Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Preserved limes

About this time last year I went to a pickling workshop. It was very Portlandia to be sure - a bunch of white middle class women in hand-sewn aprons gathered around vats of vinegar in a sunny courtyard at the back of a Scandinavian homewares store one Sunday afternoon. Almost definitely, there was a bird on something or someone. But I was more than happy to succumb to a stereotype in order to learn a skill that stands me in good stead for life. That allows me to make the most of seasonal produce and enjoy it any time I like. In addition to pickled fennel and rhubarb we also made preserved limes. 

I'd made preserved lemons before but it never occurred to me do the same with limes. You can use them in cooking in much the same way (as an acidic note in Middle-eastern tagines or stews, grain salads, in pasta or fish dishes, with roast lamb or chicken...) but where these come into their own is in Mexican food, where lime goes with everything from beer to avocado. Which brings me to my favourite way to use them - in guacamole. A little preserved lime, chopped-up roughly, gives an incredible fresh zing and an added bit of texture to a dip that can often be a bit bland. Guacamole's a perennial favourite but really, it's synonymous with summer - beer and sun, beaches and bare feet - when limes aren't as plentiful or cheap as they are now... which makes preserving them the way to go. And if you made them last winter, like me, you can conjure up summer any time you like, no matter what season you're in.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Grapefruit and olive oil cake with bittersweet chocolate

I've been away. From this blog, from my apartment. While I was gone, some interstate friends came to stay at my place. Sadly, our paths didn't cross, but I had just enough time before leaving for the airport to make them a cake so I felt like there was a little bit of me there to greet them.

Though I was headed for summer later that day, it was winter in Sydney and that means citrus. The seasonality of that food family is consistently strange to me as its bright burst of flavour seems more suited to warmer months (when you feel like quenching your thirst with orange juice, tucking into grapefuit for breakfast or squeezing lime into gin and tonics) than the colder ones but maybe in these darker parts of the year we need it more. I'm sure nature had some sort of plan. 

This cake is made with grapefruit, an underused citrus, in my opinion. It's fresh and zingy and pretty orange-pink (if you use the ruby sort, which I'm powerless to resist). The flavour comes from both its zest, and juice - which is intensified by boiling it down to half its quantity. No need to dirty a food processor or a stand mixer. Two bowls will suffice - one for the wet ingredients, one for the dry. The two come together, chopped chocolate is added and it bakes in the oven for just under an hour, enough time to pack a suitcase or have a cup of tea and read the paper (having packed well in advance), depending on what type of traveller you are. But whatever type that is, odds are you'll think about that cake all the time you're away and make it again upon your return... and eat two slices for morning tea with the heater on watching the rain, half in summer, half in winter, which through the haze of jetlag seems somehow very right.