One of the joys of Canberra is the four distinct seasons, and of all of them Autumn is my favourite. Although this summer wasn’t as bakingly hot as it has been for the last couple of years, it was still hot enough that I’m enjoying the beginnings of briskness in the mornings and snuggling in a warm bed at night.
If you try to eat seasonally, particularly if you grow some of your own food, Autumn is the best time of year. I live in a cul-de-sac of eleven houses, four of which have veggie gardens, and it’s quite common to see someone or other ambling across the road with a handful (or a box) of excess produce. It was our turn last week, when our neighbour Kev dropped in with two lovely early butternut pumpkins from his patch. I’m hoping for some figs, as our tree is tiny. It’s one of three in this street and the next grown from a cutting from No. 8’s magnificent tree.
One of the best arrivals with the cooler weather is lemons. Meyer lemons seem to be the most commonly grown variety locally because they tolerate cold fairly well, but I spotted the first fresh thin-skinned Eurekas of the year at Choku Bai Jo last week. While they’re very common and often cold-stored to sell over the summer, freshness really brings out their appetising sharpness. I love their colour too which is more “lemony” than intensely yellow.
The other ingredient I had around and was keen to use plenty of is biodynamic garlic. We’ve been buying organic and/or byodynamic garlic for quite a while now, so the prices for a home delivery of a kilo of Patrice Newell’s Garlic wasn’t as frightening as it might be if you’re used to the (irradiated, Chinese) supermarket stuff. It’s excellent garlic, with a pungent, intense flavour that the imported crap can’t approach (that’s it in the picture in my last post).
I had no idea that all garlic harvested in Australia is harvested in November. The site suggests that from May it can start sprouting. I’ve always understood – although I can’t remember from where – that sprouting garlic was worthless. But I’ve also heard that you can cut out the sprouting germ, and I know you can plant some. Our garlic arrived at the end of January, and I’m
a bit pissed off sad to see that some has started to sprout already, but perhaps my storage method – open in the box it came in, in a dry warm room – wasn’t quite so good as I thought. What’s left is now hanging in one of those orange mesh bags in the kitchen. If you haven’t snapped some up yet, there’ll be no more available until the next harvest, but you can register your details at their site.
Thinking lemony-garlicky brought me to braising, and chicken, and I ended up adapting this recipe a little. This is how good it looks before it’s even made it to the oven –
1 organic and free range chicken, jointed (or buy pieces if you fancy)
4 medium waxy yellow potatoes
3 merguez or other lovely spicy sausages (mine were from Meat Guru in Civic)
1 Eureka lemon, cut lengthways in eighths
1/2 a preserved lemon, flesh removed, skin julienned
half a dozen sprigs of lemon thyme (which we grow, but thyme is fine. Rosemary would work too, but use much less.)
a bunch of sorrel (*optional As is everything else, of course, this being the food blog of a suburban mother with no culinary enforcement squad.)
2 heads of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
Heat the oven to about 180. I say “about” because my oven is crap, so do what your oven tells you.
Peel the potatoes and cut each crosswise into about three or four fat slices. Brown them in a little olive oil and remove from the pan, then add a smidgen more oil and brown the seasoned chicken pieces. Brown the sausages and cut into chunks of a similar size to the potatoes.
Put the potatoes, chicken and sausage chunks in a casserole with a cover. If you used something other than the casserole to brown everything, deglaze it with some vermouth and scrape all the yummies in. If you used the casserole itself, splash in some vermouth and/or white wine (not too much). Tuck the garlic cloves and lemon pieces in here and there and strew over the herbs and preserved lemon.
Cook covered for about an hour, then toss in a bunch of very finely chopped sorrel. You might need to add a splash more vermouth (or you could use stock). I won’t tell if you put a knob of butter in to enrich the sauce, although it’s not necessary. Cook it for another half an hour or so, but keep an eye on it, and remove the cover at the end if the juices need a little thickening up.
You won’t need any starchy base for this, as it already has potatoes, although I cooked some mograbieh in chicken stock for the carb-hungry kids. You will need a big green salad, preferably one with some bitterness and substance to the leaves. You could also try some wilted greens, such as the last of your rainbow chard. Which is a bit sad, but delicious.
Don’t skimp on the garlic, either – it becomes a vegetable here, sweet, mellow and warming not at all harsh and bitey. It might appear from the recipe to be a too-intensely lemony dish, but the flavours are complex and layered rather than a full-frontal single-note lemon assault. Not to forget that the highly flavoured sausages need something capable of standing up to their punch. It’s delicious, but doesn’t reheat as well as I’d hoped. This means you should have seconds if you feel like it.
I made this again recently, and while I was tempted to try it with chick peas (one can = 1/2 cup soaked and cooked) I bought some Dutch Cream potatoes at the Epic market on Saturday and wasn’t able to ignore them. I’d run out of vermouth, and had no dry white wine, so I used white wine vinegar to deglaze the pan, and that was fine. I considered caramelising the cut surfaces of the lemon wedges, but I decided that was stupid overkill.
I’d taken the lemon thyme out, in case you were wondering, because it looked brown and sad. And no need to mention the state of that casserole dish, thank you very much. I already know.