So, here’s the idea: A midweek blog about how we cook the stuff we eat here on the Homestead.
No, not original we admit BUT…
Hang on, we’ll start at the beginning…kind of. Are you sitting comfortably? Coffee at hand? Maybe tea is more your thing? Or, if you are reading this on the other side of the planet, fix yourself a long, cold drink with a couple of ice blocks and maybe a sprig of mint. I’d like you to be comfortable as this is, essentially, all about what we ingest.
When the Homestead was first established by those two previously mentioned bright eyed, idealistic kids, the fixing of vittals (just as an aside, in checking the spelling and meaning of this word we stumbled on this wonderful dictionary which you must check out – once you have finished reading this, of course) was an arduous task. It seemed to us that you either ate a form of meat, a portion of potatoes and a couple of servings of vegetables, one of which was brought from the supermarket freezer section, OR you made a fancy schmancy dinner from a magazine recipe which leant more on shifting truckloads of the advertisers products than on taste and generally ended up looking nothing like the accompanying photo anyway.
Things changed for us with two major discoveries:
The cook book section in the library
The following recipe
Bearing in mind this was the early ’80s in little old New Zealand, this recipe was exceedingly sophisticated, groovy and exciting. It is not exaggerating to say it appeared on the menu at least once a week; no doubt those readers who grew up alongside us would’ve partaken of it at some stage, and in essence it’s still a regular Homestead staple.
But like a lot of things in this life, it took itself too seriously. As our knowledge and confidence grew, the recipe morphed and altered but all this took time . Lots of time. Like: decades.
And that’s what Homestead Kitchen is about: saving you from decades of the same hit-and-miss meals as us. This way, you start from where we are now, then you post your inventions, ideas or happy accidents and we all eat a bit better. Makes sense?
So, back to the life changing Spag Bolo recipe, circa 1983, working ingredient by ingredient.
Experience decrees we now use only good quality olive oil and never as much as the recipe asks. A quick swirl from an easy pour bottle (we decant the oil into a smaller bottle with a clove of garlic and maybe a chilli in the bottom because we are just sooo cosmopolitan) in the bottom of a good sized pot (we just ended up flinging it all over the stove top when we used a frypan) is all you need.
Good quality olive oil, gently infused by bunging in a chopped chilli and a garlic clove. How exotic!
In the vege department, why stop at one onion? We generally start with the Homestead vegetable holy trinity of onion (or leek or shallot), sweet vege like carrot, yam, swede or kumara and the fresh taste of celery, green capsicum, green beans etc and then top it up with whatever’s in the garden or in the vegetable bin. For a smooth sauce you can finely dice or grate the vege, or puree it afterwards (remember to keep the meat separate if pureeing – just trust us on this one) but we usually go for the rustic (aka easy) look.
This recipe is awesome without any meat, or you can add the minced beef or make it into meatballs and dry fry, bake or grill them up separately. You can use left over roast meat, chicken, pork (bacon or ham…yum!) or any kind of sausage or (nod to Suzie Blue) a tin of tuna. When we were rather stretched for funds we would use diced saveloy or sliced frankfurters, nowadays we favour cabana or chorizo. Fry it all together until it is gorgeous, then add a teaspoon or two of paprika, smoked preferably, because it just makes it taste wonderful. Add any spices here and cook a wee while longer – you’ll smell when it’s ready.
We ditched the tomato puree long ago as a rather over priced, over tampered with ingredient. Now we go for fresh tomatoes in season or a jar of our own preserved (canned) ones. A couple of tins of plain diced or whole tomatoes are fine too. This is where you add the garlic too. If you add it at the beginning it tends to burn and taste bitter.
Take it from us, lose the powdered stock; you don’t need it tastewise and it’s full of nasty stuff anyway. Once the tomatoes are simmering, add what we call the “grunty herbs” like rosemary, thyme or oregano; ones that can take a bit of cooking.
We favour long, slow cooking leaving it bubbling for ages on top of the woodburner until the tomato turns a rich ready, brown colour. Taste it before you serve it, it might need a bit of salt depending on the meat you used.
That’s it: your basic pasta sauce. Make it plain or jazz it up depending on what continent you want your taste buds to visit. For Italian, we go for oregano with the tomatoes and basil right before serving with a grating of Parmesan on top. For a Mediterranean flavour you can’t beat cumin. If you’re using tuna, it tastes wonderful with a heap of ground black pepper in with the vegetables; there’s a million different tastes.
For a bit of variation we turn it into a quick curry, adding mild curry powder (Farm Girl protests otherwise) and cumin before the tomatoes, which we halve the amount of. Then, right at the end, we stir through a can of coconut milk or cream and serve it on rice instead of pasta.
For a decadent all in one lasagne without the layering hoo-hah we halve the tomato amount, make up some cheese sauce, stir it through at the end and serve over noodles or macaroni or whatever we feel like making (sometimes just little flat bits of pasta if we’re incredibly lazy or tired or both).
We now make our own pasta. While not as easy as opening a packet, it’s a whole different taste and superfast if you have a pasta maker. We’ll share that with you another day.
So, just to recap:
We reckon the main thing to remember with cooking is that there are no rules except for what you reckon tastes good. Dance to your own tune – you never know when you might discover a new classic. And if you do… share it with us!