Archive | Italian-Australian product RSS feed for this section

What happened when Romano ate Vegemite pasta

10 Jun

Romano is my dad. I’ve talked about him before, mostly to point out that his criticism of other people’s cooking is not what you’d call gentle or sensitive or, well, nice. He once made eight-year-old me cry when he told me my risotto was a gluggy, gluey, inedible mess. You see, Romano lives his life by a strict set of edicts which govern all aspects of his dietary intake.  You could call it Romano’s Code, and he expects others to understand and respect his Code. There’s Romano’s way – salads should always be dressed with olive oil and vinegar not abhorrent concoctions that involve mayonnaise or, God forbid, yoghurt – and then there’s the wrong way.

Romano’s Code doesn’t just cover cooking, it extends to dining etiquette as well. If, for example, you find yourself eating dinner at Casa Cammarano and think it is OK to just pluck a few random grapes from the requisite fruit platter that appears after every meal, you are sadly mistaken. The right thing to do is to take a small bunch, stalks and all. Romano doesn’t care if you’re a daughter, a cousin, a new boyfriend or the parish priest, commit this sin and you’ll hear about it loudly and for a long time afterwards. You might be embarrassed, but then Romano believes you should be.

So when I came across this 1950 recipe for “Noodles” with a variation that called for the adding of “a teaspoon of meat extract or Vegemite” in Wynwode Reid’s New Australian Cookery Illustrated,  I knew, in the name of Italo-Australian cuisine, it had to be tried. And I also knew the person to try it should be Romano.

Noodles Recipe from New Australian Cookery Illustrated

Note the Vegemite variation under “Savory Noodles”.

I set about making it happen. In a bid not to prejudice his palate, I decided I would keep the Vegemite a secret.  Romano, like most Italians, is not a fan of the inky black substance – he’s more a Nutella man. I’m sure if I told him I’d taken what has been the staple of his ancestors for centuries, and mixed in a spoonful of Vegemite, he would see it as a betrayal of his culture and, worse, a clear contravention of Romano’s Code.

Following the instructions proved to be as simple as mapping the human genome, but somehow I managed it. In the middle of the task mum rang to say Nonna was expecting me for dinner. Perfect, I thought, ignoring the line that said “Leave at least 24 hours to dry”, dad can try the noodles then.

Vegemite ready to go in dough

Vegemite in dough

Vegemite dough rolled out

Rolling up vegemite pasta

Unfortunately, by the time my ribbons of latte-coloured pasta had been transported in their plastic box from the city to Spotswood they had turned into mounds of stuck-together dough. “Not you worry,” said Nonna and we set about re-rolling the pasta into little twists.

Nonna and mum re-rolling Vegemite pasta

Romano entered and pointed out that they looked like something the dog did.

This was not a good start. But cooked and covered in Nonna’s sauce, Romano didn’t immediately turn up his considerably-sized nose.

Cooked Vegemite pasta twirls

He looked at it closely. He looked at me. “What’s in it?,” he asked

“Just try it”, I urged

He smelt it.

“You used chestnut flour.”

“Just try it.”

“You used wholemeal flour,” he accused.

“Would you just try it?”

He took a little. He chewed it thoughtfully. He took a little more.

Romano tasting Vegemite pasta

A second taste of Vegemite pasta

“Is it alright?”  I asked timidly.

“Hmm yeah, alright. Not bad. Not great. Not bad. Now, what’s in it?”

“Vegemite!” I proclaimed triumphantly, ready for his face to turn from apathetic to angry.

“Oh, OK, yeah, it just makes it salty. It’s alright.”

“What do you mean? Isn’t it disgusting to put Vegemite in pasta? Aren’t you appalled? It’s what Australiani put in their Bolognese, dad. It’s wrong, isn’t it? I thought you would think it was wrong!”

“No, it’s alright. It’s fine.”

So, there you have it, when Romano ate Vegemite pasta, there was no yelling of cultures double-crossed, of codes violated, of anything really.  It just didn’t seem right – who was this man? This wasn’t how my father should react to Vegemite pasta, of all things. Had I slipped into a parallel future, an alternate 1985 of sorts?  Where was the outrage? What did I have to do to provoke that? And then grapes presented themselves for dessert. I plucked a few from the stalks, and Romano did his thing. Everything was right in the world again.

A plate of Vegemite pasta

Cooking with Nonna Christmas Special: Torrone

10 Dec

By the time I get to Nonna’s house, she’s already got the sugar and almonds out, the scales are on the table and she’s set up a make-shift stove which might be the perfect height for 5 foot nothing Nonna, but is not-so-perfect for 5 foot 10 me:

Make-shift stove

I decide it’s pointless to complain about the back-breaking height of the stove – if that’s how Nonna wants it, that’s how it will stay –  and instead ask where everyone is.

“Your Uncle Sam’s in bed, little Tony’s got work to do, and your Mum and Dad went to buy a Christmas tree. When there’s work to be done (she sighs)…you know your Mother has never been interested in making the torrone, never. To eat it, yes, to take it to the shop, yes, but to make it? No no no no….”

Poor Lila. She does the most for Nonna but being the first-born female in an Italian household means you’re expected to do everything, all the time, and if you’re waiting to be thanked for it? Well there’s more chance of me not being asked when I’m having grandchildren…

Nonna mumbles some more about my mother’s lack of interest in all things culinary and tells me to weigh out 800 grams of sugar and 1 kilo of almonds.

Really? Weigh stuff? Nonna never weighs anything and I call her on it.

“What happened to using your ‘occhio’ Nonna? You say your eye is the best measurement for everything. All you need is your hands and your eyes and you can cook?”

“Yes, that’s true but no, not for this. Weigh it.”

Weighing almonds and sugar

The sugar goes in the pan over low heat. Nonna watches it and explains we are waiting for it to turn to honey.  Not sure how sugar can turn into honey but, again, it’s not an argument worth having. I get on top of a chair and take the following pictures, and then I get in trouble.

Sugar on the stove

Nonna puts in the sugar

Nonna taken from a chair

“Get off the chair! What are you doing? You’ll fall! And put your shoes on! Why aren’t your shoes on? Why do you never wear shoes?”

Nonna has this thing about us being barefoot. I think she would be less offended if we were naked. No, actually, I know that’s not true – once I wore skin-coloured tracksuit pants (don’t ask why, I don’t know) and my brother had some friends around and Nonna came in and lost it, like really lost it:

“How can you be naked IN FRONT OF BOYS? What is wrong with you? Scustamata che non sei altra (which kind of means something like you’re the sluttiest of slutbag women to ever walk the earth)!”

“But Nonna, they’re pants, look!”

“Ah, hmm, yes, they are, but PUT YOUR SHOES ON!!!!”

Lost in memories of flesh-toned pants past, Nonna points out that the sugar has in fact turned into a honey-like syrup, so we should now add the almonds. This is where the fun starts and where you see an 89-year-old woman who only 10 minutes before said “I hurt so much, I can’t move AT ALL! Old age is awful, my granddaughter, awful!” stir the sticky mess of almonds and sugar like it’s whipped cream. Sure, she does some Monica Seles-style grunting towards the end, but I have to practically bribe her to take the wooden spoon away from her.

Sugar cooking

Nonna with sugar turned brown

Almonds mixed in

Nonna stirring

About half-way through the constant stirring, Nonna adds lemon juice. It sizzles and bubbles and splatters. I move away to avoid getting burnt. Nonna just keeps on stirring. I guess if you lived in Sicily through World War II, you’re probably not scared of hot lemon juice…

Almonds cooking

Almonds ready

Finally it’s time to tip the molten brown sugar coated almonds out on to an oiled marble slab. I don’t know how Nonna knows it’s ready.  I ask her and she says she knows it’s ready, because it’s ready.

Almonds on Marble Slab

Getting the almonds out is not so easy, as everything’s sticking to everything and it’s hot as Hades. That does not stop Nonna.  She uses a range of wooden spoons, palates and a rolling pin to get it how she wants it. Then she dips her hands in cold water and pats it down. I try to mimic her, but my hands actually feel heat, so I give up.

Sticky almonds

Nonna shaping the torrone

After a sprinkling of not-so-traditional hundreds and thousands, it’s time to cut the thing. Luckily, reinforcements arrive in the form of Mum and Dad, or Lila and Romano.  Lila scoffs some stray almonds, leaving the evidence in plain view:

Evidence of almond eating

I tell her what Nonna said about her lack of help, she sighs and starts the next lot of torrone. I think she’s used to it. Dad meanwhile takes some very menacing knives off Nonna and starts cutting the torrone into pieces. This requires a fair degree of stamina, and as we have not had coffee for at least an hour, Nonna decides that’s what she should be doing.

Nonna making coffee

Nonna with knives

Dad cutting torrone

Torrone being cut

Torrone finished

Once all the torrone is cut, we make a second lot which is slightly different because it’s made with sesame seeds and assorted nuts.  Mum and Dad take the lead this time, but Nonna is always watching, always ready to jump in, always giving instruction and always quick to point out what we’re doing wrong. At one point, she asks no one in particular:

“How on earth are you going to make the torrone when I’m gone?”

The answer to which is, of course, I have no idea.

Mum and dad working

Finished sesame seed torrone

Nonna’s Torrone

You will need a marble slab and hands that are not sensitive to heat. It’s also a good idea to share the stirring with a number of people, as it is heavy, hot and difficult.

Ingredients

  • 800g sugar
  • 1kg whole almonds, blanched
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Hundreds and thousands
  • A few sheets of rice paper
  1. Oil the marble slab and have a bowl of cold water for you to dip your hands in nearby.
  2. Place the sugar in a large saucepan and stir over low heat until sugar has dissolved.
  3. Add almonds. Stir with a wooden spoon until the almonds start to stick together.
  4. Add the lemon juice and continue stirring until the almonds and sugar are golden brown in colour.
  5. Turn the mixture out onto the marble slab. Dip the palms of your hands in the cold water and then, using your hands, shape the mixture into a square slab. You can also use a rolling pin and wooden spoon
  6. While the mixture is still warm, sprinkle hundreds and thousands over it, cut the slab into slices, and then into small squares. Place on plates lined with rice paper.

Nonna relaxes with finished torrone

My Italian Christmas – a special encore post

29 Nov

So you know how TV networks call repeats of TV shows encores?  Well, I’m taking a leaf out of their book and posting a story I wrote for Taste.com.au  a few years ago about what an Italian Christmas is like in the little-known Italian town of Melbourne. Consider it a prequel to Nonna’s torrone recipe which we were meant to make together this week, but Nonna hasn’t been feeling the best, so it’s on next week, with a post to follow. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy what will be either very familiar or completely foreign, depending on the amount of wog blood coursing through your veins:

Roast turkey, mince pies and shortbread. This is what a foreign Christmas sounds like to me. The same goes for fruitcake, stuffing, pudding and Christmas crackers. Totally exotic.

My unfamiliarity with all things Anglo-Christmas is my family’s fault. My mother is Sicilian, my father is from near Naples, and I was born in Melbourne, but if what you eat is who you are then I am definitely Italian. No question. Or, to be more precise, southern Italian.

Like all good southern Italians, our Christmas meal starts with homemade pasta. In my house, these take the form of panzerotti. Now, the thing about pasta and Italians is that one man’s panzerotti are another man’s crespelle. By this I mean that depending on where you are in the tall skinny boot known as Italy, pasta often has the same name but can be something quite different. In casa Cammarano, however, the panzerotti are made by Romano, my father, and are precise little half moons of pasta filled with ricotta, parmesan and parsley, sealed with a fork, boiled in water, and served with a fresh tomato sauce. Perfect.

However, occasionally people who are not my father get involved in the making of perfection, and things inevitably go wrong. These people, Romano’s children and his mother-in-law, in particular, don’t particularly care if a complete circle has not been cut out of the pasta, making it impossible to create a proper half moon. Or they are sloppy in the way they seal the panzerotti, meaning when you cook them, they burst open and their ricotta filling is lost to the raging boiling water around them.

Sometimes, crazy people, like my mother,  put spinach in the filling and this not a happy Romano does make. He feels that spinach compromises the clean flavours of the fresh ricotta and I think he is right. (By the way, never ever buy the ricotta that comes in the containers at the supermarket – this is a criminal act in Romano’s book.)

While panzerotti were and still are the specialty of Mr Cammarano, my mother Lidia, or, as she hates to be called, Lil, always makes ricotta cake. The recipe for this cake goes way, way back to an ancient and sacred Italian cookbook that no one can remember the name of and has since been lost. But the cake lives on in the memory of Lidia, who will not share the recipe because it’s hers and hers alone. Even though she claims the book has been lost, I think she destroyed it to protect her ricotta cake-making monopoly.

But I digress. It is a delicious cake, no doubt about it. The pastry crust is short and contains orange zest. My mother doesn’t believe in making her own pastry – she outsources it to my grandmother, who brings it to her house already rested and rolled out, in a glass Pyrex dish with crinkled edges. The filling is fresh ricotta, cinnamon, eggs and caster sugar. There might be more, but Lil isn’t telling. It’s baked in the oven and then dusted with icing sugar. We eat it during the entire Christmas period – it is the fuel that keeps us going and propels us through everything festive from gift buying expeditions and loud card games to visiting friends and midnight mass.

Whilst it is starting to sound like ricotta is at the centre of my Italian Christmas, it’s not. Torrone is. Torrone is the Italian word for nougat but my grandmother’s version is not the snowy white version you are probably most familiar with. This one is made mostly of almonds and sugar, and is caramel brown in colour. To make it you must have the strength of 21 men, four oxen and three donkeys. Your hands must be capable of withstanding nuclear plant meltdown levels of heat. Or you must be my 89-year-old grandmother. She makes it, and has always made it, by herself. True, these days, she lets me or my mother occasionally have a turn at stirring it, but she waits impatiently as you try to churn the spoon, her eagle eyes watching for any signs of fatigue. It doesn’t take long – and as soon as you pause, she’s taken the spoon and is back at it again, and you’re left wondering why you’re standing exhausted while a woman four times your age, and a quarter of your size, is moving nearly 2 kilos of sticky, heavy sugar and almonds.

It might seem a good idea, at this point, to give you some of the recipes for these tasty Christmas treats. However, my father would not give his recipe for panzarotti, on the grounds that you will not make them as well as he does. My mother would not give her recipe for ricotta cake, for the reasons stated above. My nonna, however, has provided her recipe for torrone. Because nonna is good and kind and just, and knows that as there’s no way you’re as strong as she is, trying to make it will probably kill you anyway… so look out for Nonna Maria’s Torrone in the next post (complete with pictures, I promise)! In the meantime, tell me if this Christmas is anything like yours?

Retro recipe: Siennese “Little Horses”, 1937

5 Oct

You may be wondering what’s become of Lamingtons & Lasagna lately, and why she hasn’t managed to blog in nearly five months. Or, more likely, you hadn’t noticed. In any case, I’ve been a busy PhD bee – I went to Italy to present a paper at an Italian food conference in Perugia (yes, really, I know, I can’t believe it either) and then came home to present another paper at the Australian Historical Association conference in Adelaide. Both papers were accepted for publication so I’ve been spending a lot of time in my pyjamas, in my study, writing like a crazy woman…

And yesterday, I finished!

Hooray! To celebrate I thought I’d get out of my pyjamas and cook a retro recipe, like I used to in the blog days of old.

Today’s retro recipe is very special indeed. It was also a disaster, but we’ll get to that shortly.

It comes from the First Australian Continental Cookery Book (FACCB), the subject of my second paper, which is, in my scholarly opinion, Australia’s first Italian cookbook. Btw if you followed the appeal to find the Italian version of the book, I found it thanks to the fabulous Blake Singley at ANU who pointed out that the Italian version was hiding behind the English version at the NLA all along…

First Australian Continental Cookery Book

But I digress. The recipe is from 1937 and is called Siennese “Little Horses”, or, in the Italian version of the same book Cavallucci di Siena. It’s a classic kind of Italian recipe – meaning there’s a version of it in Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well – but this version was meant for Australians of the 1930s to cook. Which is perhaps why it suggests the biscuits be cut into the shape of horses with jockeys atop, despite Artusi pointing out that they should be oval-shaped, not horse-shaped. There’s a sense of whimsy and fun in the FACCB, something not present in most other cookbooks of its day, who would never say, for example, of a lamb dish, “to start with, it must be real lamb, not mutton rejuvenated like ambitious ladies on the wrong side of forty”.

But I digress (again!) What does one need for this recipe? Sugar, walnuts, candied orange peel, fennel seeds, mixed spice, nutmeg, flour and a “mould” of a horse with a jockey on top. Not surprisingly, I didn’t have the latter so I hot-footed it over to the local kitchenware shop and asked the lady for a biscuit cutter in the shape of a horse with a jockey. Unfortunately, this came out as “do you have any “horsey” biscuit cutters with jockeys”. To which she should’ve replied, how old are you? Three? But instead said, yes, we do, but there’s no jockey. Quickly deciding I had the necessary skills to fashion a jockey from dough, though, in hindsight, no hard evidence to support this decision, I parted with $2.50 and took my horsey cookie cutter home.

Now in the kitchen, I was all set to start. First, I read the recipe through because in 36 years of life I have figured out that this is always a good idea. A red flag appeared. The recipe only wanted enough flour to cover a board. Hmmm, I would think you’d need more flour for a biscuit dough? I thought about it for all of a minute and then decided that the walnuts which were to be “finely minced” would replace the flour, like almond meal. So all good. Then I was flummoxed by this sentence “Dissolve in a casserole about one pound of sugar in about a third of its weight in water.” A pound is almost half a kilo, right? So a third of almost half a kilo? My head hurts when a little thing like maths rears its very ugly stupid head, so I decided to change all the measurements  – I’ll use a cup of sugar, and therefore will need a third of a cup of water, and I’ll scale all the measurements accordingly. Maths will not defeat me, I am smart, I am a PhD student, I can do this. This red flag was so big it was like the ones matadors use for bulls. But I ignored it like the beautiful idiot that I am.

Next challenge was the “mincing” of the walnuts. Now, I don’t know how they minced walnuts in 1937, but here’s how I did it:

Mincing the walnuts

And then I was off. In goes the sugar and the water, to which “as soon as it begins to liquefy” I added the minced walnuts, the candied peel, the mixed spice and the fennel seeds:

Sugar and water in saucepan

And out came a watery brown mess. It resembled something which belongs in the bathroom, not the kitchen. But the recipe told me to: “mix well and spread on a board well covered with flour.”

Sugar with ingredients mixed

I mixed and mixed and mixed. Nothing changed. I couldn’t see how I could possibly pour this latte-like hot sugar syrup on a board, no matter how well it was floured.  Something had gone drastically wrong. Either I had screwed up the measurements or the recipe was a bit wrong, or both. In any case, I needed a fix. So I grabbed the flour and stirred some in. And then I added more, and more…

Mixing in flour

Mixing in the flour

When the dough resembled playdough, I knew I had gone too far:

Dough

But by then it was too late. I cut out my horses:

Cutting horses from dough

I attempted some jockeys:

Cutting out jockeys

Horses with jockeys

It didn’t work, and I wondered why I ever thought they would. So I scrapped them from the vision. Feeling defeated, I put them in the oven and about 10 minutes later these came out:

Cooked horse biscuits

The hardest, toughest, crunchiest biscuits this side of Siena. Some would say they could break your teeth…

On the other hand, if you dip them in coffee or a sweet liquor, much like the more famous and better known Cantucci di Siena, they are almost ok. I did say almost…

Bibliography

  • Artusi, Pellegrino. Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003.
  • First Australian Continental Cookery Book. Melbourne: Cosmopolitan Publishing Co. Limited, 1937.
  • La Cucina Continentale. Melbourne: Cosmopolitan Publishing Co. Limited, 1937.

A recipe for Italamingtons (aka Italian lamingtons)

28 May

If it’s acceptable to put vegemite in lasagne, kangaroo on pizza, and mango in a tiramisu, then surely no one can argue the toss when it comes to turning the lamington – one of Australia’s greatest afternoon tea cakes – into an Italian.

While wide-spread Australianisation of Italian dishes is common, the reverse is not. So I took the lamington – that small square of sponge cake, dipped in a chocolate icing and rolled in desiccated coconut – and created the Italamington – a bit difficult to say, but very easy to eat…

Italian lamingtons

It was not an easy process. While I believe in culinary innovation, I am against the outright bastardisation of national dishes (see Crimes against pizza for more on this view).

So, in order to ensure the respectful renovation of the lamington, a series of discussions were convened with a variety of experts to understand the true essence of this Antipodean symbol.  Notably, these discussions included the rather helpful Gaby from Nourished Within and the rather less helpful David, former afternoon tea correspondant at the Balmain Village Voice. Wine was also involved.

After much heated debate, it was decided that a cake could still proudly hold the title of lamington if it retained its traditional shape, was made from sponge, and was dipped and rolled. All other elements – the ingredients and the method – were up for grabs.

Controversially, we also decided that while purists believe the jam and cream sometimes found in the middle of the lamington to be heresy, a filling was not just acceptable in the making of this cross-cuisine sweet but vital in communicating its new found Italianità.

The sponge cake, as the foundation, was important. I wanted it to be as Italian as possible, so instead of the typical Australian sponge, I decided to be a tosser, I mean, to be as authentic as possible, and consult Pellegrino Artusi’s 1891 Italian food bible, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. While it only asked for four ingredients , one of them was “Hungarian flour” which needed to be “dried on the fire or in the sun”.  Also, as the KitchenAid had not been invented yet, it wanted me to work “the dough for half an hour”.

That all sounded rather too authentic for my liking, so I halved the recipe for the Italian Sponge Cake in the Larousse Gastronomique, and, miracle of miracles, despite involving the separation of yolk from white and the dreaded instructions “fold carefully”, all usual indicators of epic baking failure for me, the success of the sponge seemed to imply I could actually bake. Hooray!

Italian sponge cake

After letting the sponge go stale, I sliced it through the middle horizontally, drizzled it with Frangelico and, after downing a glass or two of the afore mentioned liqueur, was inspired to fill it with a mix of crushed hazelnuts, ricotta and espresso coffee. It was then cut into small squares, dipped in Callebaut dark chocolate and coated in crushed flaked almonds.

Frangelico on cake

Making the filling

Spread filling on cake

Sandwich cake together

Sponge cut in squares

Chocolate icing

Drizzling chocolate

Roll in almonds

Single Italamington

The verdict? Well, from the mouth of Romano Cammarano, a man not known just as my father but a critic of food so fearless he makes Anton Ego  look like Marcia Hines, “this is the best things you have ever cooked. You are allowed to make it again”.

The Italamington is a triumph of Italian and Australian know-how and ingredients. Try it, and see what you think….

Italamingtons (Italian Lamingtons)

Ingredients

Sponge cake:

  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ cup plain flour
  • ½ cup corn flour
  • Butter, caster sugar and cornflour to grease and dust cake tin
  • 1 tablespoon Frangelico (optional)
  • 220 g flaked almonds, finely chopped

Icing:

  • 220 g dark couverture chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup thickened cream

Filling:

  • ¾ cup ricotta
  • 2 tablespoon thickened cream
  • 1 tablespoon hazelnuts, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon espresso coffee
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Method

For the sponge:

  1. Preheat oven to 160°C.
  2. Grease a 20x20cm cake tin and dust with a mix of caster sugar and cornflour.
  3. Beat the sugar with the vanilla and egg yolks until well combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff.
  5. Fold the egg whites into the egg yolks until just combined.
  6. In another bowl, sift the plain flour and corn flour together.
  7. Fold flour mixture carefully and quickly into the eggs.
  8. Pour mixture into prepared tin.
  9. Bake for about 40 minutes. The cake is done when it is light golden in colour and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
  10. When the cake is cool, slice through the middle and leave it to go stale (about a day).

For the icing:

  1. Put the chocolate and cream in a metal bowl.
  2. Sit the metal bowl above a saucepan of simmering water. Do not let the bowl touch the water.
  3. Stir with a metal spoon until the chocolate has melted. Leave aside to cool.

For the filling:

  1. Blend the ricotta, cream, hazelnuts, espresso coffee, sugar and vanilla in a food processor until well combined.

To assemble the Italamingtons:

  1. If using, sprinkle the Frangelico over the inside halves of both sides of the sponge.
  2. Spread one half with the filling and sandwich cake halves together.
  3. Using a serrated knife, carefully cut sponge into 25 small squares.
  4. Take one cake square, insert a skewer through the middle and rest over the top of a small bowl. Carefully drizzle the chocolate mixture over the square, using a knife to help it spread.
  5. Roll in crushed almonds and place square on wire rack to set.
  6. Repeat until finished and keep in fridge until ready to serve.

Bibliography:

  • Artusi, Pellegrino. Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003.
  • Larousse Gastronomique. Great Britain: Hamlyn, 2009. 

Helmut Newton’s perfect cheese photography

24 Oct

When I think of photographer Helmut Newton I think of fashion. More specifically, I think nudie, rudie Vogue-like fashion. Which is cool, if you like that kind of thing, but I prefer food, in particular cheese.

So I did not expect the man responsible for (potentially not workplace-friendly)  this and this to be taking photos of this:

Perfect Cheese Co Parmigiano

And yet Berlin-born Newton, who served in the Australian army and became a citizen of our fine country in 1946, is credited as the photographer of the 1955/6 Perfect Cheese Co. Silver Anniversary souvenir booklet:

Perfect Cheese Co Souvenir Booklet

You might know the Perfect Cheese Co. better as Perfect Italiano which is what it became in 1996. But, back in the 30s, way before it was part of multi-national Fonterra, the Perfect Cheese Co. was a small family-run operation started by one Natale P Italiano and his lovely wife Maria. Here they are, photographed by Newton:

Natale and Maria Italiano, Perfect Cheese CoBy the time this booklet came out, the Perfect Cheese Co. was known throughout Australia and was doing very well for itself – having increased production from 2,000 pounds in 1930 to 900,000 pounds in 1954. According to Randazzo and Cigler, the company is also credited with pioneering sheep-milk production and producing the first pecorino cheese in the country.

The souvenir booklet – which you’ll find at the State Library of Victoria  – is well worth seeking out. In both English and Italian it shows just how close the Italianos were to the Italian migrant community they primarily, but not exclusively, served. Who else would have a Catholic priest write the dedication to what is essentially a marketing exercise?

At the same time, they weren’t limited by the dairying traditions they knew from the old country. Amongst the mozzarella and the ricotta, you’ll also find fetta in brine, kasseri and grated cheese in little packets. More evidence to support the fact that success in the food industry for Italians in Australia came from adapting to a new market, not exporting food traditions wholesale.

As for Helmut Newton, who knew you could go from fetta to fashion (or pecorino to near-porn) in the span of a single lifetime…

Bibliography

  • Helmut Newton Foundation . “Biography.” Helmut Newton Foundation. <http://www.helmut-newton.com/helmut_newton/biography/> (24th October 2011).
  • Perfect Cheese Co. Perfect Cheese Co. – Silver Anniversary 1956, South Melbourne, Vic. : Freelance Press,1955.
  • Randazzo, Nino & Cigler, Michael. The Italians in Australia, Melbourne : AE Press, 1987. 

Italian or not, I heart Sirena tuna

18 Aug

Today I learnt something that probably everyone else in the entire world knows.

Sirena tuna is not and has never been Italian.

Its bright yellow and red tin, cute little fish and modest retro mermaid might all evoke 1950s Vespa-Lollobrigida Italy but the product is the invention of a canny migrant from the Veneto whose family is now worth  some $327 million, according to BRW’s rich list.

Can of Sirena Tuna

A true Italo-Australian: Sirena tuna, since 1956.

Carlo Valmorbida saw a gap in the market in 1950s Melbourne for tuna preserved in olive oil. Instead of importing it, he decided to service the increasing “continental” market by getting it made to his own Italian recipe. And so Sirena tuna was born.

Not imported from Italy like I thought, but made in Australia by Italians. Kind of like me.

According to a report by GJ Crough on the development of the Australian tuna industry (now there’s a thrilling read!), Sirena tuna was originally canned in Port Lincoln, from tuna fished off NSW. Later it came to be canned in Melbourne, which meant it was “located in the city where Sirena brand was most popular“.   Now,  like every other major  Australian brand, the tuna comes from Thailand, but it still tastes pretty damn alright.

As a kid, it was the only tuna my parents would buy. I remember it best on Fridays for school lunch. As good Catholics, it was always in my grease-paper wrapped sandwich along with fine strips of preserved eggplant.  Delicious.

Dieting made me try tuna in brine and springwater. This was a mistake. Cat vomit comes to mind.

Good sense brought me back to Sirena.  So cheers to Carlo Valmorbida, who died just last year, for being entrepreneurial enough to make it.  Below is my favourite Sirena tuna stand-by recipe – simple, but good, like all the best stuff.

Quick tuna sauce for pasta

  • Olive oil
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, squashed
  • 1 big tin of Sirena tuna
  • 2 cans of peeled diced tomatoes
  • Salt to season
  • A pinch of sugar (if it needs it)
  • Pasta to serve
  1. Heat the olive oil in a frypan over medium heat. Fry the onions and garlic till they are soft.
  2. Drain the tuna and then toss it in the pan. Break it up with a spoon and stir.
  3. Throw in the peeled tomatoes. Stir and let simmer till the sauce thickens a bit.
  4.  Season with salt, add a bit of sugar if it needs it and serve with pasta.

Bibliography

  • Crough, G.J. The Development of the Australian Tuna Industry. Sydney:Transnational Corporations Research Project University of Sydney, 1987.
  • “Families.” BRW Rich 200, May 26  June 29, 2011, pages132-143.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 214 other followers