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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. 

Can Mrs Lance Rawson fix my Heston Blumenthal problem?

8 Dec

Yesterday, my copy of Heston Blumenthal at Home arrived in the mail. Study be damned! Deborah Jean Kasnitz’s Work, Gender and Health Among Southern Italian Immigrants in Melbourne wasn’t going anywhere, so, tempted by Heston’s dear face peeking into his fridge on the cover, I decided I could have a quick flick through.

Heston Blumenthal at Home book cover

Study or Heston? What would you choose?

Three hours later, after delighting in the Salted butter caramels wrapped in edible cellophane, wondering aloud if the Scallop tartare with white chocolate really worked as a flavour combination, marvelling at the regal purple colour of the Red cabbage gazpacho and wishing I could try a big scoop of that famous Bacon and egg ice cream, I had a problem.

I needed a sous vide machine, a vacuum packer, a cream whipper and a pressure cooker. And a digital probe. And maybe a refractometer too. And I needed them now. You wouldn’t send an astronaut into space without the right equipment, so how could I be expected to go boldly into the new world of scientific kitchen exploration without them? Answer: I couldn’t.

Ok, so it’s a very first world problem, but what’s a true Heston fan to do? Especially when that Heston fan is a poor PhD student? I tell you despair nearly drove me back to Work, Gender and Health Among Southern Italian Immigrants in Melbourne but, just in time, I remembered the rather prolific Mrs Lance Rawson, who wrote the 1895 classic, The Antipodean Cookery Book and Kitchen Companion. Mrs Rawson has advice for when you’re a woman and you just need something new, like a bonnet, for example:

The husband is a creature of appetite, believe me, and not to be approached upon any important matter, such as a new bonnet or a silk dress, on an empty stomach.

This is good news. Against all the odds, I actually have a husband! So if I want a water bath, all I have to do is feed him well?

Yes, says Mrs Rawson:

Man must be cooked for. He’ll do without shirt-buttons, and he’ll do without his slippers, but he will not do without his dinner, nor is he inclined to accept excuses as regards under- or over-done meals after the first week or so of the honeymoon. If there be any young girls reading these pages who are contemplating marriage in the near future, take an old wife’s advice and learn to cook, for only by feeding him well will you succeed in gaining your husband’s respect and keeping his affection.

Well, I can cook, but oh no! It might be too late:

Let me suggest to prospective brides that they should stipulate for a stove if marrying a Bushman. A man will promise anything before marriage, very little after.

Damn it, have I missed the boat? Should I have vowed “I promise to love and obey but only if you get me everything listed under Specialist kit on pages 389 to 393 of Heston Blumenthal at Home.“? I can’t believe I went with traditional vows! So stupid of me…

Or, here’s a novel idea, maybe I could work and earn my own money to buy a sous vide machine?

Nah, Mrs Rawson wouldn’t approve, and I just couldn’t let her down.

Bibliography:

  • Blumenthal, Heston. Heston Blumenthal at Home. London: Bloomsbury, 2011.
  • Rawson, Mrs Lance. The Antipodean Cookery Book and Kitchen Companion. Melbourne: George Robertson &​ Co., 1895.

Interesting food styling from 1962

1 Dec
Pacific Grill
The Pacific Grill, above, is “suitable for any meal of the day”, according to Anne Mason’s A Treasury of Australian Cooking, 1962.
Bibliography:
  • Mason, Anne. A Treasury of Australian Cooking. London: Andre Deutsch, 1962. 

An Australian food history fantasy

23 Nov

In 1770, Captain Cook claimed the east coast of Australia for England. In 1788, the First Fleet came with everything they planned to eat and grow. After an initial period of near starvation, where the white settlers ignored Aboriginal methods of gathering food, the colony eventually got off the ground. The diet of these people, for the next 170 years or so, was pretty much a meat-rich version of what they ate in England. One of the chief concerns of their diet was not taste but “softness or ease of chewing”. I guess that explains all those overcooked vegetables then.

Painting of Aborigines eating and cooking

Joseph Lycett's 19th century painting Aborigines cooking and eating beached whales, Newcastle, New South Wales. National Library of Australia - http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an2962715-s11

Now, imagine if, the Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch, who are all thought to at least have sighted Australia in the 17th century, had decided to drop anchor and establish colonies. Say the Spanish had claimed the area near Adelaide, the Dutch taken far north Queensland and the Portuguese south-east Western Australia. Imagine too, that these European settlers hadn’t written off Aborigines as people who “barely existed”, and learnt a trick or two from their traditional foodways. While we’re imagining, let’s pretend the Aborigines had cultivated crops, and had surplus to trade with these new settlers for things like cooking implements, chocolate, vanilla and other spices.

Would all of this have resulted in the development of distinct regional cuisines, a mash-up of  colonial and indigenous ingredients and cooking methods? Would we now have a canon of dishes that included paella studded with kangaroo paws and witchetty grubs, poffertjes flavoured with lemon myrtle and quandong custard tarts? Would our national dish be wombat cooked in an underground oven, covered in a chocolate sauce?

In We are what we eat: ethnic food and the making of Americans, Donna Gabaccia explains that the arrival of various colonial powers settling in different areas of the States, combining  their own foodways with those of local indigenous populations, resulted in creole cuisines. Trade and curiosity, amongst other factors, helped these creole cuisines to form and, over time, they became distinct regional cuisines. It’s a fascinating read and prompts one to imagine how food in Australia could’ve been really quite different.

But the Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese didn’t claim any part of Australia and the Aborigines didn’t have an agricultural revolution, so they had nothing to trade. As a result, we don’t have any regional cuisines – with the possible exception of the German-influenced food of the Barossa Valley – which means, according to anthropologist Sidney Mintz, we don’t have a cuisine at all.

What we do have, however, is a way of eating that combines great product (tomatoes largely excepted), a food-interested population and the influences of cuisines and people from all over the world. It might’ve taken more than 170 years to get to that point, but thank god we did get there. Which is probably just as well, because chocolate-covered wombat doesn’t sound like anything I would want to eat…  

Bibliography:

  • Bacon, Jenny. “A brief history of immigration to Australia,” In Tucker in Australia, edited by Beverley Wood. Melbourne: Hill of Content, 1977, 98-102.
  • Cahn, Audrey. “Australians in the early Twentieth Century,” In Tucker in Australia, edited by Beverley Wood. Melbourne: Hill of Content, 1977, 53-63.
  • Davey, Lois . Margaret MacPherson and F. W. Clements, “The Hungry Years: 1788-1792,” In Tucker in Australia, edited by Beverley Wood. Melbourne: Hill of Content, 1977, 24-46.
  • Gabaccia, Donna R. We are what we eat: ethnic food and the making of Americans. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.
  • Mintz, Sidney W. Tasting food, tasting freedom: excursions into eating, culture, and the past. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.
  • Shelley, Cheryl. “The original Australians – Aboriginals in the Northern Territory,” In Tucker in Australia, edited by Beverley Wood. Melbourne: Hill of Content, 1977, 19-23.

Crimes against pizza – 1. Vita Brits Pizza

2 Nov
Vita Brits Pizza

Vita Brits Pizza - A criminal act?

For too long now, the pizza – that most humble of Neapolitan inventions – has been the target of overzealous recipe writers, “creative” chefs and idiot advertising types who think it is best made with canned dough and served with teriyaki sauce, chicken, pineapple, and both fetta and cheddar cheese.

While there have been many moves to defend the pizza, mostly from Italians concerned that their culinary heritage is being destroyed, little has been done to name and shame the worst perpetrators of these horrifying and indecent acts.

Over the next few weeks, this special Lamingtons & Lasagna investigation promises to open cold cases where the rights of the pizza were trampled over, its victim impact statement never heard. Until now, that is.

While Lamingtons & Lasagna does not advocate a return to culinary luddism – where what was authentic was sometimes even deadly – the “pizzas” in this series have jumped the shark, or, as the kids these days might say, nuked the fridge, from imaginative interpretations to crimes against cuisine.

So, without further ado:

Crime number 1: Vita Brits Pizza

Accomplice: Australian Women’s Weekly

Date of crime: Wednesday 15 October 1958

Motive: There’s only so much money a company can make selling breakfast food for breakfast. But if they give you “delicious, new round-the-clock recipes” which mean you can enjoy “different and delicious luncheon or supper treats”, then they can make a lot more money.

Modus Operandi: “Butter VITA BRITS (use one or two VITA BRITS per serve) and place them on a greased oven tray. Place thin slices of cheese on each VITA BRIT. Cover this with a little well-drained tinned tomato, or peeled fresh tomato slices. Season with salt and pepper and top with another thin slice of cheese; dot with a very little butter. Bake in moderate oven about 10 minutes or until cheese has melted and slightly browned. If desired anchovies may be added (one fillet for each serve).”

Evidence: Vita Brits Pizza

Verdict: Guilty

Sentence: Never eat Vita Brits again (which is fine, because I prefer Weet-Bix anyway).

See more Crimes against pizza

Bibliography:

  • “Delicious, new round the clock recipes.” The Australian Women’s Weekly, 15 October 1958, 75.

Thoroughly modern macaroni

6 Oct

Just when you think you know how 19th Century Australians cooked their pasta, along comes a recipe that changes everything.

Before we go on, however, you have to know there was no such thing as pasta in the 1800s – it was called macaroni. And it was most commonly cooked in a sweet pudding , much like a rice pudding, in a bake of some sort, like macaroni cheese, or as an accompaniment or garnish to different meats  (ox tongue garnished with macaroni anyone?).

There were, of course, exceptions, mostly revolting-sounding ones which involved brown gravy and batter, but none are as exceptional and out of place as the recipe below:

Maccaroni Dressed with Oil.

Take two cloves of garlic, slice them very finely crosswise, and set them to boil in a gill of fine olive oil, adding during the process two or three anchovies, well washed and boned, and cut in small pieces, and a dozen or more olives, cut in two and stoned.  When the slices of garlic assume a golden color, pour the whole over 1/2lb of boiled string maccaroni (Vermicelli or Spaghetti) well drained; mix well, and serve.

It comes from Australian Town and Country Journal in 1890 and, culinarily for its time, it’s a freak.

Not only does it contain garlic and olive oil – both at least a good seventy years away from real acceptance in the mainstream Australian pantry; it doesn’t contain any kind of protein – unless you count anchovies – which I don’t;  and it mentions spaghetti – which, while not unheard of in this period, is rare. The recipe is not prefaced with it being Italian, or foreign or unusual in anyway. It’s just a normal recipe for normal housewives, unlike any others before it, and a good way ahead of any others that follow it.

Unfortunately, there’s no author given for the recipe and that is a real shame, because they should be congratulated for their foresight…  of course, this could mean the recipe was plagiarised, in which case I take the congratulations back…

Bibliography

“Maccaroni Dressed with Oil,” Australian Town and Country Journal,  26 April 1890, 34.

A recipe for ravioli…

26 Sep

For kicks these days, I spend a lot of time looking for Italian recipes in Australian cookbooks. The one below comes from the 1961 edition of the P.W.M.U. Cookery Book. It left me asking one question. Read it, and see if you can figure out what that question was:

Ravioli

1lb. rissole steak, 1 cup diced celery, 1 chopped onion, 1 dessertspoon curry powder.

Heat a dessertspoon of oil and fry onion. Add curry powder, salt and pepper. Add steak and brown a little. Add 8 oz. tin tomato soup, celery and flavourings. Cook 1 cup spaghetti and add. Serve sprinkled with grated cheese.

The question, dear readers, is why? Why on earth is this recipe titled ‘Ravioli’? If ravioli, in its broadest definition, can be described as a stuffed pasta, this recipe is just, well, stuffed…

Bibliography

  • Jenkins, Gwen, Hanna, Betty, McMillan, Muriel and Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union of Victoria P.W.M.U. cookery book (Rev., enl., redesigned and completely reset ed). Melbourne: Cheshire, 1961.