‘A citrus theme!” exclaimed a recent guest. No, not a conscious theme, simply a reflection of the season. Not following a trend or a current ‘in’ recipe, just using what is at hand. And true, I’m using lemons, limes, oranges and mandarins abundantly. Lemons roughly chopped and added with herbs and garlic when slow cooking lamb; oranges in a daube of beef; with olive oil, salt and pepper the only dressing on salad; zest in trout pate with just picked wedge on the side for an additional extra zip; lime delicious pudding; mandarin jaffa ice-cream; lemon and honey ice-cream… The fruit stays on the trees for months – so only need picking as required until the fruit starts to drop. Then I’ll preserve them – quartered, layered in glass jars with cinnamon sticks, peppercorns and oodles of salt then topped up with juice and sealed. It feels like a little sacrifice, but the blossoms are the headiest of cut flowers. The sixty blood oranges on the hill are now entering their second winter – the first without frost protection. We chose this site because David’s father, Keith, claimed it to be permanently frost free. Theoretically these young trees just need some good cold to set the ‘blood’ colour before first harvest. Another 60 lemons and limes behind the chook palace got an unprogrammed hard prune when the donkeys broke in recently, but have forgiven my lack of vigilance (and perhaps proved that despite DL’s insults, donkeys poo does contain some nutrient) by flourishing as a result. Next month I’ll start on marmalade with the grapefruit, not the delicate hand cut style but the chop it in a processor and throw it in a pot with sugar type. Citrus aren’t delicate and don’t expect us to be. The recipe below is a classic standby and takes literally a few minutes if you have the chef’s secret weapon* on hand.
Simple lemon tart
6 sharp lemons 600mls cream 8 large eggs 2 cups sugar few drops vanilla extractpre baked flaky tart shell/s
Use the zest of half the lemons and the juice of all of them. Whisk with the remaining ingredients and pour into the shells. Bake at 180 degrees until set. I say sharp because the lovely Meyer lemons are too sweet to make a really good tart. They are good for drinks, cordial, dressings etc but here you want a nice old fashioned lemon like Eureka or Lisbon. Taste the mixture before pouring into the shells and adjust the balance of lemon and sugar to your own taste. * Ruth at Pasteles Bakehouse, Google it and you may never bake again, but chefs very rarely admit to it so don’t let on I let you in on it.
Everyone from Roald Dahl to the The Clash have borrowed from the old nursery rhyme that citrus season always reminds me of. Just in case it’s got you singing in your head too, here are the original words. Gay go up and gay go down, To ring the bells of London town. Oranges and lemons, Say the bells of St. Clements. Bull’s eyes and targets, Say the bells of St. Margret’s. Brickbats and tiles, Say the bells of St. Giles’. Halfpence and farthings, Say the bells of St. Martin’s. Pancakes and fritters, Say the bells of St. Peter’s. Two sticks and an apple, Say the bells of Whitechapel. Pokers and tongs, Say the bells of St. John’s. Kettles and pans, Say the bells of St. Ann’s. Old Father Baldpate, Say the slow bells of Aldgate. You owe me ten shillings, Say the bells of St. Helen’s.
I’m fixated by persimmons, I even see the colour everywhere in The Zin House; I’ve sliced them on platters, roasted them with pork belly and last week pickled them to serve with a blue cheddar from High Valley. All while providing snacks for parrots (upper branches) and Louie (lower branches). To roast them I simply cooked them alongside the pork belly and deglazed with Lowe Headstone Rose, verjuice would be yum too. Perhaps best of all they just look spectacular. I’d guess one tree has provided over 500 persimmons over the last couple of months. We have to talk many people into eating them as the reputation is of the old fashioned variety (astringent) which needs to be almost rotten to be palatable. This modern variety (non-astringent) is edible at all stages and just gets more flavour as they become riper. Beautiful, versatile in the kitchen, fruiting over a long period, good shelf life – find a spot to grow one. I know quite a big spot David Lowe….
About 2 kg persimmons, slicedseveral cloves of garlic3 or 4 small onions, quartereda couple of limes or lemons, roughly sliced500ml white wine500mls apple cider vinegar750grams sugar50 grams pickling spice20 grams peppercornsa few chillisbay leavessalt to taste Combine all but the persimmons together in a pot and bring to the boil. Add the persimmons and simmer gently for half an hour or so. If you want to intensify the liquor flavour strain it from the solids and reduce until you’re happy with the balance. Refrigerate in the poaching liquid. Serve with cheese or as an accompaniment to cold meats or charcuterie. Awesome as a side with roast pork belly.
One month in, Zin House is starting to settle into a routine, of sorts. Preparing food is the easy, comfortable part. Getting back into the hang of service, having staff and managing the detail is more daunting.
The real joy remains for me in the growing. I think cooks who also grow are the best cooks.
Jacqui has joined us one day a week and one of my immediate goals is to be able to talk her into working (hence growing) more hours. Being companionable in the garden is quite similar to the kitchen – you need to share a philosophy and a way of approaching things. I know good gardeners are ruthless gardeners (because all my ruthless good gardener friends tell me so) but that’s not for me and I love the way Jacqui saves seeds, breaks up plants and delights in rescuing the self sown. I also love the fact that she sounds like she arrived from NZ five minutes ago and says my name in the clipped Kiwi way my mother approves of.
We’re starting from very little and rely heavily on the established winery beds and growers like Paul Galletti who also brings quail eggs. This week Paul’s garlic has gone into the nectarine bins lining the car park (tradition decrees that garlic is planted after ANZAC day), along with all the winter greens that will need to be planted progressively to keep us going. Access to oodles of biodynamic compost and good mulch is a head start.
Sadly we have served the last golden hornet crab apples (sprinkled with sugar and roasted with rose to serve with pork rillette), so nice to see pomegranates. I have a small crop but those from Clearview Orchard are magnificent and that’s what I’ve used in the salad recipe pictured here.
In solidarity with my Orange friends (Orange Apple Festival just held) I made apple and hazelnut crostata ( Lesley Russell’s fabulous recipe for a free form pie, see her recipes at Orange Regional Cooking School) for dessert last weekend and served it with brown sugar and spice ice-cream. This is the first batch of ice-cream since taking delivery of our friend John Fairley’s cream (Picton Valley) and I had to text him mid custard to tell him how lovely it was to use real cream. ( A basic anglaise 100mls cream to one egg yolk, brown sugar, cinnamon sticks and vanilla bean)
The winery herb gardens pay dividends every day, a simple ravioli filled with High Valley fetta or Jannei fresh curd is bound only with a few of our eggs, seasoning, sauteed onion and a mixture of whatever herbs – usually thyme, parsley, oregano and chives. Topped with thin slices of caramelly roast pumpkin (or the pumpkin in the ravioli as per below) and sage leaves crisped in Pepe Saya butter .
I can see Louie eating pumpkins and ripping up wormwood from where I’m writing, better go.
Pumpkin Ravioli with Mudgee Fetta & Hazelnuts
(Entree for eight or main for four)
250 grams pumpkin One red onion, peeled and quartered Three or four cloves garlic Few sprigs of fresh thyme Two tablespoons olive oil Sea salt and cracked black pepper One cup of High Valley fetta (or Jannei fresh curd) 4 eggs Zest of a lemon Half a cup fresh mixed herbs One fresh chilli or to taste Gow Gee or Wonton pastry wrappers 125 grams butter 100 grams Mudgee hazelnuts Handful of fresh sage leaves
Roughly slice the pumpkin. Place in a roasting pan with the onion, thyme and garlic. Season, drizzle with olive oil and roast until cooked and caramelised.
Pulse, along with any juices from the pan, in a food processor until just combined.
Add fresh curd or fetta, 3 eggs and an extra yolk (we need the leftover white), zest herbs and chilli. Pulse again briefly.
Gow Gee pastry wrappers (available in most supermarkets) make great ravioli. Lay them out on the bench, brush lightly with beaten egg white and then place a heaped teaspoon of filling in the centre of each one. Fold in half and press firmly to ensure the seam is sealed.
Place in rapidly boiling water and remove with a slotted spoon when they rise to the surface. Use a little olive oil to avoid them sticking together.
Nut brown butter
Heat the butter in a wok add sage leaves and hazelnuts, move around gently until they change colour, but before the butter gets too brown.
Pile the ravioli in a bowl. Spoon the browned butter, sage leaves and hazelnuts over the top. Top with chopped chives and cracked pepper. Dont wait.