Oaxacan Salad & The Agrarian Kitchen
During my Tasmanian adventures earlier in the year I was fortunate enough to visit The Agrarian Kitchen, which having long yearned to attend was utter fulfilment. Nestled in the peaceful surrounds of the Derwent Valley, this sustainable farm-based cooking school was created by former Australian Gourmet Traveller editor Rodney Dunn and his wife Séverine Demanet. Together they transformed five acres into an abundant working farm of heirloom fruit, vegetables and rare breed animals that today delights an endless score of guests.
It’s a place that feels as though you’ve tumbled through the looking glass. The trees groan with ripe fruit; limbs sage of beans and buds; hands are muddied, carts are laden and bellies filled. The earth parts as leaves sprout, claws scratch through and spring seeds are sown. Indigo berries, laurel corn husks and lilac cauliflowers await their harvest. The rambling garden harbours flowers of garlic, chamomile and jasmine while quiet corners bare peppermint, rosemary and thyme. There are florets, bunches, stems and posies and of course the tomatoes. All sweet and juicy and dragging on vines; they alone deserve poetry for their taste on tongue.
Forging amongst the beds, under faint rain and misty skies reiterated the magic the comes from paddock to plate. It seems something quite intimate to indulge on fresh produce as it comes from the ground; as though the life in its skin, seeds and flesh is at a crescendo and all else is but a shadow of such glory. In my own day to day I eat as closely as I can to my farmers but still dream to one day have my own harvest and what it would be to have fields as bountiful as these.
Brushing away the earth and dew of handpicked produce, I could’ve happily dined amongst the weeds but subsequent to our morning was an afternoon in the kitchen and so it beckoned. Gathering around our benches there was milk to curdle, pasta to press, vegetables to prepare, butchery to master and pots to mind. Conversation lingered in the air as we soaked in the atmosphere; watching, learning and putting our hands to work. We tended our plates in turn sitting to dine and then returning once more to labour on the next. It was a slow, artful dance from table to kitchen and then back again; wine flowed, laughter rang out and hunger subsided.
Our first plate was a rich buttery rotolo with pumpkin, ricotta and sage. We’d turned out the sheets of dough, laden them with filling and then rolled the assembly in a towel to simmer. It was warm and earthy with a sharpness from the cheese and slight crunch from the charred sage. Taking a brief interlude to stoke flames, dress greens and season dishes, following that; wood grilled rabbit was served with chimichurri sauce and accompanied by char-grilled corn in smoked paprika aioli and oaxacan salad. Rich flavours meet sharp, sweet notes and the bright, fresh produce shone out. To end were upside down pear cakes, all crimson and sweet, oozing with syrup and dressed by warm goat milk crème anglaise. Melting into our chairs and unhooking top buttons, home brew tisanes were served to ease full bellies and the last of the afternoon bled away. If it sounds romantic, it most certainly was.
Never one to pass on a solid salad recipe, that was my pick of the day and subsequent re-creation for you. To elaborate on its origins Oaxaca (pronunced wah-hah-kah) is a southern Mexican state. It’s a bastion of indigenous culture with a vibrant arts scene and extravagant festivities. The cuisine is unique and largely savoury based on staples of corn, beans and chile peppers. Our plate at The Agrarian Kitchen derived its inspiration from this regional, with a warm, moorish dressing of pickled jalapeños over seasonal vegetables. Compared to my adaptation theirs was far more of an autumnal fare with beans, broccoli and carrot but alas that season and it’s produce have past us by. Tardiness on my part has bred new inspiration though and with a current abundance of fresh spring produce I’ve instead included corn, asparagus, broccolini and radishes. It’s light with a slight kick of heat and perfect for picnic season.
This recipe is adapted from The Agrarian Kitchen experience I attended.
900gm small waxy potatoes, I use kipfler
2 bunches asparagus
2 bunches broccolini
2 corn cobs, husks removed
4 radishes, leaves removed
Salt and pepper
Optional to serve; spring onions, natural yoghurt
90ml olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic
2 tsp ground all spice
2 tsp thyme leaves
185ml / 3/4 cup of apple cider vinegar
4 slices of pickled jalapeño, finely chopped and juice reserved
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add the potatoes and cook until tender, for about 20 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and then add the corn cobs to cook for 3 minutes. Remove with tongs and refresh under cold water. Add the broccolini and asparagus to cook for 1 minute before draining and refreshing under cold water.
For the dressing, heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat, add the onion, whole garlic cloves, all spice and thyme and cook stirring frequently for 5 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Add the vinegar, jalapeños and 30ml of reserved juice and 1/2 a cup of water. Bring to the boil, then remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
In a large bowl combine the cooked vegetables, radishes and dressing and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stand the salad for at least 4 hours before serving with spring onion and natural yoghurt. It will keep refrigerated for up to a week.
Seasonal guide / temperate climate
Broccolini, late autumn through winter; corn, spring through early winter; asparagus, early spring though autumn; radish, spring though early autumn.
Notes on the garden from The Agrarian Kitchen cookbook; “our plan from the beginning was to grow produce natural, at its own pace, for maximum flavour, rather than pumping it up with artificial fertilisers for quick gratification. This approach means that our focus is mostly on the soil. By feeding it and encouraging the growth of microorganisms, we are creating a healthy, self-sustaining environment in which plants thrive”.
Spring onion, fresh coriander or mint, natural yoghurt, roasted almonds or walnuts, currants.