Fromage With Love

The recipes & food loves of a wanderlust cook.

Salmon Carpaccio

salmonheroI was never the most adventurous diner growing up and for many adventurous diners, I feel raw fish in its many forms, whether it be sashimi, ceviche or indeed carpaccio is the final frontier before diving headfirst into courageous eating. I remember my first foray into the world of raw seafood, during a group banquet dinner some kingfish sashimi was served up with chilli and lime. I couldn’t believe how unbelievably good it was and to this day it’s one of those dishes that’s immediately ordered if I see it on the menu.

I was recently the victim to a fairly severe craving for some kingfish sashimi which was finally satisfied last week at a lunch at Chin Chin. After lunch, I had that post-meal depression, the sort you get when you’re really happy with what you’ve just had but it’s mixed with the realisation it will probably be a while until you have it again. Enough is enough, I thought. I decided to undertake some raw fish dish making myself to some quite delicious results.

With no cooking involved and the hot weather looming on the horizon, this is a summery and fresh meal that will definitely be on high rotation this summer.

salmon1salmon2salmon3 salmon4salmonheroI shouldn’t have to remind you how important it is that you get the freshest fish possible, but I’ll say it again. It is terribly important that you get the freshest fish possible. This is not the kind of dish to be cutting corners and pinching pennies on, unless you’re the kind of person that likes to play Russian Roulette with your digestive system.

Go to the markets the day you’re planning to serve your carpaccio. Look for sashimi grade salmon or tuna and talk to your fishmonger to confirm that what you’re buying is right for a raw fish dish.

Salmon Carpaccio (serves four as an appetiser)

one piece of sashimi grade salmon or tuna (about 300 – 400g)
the juice of two lemons
the zest of one lemon
the zest of half an orange
two teaspoons caster sugar
one teaspoon sea salt
one large red chilli, sliced
two large stalks of spring onion, finely chopped

To serve
olive oil
one extra lemon
sea salt & pepper
a handful of basil

Rinse your fish under the tap and pat dry with paper towel before wrapping in cling wrap. Pop this in the freezer for around an hour to firm up the flesh and make it easier to slice.

Meanwhile, make the dressing. To the juice and zests add the sugar, salt, chilli and spring onion and mix to combine. Remove your fish from the freezer, unwrap it and using a very sharp knife, slice it as thin as you possibly can, almost shaving the flesh along a diagonal.

In a wide, shallow dish, arrange a layer of the salmon and spoon over some of the dressing. Repeat this process, layering the salmon and the dressing.

Cover the dish with cling wrap, pressing it down on top of your salmon to form a sort of skin over the fish and submerging it into the marinade.

Refrigerate for a minimum of two hours, up to eight. Remove your salmon slices from the marinade and arrange on a plate. Spoon over some of the dressing and drizzle with olive oil and fresh lemon. Season with salt and pepper to taste and tear over a good handful of basil to serve.
Hot tip: carpaccio that has not been consumed within a day or so can be drained of its liquid, dusted in flour and pan-fried in olive oil for a delicious snack or the perfect filling for fish tacos.

Antipasti Plate

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While we stayed at Anna’s B&B in San Miniato, it was so wonderful to experience her home cooking and to eat like the locals ate. For our first meal with her, she placed a antipasti plate in front of each of us and I remember loving how simple it was. Sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, a couple of homemade meatballs and some pickled sardines. All local and seasonal. I wondered why I don’t eat like this back home, as an antipasti plate all to myself felt like a bit of a nice treat.

Inspired by Anna, while having some friends over on the weekend, I put together my own antipasti plate – be assured though, this one was not all to myself.

Organising something like this is pretty breezy, a quick tour of the deli hall at my local market did the trick.

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Antipasti Plate

half a cup cherry tomatoes
eight slices of prosciutto, sliced thinly
one large ball of mozzarella, or fior di latte
half a cup olives
four slices of grilled eggplant
five grilled and marinated artichokes
half a cup of pesto
half a loaf of ciabatta
one garlic clove
olive oil
two tablespoons balsamic vinegar
sea salt
pepper
fresh basil (to serve)
one chilli, chopped (to serve)
parmesan (to serve)

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and place in a small bowl. Finely slice a small handful of basil leaves and add to the tomatoes. Splash over a tablespoon of the olive oil, the balsamic vinegar, add a pinch of salt and pepper, mix well and set aside.

Get a nice large board (we used a big French style round one). Take the thin slivers of prosciutto and gently layer them on top of each other in ribbons, in a small pile.

Cut your ciabatta into nice, easy to hold slices and toast them in batches. Once they’re out of the toaster, cut your garlic clove in half and rub over the toast.

Tear your mozzarella ball in half and place them opposite each other on the board. Tear in half again so you have two quarters sitting together on either side.

Cut your artichoke hearts in half and place them in between the prosciutto and mozzarella.

Gently spoon your tomatoes (without too much of the liquid) into the centre of the board, then do the same with the olives so they sit beside the tomatoes.

Get a tablespoon of your pesto and loosen it with some olive oil so it’s a bit more runny. Drizzle this over your split mozzarella.

Spoon the remainder of the pesto into a small bowl, and add to the centre of your platter.

Drizzle some olive oil over your antipasti (except over the bowl), add the toast to the board and garnish the whole lot with chopped basil, chilli and freshly shaved parmesan.

Weekend Baking

IMG_3676_webIn this house, Buzz is most definitely the bread baker. His passion for pizza morphed into a quest for the best homemade base possible (which I think he has definitely achieved), then obviously moving on to bigger baking. Because of this, the sweet treats in the kitchen are left to me and the bread to him.

Except this weekend, I was on a mission. I would bake my first solo loaf. Buzz left the house and I got to work – as soon as I got the dough out from its first rise, it felt beautiful and soft and perfect! When I saw it on its second rise ready to go into the oven, it was even better. But when I took it out of the oven and held it in my hot little hands I was over the moon.

There is nothing quite like tea and toast using a loaf your have made with love and your own two hands. Bread really is the beginning and the end of everything (despite our current fascination with gluten-free and low-carb diets). It’s truly humbling to be able to make the most ancient of foods and I am reminded of my grandparents, for who it was necessary and normal to bake your own bread daily.

A handful of ingredients go into your own basic loaf – flour, salt, water, yeast and oil. No additives or preservatives or chemicals like mass-produced loaves. Just good old-fashioned bread.

For this particular time, I used The Fabulous Baker Brothers Classic White Loaf recipe and it worked a real treat.

Next weekend, I suggest you give it a go – at the very least kneading dough is a really great way to de-stress at the end of a tough week. Oh, and a cheese toastie for lunch wouldn’t go amiss either.

San Miniato

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About an hour out of Florence sits the little town of San Miniato. There are actually two parts to the town; lower San Miniato, where the train station and more modern infrastructure stands, and upper San Miniato, or San Miniato Alto, which is where we stayed.

Our host, Anna, did not speak a word of English and picked us up from the train station in her little hatchback. As the only Mediterranean in the group I would find these non-English speakers gravitate towards me in conversation – I’m sure in the hope of being understood I was the best horse to back. I scrounged up what little Italian I could remember from primary school lessons – ciao, mi chiamo came easily, but others, such as forza (when asking how strong a shelf in her car was), surprised even me!

We stayed on the top floor of Anna’s three storey B&B in a transformed attic that unfortunately for Buzz, slanted rather sharply at the edges – a terrible situation for his 6’4 frame!

Anna’s entire house was filled with knick knacks, lace doilies, fluffy nighties and we even got a scattering of fabric rose petals across the bed. It was a fascinating example of even though we couldn’t speak the same language, you can tell a whole lot about a person by the way their house is.

Anna was warm and sweet and lovely. While she prepared us dinner we headed out to the first bar we could find, up a steep flight of steps that rewarded us with a view over the valley below. A few glasses of Prosecco were enjoyed in the dying sun as long-legged Italian men in short shorts stretched in the church courtyard nearby – we had apparently stumbled upon the starting line of a race that was about to head through the middle of the town.

However Anna was waiting and we headed back to a meal she had made for us from scratch – first, an antipasti plate with tomatoes, mozzarella, meatballs and sardines – we each got one to ourselves! Homemade pizzas, one with sausages and fresh rocket, the other served bianca with eggplant and sea salt. We then had beef roast and pan fried potatoes, followed by chocolate biscotti for dessert.

None of us felt terribly guilty about any of this as our hike through Tuscany began the next day and it was all fuel for the fire.

We toddled off to bed, full to the brim and excited for our first day cavorting through the fields.

Kitchen Edit – Rosso

Some of the best things are red. Raspberries, love hearts and the underside of Christian Louboutin heels, to begin with.

While some of those purchases might yet be a pipe dream, the below are slightly more realistic and just as bright! That being said – for the price of a Kitchenaid you could at least get one shoe in your closet.

Cupcakes or stilettos? The choice is all yours.Kitchen-Edit---Rosso

1. Little InkPaper Bakeware Heart Cake Pan, $3.75

2. Amanda TabbererAmalfi Coast Recipes, $49.99

3. KA for Everingham & WatsonCeramic Milk Jug (Large) – Red, $7.95

4. KitchenaidKSM156 Stand Mixer Candy Apple Red, $799.00

5. AnthropologiePorcelain Ice Cream Pint Holder, $48.00

Gnocchi al Forno con Olio di Tartufo (Oven Baked Gnocchi with Truffle Oil)

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On this blogging journey of recreating the delicious meals I had the pleasure of eating across Europe, the day was bound to come where I would meet the challenge of my favourite mouthful. In the last stop of my Florentine nostalgia, we have today’s dish.

On our final night in Florence we crossed the river and headed to this large square. A simple church loomed over a group of teenagers who sat on its steps. In the centre, a fountain sploshed away surrounded by trees. And there, over in the far corner, our restaurant was spotted – string lights draped from the roof down to the pavement, making it rather hard to miss!

What greeted me was an absolute explosion of flavour – my bubbling ramekin came out to me fresh from the oven, a glistening sheen of truffle oil on top. This was not the time to feel guilty, but simply give in to the pure pleasure of it all. I was on holiday, after all, and had the first day of a 150km trek beginning the day after to rationalise the whole thing.

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I decided to make my own gnocchi this time around – it’s a rather fun weekend activity, especially if you get other members of the house involved (thanks Buzz). Plus I think it makes the meal more authentic and definitely taste better. You can of course use premade gnocchi, but please try to get the best that you can (that means maybe go for the gnocchi that sits with the refrigerated pasta, rather than the dehydrated potato that sits with the packet pasta). Feel free to modify the recipe if you wish – I found that the combination of a soft cheese and a harder cheese worked really well, so if you stick to that formula and pick your favourite cheeses – perfect!

For the harder cheese, I chose a smoked Italian cheese, which kind of had the same consistency as a Swiss cheese. I highly recommend a smoked cheese as it balances the mozzarella nicely and adds another layer of flavour.

Now with buffalo mozzarella and truffle oil, this is definitely a treat meal in every sense. But why save it for a special occasion? Sometimes you deserve a treat meal, no matter what day of the year it is!

Gnocchi al Forno con Olio di Tartufo (Oven Baked Gnocchi with Truffle Oil) (Serves 4 – 6)

1kg gnocchi (I used Gennaro Contaldo’s recipe here)
sea salt
one tablespoon olive oil
30g butter
4 sage leaves
small handful of rosemary
one buffalo mozzarella ball (cow’s mozzarella is fine to substitute)
one cup smoked hard cheese of your choice, grated
one teaspoon truffle oil

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Put a splosh of oil, the butter and herbs into an ovenproof pan over a medium heat and gently cook til butter is melted.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Carefully drop the gnocchi into the water. When the gnocchi float to the surface of the water, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the pan and put them your butter mix.

Pull apart the mozzarella over the gnocchi and sprinkle the grated cheese on top. Mix so everything is evenly coated in the herby butter melt.

Bake in the oven for 8 – 10 minutes until bubbly and golden. Drizzle over a few drops of the truffle oil to taste.

Serve with a fresh green salad on the side, if you feel the need to redeem yourself a little. Otherwise, put a large pile in a bowl and gleefully enjoy the cheesy potatoe-y indulgence.

Melbourne

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Today Buzz and I got up bright and early to visit the monthly market held at a nearby convent. It’s hosted by the Melbourne chapter of the Slow Food Movement and was a wonderful array of colourful stalls and deliciousness. The chilly (but sunny!) morning was resisted by a foamy hot chocolate and a fresh bunch of daffodils didn’t hurt either. Speaking of which – Spring is almost here! I can’t wait.

After the markets we headed into the city and down to Carlton to go to a few of the fancier delis in town where I indulged and spent far too much money.  Those young Italian men working behind the counter get me everytime!

Viva Firenze – Encore

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Florence has stolen a piece of my heart and I’m totally okay not to get it back. All it means is I’ll have to occasionally visit to feel whole again.

Any visit to Florence is not complete without a visit to the Uffizi. World famous, and rightly so, this gallery sits right on the River Arno, a beautiful U shaped construction that is a former palace. It hasn’t lost its majesty, and lining the interior courtyard are small alcoves, each containing an immaculate life-size statue.

Like the Mona Lisa being the drawcard for a visit to the Louvre for many, here it is Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus  that has tourists lining up for more. But of course, there is so much more to see. Paintings upon paintings upon paintings. I always wonder in my art ignorance what makes one painting rise to fame over another – to me there are so many unbelievably magnificent pieces I find it hard to distinguish the skill involved.

But it’s not only the artwork that held my attention – the whole entire building itself is a piece of art. The corridors are awe-inspiring and particular rooms that are roped off and all you get is the chance to peek your head in – those are true beauties.

Halfway through the winding building, you emerge onto a rooftop cafe, laden with flowers and water fountains and here you are surrounded by the terracotta red of Tuscan roofs. I highly recommend a cold drink in the sun.

After this, continuing the cultural immersion, we ticked off Michaelangelo’s David. From the lobby you round the corner and there he stands, larger than life, at the end of the walkway. I think I actually gasped.

On our last day, we visited the Boboli Gardens that surround the old palace. Greenery stretched upward as we climbed to the top where hedges and pink flowers bloomed in a private sanctuary. It’s a place of many worlds – magical leaf covered tunnels that stretched further than your eye, century old trees that stood tall and proud in uniform rows, painters standing at their easels as they watched couples in love on park benches.

We spent hours wandering through and once you get to the edge, you start to see the Tuscany you already have in your mind – wide green fields spotted with the occasional villa. I couldn’t wait to get down there.

Kitchen Edit – Bianca

Sometimes it’s nice to have a blank canvas to let your ingredients shine. These white and neutral tones ensure your food is the star of the show (though I think those hedgehogs do a pretty good job of stealing the limelight!).kitchen-edit---white

1. Kookery, Pastry – That’s How I Roll Tea Towel, $26.95

2. Anthropologie, Measuring Hedgies, $36.00

3. Provincial Home Living, Blanc Egg Carton Plate, $7.95

4. Ikea, Varme Teapot – White, $12.99

5. Caz Hildebrand & Jacob Kenedy, The Geometry of Pasta, $23.35

Fennel, Orange & Mint Salad

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I must admit I’ve been having a big love affair with fennel lately. This relationship developed slowly, as growing up I was terribly against anise and all its friends (I still cannot stand liquorice). Fennel seems to have charmed me and kept me enamoured longer than I thought possible. I first fell in love after a friend served his famous Southern fried chicken with some roasted fennel. Being polite, I took some on my plate, but shortly went back for seconds. I was hooked.

My first foray into raw fennel began with a late summer salad that involved mango and avocado and it was absolutely sublime. I think I ate it everyday for a week until I started getting funny looks in the lunchroom at work for my overzealous appreciation of fennel. Fresh salads are in abundance in the summer; they go hand in hand with sunshine like two best friends. As we delve deeper and deeper into Winter, I craved the interesting salads of Summer. I have been indulging in my fair share of comfort food, as one does when it gets chilly outside, but I know that it is a flaw of many of us that we do not eat enough raw food on the whole, and there’s only so far dressed greens can take you.

The problem that many of us find is the unappealing nature of some raw vegetables – the texture may not have a comfortable mouth feel, or in the case of fennel, the flavour can be just that bit too strong. The trick is slicing them as absolutely finely as possible, transforming them into a delicate hum and hint beneath the overall meal. Experiment with other vegetables you don’t usually see as potential raw salad players – grated broccoli adds a wonderful texture, ribbons of raw zucchini or carrot are beautiful and silky additions – and you are left with a world of opportunities for a healthy meal or side dish when stodgy pies or bakes get a little too overwhelming.

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fennel_heroI’m not sure where this combination came from – I’m sure it’s not terribly original and I’ve stumbled across it somewhere – but all I know is that I dreamed of it (I often dream of food, it’s an awful flaw) and began craving it for lunch the next day. Mulling it over, the tastebuds of my mind decided it made sense. Citrus will always work well with raw vegetable salads and has the added bonus of softening the vegetable into a nicer texture. Orange works particularly well as the sweetness balances out the sharp, anise nature of the fennel. Mint? Well that adds a refreshing undertone that ties all the pieces nicely together in a delicious little bow. This is dressed simply – no need for fancy work here, as you have everything you need to create a well rounded taste. The only thing that I would add, and suggest you do if you are so inclined, is some very finely chopped chilli sprinkled over the whole thing, which will give it a delightful little kick.

Otherwise, I highly recommend you pair this with something spicy – chilli pan-fried fish comes to mind as the perfect partner.

In this case, I have served my salad with some homegrown edible flowers – pansies – which not only give a bit of pepperiness, but also look quite lovely.

Fennel, Orange & Mint Salad (serves 1)

half of one fennel bulb
half of one orange
one small handful of mint
one tablespoon lemon juice
two tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

Wash fennel and remove hard outer leaves. Using a mandolin or a sharp knife, shave the fennel into fine slices. Arrange as a bottom layer on your plate and set aside.

Peel the orange and remove as much of the white pith as possible with your knife. Slice into half centimetre rounds and separate into segments, placing on top of your fennel.

Sprinkle mint leaves across the plate, drizzle some olive oil and squeeze some lemon juice over the top. Season with salt and pepper to serve.