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Matthew Evans: A love letter to summer

Chrissy Dupé

“It was really me saying “Oh my god, look at what happens in summer”. We’re growing things and rearing things. When you’re on the land, you get a true sense of seasonality.” – Matthew Evans

Matthew Evans has cooked and eaten his way around Australia – from chef, high-profile food critic and writer to farmer and most recently, television presenter.

Fresh from a book signing, I caught up with The Gourmet Farmer about his latest offering, Summer on Fat Pig Farm, and his plans to open an ‘extended farmhouse table’ restaurant.

Matthew Evans

Matthew Evans

I also got some hot tips on how to buy and prepare mouth-watering food at home…

The inspiration behind the book

Matthew says the book, which he calls his ‘love letter to summer’, is about honouring true seasonality in cooking. For him, it’s all about the ingredients you choose as well as the style of cooking.

fat pig farm

He wanted to give people recipes that are simple and transportable. So you can take the food and eat it somewhere else – whether it be a backyard lunch with friends, a trip down to the creek, or out fishing.

The book is full of dishes that showcase seasonal produce that really defines summer – from strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, peaches – to corn, eggplant and tomatoes.

“Really, strawberries are a summer fruit. I don’t care how often you can buy them in the shops – they’re a summer fruit,” Matthew says.

Many of the recipes are new. Others have been developed over time. And of course, there’s a lemon curd recipe in there. He says one of his roles in life is to give people lemon curd recipes, which feature in nearly all of his books.

matthew evans farm

Personally, I think this might actually be a super power, and that if I had one it would probably involve doughnuts…

On the process he went through to develop the book, Matthew says he thought a lot about classic dishes and ingredients, like poached peaches and fresh raspberries, and came up with some different ways to prepare them.

His white peaches with blueberries and sauvignon blanc jelly and raspberry and yoghurt cake with elderflower syrup recipes are two great illustrations of this.

White_Peaches_with_Blueberries_and_Sauvingon_Blanc_Jelly

What to look for when buying fresh produce

Luscious, fresh fruit features heavily in the book, and I asked Matthew what people should look for when buying fruit over summer.

He said the most important thing is fragrance. You shouldn’t buy strawberries, peaches, mangoes or nectarines unless they’re perfectly ripe – that means they should be soft, sweet and you should be able to smell them before you see them.

You can buy things like blueberries, gooseberries and raspberries without smelling them cause they’re not quite as fragrant. But they should still be a deep, rich colour, as well as soft and sweet. Watermelon, for example, should be a deep red colour throughout, rather than pale.

Matthew says that sadly, we’ve been trained to think that because you can buy things out of season, that the lack of flavour is normal.

“You buy a strawberry thinking it’s going to taste like a strawberry but half the time it’s a hologram, really,” he says.

I totally agree. How many times have you bought strawberries that taste really disappointing and watery, and avocados that are hard, soapy-tasting and inedible?

It made me think about whether I’m getting the most out of my ingredients, and gave me extra motivation to try to get my produce from farmers markets and other local producers wherever I can.

Paddock to plate – why is it so important?

Matthew says there are a few reasons that forging a strong connection to the land and knowing where food has come from is so important to him.

There are the obvious health benefits of eating fresh, organic foods and using ingredients as soon as possible once they’ve been harvested. But primarily, he says he’s driven by flavour.

Previously, he would think ‘Oh I really want to cook a raspberry trifle, and it’s September’, not fully understanding that the earth gives us it’s bounty of different ingredients at various times.

“If you can get it local and get it at the absolute peak of the season, it’s always going to be cheaper and taste better. So it makes cooking easier, it makes you happier and it’ll save you money,” he says.

So rather than developing a recipe and then finding the ingredients to make it, you should start with what’s in season and celebrate those ingredients by designing the dish around them or finding a recipe that uses them.

On being a food critic

I asked Matthew if he thought being a high-profile food critic for the Sydney Morning Herald for several years has made him extra critical of his own cooking.

“I am highly critical of my own cooking,” he responds.

“I guess what I’m really looking for – and I may not have fully understood this as a critic – is that depth of flavour and complexity.. and I’ve learned that my cooking is only as good as the ingredients I can get.”

It’s really important what you start off with, because you can’t add flavour to things, other than spice of course. Which certainly helps to make a dish, but you really can’t beat good quality ingredients.

“If your rockmelon’s not ripe, it’s not ripe. And you can’t invent perfume for strawberries. We’re just conduits, there to channel the best that the earth gives us,” he says.

If you could choose one meal, what would it be and who would you have cook it for you?

“Wow, that’s a good one! Umm, actually I’d probably want to be part of the cooking. And I’d want my wife to cook me the black beans from the book. She taught me how to cook black beans,” he says.

Matthew says his wife grew up in India and Indonesia and has taught him to find more nuance in spice than he thought was possible.

While she’s making the black beans, he’d be char-grilling corn on the cob with coriander butter. Simple cooking is best – just take a corn cob, mash some butter with a couple of other ingredients, slap it on, and you’ve got a sublime experience that’s beyond just corn.

Oh, and for dessert…the elderflower sherbet with strawberry and bay cream from the book. He says it’s a frozen dessert that’s got milk in it, but it’s not ice-cream, cause it doesn’t have eggs. And it’s not a granita cause it’s got milk in it. So it’s a cross between the two – a bit like a sorbet.

“It’s fragrant with the elder flower, and it’s got the acidity of lemon juice. It’s dead simple and it’s the perfect finish to a meal. It doesn’t matter how heavy the meal is, you can always knock down a sherbet,” Matthew says.

Speaking of Christmas, what’s going to feature on the menu at Fat Pig Farm this year?

“Always ham,” he says, without missing a beat. “Inevitably we do a leg of ham. We tend not to bake it, but that depends on the weather.”

The family will also be putting together some celebratory pavs with any berries they can find – probably wild strawberries and normal strawberries, and he says hopefully the raspberries will have kicked in on the farm by then as they usually do.

Vegetable-wise, the barbecue will be getting a work-out, with dishes like chargrilled zucchini with mint and feta on the menu.

And Matthew’s nettle and feta filo pie will also be making a special appearance this year. His wife has specifically requested this one – she thinks it’s one of the best things he’s made in the last two years.

Nette_&_Fetta_Filo_Pie

Recipe road test

I was dying to try out a recipe from the book. So I had a go at making the raspberry and white chocolate tipsy cake, and gave it a Little food blog twist by making it mini (of course!).

It was really easy to follow and it was totally scrumptious. So Matthew, as promised here are some shots of how the raspberry and white chocolate tipsy cups turned out…

Chrissy's version of Matthew's tipsy cake

Chrissy’s version of Matthew’s tipsy cake

I think this one might have to feature on my little food Christmas menu…

Where can people pick up a copy of the book?

It’s available now in most book stores and you can buy an electronic version through the Apple iBook store.

Matthew’s also selling personalised copies through the Fat Pig Kitchen online storeHis back-collection is on sale there until just before Christmas, including reduced postage. So if you’re looking for Christmas presents you can bundle them up and buy one for yourself and a couple for friends or family.

Making the tipsy cake

Making the tipsy cake

So, what’s next?

Matthew and his wife have just started building a commercial kitchen on the farm. He says it’s at the foundations stage, so they’re hoping to see it venture out of the ground in the next week or two.

It’s going to be a 36-seat dining room, where they’ll host one lunch a week and run cooking classes.

“We want to take this idea of local, seasonal cuisine and take it to it’s logical conclusion, which is: we have a farm that grows food. You come, and we cook it on the farm and serve it on the farm. So it’s an extended farmhouse table, really,” he says.

Does it have a name yet? Possibly Fat Pig Kitchen. In any case, it will be under the Fat Pig Farm umbrella. So I’m imagining something with Fat Pig in the title. Mmmm… pig… 

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Chrissy Dupé

Chrissy is a lover of lists and a self-confessed control freak. Her mission is to help other women with a strong need to be in control learn how to harness the power of their inner control freak and use it for good. Having lived through the devastation that being control freak without focus brings, and going out the other side stronger, Chrissy developed a series of hands-on, zero 'fluff' programs to help women control their freak, instead of letting it run them into the ground. Her philosophy is based on the little-known fact that control freaks are actually born for greatness... and that without them, the world would fall into disorganised chaos. You can find out more at www.controlyourfreak.com. More about the Author

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