July in Stephanie Alexander's kitchen garden
The onset of winter has slowed growth in Stephanie Alexander’s garden, but the lemon tree is laden, the garlic has started growing and the kale is plentiful.
This month it is truly deep, dark winter and as there’s plenty of Tuscan kale in the garden, I’ve made a big pot of minestrone.No other brassica gives the same blue-black colour, and the leaves retain some texture even after shredding and long slow cooking.
My friend Ann, who lived in Tuscany for many years, gave me her recipe for ribollita, which is a bit more complex than my standard minestrone. She cooks her beans separately, purées some of them and reserves the cooking liquid. After finishing her basic minestrone, she prepares the masterpiece – a ribollita to sing songs about! In the morning of the day she wishes to serve it, she ladles some soup into a deep pot. Next, some olive oil, then a layer of minestrone, then chunks of dry sourdough, then soup, then bread, then soup. She adds a little of the reserved bean liquid if there’s not enough liquid for the bread to absorb. And then just before dinner, she reheats it all very, very slowly, stirring from time to time. The bread will break down to a porridge and the finished dish is creamy in texture, thick with vegetables and wonderful with a good drizzle of olive oil, grated parmesan and plenty of seasoning. Ann also recommends a bottle of sangiovese.
I find I can get a pretty good result by following her advice on the layering, soaking and slow reheating using my standard minestrone recipe, which is published in The Cook’s Companion.
Growth is very slow this month. The salad leaves that have been so bountiful all through the autumn are finishing. The trees are all bare, the roses are about to be pruned, and the front border has mostly shut down for the winter. In the vegetable patch the broad beans are flowering, the beetroot and carrots are growing slowly, and the stalwart silverbeet and rainbow silverbeet are providing the only fresh greens.
Winter is the time for citrus. The lemon tree is laden again, so surprising after its serious cutback. And I have made a third batch of cumquat marmalade. The tangelo tree has many more fruit than last year now that it’s been moved to a sunnier spot. It is a dismal year for my finger lime.
The garlic plants have just started to grow through. Both broccoli and cauliflower are growing slowly. As always, my problem is lack of space. The leeks are too precious to move and too small to pick yet, and I left the capsicum probably too long in the vain hope that they would ripen. A few did. The consequence was nowhere to create an open planting space for my broccoli and cauliflower seedlings. I have dug over a fairly unpromising patch of ground underneath the clothes line, which will receive only patchy sun, and have planted them out. We shall see.
Over the last six weeks I’ve been doing a great deal of travelling, visiting most states, promoting my memoir A Cook’s Life. There have been plenty of questions about why I wanted to expose my private life and emotional responses to all and sundry, but far and away the most frequent questions related to the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation. The awareness nationwide of our program was very exciting and very encouraging. I spoke with the parents of many children who attend participating schools, and to parents who would like their school to be able to introduce a similar program. I was able to say that we are working hard on ways to make the program grow and to become more accessible, especially to schools with a high percentage of students who are disadvantaged in some way. Keep an eye on kitchengardenfoundation.org.au over the next few months as we unveil our plans.
As part of Tasting Australia I participated in a special lunch at Rymill winery in Coonawarra, South Australia, cooked by Simon Bowen of Pipers of Penola. Simon and I collaborated via email and phone. He sent lists of ingredients and I sent pictures of suggestions. Between us we achieved a great menu celebrating some good things from the region, including a salad of organic beetroot with crisp fried ginger, a sausage of local mullet studded with rock lobster, a saltbush-crusted rack of lamb and a quince tart. I also visited historic Penola and was charmed by the cottages in Petticoat Lane, built in the 1850s, and spent a pleasant half an hour watching the bees in the community garden, a riot of herbs and vegetables there for the picking.
Until next time.
PHOTOGRAPHY ARMELLE HABIB.
This article is from the July 2012 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.