It is already November, in full spring in Australia. I am dreaming – and eating – asparagus, the last of the artichokes and the first of the stone fruit (hooray). My weekly dinner at home planning looks something like this: home made pasta 4 times a week (usually egg free); one night of seafood, one night a fortnight of meat (usually beef and sometimes pork or lamb from local butcher Matt), one night of eggs and one night vegan; vegetarian for the rest. We have never eaten much meat and that is the one that often gets dropped back to once every three/four weeks. The seafood component is often tinned sardines but sometimes it is fresh sardines, mussels, flathead or clams.
I recently finished reading “On eating meat – the truth about its production and the ethics of it” by Matthew Evans. I enjoyed it hugely. I have loved seeing Matthew move to Tasmania and establish Fat Pig Farm (via the TV series Gourmet Farmer, which I have watched religiously). The book does not try to turn everyone to a vegan or even vegetarian diet, but it does give compelling facts about why you should consider where your food comes from, and make fully informed choices. It is well researched, unemotional and ponders the difficult questions about farming practices and cheap meat. I am certainly better informed about the Australian context of meat production. If you have been thinking about reading it, please do; I found it immersive and difficult to put down.
So thinking about our food, and eating sustainably, the dish I wanted to share with you in this post is a Pugliese classic: tiella cozze e riso. Mussels are nearly always farmed but are very sustainable; I buy the ones that are farmed in Mount Martha, less than an hours drive from my home (so there are not many food miles either). The word “tiella” comes from the earthenware dish in which you cook this one-pot layered meal of potatoes, tomatoes, rice, mussels and pecorino cheese (yes cheese and shellfish work surprisingly well together). Water and stock (from steaming open the mussels) are added to the pot, which is then placed in the oven to steam until it is perfectly cooked. This is a recipe from Adriatico, and one that I have eaten often on my travels through Puglia; it is hearty and delicious especially if you are a shellfish lover.
GASTRONOMIC TOUR OF SOUTHERN PUGLIA
So (drum roll) I am getting geared up for my tour of Puglia with Southern Visions Travel which is incredibly only 6 months away, running in the first week of May 2020. There are still a few places available; I would LOVE for you to see this stunning part of the world with me. Although we visit some of the larger and better know towns (Lecce, Ostuni, Monopoli), the visits to these are brief. Most of our time is spent in places that are off the beaten track, guided by the wonderful Giuseppe, experiencing the gastronomic delights of the Salento and its culture of olive oil, cheese, wine and seafood. The towns and experiences were chosen by me with Southern Visions Travel (who really are the Puglia experts), and based on my research trip for my second cookbook Adriatico. Please drop me a line if you have any questions at all. And if you need further inspiration, here are some blog posts I have written about the tour, and about other trips I have take to Puglia – here and here.
In other news, I have signed a contract for my third cook book (hooray), so I am very busy testing recipes and taking photos. It will be a rather personal account with lots of memories, old photos, letters and recipes from the beautiful Istrian peninsula where my father and countless generations before him were from.
WORKSHOP AT VILLA FLORETTI
On the workshop front, I ran a fun Puglia inspired workshop at glorious Villa Floretti on the Mornington Peninsula (not too far from the Mount Martha mussel farm!) last month. Richelle Marks (the lady in the centre of the photo above) has a stunning protea farm and LOVES Italy. So she opened up her beautiful home and property to a workshop. Twelve lovely ladies came along and we made two types of pasta by hand under the wisteria, and then made a spring-inspired dessert. The ladies made flower posies to take home and then we sat on the terrace eating lunch, drinking rosè and gazing over the property to the bay. It was very special. I could have stayed the whole weekend! My dear friend Monica from Su Misura Italy, who has recently bought a house on the Mornington Peninsula, very kindly helped out in the kitchen. It was a very Italian affair.
The good news is, we are doing it all again! So please join me and host Richelle Marks for a day of cooking, eating and making posies at Villa Floretti Flowers in Boneo (between Rosebud and Cape Schank). Kicking off at 10.30 am, we will be sharing some home made biscotti (made by me), before making two types of Pugliese pasta, matching sauces and a Pugliese dessert . Enjoy a walk among the 5 acres of proteas, picking flowers for your own posy before sharing a leisurely lunch (if weather permits on the terrace overlooking the garden) and a glass or two of wine. The workshop is limited to 12 people.
- WHEN: Saturday 4 April and Saturday 17 October 2020 10.30am to approx 2.30pm
- WHERE: Villa Floretti, 105 Curzon Rd, Boneo
- COST: $260
- Booking and enquiries via Richelle Marks on Richellemarks@hotmail.com or 0418599197
tiella cozze e riso - rice and mussel bake
300g short-grain rice
1 clove garlic, finely chopped or minced
1 small white or brown onion, thinly sliced
600g potatoes, peeled and sliced (3-4 mm thick)
500g ripe cherry tomatoes (or other small tomato), quartered,
50g grated pecorino cheese
3 tablespoons parsley leaves
700g mussels (about 300g mussel meat)
freshly ground pepper
extra virgin olive oil
De-beard and scrub the shells of the mussels clean . Place the cleaned mussels in a large lidded frypan with a quarter cup of wine and the garlic. Cover, turn up the heat and shake the pan occasionally. After a minute, check for open mussel shells and remove them one at a time with tongs. Cover and cook for another minute and check for more open shells. Repeat for up to 5 minutes. Discard any unopened shells. Strain the liquid that is leftover in the pan and reserve. Separate the mussel meat from the shells of those that have opened at the base of the stalk using a small sharp knife. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil on the base of a round baking dish (ideally terracotta, mine was 24cm in diameter), and place a layer of potatoes. Next place a layer of onions, then a layer of tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley, a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper, some rice, then half the mussels, making sure the opening of the mussel flesh is facing up. Then add another layer of potatoes and repeat the layers described above. Finish the tiella with a layer of potatoes on top. Fill the container with the strained cooking liquid of the mussels plus enough hot water so that it is just below that top layer of potatoes. Scatter on the cheese and bake covered (with a purpose made lid or foil) for 45 minutes. Test the potatoes with a skewer to see if they are cooked through. If they are still firm, bake for another 10 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for a further ten minutes so the top of the tiella can brown.
Rest at least half an hour before serving.