Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


What to do with a leek.

Leeks are the world's most under-rated vegetable, except by those in the know, and the Welsh. They can even play a starring role in pasta dishes.

While many people think of pasta sauces as either tomato- or cream-based, or rough equivalents, this recipe contains neither, but is as unctuous as the cream versions, and packs as much flavour as the acid-edged tomato ones.

Rigatoni with leek, mushroom and gorgonzola.

Slice one large leek finely into very thin rings. Rinse to eliminate grit. Slice half a red capsicum into fine dice. Slice six button mushrooms. Place leek, capsicum and mushrooms into a pan and cook slowly with olive oil and a little butter until the leek has 'melted' but not caramelised. The capsicum and mushrooms will look after themselves, the latter shedding a little fluid to keep the whole thing moist.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta. For this, I used rigatoni.

Drain pasta and fold through the leek 'sauce'. Top with chopped parsley.

Perfect as it is; or to raise the bar even higher, crumble gorgonzola over the top and add toasted pine nuts.

McLaren Vale Shiraz to accompany.


The oval.

And then, by chance, I was back in the college shown in the previous post, one cold sunny morning in early September. The recently deceased spouse of an older relative had specified that his wake be held on sacred ground. And so, there we were – three cousins, amongst a large crowd of friends and relations – gazing through the panoramic window of the new sports pavilion overlooking the main football oval. At the bottom of a steep hill, a natural valley carved out by Steele’s Creek, the oval is hemmed in by dramatic terracing that rises away at just the right angle to make it a perfect, natural amphitheatre. It’s the only original part of the entire complex. Human architects could not improve it. We watched as a tractor made manoeuvres in the middle of the ground. I think it was preparing the wicket for the cricket season. Beyond the oval, way up on the hill, a Ryan’s bus roared up the Buckley Street ascent towards Essendon Station, just like they did forty years ago when we stared, bored, out of a classroom in the main building.

We gazed at the view and were – figuratively and literally – looking at our lives. The other two were saying something about records, comparing games tallies. One had umpired VCA and Shield for about thirty years; the other was AFL record holder for games umpired. The former was born with the fortitude and patience for standing in 40 degrees on a parched wicket for most of Saturday and Sunday; we had been on an epic trip as teenagers. I had umpired football at school, but that had given way to cross-country running. I countered that my figures might trump both; but AV doesn’t keep records of aggregate races. Let’s see: ten summer and ten winter races – just to pull some figures from the air – since 1970? We stood and stared at the oval and contemplated our lives that were games on this piece of grass – and others – interrupted by work, marriage, divorce (in my case), children and other things.

A waitress came by with a tray the size of a tractor wheel piled high with ribbon sandwiches; asparagus, mayonnaise, spinach and chicken, or smoked salmon, Dijon-spiked egg, avocado and cream cheese. This is not like the old days. Before the new pavilion was built, the old changing rooms were the venue for that gastronomic boyhood highlight, the pie night. Another wheel rolled into view on the arm of another waitperson. Sushi this time. Acres of the stuff amassed in ever-smaller layers up to a peak; a pyramid. I stuck with the ribbon sandwiches.

Now the cricket cousin was holding his newborn grandson, which had woken in its pram that had been carefully placed overlooking the hallowed ground. Seven weeks old, name of Percival. Percy for short. Percy was blinking and waving out of a voluminous crocheted off-white blanket. Life marches on.