This weekend is a busy one for the Casa della Catherine, with lunch for my mother-in-law’s birthday today, Catholic choir tomorrow, and… well, actually, that isn’t so much, but it does start to look like a lot when one is determined to shoe-horn a market visit in there somewhere. Sending Andrew off to the market is all very well, but he really doesn’t enjoy it the way I do, and while the surprise factor of what he might have bought is always fun, he is distressingly sensible, even frugal, in his vegetable purchases.
(this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, actually. Excessive enthusiasm is all very well for me, since I usually have at least some idea about what I might cook, but if Andrew suddenly developed a yen for, say, bitter melon and daikon radish, that might be a problem if I were not in an adventurous mood, culinarily speaking).
Anyway, we were left with the choice of a fairly local market first thing this morning, or a market in the Middle Park area even more first thing tomorrow. A survey of the Victorian Farmers’ Market Association website showed that there was nothing doing tomorrow in a useful location, and our closest market today was Fairfield, a market we have not previously visited, unless you count me being totally muddled and confusing it with Preston farmers’ market. I don’t think you should count that, though, because they are quite different markets…
Fairfield turns out to be another really good market (I know you probably think that I find all the markets really good, but honestly, I’ve been to a couple of disappointing ones in my pre-food blog days, so it can happen), though a bit further away than I thought it would be, mostly on account of it still not being the Preston farmers’ market. Which is in Preston, not Fairfield, in case you were confused.
It’s the sort of market I would have liked to visit on a day that wasn’t the day after I paid my winter gas bill, because there were so many gorgeous and luxurious stalls that we couldn’t justify at all – a truly beautiful tart and pie stall, the truffle man again, a woman selling home-made (and exceptionally good) pastry dough and shortbread, several bakeries, a proper milk, cream and yoghurt stall, and at least two other cheese stalls, not to mention several butchers, an egg stall, and an assortment of fruit and veg stalls, including one womanned by Rita’s daughter, who probably thinks we are stalking her.
Oh, and also, she says innocently, just as if she hadn’t been stalking Dr Marty’s Crumpets for weeks, trying to work out why she keeps missing him at Coburg, yes, also, there was a crumpet stall. So we bought crumpets.
The aforementioned birthday lunch was actually hosted by me, and my brief had been a light lunch, of things like bread, cheese, dips and salads. Did I mention that it was freezing cold and pouring with rain today? So the other main purpose of this visit was to try to figure out what on earth to make for lunch that would fit the birthday girl’s request, but would actually be somewhat warming, too. We started the easy way, at the dip stall, where we found a delicately green herbed tahini dip, a beetroot dip with Dukkah and a sort of spicy tomatoey capsicumy thing that I can’t describe very well. Dips were officially sorted.
About two stalls down from Dips was Bread, where we hesitated over rye sourdough and pumpernickel, but eventually bought a plain sourdough, and a beautiful apricot, honey and walnut sourdough, which we were informed would be excellent with cheese.
The cheese stall, next door, was the lovely French-style one, so I quickly picked up stinky Raclette (which I do adore), a reddish-rind blue cheese called Old Mountain Woman, and a soft curd cheese. Delicious – and bread, cheese and dips were now officially sorted.
This still left salads and other foods unresolved. I sort of wanted to go wholly vegetarian, because my brother and sister in law don’t eat meat, and because I don’t have a good source of lunch-ish meats that are ethically raised. My Green Kitchen App (which is hands-down the best $4.99 I’ve spent this year) has a recipe for herbed pistachio felafel which I’ve been eager to try, and right before me was the most gorgeous stall full of bunches of herbs of every kind – mint, parsley, sorrell, watercress, rosemary, bay, and so much more. I collected mint, coriander and parsley, and then crossed to the stall across the way for pistachios.
The stall three along had a sign up “Strawberries – picked yesterday!”. This was a slightly alarming notion, given the time of year, but apparently they have a greenhouse, and with the weird weather we’ve been having, the strawberries just keep on growing, and growing, and growing. But the stallholder is fairly certain that these really will be the last. I make a rather lovely salad featuring strawberries and fennel, so this was an easy choice.
The fennel, of course, came from Rita’s daughter, along with a gloriously purple cauliflower (which is going to get served with stinky Raclette sauce and sourdough toast tomorrow night, oh yum), lots of sprouting broccoli and a big wedge of pumpkin. Because I wanted something else hot, and roast pumpkin is simply glorious when baked into a tart. Ideally with stinky Raclette cheese (I’m really making the most of this cheese).
(Lest you think I am abusing the Raclette, I assure you, I’m not. I absolutely adore the stuff. However, as my Swiss colleagues and I discovered last year, melting Raclette may smell wonderful at close quarters, but it has the power to stink out three floors of a not exactly small medical research institute with the aroma of feral socks on the rampage. I have no idea how it does this, but it was pretty entertaining.)
I did want to make another Green Kitchen recipe, a salad of Brussels sprouts and kale with tahini dressing and oranges and pomegranates, but while all these things were in season, the specimens at the market were a little disappointing. I ended up getting them at the greengrocer after I got home. It’s a fascinating salad, incidentally – you use the Brussels sprouts and kale raw, but massage the dressing into them until they soften up and absorb the citrus and tahini and honey. Strange, but good.
This left me with very little money, so we decided to splurge the last of it on a blackberry crumble pie. Totally unjustifiable, but clearly delicious…
Besides, I might have needed the blackberry crumble if the birthday cake hadn’t worked out. It would have been terrible if we hadn’t had enough dessert (because 84 chocolate lollipops from yesterday’s class clearly and obviously do not count as dessert in any sensible accounting).
Fortunately, the cake worked out just fine. All the more blackberry crumble for us! And lunch was delicious. In fact, I was a little surprised at just how excited people got about it, because I really had not done much – just made two salads, a tart and felafels, and bought a lot of beautiful produce.
But that, of course, is why we buy this sort of produce. You really don’t have to do much to make it spectacular.
And then there will be blackberry crumble for dessert. Unless we go for cheesecake. Or strawberries. Or, dare I say it, chocolate lollipops. It’s a hard life we live here in the Casa Della Catherine…
Two years ago: Tropical Chocolate and Amaranth Cake