If a whole or even half head of cauliflower is more than you can manage then a new variety of cauliflower, fioretto, is a perfect compromise. Not just for the single cook, fioretto (small flower, in Italian) might also be the answer for those that prefer a milder cauliflower flavour. Fioretto is, I suppose, what broccolini is to broccoli; mild in flavour while probably giving the supermarkets a product with a slightly longer shelf life. At $4 for 200 grams it is not an economical purchase but then it will most likely be consumed in one meal without wastage…… but then there’s the plastic container it comes in. Fioretto may suit some consumers, tossed in a wok or salad, but for cauliflower lovers my bet is they will be thinking about a big baking dish of cauliflower cheese this winter with the leftovers going nicely with some tuna in a sandwich.
To Be Frank
My partner is always taking a poke around back streets and lanes, often being rewarded by finding a great restaurant, quirky shop or an artisan making something exceptionally well with a lot of love. Where better to have a poke around than inner city Melbourne because in a tiny street off Johnson street, Collingwood a recent top find was artisan bakery, To Be Frank. Despite COVID-19 and lockdowns To Be Frank is now in its second year, a testament to Melbourne’s continuing love for artisan bakeries. Head baker, Franco Villalva, uses long ferments (18 hours) and a variety of organic, biodynamic and sustainable flours to make his bread. There is also a range of pastries, cakes and cookies and, more recently, fresh sandwiches. I love the light rye tin loaf, which you can buy as a full loaf or half portion (they simply break it in two). The light rye stays very moist and soft and has a lovely malty flavour. To be frank, while I can’t wait to return and try more breads and pastries, I’m more than likely to buy the same again as it was so good. With a nice, bright cafe fit-out you can linger for a coffee too. Coffee is by Symmetry. Next time take a stroll into the back streets and maybe you will find someone’s dream being created, ready for new beginnings.
More Exotic Mushrooms
I am happy to say that locally produced exotic mushrooms are becoming more widely available. Varieties such king, shimeji, nameko, lions mane, enoki, chestnut, snowflake and shiitaki, just to name a few, are being grown in the Yarra Valley and even in suburban Melbourne for sale at farmers markets and select grocery stores, so hopefully we will see less and less of the imported ones. It is worth checking the labels and, if imported, asking your green grocer to source local, fresh exotics. A new company, based in Monbulk in the Yarra Yalley, has recently expanded their varieties and rebadged as Unearthed. Co Mushrooms. You can find their full range of mushrooms in The Leaf Store in Elwood and Hawthorn.
Mushrooms make a wonderful vegetarian main meal, whether as a simple teriyaki mushroom rice bowl, formed into tasty patties, a risotto or pasta dish or an Autumn salad of raw and grill mushrooms with rocket. Try some exotics on a pizza for a change. For the meat eaters think of adding exotic mushrooms to dishes such as oven baked chicken thighs, tucking them in amongst the sliced onion and potato, or sauteed and tossed through peas as a side to grilled steak or the Sunday roast. Exotic mushrooms not only add flavour and nutrition but also some visual appeal.
While strolling along the beach in Sardinia I stumbled upon a very humble taverna, with plastic tables and chairs nestled under the trees, it seemed to be serving only spaghetti bottarga. The combination of bright sunshine, golden sand and turquoise water and this deliciously simple pasta was quite intoxicating. What was it?Dried mullet roe.Veramente?
In Southern Italy bottarga has pasta as its soul mate; pasta that is kissed by the sea or rather smothered in kisses with a liberal grating of bottarga with some extra virgin olive oil as matchmaker. Bottarga creates a beautiful emulsion with extra virgin olive oil and a little hot pasta water, so there is a reason it is sometimes called the carbonara of the sea. This bottarga oil emulsion is delicious dressing pasta on its own but also enhances the flavour of calamari and shellfish, like clams or scallops. It adds a bit of umami and beautiful colour. I was recently delighted to discover that bottarga is produced in Australia from Northern NSW red mullet. The Northern Rivers and Pilu brands of bottarga are available in Melbourne from gourmet grocery, The Essential Ingredient and select seafood outlets. It keeps for ages in the fridge, giving you plenty of time to experiment. To get familiar with this product peel away the thin skin (like you would a salami) and cut a very thin slice and eat it. It will be a bit tacky, sticking to your teeth and then taste surprisingly sweet, very slightly salty with just a hint of the sea. To really get the feel of how to cook with this weird ingredient I suggest you do a simple exercise. Place 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and 1 table spoon hot water (in lieu of pasta water) and 2 heaped tablespoons of grated (use a cheese grater) bottarga in a bowl and give it a good stir. You should create a lovely emulsion which will form the basis of a sauce to coat the spaghetti along with other liquid ingredients like a dash of white wine or a few cherry tomatoes. Get the idea? This is what you are wanting to create in the pan with your ingredients, the thicker the better, so try not to add too much pasta water.
Avoid raw or too much cooked garlic as it dominates too much. In this spaghetti with calamari and bottarga dish I’ve added whole garlic cloves to the hot oil to infuse and then removed them. The chilli lifts the flavour a touch but overall it is nicely balanced.
Spaghetti Calamari and Bottarga
extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 long red chilli
1 medium calamari, cleaned and cut into thin slices
dash of white wine
approximately 100-120 g grated bottarga, extra for garnish
Heat a large pot of water for the pasta. When the pasta water is on a rolling boil add a teaspoon of salt and the pasta. While that is cooking cover the base of a fry pan with extra virgin olive oil and heat it over medium heat. Add 3 lightly crushed whole garlic cloves to infuse the oil with. When the garlic cloves start to colour discard them. Split and de-seed the chilli and slice it. Add the chilli to the oil and cook for 2 minutes. Check your pasta timing and do the next steps when you have about 3 minutes left to cook. Raise the heat under the fry pan and add the calamari, tossing well for no more than a minute. Add a dash of white wine, the grated bottarga and stir well. With tongs pull out the spaghetti and add it directly to the pan. Toss well to coat the pasta evenly and plate. Grate the pasta liberally with the golden bottarga and serve.