I’m back! Back from a two-week Telstra imposed exile. In exile, there’s no internet and it’s a bit how I imagine hell, really. Anyway, just before I was cast into exile, I was invited to a dinner hosted specifically for 30 food enthusiasts to celebrate the launch of Leggo’s Vine Ripe Pasta Sauce.
When I arrived in Australia in 1977, ABBA had just left the country preventing me from attending their concerts and Elvis inconveniently died before I had a chance to meet him (or at least see him in concert), but the other notable ‘celebrity’ who was everywhere was Margaret Fulton, Australia’s first celebrity cook (although the term ‘celebrity’ wasn’t given to cooks in the ’70′s, so Margaret was just, ‘known’). Anyway, every time you turned on the TV, Margaret was there because she was firmly attached to the Leggo’s brand, encouraging us to move away from dinners of grilled chops with three veg and instead be a little Italian with our cooking.
The story behind Leggo’s is that in 1882 in the mining town of Bendigo, a 13-year old boy named Henry Madren Leggo started selling his mother’s bottled tomato sauce and pickles to hungry miners in their camps. Six years later he bought a grocery store and began producing vinegar, pickles, sauces, cordials and other grocery goods based on his mother’s traditional recipes.
Growing up we always had Leggo’s products in our fridge and pantry, especially their most famous product, the tomato paste and more than one hundred years since that 13-year old boy began Leggo’s, the brand is still expanding. The latest product release is the Vine Ripe pasta sauces and these contain 100% Australian grown tomatoes that aren’t harvested until they are properly ripened ensuring they are sweeter and of a higher nutrient content before being harvested. If you look on the back of the vine ripe jar you will see just a handful of natural ingredients and no nasty additives – very pleasing!
But I have to tell you about the dinner. It was set in an upstairs warehouse conversion where Carl and I walked in and were immediately offered an Italian mineral water or a glass of sparkling Canti Prosecco. There was a long table laid before us that was beautifully decorated and reminded me of dining in a Tuscan village where all the extended family is about to gather around for a long leisurely lunch.
While hovering around the table we were served an Aperitivo of Leggo’s Vine Ripe Tomato and Basil Zuppa but due to being star-struck by being in the presence of some of my all-time heroes (who I will tell you about in a minute), I somehow missed the Zuppa. But it looked good! It was served in shot glasses and looked like a chilled, refreshing soup.
When we sat down (and sadly I was a long way from my heroes), we were served Italian wines of Pinot Grigio or Calapiano Chianti. The Primo was handmade gnocchi with Leggo’s Vine Ripe Tomato and Onion Sauce, finished with fresh basil and grated parmesan. It was beautiful. Really good gnocchi unlike the gnocchi I make at home!
After the Primo, there was a cooking demonstration of something you could simply make using the new pasta sauce range. Can you believe the demonstration was done by Margaret Fulton’s granddaughter, Kate Gibbs who is an author and food writer with a blog, The Kitchen Inc. Time marches on! Kate made meatballs and served them with the Leggo’s tomato and basil sauce. She asked for a volunteer to help her roll the meatballs and Carl was nudging me to run forward but of course, we all know I’m too shy for that! One of the contestants in this year’s series of My Kitchen Rules was only too keen to lend a hand.
The Secondo was veal scaloppini with grilled zucchini, Leggo’s vine ripe tomato and roasted garlic ratatouille and chat potatoes.
All the food was coming from a room in the corner of the venue where there was a small commercial kitchen. Just after the Secondo there was a loud operatic tenor voice coming from the kitchen and out stepped Lorenzo Rositano who has just graduated from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and is now employed with Opera Australia. I’m sure most of you Aussies would remember the Leggo’s TV commercials with La Dona e mobile from Verdi’s Rigoletto.
I managed to capture a bit of Rositano’s performance for you where he’s altered some of the words.
Dolce was a trio of Italian sharing plates. There was a chocolate and hazelnut tart, Tiramisu cakes and biscotti that you could enjoy with an espresso macchiato.
It was quite a filling meal of rustic Italian fare that reminded me of food you could enjoy around a table surrounded by your entire family.
After the meal we were invited to shop at a small store they had set up where the shopping was free. That got my attention. I was given a brown paper bag and told to fill it and so I did – to capacity. There was fresh produce together with grocery items and I filled my bag with Australian garlic, onions, baby carrots, fresh basil, pasta, and of course, Leggo’s Vine Ripe pasta sauces.
But back to my heroes. You all know I love my swimming. In the room were two champions I greatly admire. I sidled up to Daniel Kowalski who won gold, silver and bronze at the Sydney Olympics plus medals at many other events. He was a middle and long-distance swimmer but is most remembered for his 1500mtr events where at several Olympic finals he won the silver medal, finishing second only to other Australians. Have you ever swum 30 laps of an Olympic pool in a race? Or managed 30 laps without stopping? At an Olympic 1500 final they swim each lap in just under 30 seconds. This is why I love and admire these swimmers so much. If I had to race 50mtrs I could be at the other end in under 34 seconds. I asked Daniel, who is recovering from a shoulder injury, what time he could do today in a 50mtr freestyle event. He said, ‘Well, because of my shoulder it would probably take 25 or 26 seconds’. How to put a pin in my balloon.
Elka Whalan (nee Graham) was also there. She won silver in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay at the Sydney Olympics. I shouldn’t have asked, but I did, about what time she would do for a 50 free and she said, ‘Oh, about 25 or 26′. What an over-achiever. We were actually going to be at the same swimming event on the Sunday as part of a charity event to raise money for kids with cancer only Elka and I wouldn’t have been starting the race in the same group due to one of us being in an older age group.
And so I had a fabulous evening, not only because I sidled up against a couple of people I have admired from afar, but because I was witnessing a well-planned launch of a great Aussie product that is something I know I’ll have in my pantry almost all the time. With the produce I collected in my brown paper shopping bag I made the meatball dish Kate Gibbs demonstrated. My family loved it so much I made it for them again two nights later. It really is so simple to do, just make some meatballs and add them to a simmering jar of Leggo’s Vine Ripe Pasta Sauce.
There’s an app you’ll love, Leggo’s Loves Italian where you’ll find cooking tips, recipes and even music to cook with.
Let me know what you think of this very natural, very Italian, made in Australia product.