Making sourdough bread and bruschetta in Mansfield

A few weekends ago we drove to Mansfield for the weekend to stay with friends Pamela and Stuart. We were there at about the same time last year and hadn’t been able to tee up another visit until now. It worked out to be perfect timing though as Pamela has been working hard in her vegetable garden so there was bounty of spring vegetables for us to prepare meals with. And the house is simply stunning, with a kitchen that is filled with light and a gorgeous view of the hills.

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Much of the weekend was spent either touring the garden or in the kitchen, with either a coffee or a glass of wine in hand – and in my case, a camera. The weekend had many highlights including an evening listening to the Flinders Quartet playing in the barrel room at Delatite Winery, a drive up to the Paps, which gave a terrific view of the countryside, seeing how much the orchard had grown from last year and listening to the buzz from the two beehives that are now on the property. Mark’s personal highlight was riding the tractor to round up the cows and then feeding them (must be a boy thing…). My favourite was making sourdough bread. Pam went to a sourdough bread-making course earlier this year and has been perfecting the art with a couple of weekly loaves for the last three months. The texture and taste of her sourdough was amazing – with a little bit of rye flour and some kibbled grains. I was most impressed by her “mother” which she feeds every Sunday and lives in the fridge – for those of you who may think this is slightly strange, the “mother” is the starter culture, made with just flour and water, that makes the bread rise. That’s right, no yeast.

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Other foodie highlights included marmalade made with Seville oranges (on sourdough toast), Pam’s home-made fruit bread, a fine tray of cheeses at Delatite winery and the abundance of broad beans (I got a whole bag of tiny podded beans to take home). I made a Sicilian Apple cake to have on Saturday night (which was a big hit with everyone – link to the recipe is here) and bruschetta (pronounce broos-ket-ah) two ways – with roasted pumpkin and goat’s feta (Pam’s recipe) and with broad bean salsa, feta and rocket. The bruschetta was on sourdough (of course) and accompanied by a glass of chilled pinot grigio from the Veneto region – it was a pretty spectacular combination.

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Pam’s “mother” is about 5 years old and is from a baker in Mansfield – and better still, she gave some to me to take back to Melbourne. So armed with my own mother, I have been reading a lot about sourdough bread making and am absolutely convinced you need the best flour you can afford. I got a 5 kg bag of organic unbleached baker’s flour from my local organic shop Wild Things Food  and am really excited about starting to make sourdough bread. As it takes several days to slow prove, I won’t be able to start it until the weekend. In the meantime, here is my adaptation of the recipes for the delightful bruschette we had for lunch on the Saturday. Although do not need to have homemade sourdough bread to make them, it would be very nice if you did! Serve with a fresh green salad and a glass of Italian Fiano.

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bruschetta with pumpkin, balsamic onions and feta

Serves 4

500g pumpkin, flesh only, cut into small cubes
1 brown onion, peeled and cut into thin slices with a mandolin
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 and 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
good quality goat’s cheese feta
12 sage leaves
50g unsalted butter
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
4 slices sourdough bread

Toss the cubed pumpkin in olive oil and salt and pepper. Place in a 189C oven for 10 -15 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender.

Whilst the pumpkin is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan on medium high, add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes, until they start to colour, stirring frequently. Add the sugar, stirring to dissolve, then the balsamic, stir well and reduce the heat. Cook for 5-7 minutes until it becomes thick. Remove from the heat and place to one side.

Place the sourdough bread in the grill and toast the bread on both sides. Place a layer of balsamic onions on each slice, then the roaated pumpkin and some crumbled feta. Place back in the griller until the feta starts to melt. Top with sage butter (see below) and serve immediately.

Whilst the bruschetta is in the oven, quickly melt the butter in a small frypan and toss in the sage leaves so they crisp up.

bruschetta with broad bean and pea salsa and feta

Serves 4

30g unsalted butter
extra virgin olive oil
2 golden shallots
150ml chicken stock
1 cup young broad beans (you can substitute frozen peas)
1/2 cup frozen peas
fresh mint leaves, finelt chopped
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
good quality goat’s cheese feta
lemon zest for serving

Melt butter in a medium frypan, add the shallots and cook on low-medium heat for about 10 minutes. Heat the chicken stock in a small saucepan and drop in your broad beans and peas, allowing them to cook for a few minutes. Place the shallots, chicken stock and cooked peas and broad beans in a small food processor and blitz. If the salsa is too thick, drizzle in some EVOO and blitz again. Add the mint leaves and salt and pepper to taste.

Place the sourdough bread in the grill and toast the bread on both sides. Spread one side with the broad bean and pea salsa, scatter on some goat’s cheese feta, top with rocket leaves, lemon zest and freshly cracked black pepper to serve.

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