Cardoon – beautiful thistle with attitude

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Pic 1: cardoon growing , Pic 2 harvested and lying on my kitchen table, Pic 3 Leaves and flowers removed and getting the woody strings off (put the stems in water with lemons squeezed in), Pic 4 boiling the cardoons with lemons

I harvested my first cardoon a few weeks ago my second cardoon yesterday.  The first one was made in to a successful dish, but the second was a disaster, fairly bitter and very stringy even though I spent the better part of the morning peeling the stalks and boiling them. Boiling for an hour tenderises the stalks and draws out the bitterness, but in this case it was not quite successful. As you can see from the pictures, a lot of work goes into preparing the cardoon before one can make up the dish for the table. I covered the boiled and cleaned cardoon in bechamel and sprinkled cheese and bread crumbles over the top then baked it in the oven until bubbly and crispy on top.  The taste was OK and the sauce and topping terrific but no one was very impressed and No second helpings! Someone wrote that one can only expect a good harvest after the 3rd year, saying that their cardoon grows to 2 meters high. Mine were planted this year and were about 1 and n half meter high when I cut them down. The first plant has regrown. We did boil the small buds like we do with artichokes and ate the soft parts of the leaves and the hearts and that was very nice.

I have to think about this vegetable and research it more – I am determined to make a successful dish when I harvest the third plant. Advice anyone ?

Quail Giblet Risotto (works for chicken giblets too)

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We are used to this dish made with chicken giblets, but, as you know we also have quail! I make stock with the quail  bones, and this risotto, every time when I have to cull. Risotto involves standing and stirring the pot all the time – no  answering the phone, getting the door or visiting the bathroom! 😉 The consistency of the dish must be just right, not too wet, not too dry and al dente. It takes some work but is worth the trouble. My smallest grandchild is particularly fond of this dish, to the  point where his grandmother once told me to stop shoveling it in after the 3 rd bowl – she was afraid he may pop.

Quail Risotto 

2 liters of good chicken or quail stock stock. I make my own, it is simple and easy and makes all the difference to the taste

2 cups of Arborio or Carnaroli rice. Yes, it has to be Arborio or Carnaroli, the normal rice does not have enough starch

10 quail giblets  (or 400 g Chicken giblets). One can save quail giblets by freezing them until enough has been collected

1 medium sized onion finely chopped

1 Large clove Garlic (more if you like) finely chopped

1 tablespoon rosemary or sage finely chopped

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive Oil

3 tablepoon butter

pinch of dried chili flakes

1 cup of good white wine

salt andpPepper

Half a cup of grated parmigiano cheese ( stir it in at the end, or serve with cheese on top)

one bottle Sangiovese wine (to go in to the cook and the cook’s friends 😉 )


Heat the stock and keep it hot. Ad one table spoon of olive oil and one table spoon of butter, a quarter of the onions and a quarter of the garlic to a pan and saute until soft. Ad the giblets and brown slightly. Pour half a cup of white wine in and evaporate.  Turn the temperature down, ad the Chili, Sage or Rosemary, and braise in a drop of stock for about 30 minutes until tender. Use a pot big enough to hold everything with ample room for lots of stirring. Put the rest of the olive oil and one table spoon of butter in the pot and add the rest of the onion and garlic and saute over a gentle heat until the onion is soft but not coloured.  Add the rice to the onion mixture in the pot and stir a few minutes to heat through. Toast the rice and cover every grain in oil. Add a half a cup of good white wine and cook until the rice have absorbed all the wine. Turn the heat medium low and start adding a few ladles of stock, and stir constantly. Every time the rice becomes dry, ad a ladle of hot stock and keep stirring. When half cooked (ten minutes) add the warm giblets to the rice. Keep adding hot stock a ladle at a time and keep stirring until the rice is almost al dente.   The consistency should be very moist as the rice will still absorb moisture and dry out for some time. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper while cooking. Immediately take off the heat and stir in one tablespoon of cold butter and half a cup of grated Parmigiano (optional). Stir quite aggressively to make it creamy and smooth. Let it rest for about three minutes while the rice finisesh cooking in the residual heat and serve immediately. Top with grated Parmiginao cheese if not stirred in at the end. The rice must never be dry but must also never float in the stock. If you add the stock all at once you will end up with boiled rice, not risotto.  Each grain of rice should have its own glistening coating of stock, and should be chewy, not soft and soggy. In Veneto they serve risotto “all’onda” which means like the waves of the sea – very soft and they give  you only a fork to eat it – no spoon. This is also the way I like it, even though I am from Lombardy.

We often eat risotto as a main meal but it makes a great primi piatti if the main meal is  meat. I would serve a great Sangiovese red with this if there is any left after tasting the good wine while cooking.


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Good stock is the one ingredient a kitchen should never be without.


Chicken bones or (quail back bone, neck, wing tips and excessive skin) – About half a Kg in total or more if you want to make a stronger stock.

2 onions (No need to skin) – Washed and roughly cut up. Could be replaced with Leeks

2 large carrots leaves and all) – Washed and roughly cut up

half a bunch of Celery (Leaves and all) – Washed and roughly cut up. You could add celeriac leaves if you have any

salt lightly to taste

8 Liters of water

I often buy chicken frames from the supermarket (sorry, but sometimes I have to go there) or use the back bones and necks of the quails, when I slaughter, which are both good for stock even though different. Quails make a much stronger stock than chicken. You can also do a fish stock, by replacing the meat with fish heads and frames. I keep the stocks separate so I have different flavours for different dishes.  Put all the ingredients, including the water (cold) into a meat stock pot and boil over a low heat for at least two hours, but preferably more. Let the liquid reduced by about one third and keep topping it up with more cold water to keep it at this level. Stir every so often to prevent it from burning and sticking to the bottom.

Strain the liquid from the solids using a colander and return the liquid to the stock pot and heat until boiling again. Immediately pour into clean containers and seal immediately (I use 2 liter plastic buckets). Should the lids fit properly, the reduction in product temperature will form a very effective vacuum seal. If you have maintained a high level of cleanliness and your containers were  clean, the stock will remain good for months in the pantry, even though I normally keep mine in the fridge. Once opened it should be kept in the fridge and used within a couple of days. The vegetables  are good to feed to your Chickens and Quails.

With home made stock, soups are delicious and easy, pasta sauces and stews shine and you cannot make risotto without it. Braising meat and keeping it moist with the correct stock also ad complexity and additional flovour.

Seen and Heard at the Dunedin Stadium Markets (Every Sunday)

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It was a very quiet day for the stall holders at the markets on Sunday. The weather kept Dunedinites indoors and many vendors were unhappy by the end of the day.  Most of the people who were  around had attended the rugby match the evening before and came in for a quick feed before leaving for home and the food vendors did brisk business for a while.

I took along my new pet quail house that is for sale with one quail inside who embarrassed me by behaving like the juvenile delinquent he is. Promoting quails as pets and egg producers in small back yards is something I feel strongly about. Most urban gardeners have the vegetable part of their diet covered but need to add protein –  quails are ideal for this, producing an egg a day. I also took my usual quail eggs packaged by the dozen.  Should you need more information about quails and the Pet Quail House go to my blog,

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The fruit farmer had lovely large quinces as promised for a very good price, and he will be picking quinces for a few weeks from now on. He also brought fresh corn that he had picked the night before, sweet red plums. I could not resist and brought a lot of things home.

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Because it was quieter today I could wander around a bit and have a look at the local artists who work on site. Suzanne Emslie from SOFT CURVES sculpts her lovely stone figures at the markets every week. Have a look at her facebook page and her phone number is 027 739 6531

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Another interesting local artist is Tony Rowe with his colourful stencil art. Everything is priced at $10 so if you want to pick up a fun, original artwork as a gift or for yourself, this is a must see.

There are many more stalls to talk about next week!


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As result of many requests for Quails as pets, I have designed and built a Quail Pet House, which comes complete with four Quails ready to start laying eggs.

Quails (Coturnix coturnix) make the perfect pet. Not only are they docile, quiet, inquisitive and clean, but each quail will also give you a delicious egg every day, so they pay for their own upkeep;  how many pets can claim that!  Quails become very tame and by nature are relaxed and adaptable little animals. They are amazingly efficient and incredibly interesting little creatures.

Small incubators for people that are interested in hatching their own quail babies are available, which is an excellent child project that teaches them the basic principles of breeding and rearing, apart from just looking after and enjoying a pet.

This little Quail House ( under 1 x 1 meters) fits into any small area and can stand in a bedroom, in the garage, on the veranda or  under a tree in the garden. They are  strong and built to withstand all weather conditions. Made from tanalised and double oiled wood, this pet house is durable and will last for a long long time. A roof door and easily replaceable floor (extra floor included) makes cleaning an easy and quick task.  Also included is a sand bath and water and food feeders.

The ideal pet accommodation for all needs. The ideal mini aviary.

Goatherd’s Lunch

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Today’s lunch is unusual because nothing was from my garden apart from the apples. In Italy the herders travel  light, climbing up the mountains with their animals carrying  a lunch of cheese, bread, fruit and wine in a bag. I did not travel on foot, but, on my way to get fresh milk I passed the farm of a friend who makes delicious cheese from the milk of her own goats and sheep and brought some home.  All organic of course, from happy sheep and goats, and she learnt her craft in Switzerland so I could not miss. I rushed home, started my ricotta and spread my treasures on the table along with my own bread and apples, and the neighbour’s pears. A true feast!

I took pictures of the stunning scenery on the way there – it was a bit misty but beautiful still – and only about 10 minutes from my house. Dunedin surprises me every day, it certainly is not only a small university city, it has many talented and gifted residents that revel the lifestyle that can only be had in this rather isolated beauty spot.