We’re into the last official month of summer here in Melbourne and we’ve been told to expect a very warm end to the season. That’s not unusual; it’s just that this summer has been un-seasonally mild, yet irritatingly dry (if you are trying to grow tomatoes).
As with summer, so with the supply of some of the season’s fruit and vegetables. So, over the second half of last week, we got busy making cakes, condiments and meals that incorporate summer goodies while they are still available in peak condition.
We began with some blood plums grown by our friendly neighbours in the garden of their holiday-home at Dromana, on the Mornington Peninsula. I have made this cake once or twice each plum season for most of the last 15 years, using a barely-modified recipe by Stephanie Alexander. Her recipe goes into a 28cm round spring-form tin; I bake half as much in a 20cm tin, as it is easier to achieve even cooking in a domestic oven. The fresh pieces of plum help keep the cake moist for several days and it lends itself to being gently warmed and served as dessert with a dollop of cream. We have entered into a long-term barter-trade deal with Janet & Gary!
A couple of days later, we headed off to our favourite farmers’ market at Collingwood, only to discover we were one week early! Serves us right for skipping that one for a few months. Anyway, finding ourselves in the inner-suburbs, we got back into our car and headed towards Lygon St, Carlton, the home of Donati’s, one of our city’s finest Italian butchers (they also have fine Italian opera playing in the shop). For the modest sum of $25, we walked out with two quail, one spatchcock, four thick rashers of irresistible bacon and some of the first veal escalopes of the new year.
Next, to an actually-open farmers’ market we had spotted a short distance away, where we picked up some lovely fresh produce, including aromatic strawberries, some of the last peaches of the season and some apples that would go well in a waldorf salad. It was not yet 9am on a Saturday, so we took the opportunity of a fuss-free drive through the centre of Melbourne, then down the tree lined expanses of St Kilda Road before arriving at Toscano’s to tick the rest of the boxes on our shopping list.
The headline acts of our haul from Toascano’s were a large bag of ripe red saucing tomatoes and a kilo of ripe black figs @ $8/kg. We are very fond of figs but the early-season price of around $40/kg is beyond the limits of our devotion.
Most of the figs were destined for our annual batch of fig and ginger jam, but I put one aside for an idea that had taken root in the back of my mind earlier in the day and then developed further at the prospect of roasting the spatchcock for dinner. We had some baby beetroots nesting in the crisper and I thought we could do something special with them.
I covered the raw, unpeeled beetroot with water in a saucepan, brought it to the boil and let it simmer for 27 minutes; this was enough time to cook the beetroot evenly to al dente tenderness. Meanwhile, I scanned the ‘what goes with’ list in the beetroot section of The Cook’s Companion and tossed some ideas around with Maggie. Once cooked, the beetroot were placed in some cold water, peeled by hand and chopped into chunks. Then we tossed them with some Dijon mustard, a little honey and some pieces of walnut that I had toasted and rubbed. We placed this mixture in the base of a small foil roasting dish and covered it with a layer of breadcrumbs to which we had added some olive oil, seasoning and chopped fresh parsley and chives. And then came the fig – sliced crosswise and laid on top of the breadcrumbs.
The beetroot was roasted in the Weber alongside the spatchcock, which was simply flavoured with a herb and garlic butter. By the time Maggie was plating up our dinner, we were too hungry to take any photos; the one below is of a dish of leftovers in which you might just discern a slice of the fig at right-centre. All the flavours and textures worked deliciously together, including the sweetness of the figs and the beetroot. If the fig season lasts a little longer, we will make this again. Probably twice!
Come Sunday, we were ready to play preserving with peaches and figs. Fig and ginger jam is our favourite topping on the toast we enjoy on weekend mornings, when we make a pot of black Irish Breakfast tea and read the newspaper in bed. If you look closely at the label on the jar, you will see that we call it FAGJIM; this is an acronym for ‘fig and ginger jam I made’. FIGJAM is another species of acronym altogether!
900g ripe black figs
¾ cup orange juice
¼ cup lemon juice
2 tbsp sweet sherry
810g sugar (50:50 raw and white)
80g fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- Cut stems off figs and chop the figs coarsely.
- Place the figs in a large pan with the orange juice, lemon juice and sherry. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the figs are tender (about 10 minutes).
- Meanwhile, warm the sugar gently in an oven. (This is not a critical step, especially in warm weather, but it does speed up the cooking process.)
- Add the sugar and ginger to the pan and stir over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and boil rapidly, uncovered, until a little spoon of jam jells on a chilled saucer, approximately 25 minutes.
- Pour into sterilised jars and seal.
After a bath, the jam pan was ready for Maggie to make a batch of spicy peach chutney, one of two condiments we serve with pork that has been roasted or grilled. (The other is a chutney made with pear and ginger.)
310ml white wine vinegar
1kg just-ripe, freestone yellow peaches, halved and chopped
1 green apple, peeled, cored and chopped
½ cup (95g) dried peaches, chopped
2 tsp ground ginger
4 green cardamom pods and 1 cinnamon stick, secured in muslin
<¼ tsp dried chilli flakes
2 cups (400g) brown sugar
- Place all ingredients, except the sugar, in a large saucepan and bring to the boil.
- Reduce heat to maintain a busy simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes (the peach should be tender).
- Add the sugar, stir until dissolved and simmer for a further 40 minutes or until the mixture thickens.
- Use a clean cream jug or similar to decant the relish into warm, sterile glass jars. Seal immediately.
- When the jars are cool enough to handle, transfer them to a fridge for long-term storage (18 months or longer).
One of the remaining peaches was cut into segments and tossed with some fresh raspberries and a generous glug of our homemade limoncello. No, we don’t own a still, we begin with store-bought vodka. The farmers’ market strawberries were set aside for one last dish of Strawberries Romanoff – there are still plenty of berries available but we have reached our quota of mascarpone for this season!
Finally, Maggie cooked some of the ripe tomatoes down and set some of the rich sauce aside to be used when we made veal parmigiana for the evening meal. Phew!
As for the quail, that’s an interesting story for another day.