Wander into ‘Bari Vecchia’, the old part of Puglia’s capital, and you are likely to stumble across the dozen or so orecchiette ladies who famously line the streets around Arco Alto and Arco Basso. For generations, these formidable women have turned flour and water into the region’s typical ‘little ear-shaped’ pasta, and though it seems incredibly romantic, the reality is that there is so little work in Bari that this is as much about survival as it is about spending time with family. They are there from 8 am until as late as 10 pm - little girls learning to make orecchiette almost as soon as they can walk, and making it still well into their eighties. Between them, Marta and her mamma make around 15 kilos of orecchiette a day, selling it for 5 euro / kilo. And not only to tourists; their orecchiette is mostly bought by restaurants, supermarkets, and the local women who would prefer to do other things than make pasta. Sometimes there is maccheroncini too - mixed together with the orecchiette they make up little bags of ‘maritati’ (married)*. There are larger orecchiette giganti and orecchiette made with grano arso (burnt wheat); and each orecchietta is particular to its maker.Read More
This version of ossobuco with tomatoes, rather than 'in bianco' (white), is more 'modern' (read: less traditional) than the latter which is flavoured with cinnamon and sometimes peas, and served with gremolata. Both are traditionally served with Risotto alla Milanese, but creamy polenta or egg-fettuccine are also fine accompaniments. However it is cooked and served, leaving the bone marrow on your plate would be a crime - 'ossobuco' literally means 'bone with hole' after all.Read More
'Remind me to tell you about the time I looked into the heart of an artichoke.'
Bette Davis as Margo Channing, 'All About Eve' (1950)
If I had to choose just one vegetable to eat for the rest of my life, it would undoubtedly be artichokes. I seem to wait all year for the couple of short months when artichoke risotto, Carciofi alla Giudia (Roman Jewish-style artichokes), artichokes braised with vermouth, and Carciofi alla Brace (grilled artichokes) are on high rotation. I've even been known to plan trips to Europe around artichoke season.
Baby artichokes, which are actually the little 'volunteer' flowers that shoot off to the sides of the main head, usually appear later in the season. A box of baby artichokes (40 or so) stripped of their tough outer petals will yield just a couple of precious jars to be stirred through pasta, sliced and used to top pizza, as antipasto, or eaten straight out of the jar; so it's not unusual for me to make several batches each season in a bid to eke them out as much as possible. Sold by the box, they should be relatively inexpensive, but it's worth noting that larger globe artichokes can also be prepared the same way should baby artichokes (carciofini) prove difficult to forage.Read More
One of life's great pleasures is a plate of homemade pasta with duck ragu' - it's everything winter comfort-food should be; nourishing, rich and warming. Far from being difficult or time-consuming, using duck breasts in place of whole duck shortens the cooking time and everything is ready in just over an hour-and-a-half. As with all recipes that are this simple, the secret lies in the careful sourcing of ingredients - ethically raised duck*; organic, free-range eggs; grassy, extra virgin olive oil; and the best tinned tomatoes from Naples.
By keeping the skin on and cooking the duck breasts gently in a bath of flavourful stock they remain tender and moist. I find that the finished dish is fattier with whole duck, but if this is what you have, cut it into six pieces and cook until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.
While nothing compares to making pasta with very fresh eggs from your own hens; if you happen have access to a few duck eggs, they make a beautiful, rich pasta that is perfect with this sauce. Potato gnocchi is also wonderful with duck ragu'.Read More
Senora Gonzalez is my friend Amanda's mum - and this is her paella. When she came to Australia from Madrid in 1973, she brought her seven paellera (paella pans) on the plane. They range in size from 2 to 75 serves, but when I suggested we make a small paella together, she scoffed at the idea of cooking anything that would feed fewer than 12. When I asked if I could make a little film of her cooking her paella, far from being secretive or shy, she smiled her broad, generous smile and told me she wants everyone to know how to make a proper paella!Read More
This, possibly my favourite ragu', is quite different from most of the other ragu's I usually cook. While they like to sit quietly, bubbling gently on the stove for several hours (the longer the better); rabbit cooks very quickly so despite a seemingly endless list of ingredients, this is a relatively quick sauce to make. The original recipe comes from Jenn Louis' fabulous 'Pasta by Hand', but I have made my little changes here and there, as I am wont to do. The main one being that I ask my butcher to mince the whole rabbit (instead of just loin and belly), therefore doubling the recipe and making use of a whole rabbit.Read More
When friends are coming to dinner I bake bread -- because I can't imagine anything more welcoming than the smell of fresh bread just out of the oven, but also because it's an excuse for hot bread, isn't it? Often it's focaccia topped with rosemary, but when I am pressed for time, I make these simple dinner rolls which actually feel like a bit of a cheat. They're a doddle to make, require no special equipment, and are ready in just over an hour (yes, start to finish).Read More
Frangipane (aside from being the flowering tree Plumeria that I spent much of my childhood trying to grow from cuttings), is a French almond pastry cream traditionally made with butter, sugar, eggs and ground almonds. Its history can be traced to 16th century Italian nobleman, Marquis Muzio Frangipani, who whilst living in Paris invented bitter-almond scented gloves – a popular accessory at the time. It is said that patissiers, eager to capitalise on the popularity of said gloves, tried to capture the scent in desserts: thus creating the almond flavoured pastry cream.Read More
'The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday -- but never jam today.', Lewis Carrol (Alice in Wonderland)
Summer is synonymous with jam - at least as far as I'm concerned. Every summer, due to my propensity to buy kilos and kilos of fruit, making jam seems to fill my every spare moment. I am head down, bottom up for most of the season; sometimes bottling two or three batches a day -- at that rate, it's never long before I've lost count of the jars I've filled. A treasured copper jam pan barely leaves the stove top transforming apricots, greengages, cherries and nectarines, but nothing more fragile and beautiful than figs into jam...Read More
I have never felt comfortable calling myself a proper gardener. Not really. Though I have always loved growing things (particularly things to eat): I've rarely been able to bring myself to thin carrots; I have felt bad about pulling out weeds; and though I know I should be pruning my tomatoes of side shoots (to increase yield and help prevent disease), year after year, I have let them go. Until now.
If homegrown food tastes better (it does), homegrown tomatoes eaten still-warm straight from the vine are nothing short of addictive. The fruit from your own vines tastes as a tomato should taste - and there is no better reminder of the importance of eating locally, in season. But it isn't just the fruit that has seen me dedicate at least half my growing space to tomatoes each year - I do so also for the leaves. If colours could smell, surely green would be the scent of tomato leaves on a gardener's fingers. Heady and warm, I have always found their fragrance delicious - making it a joy to spend an hour or so in the vegetable patch tying the vines as they reach toward the sun.
I have flavoured pasta with everything from nettles and squid ink to saffron, beetroot and red wine. And each year when our neighbour prunes her enormous fig tree, I hang some of the leaves to dry and use them to make fig leaf fettuccine, but it never occurred to me that I could use tomato leaves to flavour my dough. Indeed, I had always assumed that the leaves were inedible as with other members of the nightshade family.Read More
It was the nineties and I was a teenager, but I remember the first time I ate saltimbocca as though it were yesterday. The thin slice of veal, pinned with a sage leaf, and topped with a slice of prosciutto surely lived up to its promise to 'jump in the mouth'; not to mention that it must also have been my first taste of the latter. It drew me back to 'The Botanic' so often that I felt a loss when years later they closed their doors for the last time: I had and never even considered ordering anything else. Saltimbocca was one of the first things I cooked for myself in my first year of Art School when it didn't occur to me to look for a recipe (frankly you don't really need one), and it was the first thing I cooked for my husband. It was only years later that I realised the addition of lemon may not be traditional, but it must have been there when I first ate it and so it remains. There are always rosemary roasted potatoes and spinach too. I'm a creature of habit.Read More
'Amaro is a film that brings to life the narrative of Sicilian food and culture through the exploration of a single taste: bitter.'
This week my friend Fabrizia Lanza, director of the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School in Sicily, together with film-maker Leandro Picarella, turned to Kickstarter to help raise funds 'to continue to expand and share stories of Sicilian food and culture with the world'.
"Amaro is the story of the complexity of food culture in Sicily. The film delves into the island's gastronomic history, highlights present day culinary traditions, and follows the hands and hearts of a people who have embraced the most remote, least valued, and often disregarded taste: bitterness. It follows the Good Friday ceremony, an event in the small town of Caltanisetta where local foragers transform from marginalized to celebrated as they lead the town's celebratory procession. The film takes us from the streets and fields into the homes of Sicilian locals. In the kitchen, bitterness plays a leading role in food alchemy... from honeys to cheeses, and sautéed cardoons with anchovies to risotto with wild asparagus, bitterness serves to elevate the other tastes we sometimes take for granted and brings us back to our roots: of the land, of the culture, and of tradition. From field to fork, Amaro follows a flavour that has helped shape the Sicilian food identity."
Having spent time living and working on the special little island that lies just off the toe of Italy's boot; I am incredibly passionate about Sicily and its food culture and identity -- you can watch the very beautiful trailer and learn more about the Kickstarter campaign here.
When we first started living together, my (now) husband declared that on Sundays he'd cook a roast. It was a nice idea in theory, but to be honest it didn't really stick. Not that I mind; having a Sunday roast just once a month somehow makes it more meaningful anyway (also, at about the same time I said I would clean the chicken coop, but that's another story). As much as I love a good old-fashioned roast chook, this Greek lamb with (rather glorious) lemony potatoes is difficult to beat - the lamb cooks long and slow until it's almost falling apart, and it makes the whole house smell wonderful. I've made this so many times that I don't follow a recipe anymore, though it must be said that it came from Tessa Kiros' wonderful 'Falling Cloudberries', and I've turned the volume up: more lemon, more oregano and of course, more potatoes!Read More
Made from just a few humble ingredients, ribollita, meaning 're-boiled' is a classic Tuscan soup which, as the name suggests, is wonderful reheated and eaten the day after it is made. This recipe is based on one from Green Kitchen Travels, though I usually can't resist and use chicken stock, so it isn't technically vegetarian. Another addition is a parmesan rind which is a nice way to use something that is otherwise usually thrown away. Probably with the exception of cavolo nero (black Tuscan kale), you have most of the ingredients in your kitchen right now!Read More
I have a thing for cookbooks. Some I cook from and others (for reasons I haven't really explored), I don't. It's not that I'm discriminative about to dotting little coloured tabs throughout them, but when it comes to the actual cooking from - I'm very much guilty of playing favourites. After admiring their accompanying photo *many times*, I recently cooked Diana Henry's 'pork chops with mustard & capers', we ate them with mesclun salad simply dressed with a classic vinaigrette. For dessert there was apple and blackberry crumble and vanilla bean custard. The meal felt effortless, with barely any preparation required and very little chance of anything going wrong. No more or less thought went into this than any other average Sunday night meal, but as we ate it I thought how utterly comforting it was to cook and eat this way (the fact that the pork comes from a book titled 'Simple' is not lost on me); and it occurred to me that if I were suddenly thrown back into the dating game - this is the first meal I would want to cook, or have cooked for me. And then, as though reading my mind hubby asked whether we could have the same meal again this Sunday, so here we are.
I can't imagine anyone not liking a crumble: seasonal fruit baked under a blanket of crisp, buttery topping - nourishing and comfortingly familiar. The topping can be easily adapted to be gluten and or dairy free, and the filling possibilities are endless (think rhubarb and strawberry, apricot and almond, plum and vanilla). It's so simple that even the most reluctant cook appears to have been born under the kitchen table, i.e. happy and relaxed, and it can (and possibly should) be made in advance -- and for that matter almost with one's eyes closed. What could be better!Read More
Recently my eight-year old nephew visited and I had to admire him; apparently since my parents brought home Violet and Harley (two hens despite one being dubiously named); he refuses to eat chicken. Because sometimes, particularly when it’s cold; I want to eat something comfortable, nostalgic even; without the fuss of anything overly challenging or new. And as much as I wish I felt wrong about eating chicken since we got our girls (six years ago now), I can’t think of anything better than a good, old-fashioned roast chook, served alongside a pile of root vegetables and always a jug of hot gravy. It’s a ridiculously easy, almost sacred Sunday meal and the most satisfying one pan dinner I can imagine.Read More
I had been in Italy for almost ten weeks, but it was not until one spring morning, walking back from catching the no. 8 tram after coffee at Roscioli – arms full of the essentials – extra virgin olive oil, salt, black pepper, lemons and a few bottles of acqua frizzante: that I had a glimpse of what it must feel like to be a Roman, if only for a week or two…
It was my first chance to cook for myself – for my last two of 12 weeks in Italy I had rented a small apartment in Trastevere with exactly this in mind. But the kitchen was disappointing – there was a shortage of decent pots and pans, not a single remotely sharp knife, and one of those plastic chopping boards only barely big enough to slice one of my lemons. Then Alice stepped in, ‘why don’t you use the studio* for the day – you’ll have everything you need…’ she said as she handed me a key, showed me where to find the coffee, and arranged for someone to come and help me with the door: the date was set. Deciding what to cook was the easy part – quite simply I went to the market and bought what was in season and looked good. In mid-April this meant artichokes, brassicas and strawberries.Read More
Every autumn I have one thing on my mind. Come late-February / early-March when I begin to watch the weather closely my husband knows that soon I'll be announcing 'it's time we took a drive to Oberon' (on the other side of Sydney's Blue Mountains). This is sometimes (usually) followed by a loud sigh. The journey is almost a six hour round trip (most of which I must admit I spend asleep), and there is certainly no guarantee of mushrooms at the end of it...
Not all mushroom seasons are equal - and surely there is nothing better to help one appreciate just what it means to eat seasonally. Last year we made this trek thrice; each time returning with a car boot full of empty boxes. The last time, I reluctantly conceded that I would have to wait another year to enjoy a morning of foraging followed by a plate of pine mushrooms and pappardelle...Read More
As the snow that blanketed the hills the day that I arrived in Sicily eight weeks ago gives way to a patchwork of green dotted with yellow and roads lined with almond blossom: my time at Anna Tasca Lanza draws to a close. Marmalade (Sicilian-style); a day with Corrado Assenza; and Sicilian black bees with Giovanni - the week that was Honey and Citrus at Cook the Farm 2017.