Peach and burrata salad

I know. I know. I feel a bit sheepish coming back, but I really really would like to explain where I’ve been. And also make my comeback along with a killer summer peach and burrata salad that you are going to want to make. Juicy ripe peaches, soft creamy cheese, crunchy buttered almonds, clean fresh mint and tangy pomegranate molasses to marry the seasonal medley together.  A gorgeous starting point or accompaniment for any seasonal gathering.

Ok. Let’s get to the point. Why was my last post back in November? Um, because I’m making a tiny human and the last 14 or so weeks have been all about sleeping, eating more citrus fruit that is necessary and copious amounts of tomatoes sprinkled with sea salt and olive oil, and generally just getting through the day. It does seem so unfair that pregnancy make you feel like half the person you once were. Sick, tired, cranky, constantly hungry. But as I write this, a small person is growing inside of me, apparently currently the size of a peach (you see what I did there).

Not only have I been feeling exhausted though. If I’m very honest, which is easy on paper, I’m scared. I am just so scared. I know the absolute joy that comes with bringing a child into the world now, and I also know the anguish that comes with bringing a very tiny premature baby into the world, so I’d just like this time to be a smooth ride. A lazy, uninteresting, routine journey to 40 weeks. With a big party at the 30 week mark as I enter unknown territory.

To instil some positivity, which I know can only come from inside myself, I have made a pregnancy vision board, full of beautiful round bellies and cherub like newborns. I bought some new onesies. Unisex ones. And no we’re not finding out this time around. Every night I now read Thea a book all about how she’s going to become a big sister. And you know, I feel a little more carefree.

So with my new outlook (and hopefully second trimester renewed energy) comes new vigour to return to this space and share some beautiful recipes with you, starting with this rather special peach and burrata salad, as well as share this crazy, miraculous and wonderful journey.

Peach and burrata salad

For 2. 1 ball of burrata will serve 2 people so you can adjust this recipe according to how many people you are feeding

  • 1 ball burrata
  • 2 ripe yellow peaches
  • handful fresh mint leaves, roughly sliced
  • small handful of whole almonds
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • pomegranate molasses

This peach and burrata salad is the kind of dish that needs to be made at the last-minute, but don’t let that deter you as it’s extremely simple and quick to prepare.

Begin by toasting the almonds in a pan with a teaspoonful of butter and then roughly chop them.

Depending on how rustic you’d like the salad to look, tear or cut the peaches into  walnut size chunks. Now take the ball of burrata and gently tear it and scatter it over the peach pieces.

Over the cheese and the fruit, sprinkle the mint leaves, the almonds, a frugal dousing of pomegranate molasses and enjoy.

Enjoy this peach and burrata salad recipe? Then you might like this marinated mozzarella salad

Roast capsicum bruschetta with tomato and parsley

So now I’ve shared with you where we’ve been staying for the last three months, can you picture it? Can you hear the waves breaking from your pillow as you lie in bed reading a book, smell the jasmine wafting through the window in the middle of the night as you look out over the ocean lit by a full moon, see the whales breaching as you enter the kitchen first thing in the morning? It’s all still so fresh in my memory. Like this fresh and colourful picnic made up of roast capsicum bruschetta with tomato and parsley and a kale salad with roasted baby carrots, shared around a gigantic neolithic looking table at the bottom of the garden.

Exploring our surroundings during the first few days of our stay, Thea and I discovered an incredible, almost secret, garden artefact. Below a palm tree and shaded by its branches, on the last ‘tier’ of the house’s land, stood a huge stone table, its rough surface patched with lichen. Embraced by lush grass and perfectly placed for gazing out over the ocean, I pledged to myself that I would make an effort to make the most of such a wonderful thing. To read a magazine at it. To sip my morning cup of tea at it. To have a picnic around it and share it with friends.

Picnics are fun things and can be as simple as a cookie (the word I use with Thea to describe the homemade snacks I make her, like these granola bars) eaten in the park. They can also be as elaborate as wicker hampers burgeoning with cheeses, meats, pastries, fruit and champagne. I remember taking a long-term university flame on a romantic picnic to celebrate the end of his exams. The wicker basket kind. When we got to our destination though it was pouring and after trying to drink champagne under a tree we decided better of it and retreated to a nearby pub. We finished or picnic on the train home and the fact that I can still remember the event so vividly is probably because of the inclement weather.

In fact, pondering picnics, Mark proposed to me half way through a picnic. At Clareville beach, mid bucket of prawns that we were sharing with my dad, he asked I’d like to go for a walk. “You’re not going to propose are you?! You never go for romantic walks” I affirmed, to myself as much as him. Poor guy. He replied that he wanted to go and see the tri-hull moored a short distance away, which seemed like a fair enough explanation. When we reached the boat in question though, he turned and dropped to one knee…

There is definitely a sense of romance where picnics are concerned. Not just girl boy in love romance, but something idealised, pretty and whimsical. Eating atop blankets and rugs, in the shade of trees, surrounded by nature, away from the pressures of life. So next time you take your lunch to a park bench, or pack an elaborate hamper, try this roast capsicum bruschetta with tomato and parsley. Perfect with or without champagne.

Roast capsicum bruschetta with tomato and parsley

Enough for 4 servings. Place the prepared ingredients into little containers so that you can assemble the roast capsicum bruschetta at your chosen picnic spot.

  • 4 red capsicums
  • 1 ripe truss tomato
  • small handful parsley leaves, finely sliced
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • slightly stale bread

Begin by preparing the capsicums. Cut them in half from stem to base and remove the seeds. Now cut side down, place them under a hot grill until they are blackened all over, then pop them into a bowl. Cover the bowl with cling wrap to allow the capsicums to steam, which will make peeling them easier.

While the capsicums are cooling, cut the tomato into grape size pieces.

When the capsicums are cool enough to handle, peel their charred skin off, but don’t wash them, as this will take away some of the lovely flavour that you’ve just imparted from grilling them. Now slice them into thin strips.

Why stale bread to make roast capsicum bruschetta? The reason I say stale bread is that it will absorb all the juices from the vegetables and still be firm enough to pick up. With fresh bread you may run the risk of creating something that is still delicious, but that you need to eat with a knife and fork.

To assemble, place a little pile of capsicum strips, several pieces of tomato, a generous dousing of oil, salt and pepper and a smattering of parsley on top of your bread and leave for a few minutes for all the flavours to mingle, then enjoy. Some crumbled feta or crunchy almonds, or hell, both, would also be lovely additions.

Need another picnic recipe. What about this marinated mozzarella salad.

Almond tart with strawberries

I can’t really keep it a secret any longer. If you visit here often you’re going to notice sooner or later anyway, so I’d better come clean. For the last three months I have been living in a house with views that take my breath away daily. With gardens so pretty and scent heavy, I feel like I’m in a fairytale when I walk through them. I’ve fallen asleep to the reassuring sound of breaking waves and woken to magnificent patchwork orange and magenta skies. So this almond tart with strawberries was perfect for a Sunday lunch with friends in such a special place.

You might recall that back in April a tree fell on our house, and as a result we relocated that same night to Ma and Pa’s. Well a very generous friend offered us their home for the months of August, September and October. And so this is where my photos have been taken lately. In the beautiful kitchen of a Palm Beach house with panoramic views of the ocean. Believe me that I am not exaggerating when I say that sometimes I look up from the dishes to catch a glimpse of a whale breaching. That at night I can see Barrenjoey lighthouse intermittently twinkle in the distance. That I am extremely lucky and grateful for the opportunity to have stayed in such a beautiful location.

I think that Thea has enjoyed her stay too. We go the beach daily, sometimes twice, making the most of our temporary seaside location. I put her porridge in a little container, grab a coffee and we go, with obligatory bucket and spade in tow, to have our breakfast on the sand. I don’t know if I would do this if it was our full-time home. There is definitely something to be said for being placed in situations that not only force you to realise how fortunate you are, but also to make the most of your time.

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The spotted gum tree that crashed through our roof has also made realise that our house overlooking the sparkling Pittwater, a five-minute walk to Clareville beach, was a great home. I’m not sure that we fully appreciated that. We were so focused on renovating it and making in to the thing that we wanted it to be, that we never stopped to fully acknowledge how good it was: All those evenings spend sharing food with friends and family on the deck, this one and this one, oh and this one, especially stand out, as well as the dinner parties inside by the fire like this one.

When we do move back to our home (seemingly still light years away as our insurance hasn’t even been settled yet) I’m planning on throwing the biggest dinner party ever. I intend to celebrate where we live. With lots of delicious food. Delicious wine. Flowers. Music. And possibly even bite size versions of this almond tart with strawberries. It really is that good and definitely fitting for a special occasion. Even Thea thinks so.


Almond tart with strawberries

Adapted from a recipe in The River Cafe Cookbook 2

For the pastry

  • 225g plain flour
  • 75g self raising flour
  • 55g icing sugar
  • 100g butter, cold, cut into cubes
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tbsp cold water

For the almond tart filling

  • 265g soft butter
  • 265g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 265g almond meal

To serve

  • 250g strawberries, hulled and halved
  • icing sugar
  • creme fraiche

To make the almond tart pastry, pulse the butter, two flours and icing sugar in a food processor until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the yolk and pulse until mixed in and then with the motor running add the cold water in a steady stream until the pastry comes together. Remove from the processor, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 20 minutes before rolling out (with extra flour) and lining a 28cm diameter, 3.5cm deep loose bottomed fluted tart tin. Pop the lined tin in the fridge for another 20 minutes or so and then bake it in a 180 C oven.

**A note on baking the tart shell. Use baking beans. Seriously. I don’t know why I waited so long to become the owner of these little ceramic balls that have changed the appearance of my pastry shells for the better. I used to bake my tart shells with nothing and the sides would always shrink and the bottom bubble up. Then I got a little less lazy and started using dried kidney beans to keep the base of the tart shell flat. But after a while they began to smell. And just weren’t all that pretty. So one day, when in a kitchen shop looking for some platters, I came across Tala baking beans and my tart shells have been beautifully golden and even specimens ever since.**

For the almond tart filling, using a hand-held or stand mixer, beat the sugar and butter together. When the mixture is pale and fluffy, add the eggs one at a time, followed by the almond meal. Spoon the mix into the baked tart shell and bake for around 40-50 minutes until the filling is set. Don’t be tempted to overfill the shell as the mixture does puff up and will spill over the edge resulting in a messy end result.

Once the almond tart is cooled, decorate with strawberries, lots of icing sugar and enjoy with spoonfuls of creme fraiche.

Like this dessert recipe? Then you might enjoy my two tiered Pavlova

 

A very easy garlic prawn entree

Prawns plus garlic. The perfect combination. Add some fresh bread and you have a very easy garlic prawn entrée. The best thing about this starter is that it’s served ‘en papillote‘ or in the bag, which means that there’s a little bit of theatre when you bring the garlicky crustaceans to the table. Guests have to tear open their own individual parcels, releasing the wonderful cooking aromas, at the same time as revealing the pink, parsley flecked prawns inside.

Home made garlic butter is the best. A few cloves of garlic, a handful of fresh herbs, a grating of lemon zest and some soft butter, press the button and it’s done. Use it to smother over thickly sliced bread before toasting under the grill to make garlic bread. Stuff chicken breasts with it for delicious homemade chicken Kiev. Fry some sliced mushrooms in it and serve them on triangles of brioche. But make lots and freeze it so that you always have some on hand.

I think that a hankering for prawns is a sign that the weather is getting warmer. The days longer.  The sun lingering in the sky. Prawns are the kind of food that I like to take time to eat, whether around a table with friends or simply with a significant other and a bottle of wine. Leisurely peeling away the crisp shells and dipping the pink meat into piquant seafood sauce, in an al fresco setting. When buying prawns, look for ones with smooth black eyes, not ones with eyes that look like currants. This is a sign that they are fresh, or so I was told by a lady who sold me some of the sweetest, freshest prawns that I’ve ever eaten.

A very easy garlic prawn entrée

For 6.

  • 1-1.5kg prawns (which should be around 30-45 prawns depending on their size and how many you want to serve to each of your guests)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 250g soft butter
  • 1 bunch parsley, leaves only
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • pinch of salt
  • glass of white wine

Begin by making the garlic butter. Simply put the garlic, butter, parsley, zest and salt in a processor and whizz until everything is well combined.

Prepare the prawns by removing their heads and shells (you can keep these to make prawn stock) and then the vein that runs down their backs.

Tear off six pieces of baking paper about 40cm in length. Fold these pieces in half, just so you have an indication of where to put the prawns. Place 5-7 prawns per person on one half of each piece of baking paper and top with a generous amount of butter.

Now fold the baking paper over the prawns using the halfway line that you made as a guide and then starting from one end, seal the baking paper all the way around so that you have a parcel.

At this point, the parcels can be stored in the fridge until that are needed.

When you are ready to cook the prawns, unseal the parcels enough to be able to add about 2 tablespoons of white wine to each one. (Don’t try and do this ahead of time as the wine will leak out. I know. I tried and failed.) Reseal the bags really well, as the wine inside the bags will steam and cook the prawns. If there are any gaps, then the steam will escape.

Place the parcels on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes at 180C.

Serve the prawns immediately in their little bags with fresh bread and a green salad. A very easy garlic prawn entrée.

You want to know what to do with the prawns heads and shells? Thai red curry with prawn stock and salmon.

Egg fried brown rice with chorizo

My freezer is full of chorizo. Of all shapes and sizes and with differing amounts of chilli. Why. Well, because it’s such a great ingredient. Versatile. Flavoursome. Quick and easy to use. I made a chorizo pilgrimage to Rodriguez brothers, a Spanish small goods shop about an hour and a half drive from home you see. And after such a long trip, decided to make the time taken to get there worth it. I selected enough chorizo to fill a grocery bag and in turn my freezer. Now at least one a week I challenge myself to put together a coherent creation with the paprika infused sausage as the star. This week it was egg fried brown rice with chorizo.

It’s funny that I should think up with such a dish as egg fried brown rice with chorizo seeing as I’m a total purist when it comes to things like pizza toppings, salads and cheese. There is no room in my world for the cross pollination of dishes from different cultures. Indian ingredients on pizza. Balsamic vinegar to dress a Greek salad. Wasabi flavoured cheese. Who dreams up such combinations. Yet I still saw fit to blend Spanish, Chinese and some quintessentially English sauce to make dinner. My capricious streak I suppose. Besides it was delicious. Nutty, meaty and wholesome, slightly spicy and with a little piquancy from the worcestershire sauce.

Other chorizo combinations have been less controversial, like using the sausage thinly sliced in place of pancetta in carbonara. Shedding the chorizo of its skin and whizzing it up in a food processor and then frying the meaty crumbs to serve over hummus a la Donna Hay. Thickly slicing it, tossing it with potatoes, cherry tomatoes and black olives and roasting the whole lot in the oven and the serving it tossed through with fresh rocket leaves. Once again, putting it in the processor, sans skin, with butter, combining the two then pushing the resulting mixture under chicken skin before roasting the chook. Mashing it up with chicken mince to make chicken and chorizo meatballs to cook in a rich tomato sauce.

I will admit that reading through that list just shared, there’s world food combining galore. What would the Spanish make of chorizo crumbs used to make a Lebanese dip taste fantastic. I guess that’s just what we do as cooks. We are bower birds of the kitchen, collecting beautiful ingredients and moulding them together to make great dishes. So maybe I’m not such a purist after all. Maybe I just prefer my pizzas Margarita style and my cheese plain. But there’s still no reason to use balsamic vinegar on a Greek salad. Some lines just shouldn’t be crossed.

Egg fried brown rice with chorizo

Makes enough for 6 generous portions.

  • your choice of oil to fry with. I used a good quality lard
  • 2 cups cooked and cooled brown rice
  • 2 carrots, cut into semi circles
  • 2 chorizo, skins removed and meat chopped
  • 1 red oion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 eggs lightly beaten
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • worcestershire sauce
  • sea salt and black pepper

Begin by frying the carrots, chorizo and onion over a moderate heat in a pan big enough to take the rice when it comes to adding it.

When the vegetables have softened and the chorizo is starting to release its oil, add the garlic and fry for a minute or two until fragrant.

Now add the rice and peas and stir so that they are combined with the other ingredients.

Next make a well in the centre of the rice and pour in the eggs. Stir the eggs so that they start to scramble, slowly incorporating the rice as the egg cooks.

Season to taste with worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, maybe garnish with some coriander and parsley and tuck in.

Enjoy this recipe. Then you might like easy chicken pasta recipe.

Mozzarella salad with celery and walnuts

Buffalo mozzarella has to be one of my all time favourite things to eat. Fresh, clean, silky and light, sublime in the company of ripe tomatoes and basil leaves. The classic caprese salad (although there’s some clever variations on the caprese here). But what can you pair this beautiful cheese with to make a mozzarella salad in winter, when tomatoes are sad representations of their summer counterparts. Celery, walnuts, garlic and chilli. That’s what. And unlike the caprese, this mozzarella salad can be made ahead of time, which when entertaining can be a very useful thing.

Inviting friends around to share a meal is one of my favourite weekend activities. And recipes that can be prepared in advance are essential on such occasions, allowing for more time to relax and socialise, and less time in the kitchen. That’s why this mozzarella salad is so good. The cheese can bathe in its delicious marinade for a day or so before you plan to serve it, leisurly taking on the flavours of garlic and chilli. Likewise, the walnuts can be toasted and chopped and the celery sliced, hours beforehand, so all that needs to be done prior to sitting down to eat, is to simply assemble the salad.

I realise that cooking in this pre prepared way may not be in alignment with everyone’s personalities and that some people are more inclined to leave things until the last moment. Take my Scottish friend (she knows who she is) for example, who at university would stay up writing until 8am to meet a nine o’ clock assessment deadline. The very thought of this still makes me feel on edge. Last minute is just not something I’m good at. And although in the world of food there are a lot of things that need to be done at the last minute, like dressing delicate salad leaves and serving a soufflé, a great many tasks can be done early on.

Preparing food this way takes the stress out of cooking, yet still allows you to present a beautiful spread. It also leaves room for unforeseen events, like discovering you’ve forgotten to buy a crucial ingredient, that one of your guests hates cheese or that your toddler has just drawn all over the walls with a wax crayon that you missed when packing up her toys.


Mozzarella salad with celery and walnuts

Adapted from a recipe by Carol Field

  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 20 grinds of black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • 6 celery stalks, thinly sliced
  • bunch chives, snipped
  • 200g walnut pieces, toasted and roughly chopped

Begin by placing the sliced garlic and chilli flakes in a small pan with the oil. Heat over a low heat for 10 minutes to allow the oil to take on the flavours of the garlic and chilli.

Cut the balls of mozzarella in half and then slice each half into 4-5 semi circle slices. Put the slices into container that will hold them and the garlic marinade.

When the oil is completely cool, pour it over the mozzarella slices along with the salt and pepper and delicately stir the cheese so that it’s completely coated with all the other ingredients. Leave in the fridge for the flavours to mingle for at least 2 hours but ideally overnight.

About 30 minutes before you want to assemble the mozzarella salad, remove the cheese from the fridge so that it can come to room temperature, then simply drain the mozzarella of its marinade and arrange it on a platter. Scatter first the celery, then chives and then the walnuts over the top and tuck in.

Like preparing things ahead of time? Then you might like this kale salad

A baba ganoush recipe

‘Your eggplants are burning’ observed Mark. I’m sure the eggplants sitting directly over the gas flame on the stove could indeed look like they were scorching. I was making baba ganoush and charring the dark, purple skin of the eggplants to impart an aroma of smoke to the final dish. Baba ganoush is very straightforward to make, with a handful of ingredients and a few key steps to getting it just right. In its finished state it’s rather alluring and seductive. Sharp and zesty it pricks your palate, and with wonderful smoky undertones, it leaves you wanting more.

I was preparing the Middle Eastern side dish to accompany roast lamb. Spiked with lemon and mint, it makes such a great partner for the sweet, earthy meat, cutting through its richness. Baba ganoush also serves well as an appetizer, whizzed in a food processor with a big spoonful of natural yoghurt, so that it’s nice and smooth for scooping up with a triangle of toasted pita bread. Placed atop individual, crisp, rounds of golden, puff pastry with some mild goats cheese, a few wedges of cherry tomato and some rocket, it creates a stunning little entrée. And of course, it plays a wonderful role as part of a meze platter, perhaps sprinkled with a few pomegranate seeds for a bit of glamour.

Smoky and zesty could quite possibly be one of my favourite flavour combinations. Think thinly sliced pieces of smoked salmon and a single Iceberg lettuce leaf, (I think Iceberg for the undenied crispness of it), placed on a slice of hot buttered toast, then doused in lemon juice and black pepper. Rounds of chorizo fried in a pan and eaten smothered in lemony, garlic mayonnaise. Paella, full of chicken, pork and seafood, with a wonderful, almost burnt, base layer, and a wedge of lemon to marry all the flavours together. Steak cooked over a char grill, until the exterior is blackened and caramelised, served with pomme frites and lemon dressed salad leaves. You get the picture I’m sure.

There’s something very reassuring and authentic about cooking over a flame, harking back to culinary institutions of times gone by, before induction stoves and Thermomixes. (Sorry. As good as I’m sure they are, I’m not in the Thermomix camp.) And I like to keep in touch with tradition. So even though you can jazz this recipe up with herbs and seeds and pastry and pita, at its core, it’s insanely simple. Traditional. Time honoured. And with good reason.

Baba ganoush

The one thing that makes this dish really sing is cooking the eggplants over an open flame. Be brave. Embrace your inner pyromaniac and try this method. Simply put a cake cooling rack (an old one as it will discolour) over a gas flame on your stove (or you could use a camping stove) and place one or two eggplants on top of it. Yes the eggplant will burn sitting directly above the burner, but only the outer skin, and as you keep turning the fruit until every side is black, the flesh inside will become soft and take on a smoky aroma.

When the eggplants are nicely charred all over, place them in a bowl to cool. When they have dropped in temperature sufficiently enough to be handled, peel away the skin, place the flesh in a colander sitting in a bowl and let the juices run out. Drain for at least one hour.

To the drained flesh, add finely chopped garlic, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper and olive oil. At this point the baba ganoush will benefit from being left to sit for an hour or two, even overnight, to allow the flavours to mingle.

To garnish, just before serving, stir through some finely shredded mint and parsley and sprinkle a few pomegranate seeds on top.

To recap, for 2 eggplants you will need the following.

  • 2 cloves garlic, either grated with a microplane or very finely chopped
  • the zest of 1 lemon plus 2 tbsp lemon juice, or more to your particular taste
  • 6-8 tbsp olive oil
  • generous pinch sea salt and grinding of black pepper
  • optional small handful of each parsley and mint leaves, finely sliced and a few pomegranate seeds

Did I mention that baba ganoush is great with Roast Lamb?

 

Tuscan kale and bean soup

After a glorious food focused weekend in Melbourne (just Mark and me, no Thea, eeek), back in the regularity of my home kitchen, I wanted to make something simple and warming. Something both visually appealing and delicious, but more akin to the everyday than the food that I had relished over the past few days. Tuscan kale and bean soup, perhaps inspired by time spent on Lygon Street, Melbourne’s ‘Little Italy’, seemed like a good idea. Colourful and textural, with its nourishing chicken stock, sultry kale and comforting beans. Plus the snowy cap of parmesan that I could finely grate over the top for a salty kick, made it a perfect fit.

Melbourne was fun and we ate very well. Black Angus intercostals, slow cooked for 36 hours, then charred to perfection and served with watercress and green chilli at the Town Mouse. Chorizo and mozzarella arancini (something to try and recreate at home) and crisp, salty crackling with remoulade at City Wine Shop. Beautifully fresh buffalo mozzarella simply dressed with peppery olive oil at DOP. And quite possibly the most stunning duck that I will ever eat in my life, 55 floors up, surrounded by a sea of twinkling lights illuminating the city below at Vue de Monde.

Dining at Vue de Monde is not an everyday event. It’s a theatrical, multi course, gourmet adventure, the date reserved well in advance. An occasion anticipated with great fervor. Something to get really excited about. At least for me anyway. I have been longing to dine at this highly acclaimed restaurant for nearly a decade, so finally stepping in to the private elevator, to take us up the Rialto tower to our table was a dream come true.

Every element of the dinner was flawless, from the filigree adorned cutlery, always perfectly positioned in readiness for the next course, to the absolute lightness of the finishing dish, a chocolate soufflé. The standout course though was roast duck. A duck that, before being carved, was brought to our table in all its roasted glory. Dry aged for 15 days and anointed with Tasmanian leatherwood honey and plentiful Murray River sea salt, roasted in a hot oven, the skin was an even dark caramel colour. The whole exterior reminded me of the top of a perfectly blowtorched creme brûlée, in that you know when you crack your spoon onto the glasslike melted sugar top, it will break with a wonderful crispy snap. Presented later to us on individual plates, the meat under the skin was blushing and the flavour, superb. With each mouthful, the duck was savoured and a food memory was firmly made.

I never get sick of eating. Or thinking about food and the things that I’m going to cook. Juxtaposing the elite creations sampled at Vue de Monde as well as the other wonderful food eaten in Melbourne though, with a simple but satisfying Tuscan kale and bean soup, allows me to take stock. To stand back and mentally digest the wonderfully indulgent, somewhat hedonistic, almost relaxing, (would have loved one more lie in) weekend just enjoyed.

Tuscan kale and bean soup

The quantities below make a large batch of Tuscan kale and bean soup, enough for a few suppers for two as well as several lunches.

For the chicken stock

  • 1 kg chicken bones
  • 2 sticks celery, roughy chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 onions, quartered, you can leave the skin on
  • few bay leaves
  • tsp black peppercorns
  • juice of a lemon

Simply place the bones, 5 litres of water and lemon juice in a pot and leave to sit for 20 minutes.  This simple step helps to extract all the minerals from the bones.

Add all the remaining ingredients and bring the stock to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer the stock for anywhere between 4-24 hours. The longer you cook the stock, the more nutrition will be extracted from the bones.

Cook for a minimum of four hours though to get a good flavour.  For the first two hours, periodically skim the top of the stock, just with a large spoon, to remove any foam.

After the desired cooking time, strain the stock though a sieve and discard the cooked ingredients.

For the Tuscan kale and bean soup

  • 250g cannellini beans, soaked in water overnight OR 2 400g tins cannellini beans
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 2 sticks celery, sliced
  • 4 rashers bacon, diced
  • 1/2 butternut squash, cut into small cubes
  • 1 bunch cavolo nero (or other kale), finely shredded
  • sea salt and black pepper to taste

Begin by cooking the soaked and strained beans in the chicken stock. This will take about 30 minutes.

At the same time, in another pot, sweat the onion, celery and carrot in a little oil. By sweat I mean cook the vegetables over a low heat with the lid on until they are very soft, but not browned.

Add the bacon to the sweated vegetables and cook for a few minutes before adding the chicken stock containing the cooked beans, cavolo nero and squash, salt and pepper. Simmer gently until the pumpkin and kale are cooked about 20 minutes. Check fro seasoning at this point and adjust as necessary.

Now here’s the thing. This Tuscan kale and bean soup is the perfect make ahead meal because it’s best cooked the day before it’s eaten. So, if you can resist, cool it, put it in the fridge and then reheat and enjoy the next day. With lots of finely grated parmesan, extra pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Enjoy this recipe? You might also like chestnut soup.

A Balinese coconut salad

Incense. Birdsong. Smiling faces. Car horns. Cow bells. Lush rice paddies. Soaring kites. Bright Hindu offerings. Theses are the things that have flooded my senses over the last seven days in Bali. In our peaceful oasis, we have dipped in and out of the pool, watched films, talked, napped and eaten. Eaten beautiful Indonesian food cooked for us by Ketut and Tomah, the two ladies who looked after us and our villa. A dish that we asked them to make for us every night, after we fell in love with it on our first evening, is a Balinese coconut salad.

We had booked to go to Bali earlier in the year, excited that we could make a beautiful, tropical villa our home for a week. We knew that we would be able to enjoy the luxury of having beautiful Balinese dinners cooked for us while Thea was close by, soundly asleep in the bedroom, after a day spent swimming and being made a fuss of by all the locals. The date to leave came around in a rush and with multiple bikinis and minimal clothes packed, we headed to the airport full of anticipation. Anticipation for a calm baby on a long flight as well as for the opportunity to relax and unwind. Walking through the faded pink doors to our villa some hours later, we were greeted by beaming faces. Hello. Welcome. The pool was glistening and the villa, glorious. Fresh, comfortable and inviting.

On our first night we ordered in pizza and drank Bintang. A wonderful way to start a holiday with complete carefree abandon. We took in our new surroundings, watched the gheckos on the ceiling, enjoyed the warmth of the tropical evening and contemplated our holiday. On our second night though, we were spoilt by local cooking. Snapper cooked with Balinese spices in a banana leaf. A flavour explosion of turmeric, ginger, garlic and chilli enclosed in a little green parcel. Satay chicken. Always a favourite, with smoky charred chicken and sweet, salty, crunchy peanut sauce. And a Balinese coconut salad. Green beans, bean sprouts, grated fresh coconut, garlic and chilli. It was superb. So simple. Six ingredients. But a completely different and totally delicious taste and texture sensation. Chewy sweet coconut, fresh crunchy beans, salty garlic and a subtle heat from the chillis. We both fell in love with it. So much so we ordered it the next night. And the next. And the next.

That’s the thing about being on holidays. Places become linked with the particular foods enjoyed there. I could probably tell you my most favourite dishes from all the countries that I have visited. Mostly because, when I find something I love to eat in a certain place, as was the case with this Balinese coconut salad, I have it again and again. Spanakopita in Crete, which I used to buy from the bakery every morning. Raclette in the French Alps. Croquettes in Barcelona. Shawarma in Egypt. The list goes on. And try as I might to recreate all these dishes at home, they are never quite the same. But that’s half the fun. Re living the memories of holidays by trying to capture the tastes and flavours of foreign destinations.

Balinese coconut salad

  • About a quarter piece of a whole coconut, not a fresh one, but an older one with a husky outer skin
  • 2 handfuls of green beans, finely sliced on the diagonal
  • 2 handfuls of bean sprouts
  • 2 French shallots, finely sliced lengthways
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely sliced lengthways
  • 1-2 small red chills depending on how much heat you like, sliced widthways into rings, seeds in
  • Fried onions to garnish (from a packet, easy to find in the Asian section of supermarkets)

Begin by cooking the piece of coconut, skin side down, over an open flame. A gas ring is great for this. Cook for about 5 minutes until the husk is charred and the flesh soft. Leave to cool.

Cook the green beans in salted boiling water until cooked, but still with a bit of bite. Add the bean sprouts and cook for a minute or two more. Strain the beans and bean sprouts and leave to cool.

Fry the shallots, garlic and chilli in a generous amount of oil. The ladies who cooked this salad for me used vegetable oil, but I think that peanut or coconut oil would both work nicely. Use a moderate heat so that the mixture doesn’t burn. You want the garlic and shallots to turn golden and start to colour around the edges. Remove from the heat and add to the beans, oil and all.

Now take the coconut and coarsely grate it into the bean and garlic mixture. Combine all the ingredients together thoroughly, transfer to a serving platter, garnish with fried onions and I dare you to tell me that you don’t love this Balinese coconut salad.

Enjoy this salad? You might like this smoky corn salad recipe.

 

My spaghetti carbonara

A tree falling on your house will do that. Get you out of your daily groove. Throw your life into disarray as you are one minute you are cozily reclined on the sofa sleepy and content after dinner, and quite literally the next, without a home at all. The past two weeks since the dramatic and scary event have tumbled past in a blur, of packing and unpacking, redirecting mail and all those other logistical adjustments that come with having a change in your fixed address. There has been little in the way of culinary adventures. Dinners have been quick and easy, tried and tested recipes. Fuel to punctuate the day. The spaghetti carbonara last night is worthy of a mention though. A dish I’ve made many times that for some reason came together deliciously well.

Inspiration for the comforting bacon and egg pasta dish came from half a dozen assorted pieces of smoked speck hanging in a row above the glass display fridge, of a now local deli. Seeing the cured meat suspended in a line made me want to make carbonara. To cut up the pork into little cubes and fry them in a blob of butter and a glug of olive oil until the fat starts to render and they caramelise and brown. I asked for enough speck to feed four people for dinner and with it neatly wrapped in waxed paper, knowing that I had all the other ingredients that I would need on hand, headed home inspired to make dinner.

Living with Ma and Pa, as we will be until our home is repaired, means a wonderful assortment of new food sellers to explore, brimming with inspiration of things to try out in the kitchen. The same deli I bought the speck from stocked whole pickled cabbages. The imagined taste of the sharp, punchy leaves sparked the desire to make a wintry dish of slow roasted pork knuckles. Individual portions of moist, sweet meat encased in their own armour of salty, crunchy crackling. Perfect with some silky mashed potato spiked with white pepper.

There’s also a twice weekly farmer’s market I’m hanging to get to know. Hopefully there will be some stall holders selling robust root veg. Celeriac, carrots, parsnips, wonderful to bake, roast and puree, to warm the soul during the cooler months. Perhaps like this with lemon, garlic and some coriander seeds. There’s also a covered weekend market, several vendors offering a landscape of neat little mounds of pungent yellow, orange and red spices, sticks of cinnamon, shards of cassia, ideal for perking up long simmered stews. I am genuinely excited to be able to share the results of my exploration when the proverbial and actual dust has settled. For now though. Spaghetti carbonara.





Spaghetti carbonara

  • 400g pancetta, speck or bacon, essentially cured pork (belly), preferably in a piece so that you can cut it up yourself
  • 1 tbsp each of butter and olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 tbs milk
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • 3/4 packet dried spaghetti
  • a few tablespoons of pasta cooking water
  • lots of black pepper
  • grating of nutmeg

Carbonara is a very quick dish to make and one that requires a little bit of haste towards the end, so being organised and following the steps below will help make the perfect pasta dish.

First, bring a large (5 litre) pot of salted water to the boil.

Now cut up the pancetta into bite size cubes and slowly fry them in the butter and oil (the oil will prevent the butter from burning). The pancetta will happily caramelise over a low flame while you get on with the rest of the dish.

Next separate the eggs so that you have 4 yolks. Freeze the whites for meringue or macaroon making. Add the milk, parmesan, black pepper and nutmeg to the yolks and gently combine.

With the pancetta gently browning and the egg mixture ready, cook the spaghetti until el dente, about 10 minutes. While the pasta is bubbling away, chop up the garlic and add to the pancetta.

Ok. Time to assemble the dish.

You have the pasta cooking, the pancetta and garlic sautéing  and the egg mix ready. Place a strainer in the sink and when the pasta is ready, drain it. Don’t drain it completely though. Leave some cooking water in the bottom of the pot, perhaps 2-4 tablespoons.

Now, tip the pasta back into the pot along with the pancetta and egg mix and stir everything thoroughly to combine. The residual heat from the just cooked pasta and warm pancetta will cook the yolks, but because there is no direct heat, they won’t be scrambled. The little bit of pasta water and milk will help to make a beautifully silky sauce to coat the spaghetti.

Due to the salt in the pasta cooking water, the garlic and the smokiness of the pancetta, salt shouldn’t be necessary, but just check before you sit down and enjoy.

Enjoy this recipe? Then you might like classic spaghetti and meatballs