Local is Lovely by Sophie Hansen »

For the love of fresh seasonal food, nice farmers and their produce

Robyn Lewis
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Local is Lovely, by Sophie Hansen

Local is Lovely, by Sophie Hansen


This beautiful little softcover book from the Orange region of central NSW is about everything that we at Visit Vineyards love so much: good people growing and making wonderful fresh produce with heart and soul, and presenting it in a fabulous but relaxed way for all to enjoy.

There’s no doubt that in the past few years – thanks in no small part to various TV shows like Gourmet Farmer, plus the Slow Food movement and an increasing concern about what we eat and how it is grown – the farm to plate journey is one that many city-dwellers have become fascinated with. 

Now many of us want to know “who grew this, and how?” in many cases right down to the name of the farmer and his or her dog. This is perhaps also in part reaction to the current practices of our major supermarkets, who – in order to guarantee consistency of supply that the market demands – are increasingly sourcing food from around the country and labelling it generically.

Once again, we're seeking connection. And who better to connect us with the food of the Orange region of NSW than Sophie Hansen, who now lives on a farm about four hours west of Sydney with her husband and their two children?

Hansen has worked for some of Australia’s top food and lifestyle magazines, prior to which she spent three years in Northern Italy working for the Slow Food’s editorial house, writing and editing the English language versions of the movement’s website and magazine Slow. More recently she has been freelancing for various online and virtual publications including Kidspot, Style Magazine and Justb Australia.

It’s Italy meets Orange, although Hansen has been very careful to ensure that the recipes in Local is Lovely can apply anywhere in temperate-Mediterranean Australia (and New Zealand), if not perhaps the tropical north.

As she says in her introduction, it’s “dedicated to the many farmers I know, and the hundreds I don’t. The ones that produce good food, care (in every sense of the word) for healthy, happy animals, grow clean crops and sustain the resources that help them do so”.

Living on a working farm as I do, and becoming increasingly self-sufficient, I can relate to much of the ethics and content of Local is Lovely. As Hansen also acknowledges, farming is tough, but also can be very rewarding – if not always financially, then in lifestyle, freedom and variety. And this book captures the best of Australian country life perfectly.

Originating from her blog, www.local-lovely.com – which started as a hobby telling the stories of local farmers and their produce online – the book is a celebration of them and their produce, with a focus on fresh, local food, beautifully illustrated with photographs of farmers, their produce, children, complete dishes, and seasonal watercolours by her mother.

I don't know too many foodies who won’t love this, or anyone contemplating a city-to-country change.

Her years in Italy certainly taught Hansen that Italian home cooks invest as much time and care in shopping for food as they do preparing it, either buying direct or from markets two or three times a week.

She was practicing this as far as possible in Sydney on her return, when she was invited to a lunch showcasing venison from Orange – and sat opposite a farmer named Tim. The rest, as they say, is history: a year later they were married, and they now jointly run an agribusiness and have two young children, in what she describes as “one of the country’s best food and wine regions”.

Like many a book of this type, it’s sensibly divided into seasons, for in the country (and in farmers’ markets) these dictate what is available at its peak of freshness, flavour and nutritional value.

Within each seasonal chapter is a collection of recipes using key ingredients, that to Hansen “truly epitomise that season” and also stories about some of the people responsible for growing them.

So let’s take a look, starting with Spring, which not surprisingly features lots of lamb. The Slow-roasted Lamb Shoulder with Currants and Pine Nuts has me salivating just reading the recipe, and that’s without looking at the picture! So easy for entertaining, especially with a salad and some garlic bread.

There’s a lot devoted to one of Hansen’s loves from her Italian days: cheese, in various forms, from Ricotta Loaf and Cheddar and Vegetable Slice, to Goat’s Cheese Fritters and the old country kitchen staple, Parmesan Cheese Biscuits.

Orange must attract food writers as well as cheese makers, for we also find Kathy Snowball’s Macaroni Cheese with Spinach – you may recognise her name as the former Food Director of Australian Gourmet Traveller. There are also pages of recipes using local honey, from Honey Granola to Honey and Harissa Chicken Legs with Minted Yoghurt Sauce.

Free-range eggs also feature in spring: in pasta, salads and the eponymous Spring Quiche, bursting with fresh peas and greens. And I just know my family is going to enjoy Lemon Meringue Ice Cream and the White Chocolate Bonet, a Piedmontese crème caramel made with white chocolate and amaretti biscuits....

Summer of course starts with berries, in tarts, clafoutis, ice cream and puddings, yum yum. Orange boasts its own elderberry grower, Jaro Lear from the Czech Republic, who makes elderflower and elderberry extracts. His syrup recipe features in Local is Lovely, and you can use it to make Elderflower Jerry with Fresh Raspberries for a summery lunch or afternoon tea.

And what would an Australian country summer be without figs? I’m rather relieved to know the fig season in Orange is also short (as it is where I live, in Tasmania), and here are some new ways to make the most of these squishy, sweet delights: Fig and Ginger Muffins; Grilled Figs with Duck Breast and Bitter Greens; Figs with Honey and Goat’s Curd (a combination made in heaven), and a Fig and Gorgonzola Pizza, and the very quick and easy Chicken Escalopes with Figs and Cider.

I’ll certainly be trying these next summer, and Fresh Fig Icecream with my frozen figs (yes, a tip from me: if you have a fig tree, you can simply put figs in the freezer whole, and use later).

Then there’s stone fruit – the recipes roll on like lazy summer afternoons: Bakes Amaretti Peaches; Apricot Frangipane Tart; Apricot Vanilla Jam; Cherry Chutney; Bacon and Nectarine Salad, and more, leading into summer vegetables, local grown garlic, capsicums cooked Piedmontese style, and more.

A section on Christmas follows, with some Hansen family sweet recipes, and another on the country show, including a few winners’ tips.

I think my favourite section in the book is autumn, starting with lots of things to do with the epitome of slow food, quinces, plus the more common pears and apples. Such inspiration for cooling weather and lengthening nights.

It’s here that meat lovers will find treasures too, including Twelve-hour Pork with Apples and Cider, and thus to the Hansen’s own venison.

Of course, her family loves it, and she describes farmed venison as “tender, delicately flavoured and … with enormous health benefits…. low in fat, calories and cholesterol…. Cook venison quickly and over a high heat, unless …with cuts like the osso bucco.”

There are recipes for venison carpaccio, sausages, backstrap, a pot roast, stroganoff and lots more – the Hansens hope that this book will inspire us all to eat more venison and be less afraid of cooking it.

I learn with interest that a few years ago they converted a farm shed on their property and opened it as a farm kitchen, where every month they welcome groups for lunches and farm tours, to connect with their customers. They also sell venison at the local markets. Mmmm indeed.

April is certainly a good time of year to visit Orange, when it hosts the annual ten-day festival known as F.O.O.D. Week (Food of Orange District), a part of which is Forage, a 4 km progressive lunch through the Nashdale Valley. Visitors walk through vineyards and orchards, stopping every few hundred metres to eat and drink matching wines. Sounds like my idea of heaven! (Or, if you can’t make that, the Orange Apple Festival is in May).

One of the outstanding recipes in the book is contributed by local caterer Edwina Mitchell, for Lamb Tagine and Couscous, which she has prepared for – wait for this – 750 people at Forage! This recipe is for eight, it’s cooked in one pot, and Mitchell says it’s one of most asked-for and easiest recipes she knows.

Also in autumn is the nut section – what don’t they grow in Orange?! Hazelnuts, walnuts, chestnuts (and almonds from Griffith), all crunchy and creamy as only fresh nuts can be. You’ll be wanting to make Hansen’s own invention, Walnut and Currant Agrodolce to serve as a side at your next barbecue, and Walnut and Chocolate Biscuits for the kids (young and old) in your life.

Winter is diverse, offering recipes from Ten-minute Flat Breads, Walnut Loaf and Spelt and Honey Loaves, through a wonderful Carbonade of Beef from Goulburn food-and-art-identity Robbie Howard, and a One Pot Lemon Chicken with Brown Rice and Leeks, to citrus – lots of citrus.

Hansen calls it “winter gold”, but although the name Orange suggests otherwise, her local region has plenty of home citrus trees, but nothing on a commercial scale. So on her trips to Sydney she stocks up, and recently met Riverina blood orange grower Vito Mancini, who found a point of difference in the oversupplied orange market and went for it, along with his cousins, and now runs Redbelly Citrus.

Blood orange recipes abound, from salads, to dipped in chocolate, candied, caramelised and made into marmalade. There are also winter veggie recipes from the local organic growers, including Celeriac, Apple and Horseradish Salad; Pickled Carrots, and Beetroot Relish. I’ll sure be trying Kale with Sausages for my daughter too (she loves kale, more than candy!)

Rhubarb has a long season, but here it’s included in winter: stewed, in a sauce, jam, frozen yoghurt, baked and in Rhubarb and Hazelnut Tarts. But Hansen particularly recommends her Rhubarb, Orange and Almond Cake (which can also be made in summer with peaches and apples in autumn). Washed down with rhubarb grower Kate McKay’s Rhubarb Vodka, perhaps!

There’s also a section at the back for ‘staple recipes’ including basic casseroles, cakes and pastry, sauces, marinades, soup, risotto, muffins, focaccia, and her mother’s Five Minute Birthday Cake, that you can cook year round, with a few variations. If you’re starting out on cooking, this would be a great place to begin – they might be called staples but they certainly will be delicious.

All recipes read well and look easy to accomplish, and are designed not to be intimidating. The idea is that you should have fun cooking them, the focus being on enjoying the “simple meal with friends”.

They sure eat well in Orange if Local is Lovely is any indication, and I for one am hankering after a visit to F.O.O.D. ‘Week’ one April soon! But before you do, grab a copy of this lovely little book and try out a few of these literally mouth-watering recipes, discover more about the region’s food and producers, and begin your culinary journey in your own kitchen.

Chef Matt Moran had this to say: "What I love about this book is, firstly it comes from incredibly passionate people – they care about farming, they care about produce and they care about seasonality, which is something true to my heart. It also has some fantastic recipes that I think I’m going to steal!"

To which I would add three more ingredients: authenticity, generosity and community – qualities that can’t be faked. All shine through, and you can feel the warm welcome on every page. If you can’t visit Orange, then Local is Lovely may be the next best thing, but I guarantee after reading it, a holiday in FOOD country will be high on your bucket list.

Local is Lovely by Sophie Hansen is published by Hachette Australia (Sydney, NSW, 2014; sc 250 pp) and retails in Australia for A$35.

Local is Lovely can be purchased online via Booko.com.au here »

Sophie Hansen blogs about local producers and food in her popular blog: www.local-lovely.com


  • Orange (NSW)

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