I’ve got my first night and my first meal behind me at Ratho Farm, in Bothwell, Tasmania, where in addition to a series of pop-up dinners of American Southern food, I am apparently going to make all of the staff meals when I’m in residence. Or at least that was the request from my co-workers here after I made us a leftovers-fueled “family meal” last night out of part of a still-rare lamb roast and the local ingredients I bought to attempt making Southern-style greens.
They don’t grow the most iconic Southern green here, the collard, but they apparently do grow mustard greens year round and I’ve seen turnips so maybe it’s just a matter of finding a turnip farmer and hauling away some of his would-be compost! I’m hopeful I can find greens at what I’m told is an epic farmer’s market in Hobart, called the Farm Gate Market. What I was able to find at Woolies, as Woolworth’s grocery is called, are several Asian Brassicas, including Choy Sum, which I’m pretty sure is also called Chinese broccoli. Its broad green leaves reminded me of collards, so I grabbed a few bunches. I also found smoked pork bones and smoked ham hocks, which pleased me enormously, and discovered a new-to-me green called silverbeet, whose broad green leaves looked promising.
According to my subsequent research, the French prize silverbeet’s leaves but treasure the stems, which they prepare in similar ways to asparagus. The Italians are apparently SO crazy for the stems they consider it it’s own separate vegetable, called “costa” to reflect its precious nature. To that point, the $4-a-bunch price of silverbeet probably lets it out as a local substitute for collards, which, like many Southern staples, earned its place on the table by being cheap enough for us peasants to eat.
“What are you going to make for us, Expat Cook?” Michael, Ratho’s property manager, challenged me as we were playing five holes of golf my first afternoon here. It’s an unusual number of holes to be sure, but that’s precisely how long it took me to lose the four balls I loaded into my bag. To be fair, coming from Chicago, my game is in mothballs compared with Mick, who after all lives on a golf course and has been playing all spring and summer. After I lost the last of my four to a wicked swath of long grass, he gave me an appropriate amount of shit and we headed back to the farmhouse kitchen, where I found precious little in the way of protein that wasn’t frozen to make my first command performance meal here.
There WAS a bit of lamb roast leftover, but not enough for the four of us: me, Mick, and the French management couple, Margaux and Joran. So I put that together with my greens ingredients and a few pantry staples to make a rich and soupy pasta dish that was kind of a Southern inspired cross between pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) and minestra e fagioli (greens and beans). I didn’t measure anything, so there’s no exact recipe to be had. But here is what I did:
I browned about half a pound of smoked pork bones (meaty neck bones would be great for this) in a bit of olive oil and then threw in a large sliced onion and four cloves of garlic roughly chopped, tossed those around for a bit before adding the greens in large-bite-sized pieces, some water and covering to let the whole thing “smother down” as they say in the South. (Don’t cover the greens completely; you don’t need to because they cook down a lot and we’re looking for as much richness in the resulting liquid as possible.) Season to taste with salt and pepper. Next, I added a 15 oz. size can of Italian diced tomatoes and a can of some four-bean mixture I had never seen before, and let that stew together. (The four-bean mix wasn’t seasoned beyond salt, and I ended up really liking the varied textures of the differently sized beans, but if you also have never seen that at your grocery store, you could use cannellini beans, or northern beans or even already cooked brown lentils would work.)
Separately I cooked large shells to pre-al-dente and shocked them with cold water (actually Margaux did this!) When I was satisfied that the tinned flavor was cooked out of the tomatoes, I deployed a couple of my tricks for adding complexity quickly, including shaking in a bit of Worcestershire and adding a bit of smoked paprika and cayenne. I threw in the shocked shells and let them get to al dente absorbing some of the broth. (Taste and re-adjust here for salt and pepper.) Margaux was kind enough to separate the meat from the stewed pork bones and we chopped and tossed that in.
To our steaming bowls we added the lamb, which I cut postage-stamp sized and seared to medium to make it less chewy than it would have been rare. We topped the whole thing off with fresh parmesan and added chili flakes, which I also wanted to use, to the grocery list on the wall. On Day 2 I’m going shopping for uniquely Australian ingredients I can play around with. And also golf balls. 🙂