Tag Archives: food memories

Recipe: Oma’s Gingerbread

No, I haven’t abandoned this blog!  It just turns out that if you take one choir concert, two grant applications and a bunch of grant outcomes, stir in a couple of work events and add an upcoming Shakespeare Feast, you get a recipe for me not having time to sleep, let alone blog.  When you then add in a pinch of having my mobile phone die and a rather large handful of trying to figure out how to use my new phone and find everyone’s phone numbers again… you get no blogging for a week.  You also get a really stressed out Catherine who didn’t remember until today that she has to cook 3 dozen cupcakes for a fundraiser at work tomorrow and hasn’t made dinner yet and is feeling really guilty about her blog!

So I am cheating a little with this blog, and recycling a post I wrote in my online journal a year or so ago, about my Oma’s gingerbread, and her rather idiosyncratic recipe for it…

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Recipe: Bread Pudding

This recipe comes from my Austrian grandmother, and is basically a really delicious way to use up stale bread.  As a child, this was one of my favourite foods – its spicy stodginess reminded me of Christmas pudding, and it even looked Christmassy, with the sugar sprinkled like snow over the furrows in the top of the cake.  As an adult, I look at this recipe and wonder if it was a product of the Depression or more likely of rationing.  One egg, a couple of spoonfuls of sugar, 60g of butter or margarine, and a fair bit of dried fruit, and a lot of stale bread… It does sound a lot like the sort of sweet thing you make when you don’t have much in the way of butter, sugar or eggs, and can’t afford to waste bread. 

While I will give you the recipe as it was given to me, you shouldn’t worry too much about quantities.  Nine slices of bread is a very approximate volume – a few slices more or less don’t make much difference.  You could add a dab more butter if you needed to, but you’ll probably be fine.  This recipe works with awful cotton-wool white bread or with lovely Italian sourdough bread or anything in between.  I’ve even made it with wholegrain breads and rye.  Today’s version is made with the heel ends of a couple of loaves of good farmers’ market bread (the two of us can never get through a really good loaf before it goes stale, so I freeze the bits we don’t get to for this very purpose) – one plain, the other flavoured with dried figs and fennel seed.  It’s going to be delicious.  The dried fruit I had on hand happened to be raisins, currants, mixed peel and some dried apricots – Oma mostly made it with sultanas and mixed peel.  You can make it with whatever you like – this is more an idea than a recipe, I think.  And a very good one, too.

It’s lovely served warm with icecream, or cold in lunchboxes.  We often eat it for breakfast.

Your shopping list

9 sluces stale bread with crusts on
200 g dried fruit (I usually push this up to 225-250g)
1 tbsp brown or raw sugar
2-3 tsp mixed spice (I usually put in a teaspoon each of cinnamon and ginger, and half a teaspoon each of nutmeg and cloves or allspice)
zest of half a lemon
60 g softened butter or margarine
1 egg
a little caster sugar, for sprinkling

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Recipe: Pasta Carbonara, my way

My father’s family is from the Basilicata region of Italy, and even after moving to Australia, my Nonna and Nonno would make their own sausage every year.  I think one of my great-uncles kept pigs, or maybe just one pig each year, who was the source of said sausages. I never enquired. Nonna’s sausages were big, cured, salami-like things that would hang from the garage roof or from a hook in our pantry for weeks or months without going off.  They were fairly highly spiced, I think with chilli and fennel seed, but I could be making that up, and you had to slice them thickly and cook them to render the big chunks of fat before eating them.

Pasta carbonara, in my family, was made with chunks of this sausage, and not  with ham – if there was no sausage, my mother would use ham or bacon and add paprika to the dish, because the important thing about carbonara was that it had to be spicy.  If it was not spicy, we were told, it was not proper carbonara.  We never put cream in the recipe, either – it was all held together with eggs, ideally from Nonno’s chooks.  Nonna’s sausage and mum’s carbonara were two of my favourite foods as a child, and I was terribly disappointed the first time I ordered carbonara at a restaurant and got this weird, bland, creamy thing with ham.  Not the same thing at all.

The recipe is not my mother’s, though it started there.  It has since evolved to fit the ingredients I can get, with a few ideas from Rachel Ray thrown in.  It goes without saying that my carbonara does not taste anything like the carbonara you get at restaurants, though it is clearly a related dish.

I maintain that this is the only true and authentic way to make pasta carbonara.

Your Shopping List

250g spicy soppressa or Calabrese salami, whole, not sliced
2 bunches flat-leaf parsley
150g parmesan cheese, grated (the real stuff, please)
6 cloves of garlic
1 cup white wine
4 eggs
400g pasta (penne or penne rigate are my favourite kind for this)
black pepper
3 big tomatoes
2 capsicums
lettuce or cucumber
balsamic or red wine vinegar
extra virgin olive oil

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What’s for dinner?

What do you cook on those nights when you really don’t feel like cooking?  For me, nine times out of ten it’s pasta.  Generally baked with something, though my old friend, pasta bolognese, the first dish I ever cooked by myself, also gets a fair bit of airtime. But more often it’s tuna casserole – a concoction of pasta, bechamel sauce, vegetables, and, usually, tuna.  (Sometimes the vegetables manage to outnumber everything else so much that there’s no room for the tuna, and it goes back into the cupboard, waiting for another opportunity).  If I have people coming around, I’ll grab some instant pasta sheets from the refrigerator section, and layer my vegetables and bechamel with that and a sauce made from garlic and a tin or two of tomatoes, with a few herbs thrown in.  It’s the same meal, but when you call it lasagne and serve it with bread and a salad it becomes glamorous enough for guests…

The trouble is, of course, that I did this on Monday night, and there’s a limit to how many pasta bakes one can eat in a single week.  Especially as we’re still eating our way through the lasagne leftovers.  So tonight, I’m returning to that other old faithful – sausages.  In summer, it’s sausages with bread and sautéed onions and capsicums (with fruit salad for dessert, because I feel guilty about the lack of vegetable content).  In autumn, the sausages often get thrown into a casserole with onions, celery, and grapes, and get served with a baked sweet potato.  In winter, they might become part of my Cheat’s Cassoulet, casseroled with beans, tomatoes, carrots, celery and onions, and baked for hours with breadcrumbs on top (and you can blame Diana Henry’s Cook Simple for those last two combinations).

But today is a grey, cold day, and I have red cabbage in the fridge and jerusalem artichokes and potatoes in the pantry and organic veal, pumpkin and apricot sausages from the farmer’s market.  Just contemplating these ingredients makes me feel very Eastern European, which means it’s time to relive a dish from my childhood… though not one I actually ever liked as a child.

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