Thursday, 25 April 2013

recent delights: organic pasta; dinner @ itali.co, st kilda;
fig & fennel bread @ rustica sourdough bakery, fitzroy

Oh hello! I think I'm way overdue for another post on some of the recent odds-and-ends in my food world. Today's going to be a carb-heavy issue. Pasta, pizzas and bread. You've been warned.

So first of all let's talk pasta. I bought some organic pasta from the shops some months ago, which I've been meaning to blog about, because they're pretty different from the standard pasta I usually eat.

These lovely little morsels pictured below are strozzapreti tricolore from Montebello in Italy. Prior to this, I've not had pasta in the strozzapreti shape, so the mere novelty of it all engaged me. Plus, it apparently means priest strangler in Italian, which also brings forth the question, does everything just sound better in Italian? Also, they come in three colours. Technically, it's really four - we've got the chilli ones in red, the nettle ones in green, the wholemeal ones in brown and the classic ones in beige. They're gorgeous AND tasty. The chilli is distinctive, and it will infuse the pasta water with a good dose of heat. The nettle ones have a pleasantly earthy taste, similar to spinach. I have to confess that I've been cooking them in a rather un-Italian fashion, using them in lieu of noodles in my Asian-style broths. I quite like them that way!

Montebello - Strozzapreti Tricolore Pasta.

Getting a bit closer to home, and with less food miles, we have Australian-made pasta, too. Hurrah! These are mixed olive leaves from L'Abruzzese, a South Australian company. The green ones are flavoured with spinach powder. The "leaves" are so charmingly rustic, and they also cook up well, retaining a great al dente bite. I figured that they would go beautifully in a gentle, creamy base, so I tossed them through some mascarpone, as well as some other ingredients I no longer remember. My instincts proved correct - it was a delicious match. I've noticed L'Abruzzese also have pasta in native Australian flavours (lemon myrtle! wattleseed! excitement!!), as well as a gluten-free range made with buckwheat, chickpea, rice and lentil flours. Buoyed by my good experience here, I might try those next time.

L'Abruzzese - Mixed Olive Leaves.

I bought both of the above pastas at Ripe the Organic Grocer in Prahran Market, but you can probably find them in other stores that stock a good range of organic pasta, as well. Or you may find something else which is just as fun to cook and eat!

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Moving on. I recently accepted an invitation to a complimentary dinner at itali.co ( 1/173-177 Barkly St, St Kilda) to experience a set menu created by head chefs Piero Roldo and Lino Maglione.

Firstly, we were treated to some kitchen demonstrations - a behind-the-scenes look at how they make pasta and pizza. Here's a fleeting shot I managed to catch of one of the steps to creating a squid ink tagliolini.

The making of squid ink pasta at Itali.co.

We ate so much and I won't be posting all the photos here, but if you'd like a comprehensive pictorial summary you can check them out under the Media/PR Events album in my Facebook page.

I shall indeed share with you my favourite savoury and sweet dishes of the night, however.

Behold...

Slow-cooked boneless rack of rabbit, filled with sun-dried tomatoes, olives and basil, served with a red cabbage strudel, and carrot puree.

The description alone is enticing enough, but I did not anticipate how well-executed and beautifully cooked it would be, and in turn, how much I would love it. The rabbit came out in the form of a succulent involtini, rolled with little tangy, salty and herbaceous hits from the tomatoes, olives and basil. The red cabbage strudel, put simply, was like delicious sauerkraut in pastry. The carrot puree was smooth, unctuous, and indulgent. I adored all of it.

Rabbit involtini, red cabbage strudel and carrot puree at Itali.co.

My favourite dessert of the night was the strawberry nutella pizza. You're probably not surprised.

For days afterwards, I would get random cravings for that delicious chocolatey hazelnut spread that we all know and love. I fairly blame it on this pizza. It's a simple concept and a flavour combination that has been no doubt done many times in many places, but what really elevated this pizza was that gorgeous crust. I could try to replicate this pizza at home (and ha, I probably will) - the toppings will be easy - but that perfectly cooked dough, with its beguiling stretch and crunch... I'll have to come back here for that.

Strawberry Nutella pizza at Itali.co.

Other notes: The general quality of the food I sampled here was excellent. A few didn't quite grab me so much, but besides the two dishes mentioned above, there were several others that I enjoyed - the pan-fried Canadian scallops with cauliflower pannacotta, the black ink tagliolini with assorted seafood (especially when drizzled with the chilli oil condiment on the table), and all the other pizzas I tried - one was a lovely summery one with swordfish on an eggplant base, and the other a deliciously pungent mushroom and truffle pizza. Additionally, a shout out to owner, Remo Nicolini, who was an excellent host - he is clearly passionate about food and it really shows in the way he runs the place.

Itali.Co on Urbanspoon

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Last, but not least, in this series of carb-laden treats...

Hi, bread with juicy figs and aromatic fennel seeds. Why art thou so yummy?

This is the fig and fennel ficelle from Rustica Sourdough Bakery (402 Brunswick St, Fitzroy). Apparently this bakery has been around for quite awhile, but Simon and I only stumbled upon it recently when he wanted some takeaway coffee. We went in and discovered the ficelle. I also discovered, unsurprisingly, that it is even more delicious toasted, with butter. What isn't, really.


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What are some of your recent delights?

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Wednesday, 17 April 2013

book review: sushi for kids, by kaoru ono

the children's book, sushi for kids, by kaoru ono.

Back in February, my friend Scott had a birthday picnic.

In the invitation he writes...

"Instead of finding something for me, let's make a donation of toys or books to the Royal Children's Hospital / Smith's Family. So if you do feel compelled to bring something, bring a kid's toy / book that you think reflects me or our friendship and we'll make a few kids happy. =)"

I met Scott a long, long time ago, when I was still new to life in Melbourne, Australia, and he was the one to first introduce me to the art of making sushi, and the loveliness of raw fish.

It stands to reason that the gift I chose for the as-yet-unknown young recipient, hopefully an adventurous food lover, is a children's book titled Sushi for Kids, by Tokyo-born author and illustrator Kaoru Ono (translated to English by Peter Howlett and Richard McNamara).

a page from the book.

The story starts with a little boy, Atsushi, enjoying sushi at his grandfather's birthday. Later, he takes a trip to the Tsukiji fish market, learns more about the history of sushi, and finally, how to make sushi. (His pet cat also occasionally makes an appearance - cute, right?)

I learnt quite a few things as I flipped through the pages - for example, I never knew that sushi has its origins as "nare sushi", where fermented rice is used to preserve fish. This combination of rice and fish evolved over time to what we know as sushi today, which is eaten fresh. An interesting fact to me! There are also instructive pages teaching the basic steps to making various sushi - nothing super-comprehensive, but appropriate and sufficient enough for a child who wants to give making sushi a go with the help and supervision of an adult.

sushi-making instructions.

A few final words about the book, for those who may be interesting in procuring their own copy. Not being experienced with kids, I'm not sure for what age range this book is suitable, but I imagine from ages 5 and up could be good - even if they're too young to read the book by themselves, the illustrations could still delight. And if your child likes Japanese food, especially sushi, so much the better!

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Wednesday, 10 April 2013

hammer and tong, fitzroy

hammer and tong brunch menu.

Fried chicken wings and soft drinks for brunch?

Yeah, that's the sort of thing you can get at Hammer & Tong (412 Brunswick St, Fitzroy).

Simon and I don't normally have carbonated beverages first thing in the morning, but we can be unorthodox once in a while. And, as it turns out, the housemade fizzes at Hammer & Tong are pretty nice - just a light hint of sweetness, which makes it refreshing and a not-so-unhealthy start to the day. Tropicana strikes us as predominantly passion fruit, with hints of pineapple and citrus. Turkish Delight is gentle, floral, rosy, with specks of vanilla.

hammer and tong housemade fizzes, tropicana (left) and turkish delight (right). $3 each.

It seems that our cafe brunches almost invariably includes a baked egg dish. At Hammer & Tong, the eggs are suspended in a tomato fondue, shakshuka-like, with addictive bites of manchego strewn through... please, sir, can I have more of that delicious cheese? On the side we have chorizo and flatbread to complete the picture.

hammer and tong baked eggs in tomato fondue, chorizo, manchego and flatbread. $17.

Then we have the fried chicken wings - nicely done, not too greasy, sweet and sticky in a gotta-eat-with-your-hands-and-lick-your-fingers kind of way. The chilli and crispy fried shallots hint at Asian inspiration, while the mango and pink grapefruit add an extra dimension of juiciness. It was only later, after we left the restaurant, that I realised that our plate didn't seem like it included avocado, as promised in the menu description. Still, it's an oversight I can forgive, all things considered.

hammer and tong fried chicken wings with mango, grapefruit, candied chillies, crisp shallots, avocado and lime. $15.

Hammer & Tong is ridiculously close and convenient for us and I hope to return again soon with Simon. We haven't had much in the way of eating out adventures lately (as you can probably tell from the lack of cafe/restaurant posts in this blog) in an effort to be more frugal - but I would really like to try their truffled duck egg, corn fritters, soft shell crab burger and popping candy pancakes, all of which seem to be fast gaining an excellent reputation. Hopefully my next visit won't be too far in the future.

Hammer and Tong 412 on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, 3 April 2013

coconut rhubarb ice pops / icy poles (vegan)

coconut rhubarb icy pole / ice pop / popsicle.

In Australia we are lucky to have rhubarb available almost all year round. While I feel I should really have produced an ice cream recipe for summer, it's never too late, especially since it's still only mid-autumn, wouldn't you agree? For those of you on the other side of the world, I believe rhubarb is in season now that it's spring, so I hope this works out to be a timely post for all.

In this ice pop recipe, I combine stewed rhubarb with coconut milk for a nicely tangy, gently creamy result. It's simple but something a little different. Try it and let me know what you think...

fresh rhubarb.

coconut rhubarb ice pops
(makes 4 - 6, depending on size of molds)


180g / 6oz / 1.5 cups chopped rhubarb stalks (leaves and ends removed)
1/4 cup raw sugar (or to taste)
2 tablespoons orange juice (may be substituted with another sweet acidic juice, e.g. apple juice, pineapple juice)
2/3 cup coconut milk (I prefer full-fat)
1/4 cup water

Plonk the rhubarb, sugar and citrus juice (if using) in a saucepan. Cook over a medium high heat until it starts to bubble, then turn the heat down to let it simmer, partially covered, until soft, between 5 - 10 minutes.
Blend the rhubarb mixture together with coconut milk and water together until smooth. Do a taste test and add more sugar if desired - give it another thorough blend if doing so.
Pour the rhubarb ice cream batter into ice pop molds.
Freeze until firm - I usually just freeze overnight and start eating the next day. :)

coconut rhubarb popsicle. i took a bite! and finished the whole thing after taking the photo, of course.

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