IN THE MOOD FOR ASPARAGUS

Donkeys eating what looks like a lump of wood but could possibly be a human leg.

Dear Amelia,
Here’s something interesting: a cockroach can live for nine days without its head before it starves to death.
I know this because I cleaned out my computer the other day and among all the folders with titles like “Invoices” and “CV” and “Superannuation”, I found a Word document titled “Weird Shit”.
There was a time, back when I was writing two newspaper columns and doing five breakfast-radio shows a week, that I used to collect weird shit, because basically with that sort of workload you needed all the help you could get.
Here’s some of the other stuff I’d written down:
Humans, on average, swallow eight spiders in their lifetime (this happens at night when they’re asleep).
A hundred people choke to death on ballpoint pens every year.
Donkeys kill more people annually than plane crashes.
If you’re over 50 you’re likely to have spent five years of your life standing in queues.
I spent what felt like five years in the checkout queue at Woolies yesterday but that was my own fault because I went there at half past two in the afternoon when all the mums were shopping for food before they picked their kids up from school.
Back when your Mum and Uncle Paul were little kids and broccoli was the official vegetable of Hell, Nanna often did the supermarket run at half past two in the afternoon and it brought back many happy memories watching these women fill their trolleys with vegetables that wouldn’t get eaten.
One vegetable that always gets eaten in our house these days is asparagus and seeing as it was on special I bought some.
This is how I cooked it and very nice it was too.
The recipe is from a really good book called In The Mood For Entertaining by English cook, Jo Pratt.


You’re supposed to blanch the asparagus in boiling water for a couple of minutes before you roast it but I couldn’t be bothered.
If you do boil it, make sure you pat it dry with kitchen paper before you put it in the oven.

ASPARAGUS WITH CRISPY PARMESAN AND ANCHOVY CRUMBS

Serves 2

2 anchovies, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
25g white breadcrumbs
20g butter, melted
black pepper
1 bunch of asparagus
1 tsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 200C.
Mix together the anchovies, garlic, parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, butter and a couple of grinds of black pepper.
Spread the crumbs in a small roasting pan and bake for 5 minutes or until the crumbs are just starting to crisp up.
Remove the crumbs from the roasting pan to a plate.
Put the asparagus spears in the roasting pan, pour over 1 tsp olive oil and roll the spears around in it to coat.
Sprinkle the crumbs over the top and roast for about another 10 minutes until the crumbs are golden.
This is really nice served with a piece of steak.

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OF ASPARAGUS AND TARTAN TREWS

Dear Amelia,
Your Mum tells me you’re terrified of tulle.
She discovered this when she and your Aunty Kaitlyn had to sit on your chest to get you into this pink tulle skirt.
It comes as no surprise to Nanna, this tulle phobia. I suspect it’s genetic.
When I was a little girl in the 1950s I was terrified of net petticoats, which were designed to make your skirts stick out and were the absolute pits to wear.


Here’s a picture of Nanna wearing a net petticoat under her dress when she was four years old.
It was taken in Yorkshire in 1957 when I was a flower girl at the wedding of my Aunty Cathy and Uncle John.
It’s clear from the look on my face that I want to punch someone in the throat.


Later on at the wedding reception, I got into trouble for chewing the thumb out of one of my white voile gloves.
White voile gloves on a four-year-old.
What were they thinking of for God’s sake?
Unfortunately, abusing children via the vagaries of fashion is a centuries-old tradition that continues to this day. Check out Kingston Rossdale if you don’t believe me.

Gwen Stefani’s son, Kingston Rossdale.

Unlike Kingston, Nanna was an anxious child and lived in absolute fear of being forced to wear a tartan skirt with a big safety pin in the front.


Or worse: tartan trews.

I couldn’t find any pictures of little girls from the 1950s wearing tartan trews, presumably because they all died of embarrassment before the age of 10 (except for this lady, who I suspect is either blind or doesn’t own a full-length mirror).

You are actually a very lucky girl because if, like Nanna, you had been a baby in the 1950s you would’ve looked like this.


Then later on, if your Mum was a prolific knitter like my Mum was, you would have had enough hand-knitted cardigans to cover the Lake District when they were laid end to end.


Your Mum would’ve looked like this.


Your Dad would’ve looked like this.


And Nanna would’ve looked like this.


There’s no picture of what your Grandpa would’ve looked like because, basically, he would’ve taken one look at Nanna and run away.
I found these old knitting patterns last week when I was doing some spring cleaning.
Then, because Nanna thrives on danger, she rewarded her de-cluttered, post-op self by hopping into the car a week earlier than she was supposed to and driving to the shops.
The upshot was a big bundle of asparagus, which your Grandpa and I ate two nights in a row because it was so delicious and joys-of-spring-like.
Here is one of the ways I used it.
The recipe is years old – I got it from the chef at the Red Herring restaurant in Fremantle when I was editor of The West Australian’s weekly food lift-out.
It’s great as a meal on its own if you want something light, or served with steak, schnitzel or fish if you want something more filling.
The Roma tomatoes in Woolies were crap (and $9.98 a kilo for crying out loud) so I used big vine-ripened tomatoes and quartered them.
They don’t look as pretty as Romas but that’s the price you pay for eating things out of season.

BABY SPINACH AND PANCETTA SALAD

Serves 4-6

12 slices pancetta
6 Roma tomatoes, halved
olive oil
cracked black pepper
200g baby spinach leaves
200g fresh asparagus
½ cup parmesan cheese shavings
Dressing
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup basil leaves, shredded
2 tsp brown sugar

Preheat oven to 180C.
Place the pancetta and tomatoes, cut side up, on a baking dish and sprinkle with olive oil and pepper.
Bake for 25 minutes or until the pancetta is crisp and the tomatoes are soft but still hold their shape.
Put the asparagus into a saucepan of boiling water and cook for 30 seconds. Allow them to cool.
Arrange the spinach leaves and asparagus on serving plates or a large platter.
Top with pancetta, tomatoes and parmesan cheese.
To make the dressing, combine all ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake until sugar is dissolved.
Pour over the salad.
Note: I like to crumble the pancetta over the salad because it’s so crispy it breaks up anyway.
I also leave the basil leaves whole and mix them with the spinach leaves rather than including them in the dressing.


TODDLER MASTERCHEF

Dear Amelia,
Look what Nanna got you for your second birthday next month.
As I write, it’s winging its way to Albany from the USA, courtesy of Fishpond, which had it reduced from $245 to $101 WITH FREE POSTAGE!
You love helping to cook even though you’re such a little thing. You’ll be beside yourself when you see it.


I just hope that when you’re 35 and you’re reading this blog post, you’ll look up into the ether (which, unfortunately, is where Nanna will be unless she lives to be 92) and say, “Well, Nan, that kiddy kitchen is what put me on the road to my multi-million-dollar cookbook and cooking show deal, not to mention my boutique vineyard with rich husband and unbearably chic bistro attached.”
Or whatever.
This celebrity chef obsession may not last another 33 years.
Who knows? Maybe by the time you’ve grown up, people won’t want to be foodies any more.
Maybe squash players will have made a comeback. Or people will want to be graphic designers again. Or disco dancers.
To be honest, whatever you want to do is fine by me.
But just in case foodies are here to stay, here are a few tips on how to be a ridgy-didge, card-carrying one.
First up, you mustn’t ever buy things, you must source them, and whatever you source must be called “produce”.
Quality is paramount, so everything should be be free-range, organic, seasonal and locally produced and preferably from a farmers’ market, farm-gate food stall, market gardener, orchardist, local fisherperson, enthusiastic smallholder or anywhere else you spot wall-to-wall wankers carrying string bags.
That means no garlic from Argentina and no frozen peas, even if you’ve just worked nine hours straight and are absolutely buggered.
Learn how to pronounce bruschetta. Make risotto. Shave a truffle.
Find out what sous vide means and who Cheong Liew is (clue: not an Asian toilet).
Remember: Nothing says “foodie” like a fridge full of dead dicky birds that are really difficult to source.
I’m talking about guinea fowl, partridge, snipe or even the occasional pink-eared duck.
Here is a picture of the pink-eared duck, which, according to Field and Game Australia Inc, is available for recreational hunting in Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory.


Here is a picture of what it would look like if it was cooked in orange sauce.


If you’re unfamiliar with the term dicky bird, click here.
The richly layered lyrics of this song bring back many happy childhood memories for Nanna.
I hope you enjoy them too.
Speaking of dead dicky birds, Nanna cooked the thighs of two of them the other night.
They weren’t free-range, unfortunately, because I haven’t been able to source free-range chicken thighs with skin on and bones in down here in the town that time forgot.
The recipe is Nigella Lawson’s take on a classic dish called Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic.
It uses chicken pieces instead of a whole chook and because the garlic is roasted in its skin, it’s sweet and creamy and not at all overpowering.
It’s a really lovely dish.
Grandpa and I ate it by candlelight then fell asleep in front of a recorded episode of Boardwalk Empire.
Who said romance is dead?

CHICKEN WITH 20 CLOVES OF GARLIC

Serves 2

You’ll find Nigella’s recipe for 4 people here, or in her book, Kitchen, on page 328.
For two people I halved the amount of chicken and garlic but kept the same amount of vermouth for the sauce.

First you preheat the oven to 180C and find a casserole dish that takes 4 skin-on, bones-in chicken thighs in one layer.
It needs to have a lid and be suitable for use on top of the stove as well as in the oven.
Next, finely slice three spring onions, strip the leaves from two sprigs of thyme and separate 20 cloves from a couple of bulbs of garlic (but don’t peel them).
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil over high heat in the casserole dish and cook the chicken thighs on the skin side only until they’re brown.
Remove them to a bowl, lower the heat a little and fry the spring onions and thyme leaves for a couple of minutes.
Chuck in 10 garlic cloves, put the chicken thighs on top (skin-side up), then top these with the other 10 garlic cloves and two whole sprigs of thyme.
Pour 30ml of vermouth or white wine into the pan (I used vermouth) and any chicken juices from the bowl.
Season with salt and pepper, cover with a lid and cook in the oven for 1½ hours.
I served this with mash and some Torbay asparagus that your Grandpa sourced at the local farmers’ market.
It was the first of the season. Wonderful stuff.