from one generation to the next
Like the vast majority of Australians, my ancestors arrived by boat. They came for work prospects, for economic betterment and to secure a safe future. Curiosity about where we had come from has led to an enduring fascination.
Armed with only a few names and dates, I began my genealogical research twenty five years ago in Melbourne’s magnificent domed State Library, laboriously searching handwritten microfiche for references to my family, and with every tiny glimmer of hope, mailing enqiries to archives in the UK.
As was common in late Victorian London, tragedy lurked in the family home. My paternal great grandfather beset with poorly managed diabetes died at the ripe old age of thirty. There were whispers my grandfather had a step sister. Names were spoken of lovingly, letters, photos and memories shared but I had no tangible faces to put to the names so my extended family seemed like a fiction.
Digging deep, I found that my widowed great Grandmother had remarried. The man who became known affectionately as “Pop” was an immigrant too. He had arrived in London from Italy penniless, having heard that the newly opened Savoy Hotel needed continental waiters. I admire his initiative for taking a risk, his courage for marrying a widow in a foreign land and his big heart for fathering four young children as his own.
Amilcare Auguste Bolzani’s influence has been subtle and long lasting. Both my grandfather and father loved the food of mediterranean Europe and they passed that love to me.
This wintery tart is a tribute to those three fine men of courage and good taste.
Polenta Tart – Swiss Chard Porcini and Gruyere
41/2 cups well seasoned vegetable stock
1/2 cup polenta
60g gruyere cheese, shredded
1 egg, beaten with a fork to combine
Sea salt and frehly ground black pepper to taste
15g dried porcini mushrooms, broken into small pieces
1/2 cup boiling water
400g tender young chard leaves with a short length of stem
1/4 cup cream
1 egg, beaten with a fork to combine
100g gruyere cheese, shredded
1 heaped teaspoon salt
generous amount ground black pepper
20g gruyere cheese, shredded
1/4 cup chopped almonds and pine nuts
Bring to stock to the boil.
Pour the polenta into the boiling stock in a fine stream, stirring continuously and vigorously so that the polenta doesn’t clump.
Reduce the heat so that the porridge gently “plops” and cook until the polenta is thick and no grittiness remains. This may take 20 minutes. Stir the polenta frequently scraping, the bottom of the pan to avoid a build up that will scorch.
Stir in the butter and cheese and stir viorously until the cheese is melted, add the egg and throughly combine. Allow the polenta to cool a little.
Preheat the oven to 170C fanforced.
Oil a 25cm tart dish and line the base with baking paper.
Tip the polenta into the dish and spread it over the base and up the sides to form a pie “crust.”
Bake the polenta for 30 minutes without allowing it to colour. Reduce the heat if the polenta begins to brown.
While the polenta is cooking soak the porcini mushrooms in the boiling water.
Thoroughly wash the chard, then strip the leaves from the stems.
Steam the chard leaves in the water that has been left clinging to them only until they collapse. Refresh in icy water then squeeze them dry. Roughly chop the chard leaves.
Finely slice the chard stems.
Put the mushrooms in their soaking liquid in a small pan, add the chard stems and the cream.
Bring to the boil and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.
Drain the mushroom/chard stem mixture.
In a bowl combine the chopped chard leaves, the cooked stems and porcini, the gruyere cheese, salt and a very generous grinding of black pepper. Stir through the egg.
Tip the chard mixture into the polenta crust.
Scatter the nuts and remaining 20g of shredded gruyere over the top.
Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown.
Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.