Unfortunate advertisements in old Australian cookbooks – No. 1

7 Nov

In the 1921 edition of this book:

P.W.M.U Cookery Book of Victoria 1921

We find this:

Kiwi advertisement in PWMU Cookery Book of Victoria

Look out for more of these in this irregular new series…

Neil Perry wants to be my nonna…

24 Oct

In my email inbox this morning, I found this review, or really preview, of Neil Perry’s latest restaurant, Rosetta at Crown Casino. It contained the line:

“[Neil] Perry is auditioning to be your new nonna”

Neil Perry

Neil Perry on the cover of Good Weekend.

Nonna

My nonna (with my niece Isabella).

When I stopped laughing, I started thinking about what Neil Perry would actually have to do at his new Italian restaurant to be a serious contender for the role of my nonna.

To start, he would have to triple the size of the servings, nah quadruple. During the meal, he would have to add more food to my plate, without asking, and if I complain, he will say that I am too skinny and I need to eat. When I complain that there is too much food, he will need to bring up the war and the starving children in Africa.

He would need to ask me about my husband, if I have been cooking for him and when I am having children. Also, why haven’t I had children yet? He will not sit down and eat with me, he will be too busy getting the next course. Somehow, however, he will still have time to say that people don’t have as much respect as they used to, and that I better lock my doors properly. He will say “occhio vivo e smart”, which is nonna talk for be careful because the streets are full of murderers and thieves, at least three times.

Before the meal is over he will want to know when I am coming back and what I want to eat when I return. It goes without saying that he will not accept money for the food, and in fact, if he wants to be a real nonna he will slip me $100 and tell me to buy something special for myself. Then, even though he is 89, he will insist on washing all the dishes himself while I drink a coffee from the Moka stovetop espresso. Also, he will send me home with a week’s worth of sauce, a bunch of parsley and ten lemons from the garden, as well as a packet of coffee a comare gave him that he thinks I should have.

If, somehow, Neil Perry manages to pass the audition to become my nonna, there is one other issue – his hair. The ponytail would have to go, because nonnas don’t do ponytails, they do sets, blue rinses and finger waves. And I really can’t imagine Neil Perry going there… though if he wants to, my mum’s a hairdresser…

How the gym is like cheese…

12 Oct
Cheese

A picture of raw milk Camembert here is so much better than a pic of me doing BodyStep. Trust me.

Last night in the gym, somewhere between the three-knee repeater and that tricky turnkey step, it occurred to me that BodyStep was to pasteurised milk cheese what freestyle step was to raw milk cheese.

Well, what do you think about in the gym?

Anyway, this thought was so profound, I nearly fell off the step. Allow me to explain. BodyStep, like BodyPump, BodyCombat and a number of other made up compound words, is a standardised fitness class developed by Les Mills International, a New Zealand company, available to gym goers in 90 different countries. It means that it doesn’t matter whether I’m in Manhattan, Milan, Mexico City or right here in Melbourne, one of their 90,000 certified instructors will teach me pretty much the same class.

By taking the choreography and music of the routine out of the hands of the local instructor, the Les Mills classes are examples of globalised, homogenised products, examples of what some academic types call the McDonaldization of the world. And it has its benefits. It’s been developed and tested by experts so it’s effective and safe. Also, as a gym goer, I know exactly what I’m getting and that’s ok because, overall, I think it’s a pretty good experience, though, sometimes, it can be quite boring too. Now, to alleviate this boredom, there is some local variety, as obviously the instructors bring their own personalities to the job. For example, the woman who took my class last night barely spoke and used mime to demonstrate what she wanted us to do. It was weird, though nice not to listen to “Strong body, strong mind” and all those other stupid things they yell at you while you’re sweating away as only a pig should. Once a set routine has been in circulation for a while, the instructor is allowed to mix up the songs so they can make a new routine out of old routines, also demonstrating a certain degree of local creativity.  These local differences are like McDonald’s serving specific menu items in different places, like the Teriyaki McBurger in Japan or the Lakse wrap served in Finland.

Now, here’s the cheese bit: It’s like pasteurised milk cheese because by making cheese with pasteurised  milk you kill off not just any bad stuff, you’re also killing off much of the local flavour of the milk, what the French call the terroir. Though it should be noted that the degree to which the local flavour is destroyed by pasteurisation is much debated and contested. Still,  just as your local BodyStep instructor can’t decide the actual moves or music of your routine, your cheese is without much of the bacteria that make it “of the place”. The result is your cheese is now a standardised and safe product. Sure, just like your instructor can teach in an individual style or mix up different routines, you can introduce local variety by following different methods and producing different styles, and while this might result in a perfectly satisfying cheese, it’s not likely that such a cheese would ever surprise you with its flavours or, conversely, be really bad.

Speaking of really bad, on Tuesday I took a freestyle step class for the first time with Pierre. Dear, sweet, French Pierre, who before the class promised me it would be “tres” fun, came up with the routine all by himself. And while Pierre was a “local” instructor and therefore came up with a “local” routine, it’s worth pointing out that he is also French, and that would’ve also factored into what he came up with. Now Pierre’s class was difficult. Really difficult. Pierre himself fell off the stage at one point, eliciting gasps of concern from most of the class but, I’m ashamed to say, a gleeful smirk from me – that will teach him for putting together the world’s most convoluted step routine! Pierre’s class was just too challenging for most of the participants and it was not safe.  Kind of like a bad raw milk cheese – sure it’s made with local, individual flavour, as the milk has not been pasteurised, but it’s not safe and could result in sickness, even death. However had Pierre’s class been better, it would’ve been like the raw milk Camembert I ate in Paris earlier this year – not just safe to eat, but unexpected, exciting and hitting taste heights I had not thought possible.

While I’m on the topic, I feel Zumba, the class that urges you to “ditch the workout, join the party”, is worthy of mention. It’s interesting not so much because it’s another globalised format, but because of the way it appropriates the dances and traditions of other cultures to create a new form. In this way, it acts like a cultural translator, making it possible for an Italian-Australian woman in Melbourne to try different styles.  Nothing is sacred, one minute you’re salsa-ing like a Latin goddess with skin the colour mocha, as Ricky Martin might say, the next you’re pretending to wave away a bull, matador-style and then all of a sudden you’re jumping around like a Bollywood princess trying to look beguiling, but really looking like you just ate a really hot curry. Zumba, however, is problematic for me to think about at any great length for the simple reason that it sounds far too much like Zumbo, which reminds me of cake, something I feel drastically in need of after all this gym talk… macaron anyone?

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. 

Update: Australia’s first Italian cookbook

4 Apr

The lovely folk at SBS Radio’s Italian program have joined the appeal to help find Australia’s first Italian cookbook – La Cucina Continentale.  Carlo Oreglia interviewed me, and you can hear the interview – and me mangle the beautiful Italian language – around the 38 minute mark of this morning’s program.

Thanks both to Carlo for the interview, and the awesome James Panichi for helping me get the word out.

The quest continues…

Related links
Australia’s first Italian cookbook – MIA

Australia’s first Italian cookbook – MIA

2 Apr

Every so often you make a discovery. Something you think no one else knows. This makes you happy, so very, very happy.

Being a PhD student is a bit of a drudge most of the time. There are books to find, notes to take, references to record, forms to complete and reading, so much reading, some of it interesting, much of it leading to a lifelong hatred of anyone whose name comes prefaced by the words “French philosopher”.

But when that moment happens, the point of a new discovery, you forget about the references and the forms, you even forget that your annual salary is below the poverty line, and you think it’s all worth it. For you are now making a real contribution to your field. It’s you they are going to reference and your name they are going to struggle to spell correctly in EndNote or Mendeley (For the record: C-A-M-M-A-R-A-N-O).

This happened to me quite recently. It was good for a bit. And then it all went to shit. Here’s how it unfolded:

Working at the State Library of Victoria, I was examining a 1930s cookbook called the First Australian Continental Cookery Book. While the book says its about European cooking, there seem to be more Italian recipes than anything else, and after I read:

It is time for Australians to realise, in fact, that what one may call Mediterranean cookery has much to offer them. Italian cookery, for instance, embodies ideas, aims and methods that have not only been ripening for literally thousands of years, but have been doing so under climatic conditions far more closely resembling those of Australia than do the British.

I somehow deduced this book had to be written by an Italian. In fact, I half thought it might be my Uncle Tony. But with no author listed, I looked into the publisher – the Cosmopolitan Publishing Company – and found that the same company published a bunch of other Italian-related books. Dig just that bit deeper and guess what, the company is run by a group of Italian migrants who also published the principal fascist newspaper in Australia, Il Giornale Italiano.

This is seriously good stuff. I’m feeling pretty great about what I’ve found, and then the cake gets iced. By the same publisher, I find in the NLA’s catalogue, published in the 1930s as well, La Cucina Continentale. I think I may well have just stumbled upon Australia’s first Italian cookbook. All I have to do is go to Canberra and check it out.

La Cucina Continentale

Happy days! La Cucina Continentale in the NLA’s catalogue.

So off to the nation’s fine capital I go. When I get to the NLA, I become a member, request the book and spend 45 minutes looking at the exhibition next door while some hairy librarian type – they are always hairy – fetches it for me. I log back into the computer to check the status of the book, but see just one word – Missing. I think I stop breathing for a second. Missing. I go and tell the nice, bearded man (see, I told you they are always hairy) behind the desk. It’s the only known copy in the world, I say in not my usual calm way, and it just can’t be missing. He tells me that I am wrong – it can be missing. But, I say, no, it really can’t. Nice man gets the feeling this could go on all day so he tells me to go home and request an official investigation. This happens, and two weeks later the official investigation sends me a lovely email in which, it concludes, the book is not just missing now – it’s officially missing.

Excellent.

So now, dear reader, in a bid to save this discovery from the dustbin, I am launching an appeal to find La Cucina Continentale. If you know of it, or anything about it, I would love to hear from you. You know where to find me. Please, because I really want to be in EndNote…

La Cucina Continentale missing

Not so happy. La Cucina Continentale is now officially missing.

Bibliography:

  • Cappello, Anthony. “Italian Australians, the Church, War and Fascism in Melbourne 1919-1945.” Masters’ diss.,Victoria University of Technology, 1999.
  • Cresciani, Gianfranco. Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Italians in Australia, 1922-1945. Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1980.
  • First Australian Continental Cookery Book. Melbourne: Cosmopolitan Publishing Co. Limited, 1937.