Tuesday, 28 February 2012

National Wog Day

Kitchen Stadium is full of late summer bounty - two big boxes
of sauce tomatoes. I love getting these in late February or March and cooking
them down to tomato sauce, to be kept for later. To bring a little touch of
sunshine to meals in the depths of winter.

Hands up if you remember “Looking for Alibrandi” – the Melina Marchetta novel that everyone was reading at high schools in the ‘90s. It became a film as well, with Greta Scacchi, Anthony La Paglia, and Pia Miranda. My clearest memory of that book was what they called “National Wog Day” – when the whole family got together to process and preserve the tomato crop. Well, I don’t have much Italian heritage (one great great grandmother), but it’s a tradition I like.

So, here I am on the last weekend in February, with two boxes of Roma tomatoes to convert into tomato passato. That’s 32 kg of tomatoes. Yikes! Better get on with it. At least, I know how to peel a tomato. After a while I have a regular production line going.

Cooked up with just some butter, oil, salt, pepper.

I have an ancient Mouli mill I bought for $1 decades ago from the Salvos at Tempe Tip, and it works a treat to pulp the toms and remove the seeds.

However, by National Wog day standards, it’s not entirely authentic. I’m not doing it in the backyard. I don’t have a line of nonne e zie helping to process the tomatoes. I haven’t improvised a vast Folwer’s Vacola from a 44 gallon drum with a fire underneath. And I’m not bottling them in recycled Resch’s Pilsener longnecks. But it is still fun, with a bunch of tomato passato to freeze as the reward

And, the next day, I found this online:

Clearly, I wasn’t the only one doing National Wog Day! Now,
for a plate of spaghetti al pomodoro ...

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Gin Lane, Capital Hill ACT 2600

OK. So this is supposed to be a cooking blog, mainly. But, sometimes, you just need a drink. A stiff drink. Especially when the shenanigans trending in Canberra , and around the joint, are so bloody depressing. The ALP working hard to ensure multiple terms of Tony Abbot, PM.

So, as a result of all that is happening, I was reminded of this little bit of photojournalism. By one William Hogarth, Gent.

It’s called Gin Lane. And it depicts a bit of the chaos at the time. The picture was one that helped firm Hogarth’s reputation as a satirist and social documenter.

Frankly, since it’s after 6 pm somewhere on earth, the present situation calls for strong drink. “Why Gin, David?” I hear you ask! Simple, really. Because it’s widely believed to bring on Labor Pains. And is usually served with a dash of Bitters. Make mine a double. Cheers.

Preferably Bombay Sapphire.

I have actually cooked a few good things with gin. Years ago, Matthew Evans, Gent., in his days in the SMH Good Weekend, had a recipe for lamb braised slowly with juniper berries – which is, of course, one of the main flavourings in gin. For good measure, the recipe included about ½ a cup of gin in the braising marinade. It was delicious. I can’t find that recipe online, or in my paper files. But just do a simple braise of stewing lamb with tomato passato, onions, juniper, and gin. Wonderful.

But that recipe is decidedly “brown food” – rich braises suitable for the Ides of July, when we are cocooning inside, all cosy and Gemütlichkeit, nein? But it’s not much chop for the dog days of February.

Instead, I found this great-sounding recipe, for a sorbet of plums and gin. Plums are good and cheap now, in late summer, so I’ll be dusting off the sorbet maker and giving this one a whirl.

Who knows? Maybe the sugar hit will spark some caucus members up ...

Damson and gin sorbet recipe
By Diana Henry
Serves eight
Tart-sweet, intense, boozy, this is one of the best sorbets you can make.
140g (5oz) granulated sugar
750g (1lb 10oz) damsons
2½ tbsp gin
1 tbsp crème de cassis

Put the sugar in a saucepan with 125ml (4fl oz) water and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Boil for four minutes then leave to cool.

It's impossible to stone raw damsons, so put them into a pan with about 4 tbsp water and cook gently until the fruit has become completely soft. Stir from time to time. You aren't adding much water – just enough to get the process started, then the damsons will produce their own juice. Push the fruit through a sieve to get rid of the stones. Mix the resulting damson purée with the sugar syrup. Add the gin and cassis and leave to cool completely.

Churn the mixture in a machine, following the manufacturer's instructions, or put in the freezer in a shallow container. If using the freezer beat the mixture three or four times during the freezing process (first breaking up the harder stuff round the sides) in order to break down the ice crystals and make the sorbet smooth.