Wholefood Cooking

Category: Late Summer

Low Sugar Jam

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I’m thinking jam. Tis the season with the berries and stone fruits harvesting.

We have become very accustomed to fruits available all the year round, but you will find they have nowhere near the same level of flavour. Fruits are fleeting, lasting only a few weeks, but there is a way to capture that moment — jam. But not jam as you might know it, but a spoonful of deliciousness that tastes like the fruit it is, with just enough sweetness to bring out it’s full flavour. A snapshot of the season in a jar. Now I am often asked can you make jam with something other than sugar, or less sugar and the answer is complex, and included below. So here it all is – as Wholefood Baking is currently out of print, I’ve put the recipe here for you. I promise you that once you know the hows, it’s very easy. But there are rules….

The only fruit to use is that which is ripe, preferably organic and in season. Fruits such as this are bursting with natural sweetness, colour with enormous complexity and luscious flavour. The jam (it’s a universal recipe) here relies less on sugar, and more so on technique to capture the true complexity and glory of fruit flavour — it is a snapshot of the fruit at its best and the season. Jams are very easy to make, and will store in the pantry for up to one year. On a cold winter’s day, when you take that batch of scones out of the oven, you will thank yourself for your stash of homemade jams and the colour and taste of summer will lift your spirits.

Technically, the object of preserving is to slow down the process of decay. Food spoils from the continued activity of natural enzymes in all fruits and vegetables and the continued work of microorganisms in the form of moulds, yeasts and bacteria present in the food and air.

SUGAR, PECTIN AND ACID

Jam relies on sugar to saturate the natural moisture of the fruit and thus preserve it. I am often asked if something other than sugar can be used to make jam — the answer is complex. Many of the sugar-free jams you see are made with white grape juice concentrate, use pectin and have been processed in a boiling-water bath. Because there is not enough sucrose to saturate the fruit and preserve it (and this is true of many other non-sucrose based sweeteners, such as stevia, agave and brown rice syrup), the boiling-water bath is the preserving method. I prefer to use one of the semi-refined organic raw sugars (not rapadura, which is too low in sucrose and too strong in flavour)( I like to use the Billingtons Golden Castor Sugar)  in the smallest possible amount, this allows the glorious flavour of the fruit to shine through.  Most jam recipes call for equal quantities of sugar to fruit by weight. You need about 60–70 per cent sugar for good gelling to occur naturally (sugar, pectin, acidity). I find this way too much sugar and prefer a ratio of 20–40 per cent sugar to fruit, but this will vary with the fruit — tart fruit will require more, and sweet fruit will require less. Because the holy trinity of sugar, pectin and acid is disrupted, this will result in a softer ‘set’, which I happen to prefer.

Pectin is a carbohydrate that helps to ‘set’ jam. It is particularly concentrated in the skins and cores of fruit. The conversion of the pre-curser substances to pectin occurs naturally during ripening but can also be forced by long cooking, as in the traditional methods of making jam without added pectin. Fruits vary in how much pectin, or pectin pre-cursers, they contain. Pectin produces structure and a kind of stiffness in jam by forming a water-holding network within the crushed fruit. Before gelling starts, individual molecules of pectin are surrounded and isolated from each other by water molecules. If the surrounding solution is acidic enough, the pectin loses some of its attraction for these isolating water molecules. Sour fruit will normally provide enough acid to take care of this step. If the acid content of the fruit is low, lemon juice can be added to make the fruit mixture more acidic. Once the pectin has loosened its hold on the water molecules, something more attractive must pull the water away from the pectin — this is the role of sugar. With its water stripped away, pectin opens out into a structure that links readily with other pectin molecules to form a three- dimensional network — a gel.

 

Fruits with high natural pectin and acid content include:  blackberries + crab apples + cranberries + plums+ quinces+ sour apples

Fruits with low natural pectin and acid content include: apricots+ blueberries + figs+ grapes+ guava+ peaches+ pears+ prunes+ raspberries + rhubarb+ strawberries

Low-pectin fruits benefit from the addition of lemon, to boost the acidity and thus setting. Unripe fruit (sour) will also increase acidity. Jam is best made with a good percentage of fruit that is not overripe because as the fruit ripens, the pectin breaks down and you will not get a good set.

PICK THE RIGHT POT

The right pot is critical to making low-sugar jam, I cannot stress this enough.  Mine is a traditional French copper preserving pan that is shallow and wide. It’s about 12 cm (41⁄2 inches) high, 36 cm (141⁄4 inches) across the base and 39 cm (151⁄2 inches) across the top, with a 10 litre (350 fl oz) capacity. The wide surface area encourages evaporation and reduction, thus cooking the jam quickly. It is extremely difficult to make jam in a deep pot with a small surface area — tall pans are a major cause of runny jam.

However, you can make smaller amounts in your average large domestic saucepan. You can use a simple stainless steel pan — just make sure it is not too deep. A wider and more shallow pan with less capacity (for example, a sauté pan with a 5 litre/ 175 fl oz capacity and a depth of 8 cm/31⁄4 inches) is better than a pot with a 10 litre/350 fl oz capacity, but a depth of 16–18 cm (61⁄4–7 inches), or even a frypan with a large shallow surface area. It will mean you can only make small amounts at a time — about 2 kg (4 lb 8 oz) of fruit, but your jam will be more successful. You can also use a 20–24 cm (8–91⁄2 inch) typical domestic saucepan, but keep the amount of fruit to 1 kg (2 lb 4 oz).

Never make jam in large quantities — another cause of runny jam — and never crowd your pan. How much fruit you use (the weight) will depend on the size of your pan — for mine, I use 4 kg (9 lb). A good guide is to only fill your pan two-thirds full of fruit.

JARS AND LIDS

Always use tempered jars that can withstand the temperatures involved in sterilising, jam-making and storage. Some jars manufactured for products such as coffee, peanut butter and mayonnaise are not tempered and do not have strong seals on the lids. Jars must not be cracked, chipped or damaged in any way, and lids must not be scratched or dented. Jars can be re-used, but lids are good for one use only.

STERILISING YOUR EQUIPMENT

Your jars, lids, ladles and funnels must all be sterilised. This is easy to do in an oven at 120°C (235°F/Gas 1⁄2) for 20 minutes. Jars and lids must be sterilised, dry and warm. Once sterilised, turn the oven off and leave in the warm oven until the jam is ready. Equipment can also be boiled for 12 minutes in a large saucepan of water, then dried in the oven at a low temperature.

PUTTING THE JAM INTO JARS

Bottling technique is the other very important part of making low-sugar jams — the jam must be spooned with a sterilised ladle through a sterilised funnel into warm jars (as hot jam into cool or cold jars will cause the jars to break) as soon as it is ready. Make sure the sterilised jars are warm (from sterilising and then being kept warm in the oven) and sit them on a wooden surface or on towels (so they don’t crack when the hot jam is added). This process will ensure the jars seal properly and that the jam does not spoil.

After ladling the jam into the jars, make sure there is no spillage as this will hinder a seal being formed. Gently wipe any spillage, taking care not to touch the sterilised lip of the jar. Place the lids on, taking care to touch only the outside of the lids. Holding the jars with a damp cloth (for a good grip), turn the lids until firm.

Let the jars sit until fully cool — do not move them for 12 hours or you can disrupt the vacuum process. A concave dip in the middle of the lid indicates a vacuum seal. If there is no concave dip, store the jam in the fridge and use straight away.

Once opened and the seal is broken, the jam begins to deteriorate and must be kept in the fridge.

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The beautiful photo at the top of this post is ©Cath Muscat and all copy is ©Jude Blereau and Murdoch Books, and taken from Wholefood Baking. Published by Murdoch Books, 2013.

Smoky Beetroot, Lentil and Millet Burgers

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This recipe is a bit of an out take from my new book WHOLEFOOD From the Ground Up (which I can excitedly say, is out 1st June). It was one of the very first recipes I toyed with and it evolved on to become something else, but I wanted to see it come to realization. I do love a nice, deeply flavoured and toothsome vegetarian pattie (too many are just mushy) to put in a burger, or just as happy without. This pattie follows the path of one of my favourite principles – try and be prepared for the week, cook a pot of grain (in this case hulled millet) and cook a pot of legumes (in this case green lentils), to use in any number of ways – but here, as the smoky beetroot burger. I’m writing this up for the Easter break as I think it would make a perfect lunch, or dinner over this most wonderful break.

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There are a few things I need to tell you about this recipe. These are really quite quick to throw together, especially if you have lentils already cooked. I would suggest you cook the millet (and make extra if you would like for another use) just before you need it – the warmth will make it a little stickier, which is helpful here (you will have a little left over, but it’s far easier to get the liquid ratio perfect with 1/2 cup millet, so use it for a stuffing, or a salad !). Also, the lentils need to be well cooked – once drained, it will help the whole sticking together thing if they are mashed just a little bit. In the end however, they will stay together, no matter how unlikely you think that will be – the 2 eggs will do the trick. I also absolutely recommend that you soak your millet and lentils (this will make them more digestible), but if you forget or run out of time, cooking them in a bone stock such as chicken will buffer any nutrient losses, and make digestion just that bit easier. Also – the smoked paprika. I can tell you that all smoked paprika’s are not equal. Many of them can be quite bitter, especially when you have to add a fair bit to get a good smoky flavour. I use one that is a dulce (sweet) smoked paprika, and in Perth, Western Australia this is the brand I use. And a word in regards to the miso – both shiro (white) or chickpea are fine, and in Australia I have a preference for this brand (though, to be fair it is only available in limited places, and only on the east coast), otherwise this brand.

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I’ve served it here with great organic, wood fired sourdough that has been grilled, avocado, and homemade sweet chilli and sultana sauce. The greens you see there are the beetroot greens, but take note beetroot (especially the greens) are a high oxalic acid food. Heat breaks down oxalates, so I have cooked them gently in a little ghee – this way you will get all their goodies. Pile it all on the bread, slather it and it’s a hearty and delicious meal. A bit of goat curd would not go astray. And, finally if you are after a cake for the (hopefully) cooler Autumn weather over easter, can I suggest this Walnut and Yoghurt Cake. It’s an old post, so not brilliant photos, but I can guarantee, the cake is very good.

Wishing you all a restful, safe and heartfelt Easter… x jude

All photography ©Harriet Harcourt

My new book is available for pre order – in Perth, Western Australia here, Australia wide here and worldwide Book Depository here

White Chocolate Mousse and Strawberry Cake

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This little baby has been in my head for sometime as a distant image – I kinda knew what I wanted, but didn’t have time to work it out and thus it missed going into the new book. So you are getting it for Christmas dear reader. As I began to slow down last week, I finally could see (in my mind) how to go about this recipe. As it happened I had a play date set with my gorgeous friend  Emma Galloway (My Darling Lemon Thyme) as a chance for us to really catch up before she heads back home to New Zealand. What a truly beautiful soul is Emma – and talented. Given photography is not my strength, and it most certainly is Emma’s, I asked her if she would mind bringing her camera and take some shots. These gorgeous shots you see here are hers, and the making of it was a joint effort :) Needless to say, we did not stop talking from the second she arrived to the second she left. Thank you for the beautiful photos Emm!

It’s very easy, gluten and dairy free. Now I say that not because I think gluten and dairy free means something is wholesome and healthy, but because I like my sweetness a little less rich and lighter when the weather is 40c (as it is want to be on a Perth Christmas Day). For those of you that follow my work, you will see it’s pedigree in the Vanilla Bean Almond Cream and Creamy Cocoa Butter and Vanilla Frosting from Wholefood Baking. Just a couple of things:

  1. You will need to soak the almonds for the milk overnight to make the almond and coconut milk (and please don’t be tempted to use tetrapak almond milk, it will be watery and not nice. You can however make the almond and coconut milk the day before, so you are ready to go the next day.
  2. You will really only need about 3/4 of the chocolate biscuit base, but I’m too tired to work that out. I would make it up, and perhaps make little tartlets with the left over !
  3. This really is best eaten the day it is made -it will also look it’s best. I know that’s not optimal for Christmas, but you could have the milk made, and the strawberry juice made and it really doesn’t take that long to put together.
  4. Use a good vanilla – I like Heilala 
  5. Dont use a generic agar powder, go to a Natural or Wholefoods store and buy it there. Two good brands are Honest to Goodness  or Lotus
  6. If you are wondering about kudzu, you can find it here (in Australia) here in the U.S

I’d like to ask you something here though…  enjoy this recipe and I would love you to share it  but please respect the copyright of both myself and Emma. There’s a lot of craziness going on in the blogging and instagram world. I (and others I know) will now often see a recipe that is mine (or theirs) directly posted with no acknowledgement, or a few small changes with no nod to it’s source. I would ask that you please respect this.

It’s been a big year for me, with lots of blessings and challenges. I didn’t run the Whole and Natural Foods Chef Training Program this year as I was exhausted, and with a book to finish. That new book is just about put to bed, my family are well, I am loved and supported by that wonderful family and true friends, I have wonderful neighbours, I’m finally able to own my home and am building, I’ve been doing public classes again and I have the absolute blessing of doing work I love – and I hope, making a positive difference. I got the flu badly (twice), I didn’t balance work and rest too well and I’ve learnt a lot of about false friendships and those that are true – lessons are blessings in their own way as they free you for the new growth, deeper friendships and all that really matters.  I go into the new year grateful, loving with arms open wide to embrace the new year with joy.

I wish you and your loved ones a joyful, peaceful and safe Christmas, may you be richly blessed with everything that really matters.

x Jude

Preserving the Harvest

LATE SUMMER NECTARINE OR PLUM CHUTNEY

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Preserving is one of the things I love to do most, chutney is by far the easiest and a perfect place to use ripe, bruised or seconds fruit and vegetables and any home pot will do – except copper. Whilst I love copper for jam making, chutney with it’s use of vinegar is too acidic.

In chutney, the preserving agent is sugar and vinegar.  I like to use Apple Cider Vinegar with Rapadura sugar as the sweetener as my general rule but could be tempted to another vinegar depending on the fruit (sherry, raspberry spring to mind). Sometimes I like the fruity tone and complexity that an apple juice concentrate provides, and given that chutney’s are used in small amounts, I’m okay with that use of fructose. BUT, and there is a but. Chutney made with a juice concentrate or Rapadura (a low sucrose content) will require a BOILING WATER BATH (we will talk more about that later) to ensure preservation. Made with brown sugar (even the beautiful semi refined Billingtons Muscovado’s) and thus with a higher sucrose content, they will be fine simply packed very, very hot into a clean, dry, sterile and warm jars.

But let’s talk actually making the chutney yes? Dead easy. I like my chutneys to have a bright fruity flavour but with depth and fullness of flavour. I rarely follow a recipe and would like to guide you along that same path. You will get a better result as every bit of fruit you use will be different – all cooking is in essence responding the the raw ingredients nature has grown for you. Fundamentally the fruit forms the base of the chutney (or vegetable), the liquid is that which comes from the fruit and the preserving agents sugar and vinegar. Sweetness and further depth of flavour is ensured with some dried fruit. This is then tempered with a bit of onion for flavour and depth (I’m a bit iffy on garlic) and most definitely ginger. Lots of ginger. Then nuanced with spices – I consider allspice an essential for chutney. This is a spice in it’s own right, and not similar to mixed spice. Then depending on what I’m making, I will choose the spices to suit. That’s it. oh, and chilli (but please be careful – I think people overdo chilli in a chutney and it overwhelms).

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I’m going to give you a guide line to make chutney, but if you’d like an actual recipe, you can find Pear Chutney here. 

  • I start by choosing a pot that will fit the amount of fruit I have – I am looking for the fruit to be approximately 2/3 up the side of the pot. Preferably one that is not to wide as this allows too much evaporation. Wash your fruit and chop – a size to suit you, but ensure that any bruised or damaged bits are discarded. But the wetter the fruit (berries, stone fruit etcetera) the bigger the pieces can be.
  • Add a small amount of onion – I do like purple onion for fruits, I think it gives depth with sweetness.You can see in the picture above it’s not overwhelmed with onion. Then chop up a whole lot of fresh ginger – I like nice biggish bits as you can see.
  • Add 1/2 – 1 cup of dried fruit – I like a raisin, as I think it has a deeper and more complex flavour, especially the muscats. But depending on the fruit, others might give a better end result – for example dates with oranges. Nope, you don’t have to chop them up.
  • Add your spices. Definitely allspice – the berries, or the ground – I would start with 1/2 teaspoon for 1 kg of fruit and go from there. Cinnamon quills are brilliant, start with one. For this nectarine chutney I chose to use Garam Masala as I love it’s play of peppery and spicy complexity, and added extra ground coriander just because I think ground coriander is beautiful with stone fruits.
  • Then add a good amount of apple cider vinegar – enough to give the dish enough liquid to start, with equal amount of sugar – whichever you are using, or apple juice concentrate (you can see the amount of liquid I start with above).
  • Then cover it with a lid and cook over a gentle heat until the juices have sweat out from the fruit – not too long, approx 15 – 20 minutes. Then assess if it needs more liquid – you need enough just about cover the fruit and saturate their cells. Go carefully adding more vinegar, and add in increments – you can always add more, but hard to take away. As you add vinegar, add sweetness to match. Then assess if it needs more sweetness, balancing the acidity or vice versa. Leave the lid off and continue to cook at a gentle simmer – blip, blip – too much boil and you will evaporate that liquid. After about 20 minutes, taste it to see again where the acid/sweetness flavour and liquid ratio is at. Adjust as needed, and also taste for spices and add as desired.
  • How to know that it’s cooked? You are looking to see that the fruit is saturated – it looks markedly different from fruit that is not cooked, or not saturated enough with the preserving mediums of vinegar and sugar. When it’s at that stage, you can then reduce it down to the consistency that you are after. A small chutney batch of approx 1 kg will take about 40 – 60 minutes.
  • I check, taste and adjust frequently when making chutney – for amount of liquid, acid/sweetness balance and spice.

Now you have your chutney. If you have made it with a generic brown sugar (NOT recommended as it is highly refined – thus not good for you –  and won’t add depth of flavour) or the semi refined Billingtons Muscovado (I like the Light Muscovado) you can simply funnel the very hot chutney into clean, dry, sterile and warm jars (make sure they are on wood/towels or thick paper so they don’t crack) and lid them. Leave to sit for at least 8 hours -you should hear them audibly ‘pop’ as the lid is pulled down during the vacuum formation, show a visible concave centre and then store them. The heat will give you enough of a vacuum.  But, if you’ve used a fruit juice concentrate or rapadura, that won’t stop the decay process. They will be fine in the fridge for some weeks but not in the pantry. So, you have to use a boiling water bath.

The boiling water bath is the tool (rather than the ingredient) that you use to preserve the chutney.

This is one of the most interesting techniques – we know it here in Australia as the Vacola system. In essence, what we are doing when we bottle, is to use heat and an enclosed system to destroy micro-organisms that cause food to spoil and create a vacuum in which remaining bacteria cannot grow. Food is packed into a bottle, a seal (originally rubber) is placed around the rim, then a lid is placed, using a clamping system to keep it closed. The Vacola system uses rubber rings with clamps placed on, the French have the rubber seals on the lids with the clamp attached to the lid. As the closed jar goes into water and is heated to a specific temperature (or in this case, boiling) air is forced out through the rubber, bacteria (and such) are killed, and when removed a vacuum seal occurs as the jar cools. When it’s fully cooled the clamps are removed – it is the vacuum seal that keeps air and bacteria out. Newer systems (mostly used in Europe and the U.S, but used now extensively here in Australia) have the lid and rubber formed into one – using a sealing compound around the edges. This is the creamy “paint” that you see on lids and specifically the fine, more darkly coloured ring closer to the edge. Many of the U.S systems (Ball etc) separate that lid into two: a top and screw section. Glass (only tempered) jars can be re used (if in pristine condition), but lids and rings must be new for each bottling. A special note must be made here that preserving, and especially bottling and the hot or boiling water bath,  is all about understanding acidity. Clostridium botulinum (extremely toxic) grows in the absence of air (a vacuum), low acidity and a moist environment. Fruits are generally high in acidity, vegetables and especially meats, low acidity. Here with chutney’s you’ve got plenty of acidity, but the process I am recommending is only relevant here for your chutney.

In regards to the pot the Fowlers Vacola is a commercial example of a hot or boiling water bath (just in case you are confused about the terms hot /or boiling water bath. In a hot water bath– the water comes 2/3rd up the sides of the jar, and takes a much longer time for preservation.In a boiling water bath – water is below, around and above the jar, and preservation is achieved in a much shorter time). The Fowlers Vacola preserving pot/system is not absolutely necessary – you can use any big (large) pot, AS LONG AS IT IS DEEP ENOUGH FOR THE WATER TO COVER THE TOPS OF THE JARS AND HAVE SPACE TO BOIL FREELY. ALLOW APPROX 12 CM  ABOVE THE JAR TOPS FOR BRISK BOILING.  Basically, the Fowlers Vacola system is a large pot – for a hot water bath it has a well-positioned thermometer, and for a boiling water bath, it has enough room.

With a stockpot, a few precautions must be taken to protect the jars from cracking. A wire rack must be placed on the bottom of the pot to keep the jars from direct contact with the heat, and to ensure the movement of boiling water around the bottom of the jar. Some people wrap the jars in paper or cloth to prevent rattling, but I have never done this. The American system is different and brilliant – it has a basket that holds the jars and is so easy to use – it’s available on – line in Australia, coming as a kit (which is worth getting) and you can find it here. Once you get there, you will need to click onto Preserving Kits from the side index. I couldn’t get it to link straight up for you.

Now you are set with understanding the role of the boiling water bath, and your chutney is done, this is what you do next. Bring your pot of water nearly to the boil.

Remove the clean, dry jars and lids from the oven (they should be warm), keeping them on their trays, and ladle the hot chutney into the jars, using a funnel. Place the lids on the jars, then screw on. Make sure the water isn’t boiling as you lower the chutney into it. As a note:it’s important that you put warm chutney into warm jars, otherwise if the filled jar is too cold it will crack when it hits the nearly boiling water.

Using special tongs, lower the jars into the not far off boiling water (or if you have the American basket system, place in the basket). Boil for 12 minutes, starting that timing from when the water comes back to the boil. When done, using the same tongs, remove and place the jars on a towel or wooden surface. Let them sit until totally cool – at least 8 hours.

If you are using a screw top lid system, they should pop audibly as they cool – this is the sound of the lid being sucked down as the vacuum forms. If you are using a screw top lid system or the Vacola system there should be a concave dent in the middle of the lid (for Vacola this is visible when the clamps are taken off). If this has not occurred, store in the fridge and use soonish.

Nightshade Season

EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA

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One of my favourite late summer dishes is Eggplant Parmigiana (from my first book Wholefood – heal, nourish, delight) – it always makes a welcome appearance at this time of the year. Do you steer away from this hardy and abundant vegetable because you’re just a little scared of it? It does have that  rather intimidating reputation of being bitter and requiring salting – giving you extra work and preparation for good measure. But you know, I don’t think I’ve ever found a well grown eggplant, that when picked immediately ripe and not left on the bush for the seed to develop, to be bitter. And there – in lies the key. Eggplant must be picked when just ripe and not a minute later, with a bright and lustrous skin and firm flesh. I only salt an eggplant if it is older and has a lot of seed development, but you know a good grower or retailer shouldn’t be selling you an older one. And that’s all the more reason to make this now, as this is the time they are just perfect – their 15 minutes of fame.

You can see how little seed development there is in these beautiful, large eggplants.

This is also the season of nightshades –this vegetable family includes the potato, capsicum, tomato and eggplant, and are high in alkaloids that affect the way we absorb calcium. When you look at most traditional dishes made with these vegetables they generally include a rich calcium source – most often dairy. When you cannot include milk or cheese, make sure you provide plentiful calcium in other ways – such as sea vegetables, and bone (including fish) stocks. In a vegan diet especially, or a dairy free diet, nightshades should be eaten with caution, if you have no rich calcium source to pair them with.

Essentially, the parmigiana consists of eggplant coated in a bread – crumb mix, (you can alternatively just use the maize flour as I prefer to do, and is in the photo below), fried in olive oil then layered with a tomato sauce and topped with cheese and baked. I love how the maize flour gives some heft to the end result – no need for any other grain or bread for serving. It can also be made by  baking or grilling eggplant slices and thus reducing the fat used. I cook both, with a preference for the traditional frying – it gives it a far deeper flavour. I would serve this with a large Greek salad, loaded with greens, olives and lots of garlic. A predominantly nightshade dish ( eggplants and tomatoes), it is traditionally paired with cheese, which buffers the effects of the nightshades. For a dairy free option, you could include tofu ricotta. You won’t have cheese on top, but it will still come out of the oven looking gorgeous – just sprinkle it with some fresh parsley to balance the colour. 

Thick eggplant slices wet from a bowl of water, then tossed in a mix of Maize (Golden Corn Flour – I use the Kialla brand), dried basil and generous salt and pepper.

Fried and draining


Base layer, with fetta and fresh basil, awaiting one more layer of eggplant
Ready for the oven

The key to this dish is time – time to make a good tomato sauce and time to let the eggplant fry. I either make the sauce from scatch (lots of tomatoes around right now) or use tomatoes from a can. My latest fave are the Organic Crushed Roma Tomatoes from Spiral I love that they are in glass, already well cooked and dark in colour but feel guilty when I do, as there are all those fresh tomatoes around right now. Both recipes are in my book Wholefood – heal, nourish, delightbut it’s very easy.

Splosh a bit of oil in a saucepan (I sometimes add ghee or butter), chop up an onion ( I like purple), lots of garlic, LOTS of fresh basil, let them gently saute for 10 mins until really, really lovely and lightly golden, then add tomatoes – the Spiral jar is 709gms worth. Rinse out the jar with a little water, add 1 – 4 teaspoons something sweet to balance acidity (Rapadura, Apple Juice Concentrate or juice) and leave to cook  s l o w l y for 1 – 1/2 hour, stirring often, until thick and gorgeous. If you are using fresh tomatoes, skin them first if you like, then chop them and add to the pot. Don’t be tempted to add extra liquid – cover with a lid and leave over a very, very gentle heat until all the juices have sweated out – approx 20 – 30 minutes, then on you go as above. 

One thing – you’ll notice two different dishes – I forgot to take a picture of the first one when cooked ! But, you will see they are both cast iron. Really, a dish makes a huge difference, and if you can do this in cast iron, you’ll get a better end result as the sauces bubbles and reduces at the hot edges brilliantly. As noted, there is a bit of time involved in making the whole dish, but it makes a lot – the recipe below makes enough to serve 2 – 4. But I go all out, and do extra (I made the two dishes worth you see here, with one large sauce batch and one fry up session), as I love left over parmigiana. Honestly it just gets better and is so good for lunch the next day. 

EGGPLANT PARMIGIANA 

vegetarian and gluten free

2 good size eggplants – the purple globe variety

1  cup approx maize flour 

1 teaspoon dried basil

generous sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups approx tomato sauce

handful of good melting cheese

sprinkle of parmesan or pecorino cheese

Prepare your eggplants.

If the eggplants have been salted, wash the eggplant slices well in water. Shake the excess water off them, but don’t pat them dry with a towel – the wetness of the eggplant helps stick the flour on. Mix the maize flour and dried basil together (or alternatively just 1 cup maize flour and the basil) in a dish and pat the flour mixture on both sides of the eggplant – you can be quite generous. If you havn’t salted the eggplant, simply wet them as described above, to help stick the flour.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a frypan over a moderate heat. Use only enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Eggplant will soak up as much oil as you give it, so you are going to have to be the one in control here. Don’t heat the oil to smoking point – check for readiness by dropping a little of the flour in it – if it sizzles, it is ready.

Place as many pieces of eggplant as you can fit in one layer, in the pan. Cook over a moderate heat until the slice is golden, then turn and continue on the other side. When you turn the slices, you may have to add a little more oil. It is best to let the cooking happen slowly, but with sizzle – each side takes approx 5 -10 minutes. I tend to agree with Antonnio Carluccio: he says that as you fry eggplant, they will initially absorb all the fat you give them, then look dry and in danger of burning. His advice, is to keep the heat low and don’t add any extra. As they cook, they will start to release juice and a little oil to provide a good cooking environment. As the slices are ready, leave them to drain on a paper towel while you do the others. You may need to wipe the pan out between every second batch or so – discarding any old oil and flour.

Putting It All Together

Pre Heat Oven to 180c or 165c if fan forced

Using a fairly shallow baking dish, cover the bottom with some of the tomato sauce. Place a layer of slices over this, overlapping them a little. Sprinkle a little freshly ground black pepper and cover with more sauce (but you can see in the picture I decided to add a little fetta cheese and fresh basil here also) then another layer of eggplant slices, then the remaining sauce and sprinkle with a little cheese. Bake  for approx 50 – 60 minutes, or until the top is golden and the sauce is bubbling.

Try Using: 

Roasted red capsicum strips 

Beat together ricotta cheese and egg (approx 1 egg to each 125 gm ricotta) and layer between eggplant.

Tofu ricotta layered between eggplant (you’ll find this recipe in Wholefood – heal, nourish, delight)

Taste – Pure and Simple

VANILLA STEWED SANTA ROSA PLUMS WITH YOGHURT LABNE

I drizzled just a bit of Heilala vanilla paste mixed with a little bit of water over – enough to delight, but not overwhelm

We were doing a shoot for Clean Food Organic magazine on Friday, an article on Nourishing Young Children…. including early foods (after first foods). I wanted to present a simple yoghurt with a fruit puree, settling on Santa Rosa Plums as they are in season and glorious. The chapter for first foods in my book Wholefood for Children, Nourishing Young Children with Whole and Organic Foods, is headed Pure and Simple, and honestly this very much what it’s all about. Pure, simple food is exceptionally grounding – I honestly think our recipes have become far too complicated, and the real taste of ripe, seasonal food, grown in nutrient rich soil in a sustainable manner is really, quite astonishing. This is equally as important for teenagers and adults. Pure and simple.

I do love fresh fruit don’t get me wrong, but when the flavour is concentrated by stewing or baking, it simply crosses the blood brain barrier, and whacks you directly in the taste centre of the brain. Now that’s not a scientific opinion but it’s my belief that it absolutely becomes more than it’s initial ripe self. I have a particular way I like to stew fruit – and that is with as little liquid added as possible which only serves to dilute the flavour. Remove peel or stone as indicated by the fruit (peel apples, stone plums etc) and chop them into desired size – as a rule, I cut wet fruit (stone fruit) into halves, and berries left whole. Drier fruit such as apples I cut into very thin slices or cubes. Add them to a pot with the smallest amount of sugar if needed – just enough to take the edge off – I like to use the Billingtons Golden Castor sugar – the least refined, clear crystallised sugar available to me – this allows the pure flavour of the fruit to come through, 1 – 2 teaspoons, more for a larger amount. This is no place for rapadura, maple sugar etc. Add 1/2 – 1 vanilla bean, cut down the middle ( I’m in love with Heilala, has a beautiful nuance of flavour). For very dry fruit such as apple, I’ll add a tiny bit of water. Cover and place over the gentlest of flames until juices are seeping from the fruit – this takes from 10 – 15 minutes, so be patient. Take the lid of, taste and adjust sweetness as desired, increase the flame to high and reduce to desired consistency. I leave the vanilla bean in because I’m making enough to last me for a few days – ooh, a quick dessert to serve with a rice custard – yes thank you, or serve on an autumn porridge or pikelets, yes thank you, or morning tea with yoghurt, yes please :), and let’s not forget, fold into a vanilla ice cream Yes, Yes, Yes ! Puree for baby.

Labne – really, this is simply strained yoghurt or kefir and this is proper thick yoghurt, where the watery part of the milk – the whey – is dripped off. Those thick yoghurts you find in the shops – albeit organic? You don’t want them. They’re thickened up with milk solids (no, no, no). My favourite brand is Paris Creek (Bio – Dynamic) – but when I can get it, I like the Shulz Organic Yoghurt also (couldn’t find a website for them) and you’ll notice they are decidedly more watery than the others. This is what real yoghurt looks like. The idea is to take a sieve (but you know, you could use a colander though it’s a little large) and place over a bowl to catch the whey. Line it with 4 layers of muslin. Add the yoghurt and fold the corners of the muslin over the yoghurt. In the cooler weather you can leave it out to drip, when warmer, put it in the fridge. There’s no time rule – the longer it drips, the thicker it becomes as more whey drips out. You choose what consistency you’d like. And keep that whey – place it in a clean glass jar in the fridge for up to 2 months. You use this for all sorts of things – soaking your grains, porridge,  legumes, culturing dried fruits (see Wholefood for Children), adding to pancake or pikelet mix to culture overnight etc. The labne is gorgeous also in a savoury format – drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and herbs, or served in place of cream – mix with cinnamon, vanilla and maple syrup.

There are some beautiful fruits right now at this point of time in Australia – late summer, very early autumn. Plums, Figs, Peaches. Find some, keep them simple, taste their pure essence and take a snapshot of that flavour with your mouth. When you are tired of apples in the deepest parts of winter, you can file back through your taste memories and I know you will smile, and feel that essence flow through you once again. This is what good food, healthy food truly is. It gives you life, and makes you feel alive, all in one glorious, delicious whole moment. Go grab that moment.