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.
In Sicilian dialect, the Italian word amore (love), is amuri, and salmoriglio becomes sammurigghiu; but I have found when asking for recipes that the term 'QB' (quanto basta) (or 'enough'), is used just as liberally as in the rest of Italy. I am fortunate then that the chef (Michael Sampson) at Anna Tasca Lanza where I'm currently living while I document an intensive ten week program called 'Cook the Farm', is Irish. And after just a couple of attempts I was able to pry this recipe for Carciofi alla Brace from him. There is not a vegetable I love more than artichokes, nor a prettier sight than seeing them nestled together, resembling waterlilies as they cook until charred and soft. This should be done, as we did today, over the last (and hottest) coals from your barbeque - and if you have left over sammurigghiu it is a very fine accompaniment to swordfish (however you decide to spell it).Read More
I've long been a fan of David Herbert's recipes, and have bucked my trend of keeping cookbooks 'just to look at', cooking several from his 'The Really Useful Cookbook'. But mainly they are torn from 'The Weekend Australian Magazine' to be stored in plastic sleeves and made (and marvelled at) over and over. This tart is based on one of the latter. I'm always just a little surprised at the simplicity of these recipes, and admire the fact that the author is able to fit not one, but two on a single A4 page (along with a rather large photo of one of the finished dishes). And they work!Read More
Risotto has somehow been lumped with a reputation as being difficult when in truth there is barely an easier, more comforting meal to prepare. And as for it requiring a lot of time and patience, a simple risotto is usually ready in just over half an hour. I keep Carnaroli (rice) as a staple ingredient, and risotto is a favourite weeknight meal. The base is always the same; soffritto cooked slowly; rice then wine then hot stock added; and finally a vigorous whisk of butter and often cheese (known as the ‘mantecato’). It’s the perfect vehicle for seasonal eating; radicchio, artichokes or foraged mushrooms in Autumn; pumpkin, cauliflower, or pork sausage with fennel seeds in winter; tomato and seafood in summer; and of course risotto primavera – by its very name – the epitome of spring.Read More
I think of blood oranges as the jewels of the citrus world: superficially, because each and every time I cut one open inevitably I hold my breath: but mainly because they're *so* seasonal (unlike most other varieties of citrus which are a little disconcertingly, readily available year-round). When I see them, I buy them. Full stop.
If I'm stressed or procrastinating about something, or I simply find myself with *too many* strawberries, apricots, beetroot, artichokes, cherries, blood oranges... I usually retreat to the kitchen for a couple of hours of washing, chopping, stirring and waiting, surrounded by bottles and jars - 'preserving the season'; be it with sugar, vinegar, salt or oil. I always seem to feel much better for it and there's a lot to be said for being able to open one's pantry and find it chock-full of jars of homemade pickles, jams, bottled fruits and chutneys.Read More
Bottling fruit is one of the simplest, most rewarding acts in the kitchen, but one oft fraught with doubt and fear. For me it's a nostalgic act; taking me back to cool winter evenings spent watching my Nanna open the highest cupboards in her kitchen, climb up a little ladder and stand on her tip-toes to reach for one of the precious jars of fruit she had preserved the summer before. My favourites were always the apricots, from the old tree by the back fence - they were *almost* as good as the ripe fruit Grandpa would pass us, still warm from the sun, juice soon dripping down our chubby chins. The apricots I buy don't seem to taste like apricots these days, bred for appearance and longevity rather than flavour; harvested too soon; travelled too far...Read More
I literally fell in love with Sicily at first sight. From the air, for its patchwork of olives and oranges as we flew from Rome to Catania; and then (at not dissimilar speeds) for the wildflowers and Oleanders growing so profusely along the highway as we tried to adjust to being on the “wrong” side of the road again. As the days turned into a week, and we made our way from east to west, it occurred to me that yellow and orange are the colours of spring in Sicily. Crema giallo in my favourite pastries; fields of durum wheat as far as the eye can see; mountains of melons at the markets; an abundance of mustard flowers, poppies and chrysanthemum; the bronze fronds of wild fennel; golden honey and rusty threads of saffron; the bread (often bought twice-daily); even the sheep had a slightly yellow tinge – all somehow reflecting the blazing sun that shines down on Sicily so generously.
Sicily, though it feels like another world, sits just south of Italy’s boot at the exact centre of the Mediterranean. It's where Europe stops and Africa begins – a fantastic melting pot of culture and agriculture. Oranges and durum wheat are the main two agricultural products per production value in Sicily. And with other staples such as ricotta, lemons, almonds, pistachios, tomatoes (and the hedonistic tomato paste 'estratto'), oregano, swordfish, tuna, capers, anchovies and eggplants, it is little wonder that every mouthful is delicious...Read More