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
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
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
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
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
One of the many things I love about Italian food is how eating a particular dish can take you instantly (and without the jet-lag) to a particular region or place. With one bite of osso buco I'm in Milan; grape bread transports me to Florence; and orecchiette with broccoli to Puglia. The beetroot filled pasta with the rather exotic-sounding name "casunziei all'Ampezzana" takes me to Cortina d'Ampezzo (commonly known as Cortina), high in the Dolomites, north of Venice, in the Veneto. Traditionally these are crescent shaped, but I love them round: little full moons with lurid pink hearts.Read More