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Asparagus carbonara

So without further a do, I mean it has been eight weeks or something now, I have a new recipe, asparagus carbonara. A dinner born as a way to help make use of the gorgeous and abundant cherry tomatoes thriving in back yard. It’s such a joy to pick a new harvest each day with Thea, to subliminally teach her where food comes from as well as recognise colours. But why the lapse in sharing this simple recipe?

Well. The cooking continues in my kitchen, but that little window when Thea has her nap that I used to reserve for writing down my recipes. Gone. Used now by me also for some daytime shuteye. And it’s not even a choice. I’d love to stay up and be productive but my body hits a wall and it’s all I can do to read Thea a story, usually Peepo, settle her into her cot and then climb into bed myself.

Daytime naps are one of life’s little luxuries though. A mini holiday during the day. And the way I like to look at it, exclusive time for me and my 20 week bump. Lying on my side, hand on tummy, feeling the tiny little kicks that never fail to make me smile. I know. Half way. And thankfully growing well.

asparagus carbonara

Speaking of holidays. We are off to Fiji next week and I am so excited. Excited to spend time as three, swimming and relaxing. Spending our days at a different pace. My reading material is children’s fiction, Harry Potter and The Dream Snatcher – glorious worlds that I can easily lose myself in and may even be able to finish while away with Thea. I have also prepared a list potential restaurants, because holidays are as much about eating as they are unwinding. I know I will find inspiration for new recipes to bring home with me. Be patient until I share them.


Asparagus carbonara

For 4.

  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • about 200-300g cherry tomatoes
  • a handful of  black olives
  • 4 clove garlic
  • 1 to 2  birdseye chilli, chopped
  • 30g butter
  • 4 tbsp oil
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta
  • 400g spaghetti or your favourite pasta
  • sea salt
  • black pepper

Snap the woody ends from the asparagus and then cut the spears into three. Cook these for about 3-5 minutes in boiling water, drain and then plunge into cold water, chilled with ice if you have a spare tray handy in the freezer. This step stops the asparagus cooking so that it retains its bite and colour. When the asparagus has completely cooled, drain and dry.

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half.

Pit the olives and then slice lengthways. You can put these three items into a bowl now ready to add to the pasta later.

In another bowl, place the yolks, milk, feta, salt and pepper and mix well.

Now chop the garlic and chilli and fry gently in the oil and butter until the garlic is fragrant but not coloured.

At this stage, everything is ready and you could go and bath children, have a bath yourself, open a bottle of wine and read a magazine, do the washing up. Whatever. The point is that when everything is done up to this task, the prep can be left and then continued on with again later.

Put a large pot full of water on the stove and bring to the boil. Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook for about 10 minutes.

While the pasta is boiling, add the asparagus, tomatoes and olives to the garlic and chilli, gently heat and keep warm.

When the pasta is done, drain and then return it to the pot in which it was cooked. Working quickly, add the asparagus mixture to the pasta and gently stir and then straight away add the yolk mixture. Continue gently stirring the pasta. The yolks will cook with the pasta’s residual heat and a glossy coating will develop over everything in the pot.

Check for seasoning and enjoy.

Like this recipe. You might like spaghetti carbonara

Penne pasta with brussels sprouts

It’s really happening. I’m going to run a marathon. In two days (at the time of writing). If I stop to listen, there is an electric hum pulsing around my body, generated by an amalgam of trepidation and excitement about Sunday’s event. I’m about to embark on something that has been a goal of mine for many years. And that feels good. Like something worthwhile. Like the stuff that life is about. Putting yourself on the line and chasing your dreams. To help in my quest, this week in the lead up to the big race, I’m stuffing carbs into my mouth left right and centre. Toast, porridge, bananas, dates, honey, pasta, rice, vegetables and the occasional snake. Yep. Who knew. Apparently snakes (jelly sweets) are a good source of glucose to help fill my cells with glycogen to burn while I’m running. I’ll try anything once if it’ll help get me across the finishing line. Preferably on two legs. My favourite source of fuel is still pasta though and this penne pasta with brussels sprouts will convert even the most staunch dislikers of these miniature cabbage like vegetables into new admirers.


I’ve always fallen into the category of one of those strange people who enjoys eating brussels sprouts. At Christmas, I’d be one of only a few family members who would happily pile a small mound of the little edible green balls onto my plate. As I’ve grown older, I’ve experimented with sprouts, moving away from the simple method of boiling them. I’ve roasted them along with beetroot and the served the resulting medley with crisp bacon and a mapley Dijon dressing. I’ve shredded them to compose a salad with kale, parmesan, lemon and almonds. And I’ve braised them with lemon juice and cream a la Molly Wizenburg. And Molly’s lovely recipe for cream braised brussels sprouts was the inspiration for this pasta dish.


Using the marathon as an excuse, a very good one I might add, we are staying in the city for the weekend. Running long distances seriously takes it out of me and after my longer training runs of 25km plus, I’ve almost needed an afternoon nap. Thea has prevented such luxuries from happening. But hopefully, in the city, in our hotel room, after a warm shower and a big plate of food, I might be able to have a little sleep, before celebrating my victory with a glass of champagne. I need to visualise after the event as much as I do running the course, because I feel that ultimately it will help spur me on to the end.

I have also asked Ma and Pa, who have been so wonderful this week in cheerily finishing all the high carb meals that I have prepared (we are still living with them since the tree fell on our house) and will be looking after Thea for the weekend while I’m away, to come and watch me cross the finish line. I knownseeing their faces, plus Mark and Thea’s, in the crowd, will give me the boost I’ll need to get me across that line. More than that though. I feel that I would be doing them a disservice, as well as Thea who has accompanied me on many training sessions and Mark who has looked after our tiny wonder every Sunday while I’ve been off on my longer runs, if I don’t cross the finish at a fraction more than a walking pace. Everyone has been so instrumental in getting me this far and I owe it to them out of gratitude.

At the moment I’m unsure about whether marathon running will become a regular part of my life or just a one time goal. Getting to this point has filled a big part of the year, from our little holiday on the Central Coast in June when I ran the Bay to Bay half marathon to our now long weekend in Sydney for the full event, not forgetting all of the scheduled runs in between. It’s really fulfilling to have something to work towards and seeing yourself improve, if only in tiny increments. I like the idea of being a runner, able to put on trainers and fill my lungs with fresh air and get my pulse racing with speed and ease. It feels good. And you see the world from a different viewpoint; houses you’ve never noticed, flowers you’ve taken for granted, hills that always seem easy in a car. The nuances of your surroundings come at you in new and interesting way. So maybe I will continue with my running. Especially if it means I can eat more dinners like this penne pasta with Brussels sprouts. Watch this space.


Penne pasta with brussels sprouts

Inspired by a recipe by Molly Wizenberg

  • 12 brussels sprouts
  • 25g butter
  • 1 cup cream
  • juice of a lemon
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • grating of nutmeg
  • 8 rashers streaky bacon, cut into batons
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup parmesan, finely grated
  • penne pasta

Begin by cutting the ends off the sprouts and discarding any loose outer leaves and then chopping them in half.

Melt the butter over a moderate heat in a large flat bottomed pan and then place the sprouts flat side down in the pan and leave them undisturbed to brown for 5-8 minutes. Flip and then cook for about another 5 minutes on the other side.

When the sprouts are browned on both sides, sprinkle them liberally with salt, pepper and nutmeg, add the cream. Bring it to a gentle simmer, then turn the heat down to its lowest setting, put the lid on the pan and leave the sprouts to cook for about 10 minutes. You want them to be soft but still with a bit of bite and not falling apart. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice.

In a new pan, fry the bacon until crisp and then add to the sprouts. In the same pan that you fried the bacon, with the residual oil, cook the garlic, then also add it to the sprouts along with the parmesan cheese. You can now move to the next step, or leave the sprout mixture in the pan and bath small children, even relax with a glass of wine and proceed to assembling dinner when you are good and ready.

When you are ready for dinner, cook the pasta and when it’s done, to the magical el dente state, about 10 minutes, drain it, but keep a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water aside. Add it together with the pasta to the sprout mixture. Turn the heat back on under the sprout pan, stir and let everything heat through together. This step helps the lovely earthy creamy sauce stick to the pasta. Decant into bowls and eat.

Like this recipe? Then you might like my spaghetti carbonara recipe.

Easy chicken pasta with feta and veggies

With less than six weeks to go, I’m starting to get nervous. Can I really run the 42 kilometres that is the Sydney marathon. I’ve been diligently training since January for number 27 on my list of 100 things to do in my life. Yep. Running for nearly five consecutive hours, rubbing my skin raw, bruising my toenails and generally exhausting myself has been an ambition of mine for a while. I’m curious to know if I have what it takes to complete the course. I’m definitely not a natural runner. I have stamina. But I’m not a runner. A swimmer maybe. Even a sprinter. Present me with a challenge though and I will grit my teeth, dig in my heels and give it my all. I slightly underestimated how much more I would need to eat though to help me achieve my goal. And although pasta isn’t my go to meal every night of the week, it’s definitely featuring more frequently, to provide the much needed energy. Like this fresh and easy chicken pasta that we had last night.

I can’t take the credit for this dish though. In what feels like another lifetime now, while at University in Glasgow, I used to work at Dimaggios, a hugely popular American Italian restaurant in the city’s West End. I was the cashier slash coffee maker slash telephone answerer. It was my first real insight into the fast paced and often frantic world of hospitality. And I loved it. There was the erratic happy one minute shouting at everyone the next head chef, who scared the hell out of me. Then there was moody pizza chef, who equally scared me, yet despite his demeanour, made really good pizzas. And the espresso with three sugars downing manager, who never said very much unless I did something wrong, and then he’d say even less, shake his head and purse his lips to form an expression of much dissapprovement. He definitely scared me. They were all big personalities and I was just a shy student learning about myself and experiencing life freely for the first time.

After a busy shift I would often order this easy chicken pasta for dinner. It was named fusili el Greco, signaling to the little cubes of feta cheese scattered through it no doubt. There was also roast chicken, cherry tomatoes, carrot batons and snow peas, lots of olive oil and garlic. Considering the number of other dishes that were on offer, with lashings of cream and rich tomato sauces, I wonder now what it was about fusili el Greco that I liked so much. I think its simplicity. The colourful crunchy vegetables, salty squares of cheese, and garlicky olive oil coated spirals of pasta. Undeniably fresh, yet still very satisfying. Delicious hot or cold.

I find it funny reminiscing about a job that I used to do while studying for an English degree. My dad always told me, just get a degree. It will stand you in good stead for the future, whatever you end up doing. I so wholeheartedly believed him, that it never once crossed my mind that hospitality might be an industry that I should explore more fully. My role at the restaurant was simply for extra cash, right. Just because I felt so at home working there, loved the thrill of a fully booked restaurant on a Friday night and was always sneaking glances into the kitchen to catch a glimpse of the action, I was going to work in marketing, advertising or publishing. Right. Well as it turns out now. No. And answering that question brings me full circle. Because I’m not a runner. Right. Well, in five and a bit weeks, I might prove myself wrong. Again.

Easy chicken pasta

Enough for 4, or 2 dinners and then 2 lunches the next day.

  • 1 chicken breast
  • 1 red onion, thickly sliced
  • 200g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 carrots, cut into batons
  • a handful of snow peas, tops trimmed and cut in half on the diagonal
  • 1 long red chilli, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 100ml beautiful extra virgin olive oil
  • 200g feta, cut into cubes
  • 300g fusili pasta

Roast the chicken breast at 180C for 25-30 minutes and leave to cool. When its cool enough to handle, shred the chicken into large strips. Doing this with your hands rather than a knife adds a lovely texture to the dish.

Bring a big pot of water to the boil and cook the carrots and snow peas for about 3 minutes so that they retain some crunch. Scoop them out of the pot with a slotted spoon and plunge them into cold water (iced cold water if you can). This will stop the vegetables from cooking and help keep their colours bright. Once cool, drain and set aside.

You can now add the pasta to the same water that you have just cooked the veggies in. Cook for 10 minutes. Drain but do not rinse and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, over a low heat, cook the onion in the olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chilli and cook until the garlic becomes fragrant, another 5 minutes or so.

Now add the carrots, snow peas, halved cherry tomatoes and chicken to the pot and stir so that all the flavours combine and everything is heated through. Add the pasta and the feta, stir again, drizzle in some more olive oil if you like, a little sea salt and some black pepper.

Enjoy this? Then you might like spaghetti carbonara

Classic spaghetti and meatballs

Do you ever get that impulse, that you just have to make a certain dish. I do. And last week it was for classic spaghetti and meatballs. From out of nowhere came the absolute burning desire to make flavoursome Italian meatballs with a caramelised crust, in a rich, slow cooked, tomato sauce, with my favourite of all the pastas, spaghetti. A dinner to be served in a wide, shallow rimmed bowl, with garlic bread on the side to mop up all the delicious juices. Not a sophisticated meal, but complete comfort food, to be enjoyed with friends around a table with a bottle of red wine.

It just so happened that we would be dining with friends on Saturday night. During the day we would be removing all of our furniture from our house in order to store it in Ma and Pa’s garage. Knowing that Thea would need to be looked after for such a task, her Auntie and Uncle had stepped in to take care of her for the day and as way of thanks, I would cook them a delicious dinner. One that could be pre prepared a few days in advance, needing a few finishing touches on the night just before we all sat down to eat. My impulse to make classic spaghetti and meatballs and our weekend arrangements seemed perfectly aligned, so I headed to my new favourite butcher to buy the ingredients.

Making the meatball mixture is a straightforward job. One that you can stop and start, which is useful when there is a small person at your feet who is far more interested in gaining your attention than in patiently waiting while you make dinner. Portioning the balls however is a task that requires your toddler to be well occupied. Once your hands, and using your hands is the best way to do such a wholesome task as this, are immersed in meatball mixture, there’s no easy or fast way of turning back. So with snacks provided, books and toys all over the floor, Thea seemed happy and I set about rolling portions of parsley flecked meat between the palms of my hands.

For my meatballs I use half Italian sausage meat and half beef mince. The combination seems to make for really tasty, as well as, juicy meatballs. Ones that make you want to come back for seconds and thirds. When the mood strikes to prepare something like meatballs, it’s worth making a large quantity. The raw portioned mixture will freeze extremely well and serve as a quick and hearty week night dinner. I managed to roll out all two kilos of the mixture before Thea emptied the last of the contents of cupboard under the sink onto the floor. Something that I’m rather proud of. It is possible that since having an active baby, I am now faster in the kitchen than I was during my time working in restaurants. The thought of the chaos that she could cause while I’m busy with a task, is far more frightening than the wrath of any head chef!

With my impulse for classic spaghetti and meatballs satiated, a meal for Saturday prepared as well as a dinner for another night, I felt a cheerful sense of achievement. I sat on the kitchen floor with Thea and we restocked the kitchen cupboard. It seems to me that children always act on impulse, doing whatever is is that makes them feel good. Perhaps it’s something that we adults should all do more often, act on a whim, because it’s nice to feel happy.

Classic spaghetti and meatballs

For the meatballs. Makes 60-70.

  • 1kg beef mince
  • 1kg Italian sausage mince
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • bunch of chopped parsley
  • 1 cup loosely packed grated parmesan
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • generous grinding of black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well with your hands. Portion the mixture into walnut sized balls.

For the sauce.

Plenty for 20-30 meatballs, assuming that the remainder have been set aside to be frozen.

  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 3 sticks celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 x 400g tins tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 500ml beef stock
  • sea salt and black pepper to taste
  • a splash of balsamic vinegar to taste

Over a low heat, sweat the onion, carrot and celery with a little oil in a large pot. By sweat, I mean cover the pot with a lid and leave the vegetables to cook slowly for about 10 minutes until they are very soft.

Next add the garlic and cook until it’s fragrant, then add the tinned tomatoes, tomato paste and stock.

Bring the tomato sauce to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes to an hour until it has slightly reduced.

Using a stick blender, blend the sauce until it’s smooth and then season with salt, pepper and vinegar to your taste. It should be slightly sweet and piquant. Keep the sauce warm over a gentle heat. Perhaps put a lid over the pot at this stage incase the sauce bubbles and splatters.

Now to assemble dinner.

Cook the meatballs (5-7 per person) in a little oil in batches a frying pan. Make sure that there is enough space in between each ball so that they don’t sweat, but instead caramelise and brown. Make sure that they are well coloured before you turn them. Doing this will impart depth of flavour into the finished meal. Now add the cooked meatballs to the tomato sauce so that that flavours can mingle.

With the sauce and meatballs ready, cook the spaghetti and drain it. Tip it back into its cooking pot and add a few ladlefuls of the tomato sauce. Now set the pot over a moderate heat and stir to combine the two. This method will ensure that all the strands of pasta are not only coated with rich tomato sauce, but that it clings to it too.

Combine the spaghetti, meatballs and rest of the sauce together, stir once again, transfer to a big serving platter for people to help themselves to (or even just take the cooking pot to the table) and enjoy with grated parmesan, garlic bread and a glass of red wine.

If you enjoyed this recipe, you might also like A versatile beef and red wine stew

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