Whenever I feel like a ready injection of country livin’, I head down to Collingwood Farmers’ Market at
the Collingwood Children’s Farm. Nestled on the banks of the Yarra, the rickety swinging gates down St Heliers Street preface a sprawling inner-city oasis of lush flora lined by dirt tracks, and various barnyard critters. Every second Saturday of the month, around 70 Victorian farmers roll out a lush spread of fresh produce including, cheeses, olives, preserves, cakes, meats, flowers, fruits and vegetables.
The vendors at the farmers market dispense pearls of information with their produce. You can learn so much about where the produce comes from, clever ways to prepare it, and the best items of the season. I was given a guided tour around a tray of four types of goat sausage, sampled some sharp cheddar studded with plump sweet cranberries, was delighted by the bundles of fruity Christmas pud’ (already!), and discovered baby artichokes piled in a basket with tiny hearts like brussel sprouts which I was informed would be good fried up with garlic and oil.
Initially had my sights set on the artichoke (craving them stuffed and with herbs, Parmesan and lemony breadcrumbs). However, the temperamental Melbourne weather has meant that the usually short lived crop is not optimal this year. This gave me the perfect excuse to make a beetroot carppaccio, which has stuck with me since I first tried it years ago at a Yarra Valley winery.
The subtle sweet earthiness of the beetroot in paper thin slices is ignited by the tangy vinegar dressing, and the sharp but creamy goats cheese. The nuttiness of the toasted pumpkin seeds, the buttery broad beans and the kick of chilli is so moreish. We returned to it several times over the weekend, assembling the left over components for a quick and tasty snack. It also would be excellent to graze on as an antipasto on a sunny spring afternoon, a handsome side dish to red meat, or even a luscious brunch with a pair of perfectly poached eggs and crusty bread.
Traditionally, carpaccio is slices of raw beef, beaten as thinly as possible, cured with lemon, drizzled with olive oil and topped with shavings of Parmesan. The dish was created in 1950 in Venice for a Contessa named Amalia Nani Mocenigo who couldn’t eat cooked meat. It was named after the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio, being reminiscent of the vivid colours, particularly reds, used in his paintings. So, despite straying from the traditional version, this dish can truly be classified as a Carpaccio.
4 cups red wine vinegar
1 cup losely-packed brown sugar
2 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp mustard seeds
3 bay leaves
Finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
1 cinnamon quill
75 gm soft goat’s cheese
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, fresh chilli
Bring the beetroot, vinegar, sugar, herbs, lemon rind and juice, and 1 litre water to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer for about 30 minutes, or until a skewer slides into the beetroot easily.
Remove the beetroot and reserve the liquid. Once the beetroot has cooled, cut into very thin slices by hand, or with a mandolin.
Return the liquid to the stove, and simmer for another 15 minutes.
Toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry fry pan for about 5 minutes, or until slightly brown.
Blanch the broad beans until tender.
Divide beetroot slices among plates, drizzle over a few tablespoons of the reduced vinegar. Scatter with the broad beans, toasted pumpkin seeds, and finely chopped chilli. Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper.