Last night, doing the dishes, I suddenly realised that this is the first time in five years that we haven’t been in France in mid-September. This time last year we were in a tiny apartment in Paris and the Small Girl had slept through the night for the first time (her exhausted parents lay awake anyway, because they couldn’t believe she wasn’t going to wake up). The year before that, Corsica, where I suspected I might be pregnant but ate lots of unpasteurised cheese anyway.
September is the time of La Rentree in France – everyone gets sorted and goes back to school or work after the long summer holidays. I think September in New Zealand is about waiting for the rain to stop!
My quest to use up everything in the house before we move (in 12 days, argh!) is continuing apace. In some ways I feel incredibly organised because I know that we’ll be having a risotto, two pasta dishes, something with venison and something involving cannellini beans, baby beetroot and a bag of frozen corn kernels in the days to come. Hmmm. And definitely some Szechuan takeaways.
But last night was all about parsley and Parmesan. For my birthday two months ago my sister sent me a mysterious courier package with a note saying that her new philosopy was to only give “useful” presents. Inside was a kilo of proper Parmesan, a rare treat in this little corner of the world. I never thought we’d get through it in time but it’s amazing how cavalier you get when you’ve got a lot of a luxury ingredient and a short time in which to use it. The Small Girl must be the only toddler in town to get Parmesan on toast for lunch.
Anyway. The other things we have in abundance at the moment are lemons and parsley. The tiny seedling I planted a year ago has blossomed into a huge, regenerating bush obliterating everything I planted around it. With a packet of spaghetti in the pantry, we were set.
This is fresh, zingy and can be made in the time it takes for the pasta to cook. (Well, in theory. It took me ages last night but that’s because other affairs of state took me away from my rightful place at the kitchen counter.) Bon appetit!
For two very hungry people:
2-3 juicy lemons, zested and juiced
about 1/4 cup olive oil
a few tablespoons of capers
a few handfuls of grated Parmesan
a few handfuls of finely chopped parsley
salt and pepper
Cook the pasta according to packet directions until al dente. While it’s cooking, mix all other ingredients in a large serving bowl. Taste for seasoning and to adjust lemon/oil proportions if necessary. Drain the pasta and toss it through the lemon/parsley mix, then pile into warmed bowls. Eat with gusto.
Lovely Joan at Sempiterna Me has been musing about spring and what it means to us in New Zealand. I’ve just read that it’s rained for 35 of the last 40 days, which makes it very good weather for considering such matters. The seasons are less marked here and sometimes it’s difficult to really feel the change; there’s not the same bursting into life after the dark days of winter, the same sense of rebirth.
As her post points out, this should be the time of Lenten fasting, a kind of detox season after the hearty meals of winter. I think she’s right, but it’s too chilly for salad when there’s driving rain outside.
The upside of this warm, wet weather is that creamy-fleshed cauliflowers are currently in abundance, stacked high at the grocer’s and incredibly cheap. It’s never been the most fashionable of vegetables thanks to years of being overcooked or drowned in gluggy cheese sauce, but I think the humble cauliflower deserves a bit of recognition.
Here’s a simple soup just perfect for the season, based on a Stephanie Alexander recipe. The original includes a spoonful of Vegemite (!) but I’ve omitted it and added a squeeze of lemon juice instead. I’ve also topped it with an improvised gremolata of flatleaf parsley, lemon zest and Parmesan but it’s delicious on its own.
1 litre chicken stock (homemade for preference, carton for convenience)
1 cauliflower, chopped (include the stalk)
salt and pepper
handfuls of parsley
zest and juice of a lemon
handfuls of grated Parmesan
Heat the stock to a gentle boil and throw in the cauliflower. Simmer until tender, then puree in a food processor or with a stick blender. Season to taste and squirt in the lemon juice. Reheat gently and decant into warm bowls, then sprinkle generously with the parsley and Parmesan. Serves four.
The birds have known it for weeks. Spring is coming, the earth is warming up and everything is getting ready for the long, lush days ahead.
There’s not the same incredible feeling of rebirth as in the northern hemisphere – particularly not in this corner of the world, where evergreen trees light up the dull winter landscape – but it’s exciting all the same.
This will be another big time of change for us and the lengthening days make me feel like I might just have enough energy. In the meantime, there’s always tea and cake. I really wanted to post the recipe for Great Aunty Shirley’s Madeira Cake (as pictured above, made into butterfly cakes), but I’m not confident that I’ve got it right. Yet. But I’ll let you know when I have!