “Koolsla”, the shortened version of “Kool Salade” meaning Cabbage Salad.

With two types of Kale still growing with vigour in my garden (Purple Russian and Tuscan) I decided to make them the main raw veg ingredient in a little dish I like to call…KALESLAW!

I’ve also added some sweet, just picked baby savoy cabbage from my garden.  Staggering the picking of cabbages i.e. using some young and some more mature helps to avoid the:

“Oh my God – I’ve eight giant cabbages that need to be used and I don’t like sauerkraut!”

 

Backyard Harvest Kaleslaw Recipe:

Ingredients: (serves 4-6)

2 cups of grated carrot

1/2 small Spanish onion (or a couple of spring onions)

1 cup of thinly sliced purple Russian kale

1 cup of thinly sliced Tuscan kale

2 cups of finely sliced savoy cabbage

Chopped fresh coriander to taste

Dressing:

1/2 cup Whole Egg mayonnaise

Splash of cider vinegar

Salt (I’ve used some black lava sea salt from a recent trip to Hawaii)

1 tblsp Coconut sugar (keeping with the Hawaiian theme)

kaleslaw 1

Grated carrot and finely chopped onion

kaleslaw 2

Red Russian Kale on the left is less known but has a more delicate leaf than the Tuscan on the right.  Both grow with well all year ’round and have far less pest problems than cabbage varieties.  Oh and they’re SUPER FOODS!

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Both kale varieties are finely chopped and added…

kaleslaw 4

This sweet, sweet savoy cabbage was picked just moments before this pic and had more crunch than a new season apple!

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Mixed and ready for dressing…

kaleslaw 5

That black stuff isn’t pepper – it’s ‘Black Lava’ sea salt from Hawaii – can’t wait to run out so I have an excuse to go back to Maui!

Green Smoothies

Most green smoothies combine 60% high sugar fruits (think mangos, bananas, pineapple, berries) with a 40% combination of leafy green vegetables and herbs such as kale, lettuce, silverbeet, spinach, celery, parsley, mint, basil and coriander.  Other vegetables such as cucumber can also be added, and if you’re good at weed identification you can (carefully!) include annual stinging nettles.

The other difference between a traditional banana smoothie and a green smoothie is that water is used as the liquid ingredient, rather than milk/yogurt/soy milk.  But don’t be concerned about the smoothie tasting like cold soup as the fruit helps improve the texture – especially when using mango or bananas.  Some recipes also include coconut water as the liquid ingredient.

Try the recipe below and I’m sure you’ll soon be singing about how wonderful Green Smoothies are too:

 

Will it blend?

My blender is a 20 year old model with a French name, but interestingly made in Mexico – obviously labour was cheaper there than China at the time.  It had no problems preparing the green smoothie below, but if you have cash burning a hole in your pocket there are a stack of high quality blenders available now.  Blenders of course can be used for other helpful tasks that enrich society such as this:

Basic Green  Smoothie

I had these ingredients in my garden apart from the banana (…and the ice) and it tasted great!

4 young kale leaves with the stalks cut out

2 stalks of parsley

1 stalk of mint

1 large ripe banana

1/2 cup ice

1.5 cups filtered water (approx – add until you’re happy with the consistency)

Start with the ice, then banana and your roughly chopped leafy greens.

Add water after all the leaves have been chopped up and then keep blending until you’re happy with the constancy.  Enjoy!

Grasp the Nettle

 

The variety in my garden is Utica urens, a small annual nettle that grows all year around but is particularly noticeable in the milder spring and autumn months.  Nettles typically thrive in a high nitrogen and phosphorus environments, so it’s no surprise when they pop up in veggie patches as well as amongst cow pats in paddocks.  Of course anything growing happily in such fertile soil is going to be highly nutritious and nettles don’t disappoint.  They contain vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K.  Nettles are high in calcium, magnesium potassium and iron, plus with over 20% protein they are without equal in the leafy vegetable realm.

But it’s not just an underrated edible herb.  Nettle leaves have been used to create a dye for military clothing and during world war 1 over 2000 tons of wild nettles were collected to create uniforms from the fibre which is said to rival hemp for durability.  Medicinally this wonder herb also excels.  The sting is said to increase blood flow and can treat everything from arthritis to gout.  Nettle tea is a pain free introduction and is available in lots of supermarkets – especially where Europeans frequent.

The native Australian Yellow Admiral butterfly is also a fan of this introduced ‘weed’ choosing to lay its eggs on the leaves which the larvae eventually consume.

 

Tender-handed, stroke a nettle,

And it stings you for your pains.

Grasp it like a man of mettle,

And it soft as silk remains.

Indeed a firm grip will tend to crush the spines while a light brush by the plant will be really painful.  Maybe we just need to approach nettles in the same, non ambiguous way Mr Miyagi encourages young Daniel to approach Karate…

 

The sting comes from amazingly fine needles which actually pierce the skin and administer a combination of chemicals including histamine – hence the allergic type skin reaction.  Interestingly, the feel-good chemical serotonin, is also part of the poison.  But in an utterly confusing twist of events the same chemical is also the main cause of pain.  Confused?  Me too, so I shut down Wikipedia and headed out to the garden for some lunch ingredients.

As cute as the above poem is, I wasn’t taking any chances when I ‘double gloved up’ to chase some young nettles for a recipe made on the hop:

Nettle and Lemon Risotto.

Get your stock going first on a back burner (I mean that literally) and put another large pot of hot water on to boil for the nettles.

Arm yourself with sharp secateurs or kitchen shears and a large bowl.  Pick younger plants which are less than 20cm tall and make sure they’re not in flower (hence why early spring is a great time to be harvesting).

Using tongs, dunk into the pot of simmering water and then get started on your risotto.

For this recipe I went really basic as I didn’t want too many flavours competing with the nettle.

Finely dice an onion and a clove of garlic.

Sweat in a good lug of olive oil, then add a handful of rice per person (this recipe was about 4)

Stir on medium heat for a few minutes until the rice has absorbed the oil and is glossy.

Add your first ladle of stock (or a splash of white wine) and prepare for the sizzle.

As the liquid is absorbed add more stock.

By now the nettles will be spineless!  Remove and drain.

Sprinkle in the finely grated rind of one lemon and stir through. Season with salt and pepper.

Alternate adding stock to the risotto and chopping up the nettles – discard any stalks that don’t dissolve under your knife.

When the rice is mostly cooked (may have just a small amount of ‘bite’ left) add your finely chopped and blanched nettles.

Keep adding stock one ladle at a time until the rice is oozing nicely.

Finish with a knob of butter and pop the lid on for 5 minutes.  Finally add big handful of grated parmesan and stir through before serving.

Andrew 1 Nettles 0

Broccoli – like apple trees for giants.

Like it’s Brassica cousin kale, the bright colour in broccoli lets us know it’s filled with free radical fighting goodness.  Free radicals are not just a folk band based in Surrey England, they are very nasty little guys which is obvious if you have a powerful microscope and can see them up close.

 

Let’s just agree broccoli is good for you.  It helps to regulate blood pressure with its high amounts of magnesium and calcium, plus ample amounts of potassium help optimise your brain function – making me wonder why the term “Broccoli Brains” never really took off.

Growing broccoli can be amazing simple or equally frustrating depending on the season.  As seasoned gardeners know, life in our patch is seldom perfect.  Broccoli grows wonderfully quickly in warm weather and uses its water repellent leaves to direct every sprinkle of rain to its roots.  However, those warm days and nights also bring out white butterflies, who love to lay eggs on broccoli plants.  These eggs turn into green caterpillars which judging by their colour are probably also filled with free-radical fighting goodness.  Having accidentally eaten a few in my time I can confirm they test will test the gag reflex of Mick Dundee and are best removed before cooking…

Having seen the pest issues with broccoli when I’ve been growing it, I’d really recommend it’s one vegetable you only purchase organically – especially in summer.

My personal growing strategy it to grow all year around, but cover the crops from late spring through to late autumn with an appropriate barrier draped over hoops.

Otherwise you can spray using an organic based spray (or make your own by steeping crushed garlic in water overnight and straining into a spray bottle).  Other less toxic controls include Dipel power which is mixed with water and sprayed onto the foliage.  It’s an internal bacterial poison for caterpillars and will kill them in a few days of spraying.  This will need to be repeated for follow up infestations.

Soil preparation

LIke the rest of the brassica family, broccoli is quite a heavy feeder so make sure you choose rich, well draining soil which has been enriched with composted manure.  Sprinkle some pelletised manure over the surface after planting seedlings and water in well.  Liquid feed weekly with worm juice or a high nitrogen seaweed product.

Varieties

I like the readily available ‘green dragon’ as it produces side shoots which are perfect for stir-fries.  It also gives you more reward for a plant that takes several months to produce over winter.  This year I’m going to try some purple sprouting broccoli which seems quite popular in the UK but less so here.  It looks amazing.

How to eat it.

My late autumn planted crop is producing beautiful heads now, so I’ve been trying to include it in a few different dishes.  I’ve also starting eating it raw with dip or pesto – just avoid the lower stems as they can be a bit stringy (use them for cooking).

Spanish broccoli and potato Tortilla

This is a great way to use left overs and I think the spanish idea of adding potatoes takes it to a place where frittatas fear to tread.

 

Cook in a heavy based pan with a generous lug of olive oil.  I use a cast iron pan so I can finish the tortilla in the oven.  NB: if you’re using raw potatoes, finely dice and add now too.

Gently cook the onion for a few minutes and then add your broccoli (one head of florets)  It’s best to pre-steam the broccoli or blanch it.  Even better would be using left overs from the day before.

Pop on lid to keep the moisture in and keep cooking on gentle heat.  I also add a splash of water if things are looking dry.  NB: If your broccoli isn’t pre-cooked this will take a lot longer.

I had some left over baked potatoes so I diced these and added them once the broccoli stems yielded to a sharp knife NB: you can use raw spuds, just dice them finely and add them with the onion at the start.  Just make sure they’re cooked – crunchy potatoes will ruin your day!

With a fork beat 6 or so eggs (depending on your pan size really) season and grate in a good handful of parmesan cheese

Making sure all the other ingredients are cooked, pour in your egg mixture

Let it cook on the bottom for another five or so minutes

Place the whole pan into a medium (180 C) oven for about 15 minutes to finish cooking.  Don’t do this if you’re pan has any plastic components on it!  And remember the handle is very hot – use an oven mitt!  

Alternatively you can flip the tortilla onto a plate (just make sure the top is not too runny first) flip it onto another plate and back in the pan so the former top is now in the bottom of the pan.  Well I’m confused but this guy makes it look pretty easy.

 

Unbeatable Beetroot!

Varieties and growing tips.

Two varieties that grow well in our cooler climate include Bulls Blood and Boltardy.  If you’re not one to usually grow from seed, try beetroot.  It’s a good vegetable to start with as the seeds are large and germination is quite reliable.  Several varieties are also available in a seed tape product helping you to get the spacing spot on.

Beetroot likes a pH of about 6.5.  Any higher than 7.0 and the soil alkalinity starts to prevent the uptake of boron which is essential for the edible root development.  Caution also needs to be taken with soils too high in nitrogen as you’ll end up with wonderful leafy growth but small beets!  Please don’t think this all has to be a complicated process, as once your garden is established it just becomes part of the natural flow.  Simply plant beetroot after a heavy feeding crop such as cabbage, lettuce or asian greens.  This way those previous crops will have taken up large amounts of the nitrogen in the soil.  Simply add some well rotted compost and water once established with a seaweed based liquid fertiliser.  If you’re starting in fresh soil, avoid adding large amounts of high nitrogen fertiliser such as poultry manures (especially pigeon) instead favouring compost, worm juice and liquid seaweed products.

The beetroot seeds themselves can lead to some confusion as they are actually a cluster of seeds all stuck together (kind of).  What you’ll find is that you’ll get several seedlings growing in the spot where you diligently only planted one seed.  Treat this as a gift from nature and when big enough to pinch with your finger, remove the weaker seedlings (leaving the most vigorous) and use them as a micro green in the kitchen.  If this backyard Darwinism isn’t your cup of tea, you can try replanting – but it’s very difficult not to damage the very fine taproot while they’re so young.  Nature can be cruel folks.

As the beetroot grow you’ll see the root become more visible.  This is actually pretty handy as you can see how big your beetroot are growing, so fight the urge to hill soil around them as you would with leeks etc.  Leaves can also be picked on younger beetroot and added to salads.  Just take a few from each plant as you don’t want to slow the growth by removing the plants’ energy source!

Beyond tinned beetroot (sigh)

While traveling in Eastern Europe a decade ago I was amazed at how much beetroot was used in local cuisines.  At Polish bar mleczny (direct translation is ‘milk bars’ – but more accurately described as vegetarian cafeterias) salads made from boiled grated beetroot and beetroot soup were staples.

The latter in Poland is called barszcz and I was reliably informed by a local that Polish ‘borscht’ recipes came from the Ukraine not Russia.  You know I’d never buy a Polish-made car, but I’m pretty sure no-one makes better soup.  The idea of sweating a few onions, adding some chopped beetroot and stock and creating a soup in an hour would be laughed at.  Even seemingly vegetarian soups such as barszcz start with pork of some sort, creating the stock in situ.  Always made the day before consuming there is plenty of time for flavour to develop depth.

Beetroot is also fantastic when simply grated raw.  I first tried this at Wholefoods Cafe in Geelong back in the 1990s where they added it as a standard to their salad sandwiches and awesome tofu burgers.  The Poles also make a cooked and grated beetroot condiment which when mixed with horseradish becomes “cwikla z chrzanem” – check out how to do that below.  It also goes wonderfully with the pierogi I made a little while back when discussing potatoes.

 

Another recipe that we collectively remain indebted to Stephanie Alexander for is chocolate and beetroot muffins.  I’ve modified the recipe slightly using olive oil instead of vegetable oil for nutritional reasons without noticing the taste coming through at all.  I mean chocolate and beetroot – what hope did the olive oil have?

Chocolate and Beetroot Muffins

60g organic butter, softened

1 large beetroot, peeled and grated (250g net)  A food processor makes this a whole lot easier

175g Plain Flour

1 tps baking powder

2 tbs organic cocoa

1 egg

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup local olive oil

1/4 castor sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar (well packed)

12 squares dark chocolate or milk with minimum 30% cocoa

Method

1.    Pre-heat the oven to 180C and grease a 12 hole muffin tray.

2.    Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa into a large mixing bowl and set aside.

3.    Lightly mix the eggs and milk together and set aside.

4.    In a bowl or mixer process the butter, oil and 2 types of sugar until nice and creamy. Gradually add the milk and egg mixture and process until combined.

5.    Add the wet batter to the flour mix and fold together. Stir in the beetroot, until well combined.

6.    Spoon the mixture evenly into the holes and press a square of chocolate well into the centre each muffin.

Cooking time is about 20minutes depending on your oven type.  The tops should be springy but the centre will remain a lot more moist than normal muffins due to the beetroot, so be careful not to mistake this for them being underdone.

Mr Potato Head

 

Given that potatoes have such an ubiquitous presence in cuisines all over the world it’s humbling to think they only made there way to England a few hundred years ago.  Like so many of our edibles, the wild version of our beloved spud originates in Peru and Bolivia.  Here it could be grown right up to the snow line, way beyond the realm of wheat and other staples.  Ireland enthusiastically planted potatoes in the 1700s, as a few acres could feed a family and their livestock.  This self sufficiency strategy worked a treat until in 1845 a fungal disease – potato blight – wiped the crops out and reduced the Irish population by 1.6 million people over the following decade.  A sobering warning that biodiversity relates to human cultivated plants – not just in nature…

The potato’s botanical name Solanum Tuberosum informs us that they’re part of the tomato, capsicum and eggplant family – something to keep in mind when rotating crops to avoid diseases building up in soil.  Of course if this surprises you, get ready to be completely blown away.  While hunting for some images for this article, I discovered a nursery in the U.S. that combines the potato and the tomato!  Imagine tomatoes in summer and harvesting your spuds in autumn!  I haven’t seen one of these in the flesh and will probably experiment a little later in the year at grafting them together Frankenstein like bwahahahaha.  In the mean time I’m left to ponder…is it a Pomato or a Topato?

Enough talk, lets get some dirt under our nails and learn how best to grow some of your very own spuds.  Potatoes are frost sensitive so if you sow them this weekend, the risk of frost will be drastically reduced by the time they start to produce foliage.  I’m describing the traditional hilling method as I’ve found it to give me the best yields year after year.   Potatoes like soil on the acidic side so ideally your pH should be around 6.0.  Being tubers, all of the potatoes grow underground so start by digging nice deep and wide trenches.

This helps to explain the old adage that growing potatoes as  a ‘pioneer’ crop helps to break up the soil for future cultivation.  As 80% of the potatoes grow above the original planting depth, I’m afraid it’s YOU that break the soil up, but a neat saying just the same. Here you can see I’ve already established one crop (on the left) which are approx 6 weeks old.  I’m planting new spuds so I have a continous supply all year.

Place your whole spuds (don’t cut them up – too much surface area for disease) in the bottom of the trench about 40cm apart and make your rows about 50cm apart.

Backfill over your potatoes with about 15cm of the soil previously removed.  And that’s about it!   Your spuds will start to shoot in a week or two depending on temperature and rainfall.  This time of year watering isn’t necessary however if you’re growing in the drier months give a good weekly soaking.  Continue to hill up the soil around the base of the plant which will encourage it to keep growing taller and providing more room below the surface for potatoes to grow.  This hilling will also stabilise your plants.

Your potatoes will be ready to harvest when the plant has matured and started to die off.  Depending on the time of year they may even flower.  Another cheeky technique is called ‘bandicooting’ where you sneakily dig down and take the odd spud from time to time.  In fact that was the inspiration for writing today’s article about potatoes.  I didn’t have enough spuds in the pantry for the below ‘pierogi’ recipe so I had to bandicoot a few even though the plant isn’t fully mature.  You’ll also find growing spuds in the no-dig method makes bandicooting even easier as you’re moving straw and compost, not soil.

How to make Pierogi.

Pierogi  can be loosely described as dumplings or ravioli.  While the shape is consistent the fillings vary and combinations include:  mushroom, pork and cabbage, cottage cheese and potato and even seasonal fruit.

The below recipe is ‘Pierogi Ruski’ or Russian Pierogi where the hero ingredient is of course, potatoes.  I’ve made these in Australia in Polish households and in Poland with only minor differences notable.  They are great at this time of the year when a rainy afternoon makes them an ideal comfort food to enjoy making and eating with friends.

Ingredients

Filling

1.2kg peeled potatoes, boiled and mashed or put through a ricer (desiree or dutch cream)

500g Polish mountain cottage cheese (available at european supermarkets e.g Foodworks or IGA in Bell Park, Geelong) Put this through the ricer too or grate.

1 medium onion finely diced

50g butter (for cooking onions)

Season well with salt and pepper

Dough

600g plain organic flour

1 egg

Warm water (traditionally I think this was held over from the boiled potato water)

 

I’ve never measured the amount of water but I’d guess at about 300ml and you add it slowly.  Although the ingredients are almost identical to pasta, the dough should be a bit softer.

With the wonders of the internet I figured it best to leave the method to an actual Pole!  Sure it’s in Polish, but you’re clever folks.  Enjoy!  Or as they say in Poland “Smacznego!”