Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A day in the kitchen

Have you ever had a day where you planned to cook just one dish but one thing leads to another and, before you know it, you've spent the whole day in the kitchen? It usually happens when you're the recipient of bounteous home-grown produce or you're reaping your own bumper crop, and is a joy if you have the time and energy for it.

Yesterday was such a day for me.

It all began with passionfruit. Our passionfruit vine, planted only two years ago, is rapidly taking over the back fence and growing up into the neighbour's apple tree. I love passionfruit but I've never had ready access to the fruit before, so haven't collected many passionfruit recipes over the years. I was keen to try passionfruit creams (a Jill Dupleix recipe featured in The Age's Epicure Summer cookbook), a blend of cream, caster sugar and lemon juice, topped with tangy passionfruit pulp. But when I went to the garden, I discovered at least a dozen passionfruit - many more than I would need. Before I had time to peruse my recipe books, the latest issue of Gourmet Traveller arrived in my mailbox, featuring, in a wonderful coincidence, an article on passionfruit. I wanted something easy and that used ingredients I already had in my cupboard, so a twist on an old favourite was the easy winner: passionfruit yo-yos.

But there were other dishes to think about before I could get to biscuit-making. The passionfruit creams were whipped up within five minutes and left to cool and set in the fridge. Then it was time to give the ice-cream maker, a Christmas present from Adam, another whirl. I had made a flurry of ice-cream in the weeks after Christmas as the ice-cream maker and I got to know one another, but it has languished in the deep freeze for several weeks. It was time to try blackberry and honey ice-cream, with some of my recently picked blackberries. Most ice-creams are made with an egg custard base of milk, cream, sugar and egg yolks (there'll be much more about my ice-cream discoveries in a future entry), which always leaves me with left-over egg whites. Not being a huge fan of pavlova, I've been searching for other recipes to use up these egg whites. In her column in The Age's Epicure last year, Stephanie Alexander featured several fabulous meringue recipes. One was chocolate meringues with a chocolate ganache icing but, alas, my cupboard is (unusually) bare of chocolate, so the brown sugar meringues got the nod. It is amazingly easy - whip the egg whites, add some caster sugar and brown sugar, put blobs onto a lined baking tray and bake for 50 minutes in a low oven, then prop open the door with a wooden spoon to let the meringues cool. Usually I use a hand-beater but today I pulled out my fabulous Kitchen Aid mixer and it made such a difference - the meringues tasted like a puff of sugary air on my tongue.

While the meringues were baking, it was time to tackle savoury dishes and dinner. My dad has come to stay for a few days and, as usual, he arrived bearing gifts. There is a big bag of juicy red roma tomatoes, massive bunches of basil and parsley, a container of cherry tomatoes and some small red onions. I've already planned to turn the basil into pesto and decide that it might be nice to accompany this with a tomato tart. I took a sheet of puff pastry from the freezer (but I think pita bread would also work well if you didn't have any pastry handy), spread on some dijon mustard and bake for a few minutes. I then sprinkled over some chopped spring onions and red onions (if I had more time, I would have sauteed these in a little oil with some crushed garlic), and topped the tart with slices of roma (seeds removed). A little drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper and it was back into the oven for 10 or so minutes. Depending on what you have in your pantry, I think olives or anchovies would also work, and some fresh herbs, such as basil or oregano, would also add some flavour.

There was just time to mix up the passionfruit yo-yo pastry (which needed to rest in the fridge for an hour) before dinner. For a day where I had planned nothing beyond using passionfruit in the garden, I instead managed to fashion a three-course meal that was the essence of summer and received an enthusiastic response from my dinner guests (who hadn't yet seen the mountain of dishes in the kitchen that was waiting for them!)

After dinner, the passionfruit yo-yos went into the oven, while I made the icing. The recipe called for a rich passionfruit and white chocolate ganache icing but I was all out of inspiration and patience, so a basic icing, flavoured with passionfruit juice, was enough to sandwich them together.

My feet might be aching but what a sense of achievement it is to turn a pile of fresh, seasonal produce into delicious goodies for all to enjoy.

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