It was the modern master of homesteading, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who turned our approach to cooking upside down so many years ago with such a simple concept. If you keep a store-cupboard stocked with staples which transform fresh food into delicious meals, you can create tasty home cooking no matter what fresh veg, meat or fruit you have to hand. It was this idea that gave us the key to seasonal eating – keep the basics stocked (which include salty, acidic, spicy and oily things) and adapt their use to whatever the season throws at you. Eventually, you toss out the recipes altogether or at least, never have to baulk at one because of the list of ingredients you need are always on hand. The weekly veg box full of surprises (from Riverford in the UK, who also write a fine blog) no longer daunted us as rolling with the seasonal punches became loads easier.
Yotam Ottolenghi has recently reaffirmed this approach, and published a list of his store-cupboard staples (which are, as you can imagine, slightly more difficult to source in southern Tasmania!). We’ve condensed both lists, edited them for practicality (sorry, Yotam) and published our version here: Our Staples
The next natural step for us was to consider, given only one square metre of space (say, a city balcony or one garden bed) – what fresh staples would we add to this list? Narrowing it down was actually pretty easy – the fresh ingredients that we find the most versatile, frequently used and irreplaceable in our kitchen are lemons, parsley, an allium (maybe spring onion or egyptian walking onion for speed and ease of growing), thyme or savory, and for us (but maybe not others), coriander. The other high value but easy to grow plants (and quicker to degrade if store-bought) would be perpetual spinach (actually a leaf beet), rocket and lettuce. Happily, these ingredients would also make a lovely little guild of complementary plants to grow underneath a lemon tree…
This Japanese dish is centred around a wonderfully rich, sweet glaze which can be applied to any grilled vegetable, although nothing beats the combination with charred and creamy eggplant…..serves 4.
- About 2 medium sized eggplants (or equivalent)
- A glug of oil
- sprinkling of salt
For the miso glaze
- 3 tbsp miso paste
- 2 tbsp mirin
- 2 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp sake
- 1 tbsp sugar
- sesame seeds
- spring onion
Step 1: Roughly cut the eggplants into large chunks, toss in oil and a sprinkle of salt. You can grill the eggplant to get that charred flavour or roast in an oven at 200ºC for about 20 minutes until the eggplant is slightly browned.
Step 2: Mix together the miso glaze ingredients and pour over the eggplant, tossing to coat well. Continue to roast for a further 5-10 minutes, or until the miso sauce starts to caramelise
Step 3: Serve eggplant scattered with spring onion and toasted sesame seeds
This week the weather was kind and we were able to rest easier. We even managed to find time to get off the property and attend some events in Hobart for a change. Although, we couldn’t escape the overall theme of food.
On Saturday we attended a launch for Yotam Ottolenghi‘s new cookbook. We have been inspired by Yotam’s celebration of vegetables and modern take on middle eastern cuisine for a while. Self-depricatingly he joked that his recipes usually take 1 day to shop for the ingredients, 1 day to prepare the meal and 1 day to wash up. So it was ironic that his new book is titled: SIMPLE.
I was also lucky to make it back in to Hobart on Monday to attend a public lecture on the Science of Taste presented by Danish biophysicist Ole Mouritsen.
His work is heavily influenced by Japanese cuisine and that fifth taste (on top of salty, sweet, sour and bitter) that has been understood for almost 100 years but only recently widely accepted: UMAMI.
He explained that certain food types have the requisite chemical make-up to trigger this taste sensation (think meats, scallops, shiitake mushrooms) and surprisingly one vegetable makes this list: the Tomato. So we were glad to scrounge enough punnets for this week’s boxes as they begin to ripen.
We were intrigued by both presentations and a common theme of packing flavour into meals through layers of textures (mouthfeel) and scientifically explained or intrinsically understood taste combinations.
However, as producers, we are concerned not with how best to present the food and prepare the meal after picking, but how best to imbue flavour into the raw ingredients when they are still in the ground or on the bush. For those insights we might have to wait until Chef and author Dan Barber graces these shores….
Tom Kha (Gai)
This Thai soup works just as well without the gai (chicken) and the kha (galangal) can also be substituted, though it’s becoming increasing available at good grocers (and we hope in veg boxes of the future!). We used a load of Cygnet Mushroom Farm’s mixed exotic mushrooms which worked a treat……Serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main.
- 400mL coconut milk
- 400mL chicken or veg stock
- 300g chicken, sliced finely
- 200g mushrooms, cut into bite sized pieces
- a large knob of fresh galangal (or ginger), peeled and finely sliced into rounds
- 2 stalks lemongrass, cut into inch long pieces
- 2 shallots or half a red onion, finely sliced
- 4 spring onions, chopped
- juice of 4 limes or 2 lemons
- 3 tbs fish sauce
- 1 tsp chilli flakes or 1 fresh chilli, finely sliced
- 3 kaffir lime leaves, or zest of a lime or half a lemon
- handful of coriander
Step 1: Bring the coconut milk and stock to the boil in a wok.
Step 2: Add the other ingredients, except the lime/lemon juice, fish sauce and coriander.
Step 3: Cook at a high heat until the chicken and mushrooms are done – about 5 minutes depending on thickness of slices.
Step 4: Add the fish sauce, coriander and lemon/ lime juice and taste for balance before serving. Adjust acidity/ saltiness with more juice/ sauce as required.