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
There’s something almost endearing about a recipe that calls for both a chicken and her eggs. And what offers more comfort than a bowl of chicken soup? Everyone has their own version; everything from Italian brodo with tortellini to Vietnamese pho ga (and I love them all); but I always come back to this Greek variation (a cousin of Chinese congee). It's surely the perfect Greek Easter lunch fare, but easy enough to be a weeknight dinner also.Read More
It took me several years to learn that good porridge; fragrant, creamy, delicious porridge is *not* born in a microwave. Deciding not to have one (a microwave) forced my hand. Proper porridge (at least in our house) is made with organic rolled oats (never instant) and a good handful of steel-cut (or pinhead) oats for texture. It is made with creamy whole milk and a generous pinch of sea salt (to bring out the flavour of the oats). The cooking process takes about 20-25 minutes and is surprisingly redolent of risotto: before the liquid is added the oats are toasted in a dry pan; they're cooked slowly; stirred almost continuously; and finished with the mantecatura - with sticky soft brown sugar stirred vigorously through the oats in place of butter - then covered and left to sit for about five minutes becoming ever-creamier.Read More
Let me start by saying that people can be very opinionated when it comes to tiramisu - and by people, I mean me. I'm really rather bossy about what goes into it (and doesn't): always Italian mascarpone and savoiardi; no, you cannot use instant coffee; and there must never ever be any alcohol - nothing to distract from its perfect simplicity. This list of ingredients actually came from an old friend's mamma, Bruna, but the quantities are very much my own*. I've become such a pedant about the rules that I won't order tiramisu when we're out without first checking that everything's in order (and it rarely is).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
A classic French dessert from the Limousin region of France: Cherry Clafoutis done well - full of juicy, sweet black cherries, topped with a light custard, and cooked so it retains just a little wobble, is... well, heavenly. I'll never forget my first clafoutis; a gift from the chef in a little restaurant on a trip interstate; it was love at first bite and I was determined to make one as soon as we returned home. I quickly found there are hundreds, thousands even, of recipes for this dessert around, and I'll admit to baking more than my share utter disappointments - everything ranging from heavy and stodgy, to runny and tasteless...Read More
The list of things I can never walk past is long (and mostly food-related), and right at the very top is an unwaxed lemon. I adore lemons and have been judicious over many years never to be without them - a little squeeze of their bright yellow cheeks - their juice seems to find its way into almost everything we eat at home. They have brought life to many a vegetable risotto; been popped as delicately as possible up more roast chickens than I care to think about; entirely replaced artificial pectin in countless jars of jam; given my saltimbocca a little extra "jump"; been added to rillettes and hollandaise and fruit salad and biscotti and so much more...
Imagining avocado without lemon is completely unthinkable; and as long as there is a bowl full of lemons in the house, I can always, always pull together a wonderful lemon tart. They won't keep as long as their waxed counterparts, but when using the zest as in the recipe below, unwaxed fruit is essential though sometimes a little more of a challenge to find - hence why I can never walk past unwaxed lemons, or "de cecco" pasta - but that's another story!Read More
Many years ago a chef visiting the restaurant I was working in asked if he could cook for me. I took him to the local market and we bought a very fresh snapper with the clearest eyes I've ever seen, a couple of bunches of white asparagus, some good butter, a few shallots, and a bottle of Pinot Gris. I sat in my courtyard, under the dappled light of the grapevines, with a glass of the latter - and he cooked. I remember being dreadfully embarrassed by my cheap knives and truly awful saucepans. But my what a lunch! It was the first time I tried beurre blanc and I think I may have actually closed my eyes.Read More
Meringues in their own right are natty little things: don't you think? They're one of the simplest (and best) ways I can think of to use the inevitable egg whites remaining when one makes many of those ethereal French creations (hollandaise, béarnaise, aioli...), because I hate wasting anything, especially when the girls work so hard to provide us with our beautiful eggs.Read More
One thing about growing your own fruit and vegetables is that often after waiting for weeks and sometimes months, suddenly there is an abundance, which is wonderful of course, but eating beetroots (or anything) every day for several days running can challenge even the most devoted beetroot-lover.Read More