Tomato Soup……pretty sure it isn’t Italian

Winter is starting to lick the heels of Autumn, any day now we will loose the warm days and be struck down with blowing cold winds and snow capped mountains in the distance. We have had a few days where I’ve managed to drag the wooly coat out and walk down the hill but you know it’s not really winter when you are finally at the bottom of the hill and you’ve stripped off down to your knickers because you are boiling hot. I don’t know how the Italians do it? I see them wrapped in scarves, thrice round their necks; big thick coats and long boots all walking along like they have just stepped out of the salon and here is me in a long sleeve top under my coat (minus scarf, boots & gloves) and I’m boiling from the inside out!

Despite my coat being just a bit too hot for me right now I am cooking winter warmers. My family loves soup and I have made quite a bit of the Tuscan variety, however, I am getting cries from the boys regarding their favourites- pumpkin soup and tomato soup. I’d love to make pumpkin soup, however, I am lacking in the blender department and I’m not one for chunky pumpkin soup so tomato it was.

Shelly went on a trip with a friend of hers to Umbria last week and I was lucky enough to score some delicious sweet cipolle which are a real treat.


I knew they would be perfect for my tomato soup, slowly sauteed with garlic, olive oil and sea salt for ultimate flavour. I have a new found love in the kitchen at the moment and it is Sicilian grey sea salt. The flavour is very soft, light and compliments the cooking process beautifully. I love to saute my onions with more olive oil than I usually would use and a good size teaspoon of this salt. It sets the flavour base for many a yummy meal and allows me to adjust the seasoning throughout instead of right at the end, which I am noticing is a very Tuscan way to cook.


Tomato soup would have to be the simplest of all the soups, every time I make it I wonder if I have done it correctly because it is pretty much over before I start. Once I have the onions and garlic soft and breaking apart slightly I then add a bottle of passata (smooth tomato sauce with no additives) and two tins of whole peeled tomatoes, roughly diced. Once they are added and brought to a boil, I reduce the temperature to a simmer, add a teaspoon of pepper, tablespoon wine vinegar (red or white), 1/2 cup water and then simmer for about 30 minutes.


Just before I’m about to serve I’ll add a dash of cream, check the seasoning and then if I’m after a bit more of a treat, I’ll serve it with pesto parmesan bread. A lunch fit for a king…….or at the least two very hungry school boys!


I know it isn’t typical Italian cuisine but I am wondering if I could serve this to the locals and get away with it?


Pumpkin and bean agrodolce

I’m a big fan of sweet and sour flavours and I don’t just mean the Asian kind. Granted sweet and sour pork is a big family favourite and couldn’t be simpler to make, however, I am talking of the Italian variety. Mario Batali, a fantastic NY chef who lives and breathes Italian cuisine first introduced me to pumpkin agrodolce a few years ago in his book Babbo (A restaurant I am hankering to get to one of these days!!). I cannot remember exactly what his recipe state but I plucked around in my memory and worked with what I had.

My good friend Sue gave me a bag of whole dried chillies from her mother-in-laws chilli bush the other day and I was really wanting to try them out (they are delicious BTW Sue!) So I decided to make a chilli pumpkin side dish to go with the roast beef I was making for dinner. The boys swear and declare they HATE pumpkin and the only way they will eat it is in soup form and then it is declared their favourite soup, go figure!? I decided I wouldn’t waste the pumpkin on them, however, when I came to preparing dinner in my pretend kitchen I discovered I didn’t actually have enough pots and pans for my dinner proposal and needed to re-think the whole meal. In the end I came up with an agrodolce sauce that is dead simple, tastes absolutely delicious on the night, cold the next day on crunchy toast or as part of an antipasti platter so really everyone should know how to make this very easy, yet tasty sauce.

You can use any type of bean for this dish, I just happen to have these lovely big flat beans hanging around in the fridge which I top and tailed and cut in half, I then cut the skin off the pumpkin and cut it into chunky pieces because they need to hold their shape for about 30 minutes of cooking time. 


So to start, chop up an onion and about three small cloves of garlic, nice and thin. Heat up a medium saucepan on LOW-MED temp with a good glug of olive oil- the olive oil is going to help make the sauce thick and tasty so if you only put a drizzle in your saucepan then it won’t carry the flavour around as well, plus it’s not like your eating it all yourself so do not feel guilty!

When the oil is warm add onion only and saute for about 5 min on low heat, then add garlic and saute for another minute. Add a tin of whole tomatoes and chop with your spoon to break the tomatoes up then add about a teaspoon of salt and bring to the boil. Add cut-up pumpkin and whole chillies, stirring to combine. When the pumpkin is coated add about a tablespoon of honey and 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, stir to combine then bring to a boil (if not already).


Add your beans, coat with sauce then place a lid on top and gently simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring once or twice so it doesn’t stick to the pot. You may want to adjust your vinegar and honey depending on how you like it.

The beautiful thing about using whole dried chillies is they only flavour the dish with a hint of warmth, yet when you serve yourself the chilli for dinner you get the heat burst- perfect for a family meal!


The sweet and sour flavours meld beautifully with a traditional roast meal and I know it also works well with snapper (fish) salmon and pork. You can also use the same cooking method and add ginger with the garlic to turn it up a notch and this is especially yummy with white fish. 

The best part about this sauce is it so yummy the kids can’t resist it. Of course they rolled their eye when they saw the pumpkin but lo and behold every bit of pumpkin and bean was devoured so I think it must be a winner.

Don’t be afraid of the fat

I’ve been wanting to post about these sausages for a while but I thought I had better try them out a few different ways to make sure they are as good as I first thought they were.

I love a good sausage, and I also know there are many of you out there who despise them and think they are only scrapings from the floor put into casings; but let me tell you, when you come across ones with fantastic flavour and texture they are pretty hard to beat. Sausages thrown on the barbie, totally fine and smokey; put them with mash on a cool night, completely satisfying, or doing as I do with these Toscana sausages and taking them out of their casings and cook them up with veggies is an absolute favourite with the whole family!


These bad boys are full of flavour and also full of fat, I mean just check out that photo!!

However, don’t be afraid of the fat, I mean you don’t have to eat it all but you do want some of it to add maximum flavour to your meal. As I said before, I usually take them out of their casing and brown the sausage in pieces then add onions and vegetables and a tin of tomatoes and a splash of red wine vinegar. Turn the temperature down low and let all the flavours meld together. When doing it this way you have ample opportunity to drain off quite a lot of fat and still be rewarded with the flavour. For the sausage and zucchini dish below I drained off about 1/4 cup of fat. As much as I love sausages I don’t like the feeling of oily lips when you have eaten something swimming in the stuff so draining off the oil before you add your vegetables is the perfect way to eat them.


Another reason why Tuscan sausages rock is the speed in which it takes to knock them into a really tasty dinner. They are perfect for busy families and also a great way to get more vegetables into the families diet. As you can see I didn’t hide the zucchini (because they taste so good all soaked up in the juices), however, the boys HATE zucchini but LOVE sausages. It’s a part of life in this family that you need to eat your veggies and instead of serving it all separately (so the boys can pick out what they want to eat) I make a great big saucy dish so some of those terrible, disgusting zucchini work their way into the mouths of the young! You can say that is a horrible thing to do (can’t possibly think why you would?) but I did the same thing with peas, beans and tomato and guess what? beans and tomato are now loved by all while peas are still the most awful things Max can think of…. along with brussel sprouts of course!

For the dish above I added lemon juice instead of red wine vinegar; it was a hot summers night and I thought the zing of lemon cutting through the pork and tomato would work really well which it did and it also blended beautifully with the chilli flakes Nic and I sprinkled on top of ours. The dish below, however, was cooked in the exact same method but I did use the red wine vinegar and reduced the sauce further for a yummy, deeper flavour (I think it was a little cooler…like 31 degrees!). Nic makes rocking good mash potato so he kindly whipped those up and there you have it, another dinner cooked exactly the same way but tweaking a few ingredients and changing the side of carb to make it a totally different meal (mash also helps the zucchini go down so I’m told!)


Ok so for my last Tuscan sausage dish I decided to cook it a little differently just for an experiment and to use up the left over veggies. I absolutely LOVE cavallo nero and it is young, fresh and in season here right now so I am wanting to eat it with everything.

The boys on the other hand really do not like it, I think it has something to do with the bitterness which is one of the reasons I do really like it. I served it one night and cooked it the way I usually do with ginger, garlic, tomatoes and lemon and served it with lots of couscous but it really wasn’t well received which is fine but I still had a few bits left and I thought if I sauteed it with the sausages whole then they would be coated in all that yummy flavour…or was that fat??


Let me just warn you, this smells sooo good when you are frying it all together, sausages and onions are just made for each other! The greens, like collard greens and silver beet love to be cooked and can take a lot of heat and that is why I decided to put them in first. Once they were coloured and smelling delicious I threw in mushrooms and capsicum and then let it saute down for a good 15-18 minutes on medium to low heat, tossing occasionally.


After about 15 minutes everything was getting a beautiful caramilized coating and looking really delicious but I did get a bit concerned about all that fat as I didn’t drain any off. In fact it got to the point when I couldn’t leave it so I drained off the excess (which was about 3 tablespoons).

Before serving it over a bed of couscous and rocket, I cut the sausage into slices and threw in a tablespoon left of the pesto (it really was a throw together dinner)I had in the fridge just to give it a lovely parmesan, basil finish.


The end result I have to say was really, really tasty and the boys loved it which also makes me think maybe I will stick to my original method of cooking sausages so I can drain off more fat before adding the veggies, as there was very little complaint about their most hated vegetable thrown into the mix…….plus I’d feel better about eating my gelato afterwards!

Note: If you can’t get Italian sausages where you are then beef or pork (esp. with fennel) will also work, just make sure they are a little better than the store brand variety as I can only wonder what they have in them.

Blackberry foraging

ImageMost afternoons I am hankering to get out of the house, especially on the weekends.  Nic understands this as I have never been one to sit around on the couch relaxing; I seem to have an inability to rest, relax and chill out on a regular basis which can be good and bad depending on who you’re talking too. The boys think it is outrageous that I suggest afternoon strolls in the countryside, what a horrible mother I am!

Every time I go for a run I pass bushes and bushes of blackberries, and the boys are quite fascinated with all the wild berries growing along the side of the road. Nic tells them not to pick them off the bushes and just eat them (they could be sprayed or a dog could of sprayed wee on them- this I would actually like to see as the dog would have to be in a pretty precarious position to even attempt getting close to the blackberries that are at least a meter off the ground…..but hey, thats just me!)

I, on the other hand say pick away, I have always thought that if any fruit is hanging over on public ground then it is free to all who walk past. Our Greek neighbour when I was growing up in the NT did not agree with this train of thought and was always shouting at us kids for picking his guava when plump and bursting with ripeness (I guess that was one of the downfalls of living next to a park where all the local kids used to play). Personally I think he loved us picking them just so he could have something to carry on about….it still makes me smile.

There was a lovely breeze yesterday afternoon and we’d played at least 10 games of Uno so I suggested we go foraging for blackberries to stretch our legs and get outside for a while. NO was the first reaction from the boys, followed closely by slumping the shoulders forward, dropping the bottom lip and commencing to carry on a treat about leaving the house. Blah,blah,blah. I knew they would actually enjoy it once we started picking so I told them to put a cork in it, get their shoes on and get out the door! I don’t think Alex really minds getting out and about, but when his brother puts on such a performance I think he feels a little compelled to join in!

With Max storming ahead we started looking at potential pickings. We haven’t had much rain and the sun has been intense so a lot of the blackberries were dried out and shrivelled, which is sad. We walked on a little more to the spot I had in mind and we were in luck. Max even started to pick a few and I’d even go as far as seeing a smile creep onto his face when he came across a good branch.


Alex on the other hand was super-excited and wanted to pick every one he saw, I like the enthusiasm; however, after explaining the difference in taste between the red ones and black ones he soon started looking for the big fat black ones. I get a little excited when I start picking and can’t stand it when I see a bunch of juicy blackberries just a few inches out of reach. I’ll get on the tips of my toes to go that extra mile and usually ending up with nothing but thorns in my legs and hands.

Blackberrys   I was hoping for 6 cups of blackberries as I could make a blackberry pie, just like the one I was reading about in my Saveur magazine, however, we only ended up with a cup and a half. Not to worry, I got the boys out of the house, managed to get Max to spend some family time with us and lose the scowl. Plus we had yummy, fresh blackberries to eat with our gelato — what’s there to hate about that?