New Yorker sign in NYC

New York potatoes

It’s been a busy week, though not in the garden.  Luckily I don’t rely on it solely for food or we’d be in trouble and living on citrus fruit at the moment.  I entertained myself with the NYC Midnight flash fiction challenge last weekend.  NYC Midnight is a competition in which entrants receive a unique genre, location and object and are given 48 hours to write a story of up to 1,000 words.  The story must be written in the assigned genre, be based predominantly in the location given and the object must physically appear in it.

I was given a fairy tale, a veterinary hospital and a badge and had a lot of fun as I had not tried to write a fairy tale before.  There’s nothing quite like having a deadline to lifeensure you get a piece finished.  Short stories also provide a sense of completion and a bit of light relief from long form fiction which takes forever. Everyone who was given the same prompts will produce wildly different pieces which I look forward to reading when entrants start to share them in the discussion forums. Round two is in September.

On Wednesday I went along for the first time to a Writers Victoria workshop on voice and point of view facilitated by Robert Gott. I find being in a room with a bunch of other writers and talking about writing motivating and inspiring. A couple of us went along to the opening of the Melbourne Writers Festival at the State Library afterwards.  The theme this year is ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ and will explore issues like survival, fluidity, impermanence, joy, grief, loss, love, determination and empathy.

It’s fitting given the festival theme that potatoes are the food topic for this blog.  The humble potato is believed to have bought an end to famine in Northern Europe after it arrived Deaththere in the late 1500’s.  Then an infestation of potato blight (Phytophthora infestans) in Ireland in the late 1840’s robbed the population of their staple diet and about one million people died from the resulting starvation and disease.  During the Irish Potato Famine, also known as the Great Hunger, more than a million people also emigrated to save their own lives, mostly to America and Canada.

This week I paid homage to the potato and made gnocchi for the first time.  We had a surplus of potatoes after my partner and I had both bought some during the week.  I also had one lunchbox of frozen tomatoes from last summer’s crop still in the freezer, so I decided to give making gnocchi a go.  The gnocchi recipe is from Donnini’s Pasta which is full of recipes for pasta of all shapes and sizes.  It’s much easier to make than I imagined and is delicious.

Gnocchi

  • 600g potatoes, unpeeled – try to select ones of similar size
  • 150g flour
  • 50g Parmigiano cheese, grated
  • 1 dessertspoon salt
  • Extra flour

Boil the potatoes with their skin on in salted water.  When cooked, drain and peel them whilst still hot. Mash the peeled potatoes ensuring the mixtures is lump free.  Incorporate the flour, Parmigiano cheese and salt into the potatoes. The mixture will be sticky but smooth.

Flour a board and your hands and turn the dough out on a board to knead making sure that you constantly fold the dough over onto itself.  The dough is ready when it is velvety to the touch.  Cut the dough into four equal sections and cover three of them with an inverted bowl while you work on the fourth.  Roll the section into a long sausage shape about 2cm thick.  Cut it into 2cm lengths with a sharp knife then roll each piece over the prongs on the back of a fork.  This thins out the middle of the gnocchi a little and the grooves help the sauce stick to each piece.

Make sure you have the sauce ready before you cook the gnocchi.  To cook, boil a large quantity of salted water in a big pot.  The gnocchi is cooked when it floats to the top of the water.  Remove with a slotted spoon and serve up with a dollop of sauce and fresh grated Parmigiano cheese.

Tomato sauce

  • Tomatoes – I had about 4-5 frozen which I defrosted and siphoned off some of the liquid from
  • 1 onion chopped
  • Garlic crushed (1 or 2 cloves)
  • tsp basil
  • Salt and pepper

Fry the onion in olive oil until translucent, add the garlic and basil and fry a minute or so more.  Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper and cook until it is the consistency you want for the sauce.

Image: New York

Inset images: Melbourne Writers Festival Launch

Homemade rustic tomatoe pie with fresh basil

What’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom?

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad. An oldie, but a goodie. Essentially if it has seeds, its a fruit (tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, legumes as well as apples and pears). Vegetables are the non-flowering bits like leaves (spinach and kale), roots (carrots and turnips) and tubers (potatoes). We tend to talk about fruit and vegetables more from their culinary use – vegetables are savory, fruits are sweet, but botanically speaking this distinction is not correct. Confusing, I know.

Speaking of old, I discovered the pure joy of growing bucket loads of tomatoes when I discovered heirlooms. There are so many varieties, from bite size cherries to big whoppers for hamburgers. A personal favorite, at least aesthetically, is the black and red (pictured in an earlier post). I can’t go past a yellow tomato to add an extra sweet taste and color to a salad, and as a crime fiction lover my personal name favorite is the Tomato Ananas Noir, because who doesn’t love a noir right? The Noir is huge and delicious, just like a good book, and gets darker as it ripens. The tomato even wrote its own thriller back in the middle ages. Wealthy people often ate from pewter plates, but items with high acid content like tomatoes made lead to leach into the food, causing lead poisoning and death. Tomatoes were considered toxic for about 400 years after that.

Of course growing bucket loads of tomatoes, one needs to find creative ways to serve and preserve them. There’s nothing quite like eating paddock to plate, but it does require research to fossick out new recipes so you don’t feel like you are eating the same meal three times a day, day in, day out. My most recent new find was the shortcrust tomato pie. Easy to make with a nice rustic finish (pictured).

Shortcrust tomato pie

Oven temperature: 220/220 Celsius fan-forced

Pastry:
• 2 cups plain flour
• 150g butter
• 1 egg yolk
• 2 tblsp chilled water

Mix flour and butter in  a food processor till it resembles breadcrumbs.  Add egg yolk and chilled water.  Process until the mixture almost comes together.  Add a little extra water if needed.  Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Roll out the dough between two sheets of baking paper to about 30cm and refrigerate for 30 minutes on a backing tray.

Pie:
• 1 tblsp olive oil
• 1 clove garlic
• 1/2 tsp mixed dried herbs
• 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
• 450g small tomatoes (I use cherry or other small varieties and cut in half)
• 1 lightly beaten egg
• basil leaves

Combine the olive oil, garlic and herbs in a small bowl.  Sprinkle the parmesan over the pastry, leaving a 3cm border. Arrange the tomatoes over the parmesan.  Spoon the oil mixture over the tomatoes and fold the pastry edges in over the filling.  Brush the pastry edge with egg and season the pie with salt and pepper.  Bake in the oven for about 30-35 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden and the tomatoes are tender. Sprinkle with basil leaves and serve.

What’s your favorite tomato dish?

Image: Shortcrust tomato pie

Three red and black heirloom tomatoes

The summer food store

Plunging your hands into fertile soil is such a sensuous experience. The garden is my physical creative space and where I retreat to recharge and to think. There is a meditation created by the rhythm of the seasons. Gardening puts you in touch with the beautiful but harsh reality of the cycle of life. New seedlings are planted with such tender hope and there is joy in the budding of new fruit. There is also loss when pests attack, flocks of birds and other animals raid your fruit and vegetables, rain comes when it is not welcome or there is no rain at all and the scorching sun shrivels your produce.

I live on about a third of an acre of tough clay ground on a steep north facing hill. The whole area was mined for gold from the late 1800’s through to the 1960’s, so the soil was quite depleted when I moved here. Over the twenty years I have lived in Warrandyte I have gradually built up the soil and the garden to be productive enough to provide over 50% of the household food. There are twenty-one fruit and nut trees, and the only flat piece of ground on the block has been dedicated to the vegetable garden. I also have kiwi fruit, passion fruit, raspberries and herbs growing.

This year I lost all my apples from one tree in an afternoon when a flock of Crimson Rosellas swooped in the day before I planned to net the tree.  The tree convulsed for about ten minutes emitting a cacophony until they had eaten the lot, leaving only apple cores hanging on stalks. I have had a bumper crop of about twenty kilos of tomatoes though. I have frozen and pickled tomatoes and sought out recipes to eat them in a variety of ways, most recently with the abundance of green beans growing. A very simple but tasty combination is cooked as follows:

  1. lightly cook the beans in boiling water
  2. add olive oil to a non-stick fry pan and throw in several thinly sliced cloves of garlic (had a great crop of garlic last year which hangs in the shed till we need it)
  3. stir in the beans then push them to the outside of the pan and fill the middle with chopped tomatoes till they are cooked (you can also throw in some chopped zucchini if you have some growing)
  4. stir in some parsley and basil if you have any. Add salt and pepper.

I’ve been serving it with a bit of grilled or lightly fried chicken and some corn on the cob from the garden. Yummo.

What’s happening in your patch?