Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Visit to my Favourite Farmer's Market

Hello Everyone

After what must by now be hundreds of requests, I am going to take a deep breath and I am finally going to do this. So thankyou to all of you who have been badgering me to start a blog for the last I don’t know how many years - I think I’ve been suffering from stage fright.
I'll start small and simple with this morning's visit to the New Brighton Farmer's Market. Of all the markets that grace our little piece of paradise, this is by far my favourite. 
Behind the football oval, two minutes from the beach and a skip away from the little corner shop, are a dozen or so stalls. Each is a delight. There is home made bread - every grain you can imagine - soft brioche - plain, chocolate or lemon - and just for today, delicious olive oil rolls with caramelised onion and kalamata olives. 
I wonder over to the breakfast stall and buy slices of fried Tweed Valley Haloumi(I think the best I have ever had) from Nadina and Louise. Under a dark blue tarpaulin, cooking away like real little cheffettes, this talented ceramicist and ex model, all decked out in their black jackets and neat little cheffy hats - so sweet - boil the Haloumi first to soften it, cleanse it of its excess salt, so it is a lighter, fluffier thing than usual. Stuffed inside my oniony roll, it makes an impromptu and delicious breakfast, eaten under shelter of a battered umbrella to fend off the advancing rain.  
There is the pasta man with his trays of home made pumpkin ravioli - "one tray please" and the mushroom lady with trays of delicate oyster mushrooms, the underbelly of them like the fine filaments of some shy sea creature, dove grey and bone white and feather light.
Then I buy a tub of that haloumi I was telling you about and a thick slab of “Fresian Fog”, which turns out to be this lovely, chalky cheese with a layer of ash in the middle and a meaty, downy, skin. It’s mild and sharp and sweet and salty at the same time. I know exactly what I’m going to do with this but you’ll have to read all the way down to the end to find out.
The rain eases off as suddenly as it came, a streak of blue slices through the grey, the sun immediately strong on the back of my neck.
And then a few pleasantries in French with David, who knows a thing or two about vegetables. His aubergines are so small, you understand how they came to be called eggplants, firm and weighty, glossy as glass. A small child could wrap his whole hand around one of his diminutive capsicum and have room to spare.
I wipe one on my dress, pull off the stem, brush away the seeds and eat it in one. Sweet. Crunchy. Juicy. Wonderful.
The courgettes, I’m allowed – he’s French, so am I (sort of), but you can call them zucchini if you like - are small enough for me to know they will be sweet and buttery.  What a sumptuous Ratatouille this is going to make. I add a bunch of tomatoes “Bonne Journee” (which sounds better than “have a nice day”) and go find the garlic lady.  In goes a handful of papery skinned bulbs, streaked purple and pink, just like garlic is supposed to be and just when my basket looks like it can’t take anymore, I reach the salad and herb stand. So in goes a bunch of basil, big as a small bush, a big, beautiful bunch of watercress, a big bag of mixed leaves – there’s nothing mean or mangy about this lot. (Which is more than I can say about the pathetic little shriveled bunches of yellowed, half rotten leaves I saw in a supermarket I had no business being in, the other day, but that’s another story).
And so off I trot back to the car, somehow managing a too full basket in one hand and a small pumpkin in the other.

And miracles of miracles, it’s still only 8.30 in the morning and I have oodles of time before I have to be at the gallery and this morning I’m in the mood for a little domestic bliss – must be those Chinese herbs I’m taking, making me cheery and content (a word I’m beginning to get the hang of in my old age).

By the time I do leave there is a jar each of watercress and of basil pesto, as well as a jar of blueberry jam, made with three punnets of blueberries picked up cheaply on my way back from Lismore yesterday.

 For fun, I tear little strips of paper from my new notepad and write
“The Perfect Pesto Company” at the top of each. Then “Wondrous Watercress Pesto” on one and “ Beautiful Basil Pesto” on the other. And then I stand there and look at all three jars and I feel – well you know – content.

 One more little thing before I go onto the recipes, or cut to the chase, scroll down a bit and you’ll find them there.

So, it’s been one of those almost laughably hot days – well it’s that or you’d just weep. Sticky as.
But it’s been 10 hours since that olive roll and I’m gettin’ hungry.
So I jump right into it.

Pumpkin Ravioli with Sauteed Pumpkin, Watercress pesto and Fresian Fog

Amply Serves 2

400g or 24 pumpkin ravioli
400g pumpkin, skin removed and chopped into centimetre dice
2 tbs olive oil for roasting
4 tbs watercress pesto(see below)
4 thin slices Fresian Fog9or an ashed goat’s cheese)
Tabasco – a dash
Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the olive oil in a roasting dish and place in a hot oven – about 200C, so the oil heats right through.
Season the pumpkin dice with a little scrunched up sea salt and a dash of Tabasco and toss in the hot olive oil, so it sizzles on contact.
Roast for 15 – 20 minutes till mottled brown and tender.

Meanwhile bring a large pan (I use an old pressure cooker pan) of salted water to a big, roiling, boil and lower the ravioli into it, stirring a couple of times to make sure they’re not sticking together.

I should day that my ravioli had been frozen first, so they took a full 12 – 14 minutes to come to a place of perfect tenderness.  In fact, I even set the lid on top, just long enough to bring the water back up to boiling as quickly as possible. If your ravioli are fresh, they won’t take as long so you may need to start the pumpkin a bit sooner, and everything will all come together at the same time.
It’s up to you, but I like my pasta a tad – just a tad – on the supposed wrong side of al dente. I simply don’t like that thread of white running through – it gives me indigestion – and so I drain the pasta, the moment I think it’s gone.

I quickly but carefully fold the watercress pesto through, taking care not to break up the ravioli and a quick drizzle of olive oil, just to loosen it all up, to add slink and shine.

By this time, the pumpkin is ready, so I toss that through too, reserving some for the top of each plate.

I divide the pasta between between the two of us in some lovely deep plates, I also bought at one of the local markets, garnish with the diced pumpkin and the thinly sliced “Fresian Fog”, take a quick shot with my iphone, take to the table, feeling hot but pleased at the prettiness of it all and eat. Slowly.

I can tell you that this filled us up, right royally; we could even have added a third person to our table without feeling hard done by.

Especially since I’d also made a watercress salad, tossed through with a little olive oil, a little balsamic, and a little salt which is all it needed.

To make the watercress pesto, I simply picked a big bunch of watercress off its toughest stalks and chopped the whole lot roughly with a very sharp knife. You can of course food process this but you will bruise the leaves and hasten their oxidization.
Then I added ½ cup ground almonds and ½ cup shredded parmesan, 3 cloves garlic, chopped very, very finely(I can’t emphasise this enough), sea salt and a soupcon of freshly ground black pepper(this last optional, due to the sharp pepperiness of the watercress). Onto this I poured two thirds of a cup of extra virgin olive oil and stirred it all in.

I’d also brought a kettle to the boil and rinsed out some glass jars.
(I’m addicted to Meredith Goat’s Cheese, so I’ve always got a stash of their jars, a perfect size for the sauces and preserves I love to make and all the better now, that they come with peel off labels on the plain lids. They are used and re - used, over and over.


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