I love living in 'the hills' - we first arrived 25 years ago and our kids were born and raised here and went to the local primary school. The Dandenong Ranges are around 45 kms from Melbourne, still regarded as part of the city but remote enough to feel rural. Have a look on Google maps and you'll see what I mean: much of the area is National Park and most of the houses are well-established and treed. The air is clean, crime rates are low and traffic is light (except on Sundays on the Tourist Road). A series of small villages are dotted throughout the hills and in general people move up here because property is cheap and stay for good.
So it's a lovely place to live and raise a family. The disadvantage of this rural idyll for someone for whom food is an occupation/obsession is the dearth of a variety of good quality produce or 'exotic' ingredients. Yes, we have a couple of farmers' markets near by (usually on a Saturday when I am working) and we have a great biodynamic market in the village. We are also very lucky that Maxi, our local supermarket (not one of the big chains) has amazing fresh fish filleted on site as well as a good selection of Asian and European specialty goods. And since we put in our kitchen garden our vegetable needs are sorted.
However if I want to experiment with things like duck or goat or rabbit, buy authentic spices and trimmings for a Middle Eastern banquet, or even access artisan cheeses or smallgoods, I often have to travel to the inner suburbs. Whenever I visit Carly down in Highett, or go to my hairdresser in McKinnon, I always stop at Oasis Middle Eastern bakery and stock up on spices and staples and buy fresh pastries and flat breads. If I am going through Fitzroy or St Kilda, it's a stop at a bagel shop. And whenever we're in Melbourne proper, we always visit Queen Victoria Market.Established in 1878 (on the site of Melbourne's first cemetery!!) the Queen Vic sits on over 17 acres, and while stalls selling general tat have consumed a lot of the old fruit and veg stalls, there are still enough food stalls to provide a huge amount of variety at excellent prices. The deli hall is amazing with 4 specialist cheese stores, fantastic smallgoods - you can even buy the South African staple biltong there. There's also a great kitchenware shop stacked to the rafters with general and specialist equipment.
On the Easter weekend we had a 'stay-cation' in the city. We booked an apartment in the CBD and had a lovely couple of days wandering around our beautiful city. We went to galleries, explored some of the classic old buildings and laneways which are unique to Melbourne AND we went to the Queen Vic. My mission on this visit was to buy some goat. A recent article in the NY Times - How I learnt to love goat meat reminded me of a beautiful slow-braised goat ragu I had a few years back at that Melbourne restaurant institution Grossi Florentino.
So with this dish in mind I tracked down a stall selling goat meat and bought two large leg pieces (at $10.99 per kg an absolute bargain). Despite having around 4000 cookbooks in stock, when it came to finding a recipe I was stumped. None of what I regarded as the obvious international cookbooks had recipes (Middle Eastern, African, Italian, Greek), specialty cookbooks on meat were silent. Even 'the bible' - Stephanie Alexander's Cook's Companion, to which I can always turn for imspiration when I have an ingredient and no idea what to do with it - didn't consider goat an ingredient worth mention.
So I cobbled together a recipe using Maggie Beer's excellent advice in Maggie's Farm and my recipe for veal ragu (see earlier post). After browning the legs I fried together a sofrito of onion carrot, celery and garlic. I then returned the meat to the dutch oven with a couple of cups of red wine and beef stock, chucked in a bay leaf, covered the pot with alfoil and a tight-fitting lid and put it in the oven for 3 hours, adding water a couple of times during cooking. The next day I broke up the meat and stirred it into the beautiful sauce which the juices had made. - simple and delicious. I didn't find the meat particularly unusual - apart from maybe a slightly stronger aftertaste on the palate. I served it with homemade potato gnocchi using Marcella Hazan's advice - no eggs! I haven't posted any photos because making the gnocchi became a much longer exercise than I allowed for: by the time it was done I was not in the mood for plating and styling and cleaning up the enormous amount of mess which had materialised around me. All we wanted to do was dish up and eat!! I have decided to put gnocchi in the 'can I really be bothered basket'.