Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tamarillo: Tree tomato

ABOUT:  Tamarillo (Solanum betaceum) is a native to southern Brazil in the tomato Solanacea family and easy to grow in tropical and sub-tropical gardens. It is a fruit I was not familiar with until I came to Australia, but love it's fresh clean taste and versatility in cooking.   I have four plants in my suburban garden and they hardly take up any room at all, being an open and shrubby small tree that responds well to pruning after fruiting - so the fruit are easy to pick season to season - they will get to 4m if you let them.

This fruit typifies what sustainable living and cooking with abundance is all  about.  We may have to re-jig our taste buds and learn some new recipes but you surely this is better than buying out of season, tasteless, plastic boxed strawberries from a supermarket that started their journey hundred of miles away? (Browsing in my local Coles supermarket yesterday confirmed why they are economic and environmental dinosaurs and why I try to avoid shopping in them.  In this land of plenty they had a special on fresh asparagus from PERU!!)

I have found that they are happy to be ignored (I just feed them a couple of times a year) as long as you don't let them dry out or get completely waterlogged - mulch, mulch and more mulch.  They need sun for at least part of the day, but will take some semi-shade.

Because they are quite shallow rooted they are a fantastic plant to incorporate in a food hedge as they don't over compete with the plants around them for water and nutrients - just remember the mulching.

In late summer they produce a crop of ovoid fruit, either orange, purple or a yellowy colour.  The skin is never eaten and flesh scooped out to be eaten fresh or cooked.  Grazing children love to just bite the top off and squeeze the tangy, tart flesh straight into the mouth.  Oh - did I mention their amazing nutritional properties - here goes?:

TAMARILLO and NUTRITION: The tree tomato is an excellent source of antioxidants because it contains a type of flavonoid known as anthocyanins. Furthermore, and more importantly it contains the carotenoids lycopene and beta carotene (vitamin A).

Lycopene’s principle health benefit is to neutralize or inhibit oxygen derived free radicals. Free radicals are implicated in causing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.  Lycopene, along with the other carotenoids, beta-corotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, help protect and repair cells against DNA damage, thereby helping to prevent premature aging. However, of the four carotenoids, lycopene has by far the most antioxidant activity.

The group of flavonoids called anthocyanins are found in red or purple plant color pigments, known as phytochemicals.  These flavonoids are antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and they help neutralize free radicals. They can also provide health benefits against diabetes, nuerological diseases, cancer and aging.

Tamarillo is also a good source of vitamin C, as well as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, sodium and magnesium.

Poached:  I first had them this way at La Luciola Restaurant in Bali.  The pointy end of the fruit was scored with a cross so that when they were cooked it peeled back like a flower.  They were poached with star anise and served with honeyed yoghurt. (It's funny how I remember all of this but forget who I was with and when it was!)  I have served them like this many times since then, often with a sweet baked ricotta.  They are also good stewed with other fruits and berries - just scoop them out of their skin  first.

Jam:  They make a fabulous jam - either by itself or with other fruit - that sets really well beacause they are so high in pectin.

Chutneys:  I have come across various recipes for this.  As soon as all the crop is in (and we stop eating them!) I will try some and post up the recipe.

NOTE:  Click here for the link to a scrummy Tamarillo Yeast Cake recipe - an extremely versatile tea cake that I make all the time.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Recipe: Tamarillo Yeast Cake

Tamarillo Yeast Cake - February Garden Club morning tea cake

I love sweet yeasty cake and bread things like brioche, panettone and all those buns from my childhood like Chelsea buns and iced fruit fingers (a distant memory!).  They are fun and easy to make and best eaten warm from the oven.

I have adapted this delicious cake from a Stephanie Alexander recipe where she uses rhubarb instead of tamarillo - apple or plums would also be good.  The smell of it baking in the oven is enough to make you rush and put the kettle on!

300g tamarillo pulp.  Cut fruit in half and scoop out with a spoon.
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup sultanas or currants
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup sweet wine or sherry
ground cinnamon
extra brown sugar

2tsp instant dried yeast
200g plain flour (I use organic unbleached)
1/3 cup milk
pinch of salt
1tbs sugar
80g butter
1 egg

Mix tamarillo with all other ingredients except cinnamon and extra sugar and let it soak while you are making the dough.

To make the dough.  Mix yeast, flour and salt in a bowl.
Warm milk with butter and sugar until butter has just melted.  Pour into flour.
Add egg and work to a smooth dough.
Cover with a tea towel and leave in draught-free spot until doubled in size. (about 1 hour)
Knock back dough and spread on oiled tray to make a rough circle about 3cm thick.

Drain fruit mixture and spread over centre of dough.  Retain liquid it has soaked in.
Cut strips in dough every 3cm around edge and fold over fruit mixture (see photo).
Cover with clean tea towel and leave for second rising - about 30 mins.
Heat oven to 180oC then bake for approx 30 mins until golden crust has formed.
Meanwhile heat soaking liquid in a small saucepan until it is reduced and syrupy.  Pour over cake 5 mins before it has finished baking (it gives a shiny, sticky topping)
Allow to cool and sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon mixture (optional).

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Recipe: Duck Liver Pate

Being mostly a vegetarian I am always concerned about getting enough iron and B12 and with lots of busy young women around me - I am particularly concerned for them as stress and tiredness come hand in hand with their very full lives.  This pate seems to be a natural pick-me-up and everyone tells me they feel better after they have eaten it  You may have tried the French pate de foie gras from a can but it has nothing like the taste and texture of this freshly made version (although this is duck and not goose it has a very authentic flavour).

When I do eat meat though I have to know where it has come from and only eat 'organic'.  In a previous life I worked in medical research and, as a very young woman, worked for surgeons and specialists in many different fields.  I remember asking one physician if there was anything he wouldn't eat and he said "Yes, liver because it is the cesspit of the body.  I would only eat it if I had grown the animal myself or knew exactly where it had come from".  I took this on board and never ate liver again unless it was organic although it was common dish for me growing up.

I came from a family though who ate 'nose to tail' in a way that is suddenly fashionable again - for them, in post-war Britain on a very small income, it was a matter of necessity.  All of this is kind of in the blood for me - so to speak.  My maternal grandmother started her very successful catering/hospitality career by opening a 'cooked meats' shop in the front window of her terraced house in Birmingham when her husband became an invalid (he had an accident on his penny-farthing bicycle - or so the story goes!) and she had three children to bring up.  Black pudding and faggots were her speciality (Google them!).

My mother loved pigs trotters with split peas and my father brawn (a kind of pressed meat) made from a whole pigs head which he used to saw in half and then boil with herbs and spices (the eyes and teeth were truly gruesome and fortunately omitted from the finished dish). After being sawn in half the brains were reserved for breakfast, quickly sauteed in butter and served on toast - delicious.  My father was a policeman in the City of London and the meat market was on his beat and lots of 'bargains' thankfully came his way - the whole pigs head banged it's way home in a muslin bag tied to the side of his bicycle.  Other regular appearances in out diet were stuffed sheep hearts, kidneys, tripe, giblet soup, oxtail and tongue, sweetbreads and all kinds of brains.  None of which gets a regular appearance on modern family menus.

'The offal eaters' about taken in 2007 

So, when I noticed that our local organic butcher had some duck livers I remembered this pate based on an Elizabeth David recipe. ( I think he must have sold out by now as three friends who have tried this recipe have already been down there to get some livers and make their own).
NOTE: You can also use organic chicken livers just omit the juniper berries and add a few thyme leaves instead

Anyone for duck? 
250 g organic duck livers
60 g unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, finely crushed
1 tsp juniper berries or allspice berries
2 bay leaves
1 level tsp salt
shot glass of sherry
half shot glass cognac/brandy

  1. Melt butter in saucepan with bay leaves.
  2. Remove any sinews from livers and saute in butter with garlic for a few minutes.  They should still be a bit pink in the middle.
  3. Ground juniper berries with salt in mortar and pestle and add to livers.  Give a stir
  4. Cool slightly
  5. Remove bay leaves
  6. Add sherry and cognac
  7. Stick blend until smooth and paste like
  8. Chill in fridge with covering pressed over pate (or it will darken and go too hard) - it will firm up.

Serve with bread and some date and tamarind chutney (to be posted later!) and let me know what you think.

Anyone for lunch at the Cafe de France - it will probably be duck!
NOTE:  My education in food and international cuisine has been relatively recent and I kept reading, in particular, about two foods and how wonderful they were - truffles and foie gras. 
(My first truffle experience I will save for another time.)  

So there I was in Paris about six years ago, in a bistro off Avenue Bosquet in full view of the Eiffel Tower, and I saw foie gras on the menu.  Now, in my ignorance I thought I was ordering pate de foie gras - the only kind of goose liver I had eaten up till then and didn't realize that you could eat a hot (well, warm) whole one.  I was impressed that it was coming with a wild leaf salad and caramelized apples, seared in a little cognac and butter.  And then the plate arrived, and I suddenly realized that what I had ordered was the whole goose liver - and then I tasted it.  The traffic stopped, the choir sang and tears of extra special yumminess sprang to my eyes.  It was definitely one of those fantastic food moments that don't come along too often.  Maybe it was Paris, maybe the cold glass of chablis, maybe my husband in his new Parisian shirt - whatever, the magic worked.  Bon appetit!