Joe and Margaret Meneghel, born in Griffith, NSW, moved to Pialligo from their home in Deakin eight years ago. Their property is next door to Able Landscaping where Joe has worked for 30 years and is now the owner.
We were invited into the modern country kitchen where the smells were tantalising. Both Joe and Margaret cook and they offered us eggplant slices to taste, still warm and deliciously crisp. On the stove a large dish of homegrown ingredients was bubbling into a sauce for eggplant parmigiana, and Joe has shared the recipes, both from his mother, from his memory. The family came from the Veneto region.
Down the driveway beyond the house is a row of former stables. In the first one, Joe was using an Excalibur dehydrator to dry five rows of different varieties of chillies. The smell had our noses twitching. Joe said the hottest ones have given off a pungency in the dehydrator which caused him to have to leave the room.
The adjoining stable now holds all the Meneghels preserves. Rows of bottles of passata, jars of dried borlotti beans, ying yang beans, and jars of honey from hives on the property. Joe calls the blend ‘Pialligo honey’ and one batch was flavoured with lucerne flower pollen from the Roy Priest’s property on the river flats. From a neighbour, Christine Reid, who owns the ‘pick your own apples’ orchard next door, Joe purchases apple cider vinegar for pickling his vegetables.
A garden gate leads to the chook run with seven hens and one rooster. The Meneghels do not use any chemicals on the property and try to sow only organic seeds. Plots of carrots and beetroot are growing near a laden lemon tree and there is a mandarin and an orange tree, both of which bear fruit in some years.
Joe has planted 8000 garlic plants in neat, mulched rows all labelled in blocks of Italian white, French purple and French white. The sowings were done six weeks ago, and the organic Master Jack variety from Diggers, which has beautiful plump heads, was planted four weeks ago. In a separate raised area are rows of an organic white garlic from Westmead Park Natural Farm in Braidwood.
Three large raised containers were thick with horseradish foliage, dying off for winter. They spread rapidly, hence the containers, but the roots are plump and ready for grating. Next to them is a huge waist-high tray, which has been planted with edible flowers, at this time of year deep purple/red/black violas. The Meneghels generously give them to local cafes and restaurants to decorate dishes of food but, as Margaret said, there is often a bottle of wine as thanks.
A huge area is fenced and roofed with wire to protect crops from birds and other wildlife. It is thickly planted with blueberries, cherries, raspberries and blackberries. There are pear trees and a magnificent ‘wall’ of espaliered apple trees which were purchased from Diggers as an old, heritage mix of edible varieties.
Back to the kitchen for more taste tempters. The original parmigiana recipe has had a few additions following a trip to the Amalfi Coast by Joe and Margaret.
Meneghel fried eggplants
Slice five small ‘runt of the litter’ eggplants thickly on a mandolin. Dust with organic plain spelt flour. Dip them into two lightly beaten eggs, then into Panko crumbs. Deep fry in rice bran oil and add a bit of salt before serving.
4 large black eggplants
organic plain spelt flour
rice bran oil
1 large or 2 small onions
3 cloves garlic
bit of chilli
salt and pepper
750ml bottle of homemade passata
extra virgin olive oil
knob of butter
Slice the eggplants thickly on a mandolin. Salt the slices and let them sit for one hour. Pat dry. Flour them, egg them, fry them, drain.
Sauce: Brown off the sliced onions and smashed garlic in olive oil and butter. Add chilli and salt and pepper. Add a generous splash of white wine and reduce by simmering. Pour in the bottle of passata plus the same bottle half filled with water and let the sauce reduce to a thicker consistency.
In an ovenproof dish place a layer of the passata sauce, then a layer of eggplant slices, then a few pieces of bocconcini and a little bit of parmesan and a couple of basil leaves. Keep layering and make the final layer one of passata plus a cover of bocconcini and parmesan. Cook in a moderate oven for 20-30 minutes. The parmigiana can be frozen or any leftovers can be served the next day when they taste even better.