Cooking at the farm has become the only way to cook. Definitely one of life's fine pleasures, up there with swimming in the ocean or cycling to Bear Shola or the nights in Masinagudi. As the sun sets, we drag ourselves away from the verandah and those loud mouthed frogs, open a bottle of wine, get the woodfire started in the oven and settle down at the counter to peel garlic, knead rosemary into the bread dough or make up a batch of scones with pinenuts and raisins.
The first crop we grew was horsegram (ulluvalu) on advice from Yohan, to give the soil a nice nitroenous foundation. It felt like a good omen because Ulluvalu chaaru was one of Paabi’s favourite things to eat. His sister, Shakuntalamma, would make it in Madanapalle and bring it to Bangalore in little jam jars. Paabi would squish it into hot rice and ghee and just love, love, love it! Ulluvalu chaaru was traditionally made with the soup of the horsegram after the cooked grain was fed to the horses. The soup would be boiled down on a woodfire till it was thick and chcocolate brown, tamarind added and finally seasoned with fried onions, red chillies, curry leaves and cumin.
So when we harvested our first bags of ulluvalu, we got a big kick out of it. We even made little packages of horsegram with a recipe for Ulluvalu chaaru and gave it to the cast of The Wedding Party in January of 2008. Oh yes, we also grew ridge gourd/heerekai that first year.
I’ll never forget how delighted we were to see the first baby heerekai’s on their vines. They looked adorable – all green and fuzzy and sweet. The next year we grew Toor dal and Avarekkai and of course this year has been all about the bananas. Nagaraj was long in the tooth about not using any fertilizer or pesticide and grumbled on a daily basis. He was convinced the crop would suffer and all manner of other depressing stuff. But we kicked our heels in with all the naivete of new farmers, planted the bananas in furrows and fed them with cowdung and water and plenty of sunshine. We’ve had a really pretty crop – about 1 and ½ ton – of voluptuous little yelakki bananas, and have learned how to sell them at Hopcoms which is a pretty fantatsic resource. Straight from our jeep to the Hopcoms yard and then on to the Bangalore Club Hopcoms oftentimes!
I’ve also grown tough grasses and hard rooted herbs like rosemary, lemon grass and khus on my bunds to prevent soil erosion.… Let's see how that goes. But it has ensured easily available flavour and fragrance. We make a really refreshing lemon and rosemary tea. Next, I shall experiment with lemon grass ice cream and creme brulee.
But back to the woodfire oven…Everyone loves pizza and it’s ok to cook for about 20 normal people. But when you have 40 mad children who’re all screaming for pizza and who all want Margeritas and will have nothing to do with Blancos…it’s best to have some pasta and salad on stand by. And apple crumble.
I usually make two sauces – a tomato based sauce with plenty of roast garlic, olive oil and shredded basil that’s been thickened and made quite dense with brown sugar. And then my Rosemary-Onion Marmalade that goes on my Blanco – this, I know from experience, is clearly an adult pizza. A simple yeasty pizza dough and plenty of mozarella is all it needs before popping into the woodfire oven for about 8 minutes. I really don’t think you need toppings if your sauce is lovely and fragrant.
Slice about 8 medium onions
Peel one full pod of garlic
2 tablespoons of fresh rosemary spikes
Balsamic vingegar or Port
Warm about ¼ cup of olive oil in a deep pan and add the sliced onions and peeled cloves of garlic. Cook slow and long over a medium flame till the onions are starting to brown. Add the rosemary and about 2 tablespoons of sugar. Let it cook further till it’s the consistancy of marmalade. Now add a splash of Balsamic vinegar or Port and cook further. You need to cook the onions for about an hour in all for that perfect flavour. Add salt to taste.