Stefano’s Kitchen Garden
A recent visit to Bells at Killcare on the NSW Central Coast may have finally provided me with an excuse to purchase a pair of Hunter wellies. A long anticipated visit to see Stefano Manfredi’s kitchen garden and lunch at the restaurant for a birthday celebration was met with a day of pouring rain. However the sun-shiney face of the gracious Stefano (who Sydney-siders will remember as the head chef and owner of Restaurant Manfredi and Bel Mondo) made my squelchy, sodden shoes a non-issue.
Doubling as a getaway for city folk eager for indulgent isolation within charming cottages spotted throughout the property, Bells also offers a refined one-hatted restaurant atop the bushland peninsula of Bouddi National Park and the sleepy coastal village of Killcare.
Umbrella in hand, Stefano and I head out for a tour of the kitchen garden, leaving husband and parents in the dry, warm library with coffee and papers.
Actually, there are two kitchen gardens. The first is located within viewing distance of the restaurant and grows entrée-sized plantings of a plethora of edible specimens. The second garden is accessed via a meandering dirt track to the other side of the property and beside the house which Stefano calls home part of the week. The second garden is more main course, with larger sized plantings that supply the bulk of produce for kitchen staples. Between each garden are fruit and olive trees, a hen palace, of which the occupants provide all the eggs for guest breakfast hampers and a running yard for beloved Enzo who is proficient in English and Italian. Clever dog.
Itsy bitsy asparagus spears we ate raw from the garden || The track to kitchen garden #2
Naturally there are the staples, such as basil, chilli, chervil, parsley and sorrel and the working plants like sunflowers that provide seed for the harem of hens housed halfway between the two gardens.
While both gardens may only supply about 15% of the needs of the kitchen, what I love most about these gardens is the experimental nature of plantings. Many Australians would be used to seeing only one variety of zucchini in the supermarket (you know, the green kind…), but within Stefano’s gardens there is at least four varieties growing, reflective of his Italian heritage, from the yellow and knobbly rugosa friulana to the delicately flavoured and speckly green alberallo di Sarzana. Each provides a new opportunity to experiment with flavour, texture and colour and perhaps the opportunity to present as a part of a special in the restaurant.
The colour purple (basil, beans, artichoke, olives)
The story is repeated with beans, lettuce, radish, squash, chard, eggplant and radicchio. Stefano shares his knowledge of varieties and gives freely, pulling ripe specimens off plants and out of the ground for me to take home (including turnips and a whole basil plant) and tells me of The Italian Gardener where you can purchase seeds for many of the varieties of plants he is growing.
‘You must take this black turnip home’ || ‘Here is the basil, now take home this plant’
Sunflower seed to feed the chickens || The beautiful flower of okra
Despite not having a great season with tomatoes (‘too wet’) this pomodoro is mine for the taking || Chicory
All this walking and learning got the tummy grumbling so we step out of the rain and into the dining room for a three-course meal of heavenly delights.
Looking over the gardens from the restaurant…right when the rain decided to stop.
Warm and snugly indoors || Roast tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella & pesto
Highly addictive roast potatoes || Roast suckling pig with roast carrots, mustard fruit & sage sauce
Roast veal loin with farro, mushrooms and white garlic mustard & sorrel sauce
Grilled duck breast, duck leg ravioli, radish & pancetta sauce
Charlestown camembert (mum’s favourite) ||Tartufo di Amedei chocolate (seen to be believed)
Caramel pannacotta with poached apples || My kitchen garden booty
My feet dry, my tummy full and my head bursting with ideas for my own vegie patch (and some speciments to try at home) we set off out the gates of Bells to home. Thank you Stefano for your generous hospitality. Now do yourself a favour and go.Share this on: