When it comes to mixing potato with flour to make small dumplings, many consider the Italian gnocchi to reign supreme. But there is another country that idolises this basic mixture as much as Italians do, which came to be due to love and homesickness.
In 1518, an Italian princess, Bona Sforza, married King Zygmunt of Poland. Missing her native Italy, Bona brought architects and artists from there to Poland, as well as seeds and expert cooks, so that she could still have a connection with her now distant homeland. Such was the impact of her actions that some Italian words slipped into the Polish language, such as kalafiory (cauliflower), pomidory (tomato) and salata (lettuce).
Of course, everyone recognises the little barrel shaped gnocchi with the fork ridges, that are specifically there to help pick up and retain whatever sauce is being used to coat them, but this shape is far from the last word in sauce retaining capabilities. Because gnocchi were such a hit with the Poles, they soon adopted them and put their own twists upon them.
The Polish generic name for gnocchi is kluski, which covers a multitude of small dumplings, the ones in the photo are known as kopytka, which despite looking quite large, are no more than 2.5cm (1") across; other versions are known as slaskie and lane, mostly distinguished by their different shapes and slightly different recipes, for instance kopytka contain potato flour as well. Another popular version are pyzy, which contains grated cooked and raw potato and are very often stuffed with minced pork and served with fried lardons of bacon and onion.
The kopytka in the photo are being served with Polish style carrots that have been grated and cooked with a little butter and water, then thickened with some potato flour, but all sorts of sauces and toppings have been developed over the years to go with them, a sort of goulash is also popular, right down to just a simple bowl of melted butter. In this way, the Poles have managed to retain the character of the dumplings, if not the shape, and in the process, make them their own.
It would have to be said that either some sharp Frenchman has consigned these to Australia, or the air freight wasn't too kind to them, for the mushrooms definitely looked a little worse for wear. I also bought some for my Polish in-laws who said that the aroma, even when cooking, wasn't as strong as expected and the frozen ones they had bought previously, were better quality.
This is not to say it's Damien's fault either, with the mushrooms coming from the other side of the world, you do have to take some chances, so I'm hoping as the season continues, the quality will improve. The thing is though, if you don't buy some of these mushrooms, even if not first class, they may stop being imported. Having said that though, I can report the flavour was nonetheless distinctly porcini, with no off characters.
We simply took one larger specimen and sliced it thickly, rubbed it with some olive oil and simply grilled it for a tasty snack and the rest we turned into a sauce. Never having had fresh porcinis in a sauce before, the texture was noticeably better than frozen ones and the porcini straight off the grill had good flavour too, perhaps concentrated by this method of cooking.
They do need careful cleaning and trimming, as for all wild mushrooms, there is plenty of grit present, but that is par for the course. If you have never had fresh porcinis before, it might be an idea to try some at this cheaper price, if they're still available.
Sometimes I wonder just how far we've all come as human beings. The other day I stumbled upon this sad example of human thought, in Gourmet magazine of all places. The writer is reflecting upon the September issue that featured Hispanic cooking.
'Dedicating the entire September issue to Hispanic cooking, in light of the enormous damage illegal immigration is causing this country, is quite inexcusable. To seemingly glorify the efforts of those who are violating our laws and placing a severe burden on American society is, simply put, quite wrong.'
What are you going to say to that?
Well, I kind of like this, from the 1976 movie, Network.
'You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!'
As to the author of the letter, what can you say? It speaks of a lifetime of prejudice, nothing short of a full blown epiphany will change that, but what on earth possessed Ruth Reichl, the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, to publish such racist drivel as that? Has she no idea exactly how offensive it is? That the writer is just plain wrong on so many different levels?
Well, I'm mad as hell and this is what I yelled at her from my window.
'...This form of racism is based on an ideology of national culture in which minority cultures are regarded as alien and a threat to social cohesion. It consists of pervasive cultural assumptions where the customs and beliefs of the dominant group in society are presented as the norm. As a result, the status and behaviour of minority groups, particularly those who are more visibly different, are defined and judged with respect to the dominant group...'
Racism, No Way: Understanding racism.
I don't know what you were thinking when you published that racist letter attacking Hispanics, in regard to your September edition of Gourmet. By including it, you gave succour and oxygen to a racist, who now probably believes that Gourmet supports him. It was just laziness to include it with the other letters, when you could have alerted us by mentioning that you had been receiving this type of mail, if you wished to represent all the views of your readers and made it plain that these views have no place anywhere. Many countries have laws against publishing racist material and this letter certainly qualifies as that. Your own ancestors would have counselled you against the course you have taken, in which Gourmet now looks ambiguous on the question of racism, despite devoting an issue to ethnic cuisine. Racism can be very subtle and hard to spot, that's part of its insidiousness and I'm sure you felt like you did the right thing, but it wasn't. I forgave you when you messed with The Last Touch, but you made it to rights, I only hope you can do the same here.
I can sort of imagine her reply already, something along the lines of..."it's in the public interest that we reflect all the views of our readers and it's important to have a dialogue about this." I can't and won't cop that; I'm sure Ruth is aware that a bit of controversy is good for magazine sales, but to hurt people in the process, people I know, leaves me with a very bad taste in my mouth, Dr Seuss would be spinning in his grave. Just to repeat, the letter was racist and offensive. It has nothing in common with the values of this august magazine and ultimately it's demeaning to Gourmet to have such a letter anywhere on its pages.
Ruth, I have one piece of advice for you, one piece only, never, ever, publish racist material, you hurt and alienate people and you risk being tainted by it.
Cover, Latin American Cooking - Time-Life, Foods of the World. Looking good, with all the different coloured peppers.
Well, now that's off my chest, all of a sudden I'm hungry and feel that some Hispanic food would hit the spot exactly right. Hmm, I'm so hungry, I could eat Hispanic food for a month, in fact I could eat food from anywhere in the world, wherever people feel the stamp of racism. Would you like a seat at the table? Sit yourself right down, but don't forget to bring a plate. If you've ever been touched by racism or know someone who has, show your support in the battle against it, by posting an ethnic recipe or sharing a story or picture. If you would like to send a message to Gourmet, post an Hispanic recipe. Link to this post, mention Strewth Ruth somewhere in your post and send me an email. I will do a round up in a month's time.
Racism is a destructive and persistent evil that brings only harm. Sadly it is often a misinformed response to economic hardship. Rather than solving economic problems, however, racism fuels the fire of suffering by intimidating its victims and corrupting its perpetrators. Racial prejudice is a corrosive influence attacking the most fundamental values of Australian society - our commitment to justice, egalitarianism and a 'fair go' for all. Hon. Justice Marcus Einfeld, 1997.
What struck me about about Rod's Rub was the haunting, smokey notes of mesquite combined with just the right touch of honey sweetness. After the experimentation with grilling using this rub, there was something about the flavours that struck me - if it could taste so good rubbed on the outside, how would it work on the inside?
We all know that grilling alters the flavours of spices, but if the rub was used as a key ingredient, the pure flavour of spice could come through; it was then I thought about using it in slavinks. You can pretty much use any of your favourite sausage mince as the base, but my little jar of rub was whispering chicken mince to me. Because the result was so good, I thought to share it with you.
1 large onion, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, finely diced
100ml olive oil
750g chicken mince
1 tablespoon Rod's Rub, Sweet Mesquite*
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
salt & fresh ground pepper
12 rashers streaky bacon
In a frying pan, add the onion, garlic and olive oil and sweat until the onion is soft and translucent, leave to cool. Place the chicken mince in a bowl and add the cooled onion and garlic, Rod's Rub, Sweet Mesquite, breadcrumbs and season with salt and pepper. To help the chicken mince stay together and not crumble, work the mixture with your hands for about five minutes, this develops the collagen which sticks it together. Divide the chicken mince into six portions, then lay 2 pieces of bacon crosswise, put a patty of chicken mince in the middle and lay the bacon over to enclose the filling. Repeat with the rest of the ingredients. Grill or fry on a low heat, until the bacon is nicely browned and the chicken cooked through.
*If you don't have Rod's Rub, well what's stopping you? Okay, maybe a snowstorm. You could substitute smoked paprika instead or a few drops of liquid smoke and regular paprika, or even your own favourite rub.
Streaky bacon crosswise, ready for filling
Finished slavink with the bacon ends tucked under
The picture that could get me excommunicated as a writer from Get Your Grill On, slavinks in the frying pan.
On the plate and very tasty they were.
Most times when I go to the market, I bring flowers home for D. Not this last time though. I spotted these at Damien Pike's mushroom stall at Prahran Market. Now, if you hadn't had a certain food from your homeland for about ten years, something you loved, wouldn't that be better than flowers?
You bet it was. They even look a tiny bit like flowers too.
Now I'd heard of these. Rick Stein talked about them in one of his shows and in his inimitable way said to get on to them, a piece of information that was triggered from the dark recesses of my brain when I saw the packet. So I bought them, took them home and put them in the pantry and promptly forgot about them.
The other day, my wife felt like some fish, so she pulled out three King George whiting from the freezer and told me that I was cooking dinner. Not so fast!
"I'll do the fish, if you do the salad."
That was acceptable, so I got to filleting the fish. Then I started thinking that with just fish and salad, it was going to be a fairly light dinner, which sometimes is okay, but I felt like just a bit more. Maybe if I crumbed the fillets. I'm not really crazy about breadcrumbs on fish, they seem to take away from their delicacy, then I remembered the panko crumbs sitting forlornly in the pantry. Okay, let's see if Rick is right.
The first thing that was apparent was the texture of the panko. Regular breadcrumbs are like coarse sand, but panko crumbs are more like flakes, very light and airy. It seems that when they are made, rather than being pulverised like ordinary breadcrumbs, the white bread they are made from is shredded into small flakes, then baked in a low oven till dried out but not browned. This is what gives them their lightness along with exceptional crunch. They are then attached to the food in the usual egg and breadcrumb way.
There are times, not often mind, when I kick myself for not trying something I've heard about sooner, all the more galling if it's been sitting in the pantry waiting for me to wake up to myself. I need to kick myself pretty hard for this one. Panko crumbs on the fish was a revelation; they took nothing away from the fish but added some wonderful, light crunch and just enough extra weight to make it the perfect sized dinner.
I'd been pankorised!
Noting the prawns with panko crumbs on the packet's cover, half a kilo of prawns was the next to get the treatment, again with the same delicious results, so now I'm about to go completely overboard in trying to find the best foods to go with these wonderful crumbs, but for sure, seafood and panko has a natural affinity.
As Rick said, get on to them.
Which makes a lot of sense.
For instance, there are times when we shop, that M might like to have a certain something that has caught her eye. There is no way of predicting what that may be, a treat, a book, a bracelet, but whatever it is, when she decides she needs it and if in the name of effective parenting, it doesn't look like it might happen, all hell can break loose. It might be something that you know you can buy much cheaper in another store and promise to do so and gain no respite. There are also some triggers to meltdowns that are entirely invisible. Having your car parked near the entrance is then A VERY GOOD THING.
We bought the bottle and on the way back to the car, I noticed a women was sitting in her car that was parked next to ours and was looking at us as we got into our car. As I reversed, I head checked to see if the way was clear and I saw the women was now staring at us with what I could only imagine was her filthiest look. Taken aback, I pointed to the disabled permit on the dash, but her expression didn't change one iota.
Perhaps she thought the two able bodied people she saw get into the car meant we were system abusers. I stopped momentarily, thinking to explain, but I don't like to do that in front of M, so I drove off. Ironically, part of me wants to applaud her. There are times when I've felt exactly like her, when you see cars without a permit, parked in a disabled spot. But, if I see the permit, I never feel like questioning any one's right to park in those spots.
Here's the thing.
You can't always see the disability.
A doll in traditional Polish costume.
If you've been hiding under a rock or lost in the desert and don't know, this weekend is the celebration of two years of Weekend Herb Blogging run by the excellent Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen. Because I think there will be plenty of party food, the drinks are on me. Or should I say, my beautiful Polish friend and me. Now you might be wondering how a bottle of spirits is relevant to WHB. Well, this particular bottle easily qualifies as an entrant.
If I turn the bottle sideways, like this, you can see a blade of grass inside.
You see this is no ordinary vodka, this is zubrowka, which translates to bison grass vodka and is very highly regarded in Poland. Bison are in fact native to Poland as they were in most of Europe before being wiped out over the centuries. The last herd was in the legendary Bialowieza forest, now a national park, and the last survivors of the once great herds were killed and eaten for meat just after the end of the First World War by starving villagers. However a scheme to revive them has seen the establishment of some new herds in several countries, from bison that were kept in zoos.
European bison or wisent as they're known in Poland are distantly related to American bison and are different in that they are forest dwellers, rather than roaming the open prairie. Their food of choice is bison grass, Hierochloe odorata, which is also used to flavour vodka and gives a mellow, herbaceous character along with a yellowish tinge. This grass contains coumarin, a compound that was banned in the USA, so the distillers came up with a way to retain the character of the grass but without this compound.
It is said that zubrowka makes men virile, but I think we can ignore that old chestnut and enjoy it just for itself. It can be drunk neat, icy cold, or, it can be mixed, apple juice is reputed to be good. It also make a wonderful martini, mixed with a splash of vermouth, which enhances the herb flavour without overwhelming it.
Here the vodka is served ice cold with a zakaski of marinated mushrooms. Zakaski is the Polish word for tapas or meze and this particular one goes extremely well with vodka. So we say Sto Lat (Happy Birthday) and raise our glasses for a traditional Polish toast - Na Zdrowie Kalyn!
A Kalyn's Kitchen fact: When I first started out entering WHB and reading Kalyn in general, I never spelled her name right, even in the link I gave her. I'm surprised to this day that the school teacher in her didn't give me a well deserved smack across the knuckles!
Now most of us familiar with molecular gastronomy have at least some vague idea about what it actually is - mucking around with food to produce new tastes and textures outside of our everyday notions of what food actually is. To this end, all sorts of kitchen and industrial paraphernalia is employed, as well as a range of chemicals, which have no place in an ordinary household kitchen, and are used to challenge and confront our thoughts about food.
But if you really think about it, 1992 was just the date when the term molecular gastronomy was coined, and describes a style of food that has been the sole province of food technologists for decades. There is really nothing new about the type of work of Blumenthal and Adria, it's just what they are doing is cutting edge. Doubt it? What if Adria took a glass of milk and added a special compound to it and suddenly the milk was transformed into a solid which you then ate. Sound familiar? It ought to, it is how cheese has been made for thousands of years.
In another time, breakfast cereals would have been considered a triumph of molecular gastronomy as well. Someone in 1928, playing around with rice grains in test tubes, caused one of the tubes, which had been heated under vacuum, to implode and when he started to clean up the mess, discovered the very first rice krispies (rice bubbles), which followed up on the heels of the invention of corn flakes and shredded wheat; suddenly all manner of cereals were manufactured in a form completely divorced from their original state, like Fruit Loops and Cocoa Bombs.
Need more evidence? What about chicken flavoured potato chips? Putting chicken flavour on chips is not so far removed from sprinkling cocoa powder over cauliflower risotto, the principle is the same only the ingredients are different. What seems to have happened is that food technologists have merged with chefs to bring about a new movement in cooking, but given all the specialized equipment and materials required, molecular gastronomy seems destined to remain the province of those chefs who like to shock, excite and entertain, who, even if they don't like the name, seemed destined to be always known and remembered by it.
Well, it's taken a year for it to arrive in Australia, but better late than never, as Heston Blumenthal's new show, In Search of Perfection, premiered last night on Foxtel. It is a seven part series and it seems that Heston is keen to put his take on some pretty mundane, everyday dishes that any halfway competent home cook could deliver, but that is where any similarity ends as we are taken deep into the bowels of the HB Laboratory and shown some techniques that only the most truly dedicated disciple might attempt to replicate.
Which is not to say that the programme wasn't interesting or enlightening. It was fascinating to watch Heston's restless mind at work, but the fact is, he is a single minded food purist, and nothing gets in the way of where he wants to take a dish; there is no technique or process that is either too hard or too simple, if it gets the job done.
As a host, he is taking us on a journey and does so in a charming, straight forward manner - there is no talking down to anyone, in fact it may come as a complete surprise for Heston to learn that some may find his work the proverbial a bridge too far, no home cook I know is working with liquid nitrogen or dry ice for that matter. But watching him make ice cream in seconds with liquid nitrogen was amazing, he simply poured it into the bowl that contained the ice cream mixture, whisked, and voila, dessert was ready.
Even though many see Heston as one of the supreme molecular gastronomists, he doesn't actually see himself that way, a point he makes well. It would seem he is not about changing food into some sort of surprise, rather, he is more about finding a particular ingredient's pure expression, by stripping away the extraneous, or by combining things in a way that highlights certain flavours or characteristics.
It is worth watching this uber talented chef in his prime, the science isn't impenetrable, just don't blame me if you don't feel the same way about bangers and mash again...ever.
In Search of Perfection
Foxtel, LifeStyle FOOD
You've got to love a plant that you simply put in the corner, water occasionally, never feed, and every year you get something like this. A lot of the time it looks like it's thinking about turning up its toes, with leaves turning brown and shrivelling up and the little bulbs doing the same, but always, just in time for spring, it does this. Say hi to my orchid!
Now, I don't mean to be mistreating you by not putting up a lot of posts, but I've been into a little writing project of my own, which is still underway and has been soaking up a lot of time.
So, I'll post a little poem by E. E. Cummings that I've recently had cause to revisit. It's not my favourite, John Donne has written that one, but is nonetheless a lovely verse, brimming with deeper meaning.
i carry your heart with me.
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
Avoca is on the edge of Victoria's Wimmera district and is sheep and wine country. It wasn't always like this though, what attracted the early settlers was the discovery of gold throughout the entire region, though the fields here weren't as substantial as the Bendigo and Ballarat deposits and were quickly exhausted, though in nearby areas, gold nuggets can still be found to this day and one does sometimes see gold prospectors scouring the forest floor with their gold detectors. Walking through the ironbark forests, one can still see remnants of the gold workings, with many small digs and the occasional gold ore crushing circles, that were powered by horse or oxen, still visible. In some areas, the prudent don't rush through the forest for the sake of mine shafts that were never filled in or covered over.
Nowadays, the new gold is wine. A farmer and miner, Yorkshireman Edwin Makereth, first planted vines in Avoca in 1887. Many wineries have since sprung up, including the Blue Pyrenees Estate, originally established in 1963 as Chateau Remy by the great champagne houses of Krug and Charles Heidsieck, and Taltarni in nearby Moonambel, another winery that also had a strong French influence, which may perhaps be explained by the local blue hued Pyrenees ranges that are said to be similar to the same mountain range that straddles the border between France and Spain. Some of Australia's best and most consistent wines, particularly shiraz, come from this district.
Have you ever wondered why some wines are fairly cheap and yet others command prices of hundreds of dollars? One factor that affects the price happens in the vineyard itself and is a result of how the grape vines are pruned. In the picture below, you can see what is a fairly old vine that has been pruned to promote just two lateral canes (the bits with leaves) that are trained to the wire.
Taltarni Vineyard, Moonambel
Taltarni Vineyard, Moonambel
This is a vine of similar age, but can you notice that it has four lateral canes? It's a bit tricky because of the other vines close by, but what the vigneron is doing is to double the output of this vine. So why shouldn't all vines carry more lateral canes, even more than four? The answer is wine quality. The less grapes that a particular vine has to support, the more energy it can put into those grapes, which leads to greater concentration and power in the finished wine, or put another way, the more grapes on the vine, the more dilute or less full bodied the finished wine. It is then a simple equation, less grapes of higher quality means higher prices, more grapes of lesser quality means cheaper prices. It just depends on what market the winemaker is aiming for.
Have you ever come up with a new dish, serve it up to faint praise and never think of it again? Yeah, me too. On a previous outing with the same friends that came to Avoca this last weekend, I produced a Spanish themed salad, which no one said anything about, not a squeak, so I gave it no more thought - until we were menu planning for our barbeque and my mate's wife asked for it. To my horror I discovered I'd forgotten exactly what went into it! Well, I did manage to reprise it, this time to more acclaim. It seemed exactly in its right place, being served in sight of the Pyrenees, with a glass of the local wine.
A Spanish Salad
4 ripe tomatoes
2 green capsicums, roasted and skinned
50g black olives
100g blanched almonds or pine nuts
juice of half a lemon
4 tablespoons olive oil
salt and fresh ground pepper
100g Manchego cheese or other semi-hard sheep's milk cheese
Slice the tomatoes into rounds and arrange attractively in overlapping slices on a plate and season with salt and pepper. Slice the green capsicum into thin strips and place on top of the tomatoes and season with salt, leaving the tomato edges exposed. Toast the nuts in a dry frypan until well browned, cool and scatter on top of the capsicum along with the black olives. Make a dressing with the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and drizzle over the salad, then thinly pare the cheese with a vegetable peeler over the top. Serve.
Note: I made this originally with anchovies as well, but decided that was gilding the lily, though anchovy stuffed olives might be nice. The almonds and pine nuts are equally as good as each other. The original dressing had Spanish sherry vinegar, which we left behind along with the almonds.