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Tonight I wanted to create something quick, simple and delicious for dinner. Italian food can be all three! It was raining outside, so I didn’t want to leave the house – I rummaged through the fridge for inspiration and discovered a packet of bacon I had no recollection of buying. Luckily still within it’s usage date I settled on one of my favourite pasta dishes; Amatriciano. A simple tomato based sauce with bacon and chilli. It’s a sweet, spicy sauce that works perfectly with spaghetti or penne.
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup bacon (removed rind and chopped)
1 small onion (finely diced)
1 stick celery (finely diced)
2 cloves garlic (finely diced)
1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1 cup white wine
1x400g can chopped tomatoes
salt & pepper
1/2 cup fresh basil (roughly torn)
Pasta (for 3-4 people)
Freshly grated parmesan cheese (for serving)
Put a large pan of salted water for the pasta on the stove to heat while you’re making the sauce.
In a large deep frying pan, heat the oil over a moderate heat. Add the bacon and fry for 4 minutes until just beginning to crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon, leaving the fat in the pan. Set the bacon aside.
Tip the onion, celery and garlic into the pan and stir fry for 4-5 minutes until soft. Return the bacon to the pan along with the chilli flakes and cook for 1 minute before pouring in the white wine. Let this sizzle for 1 minute before adding the tomato and 1/2 can water. Stir well and let this come to a simmer. Season generously with salt and pepper to taste.
When the pasta water is boiling, cook the pasta to the packet instruction minus about 2 minutes. Drain and add directly to the pasta sauce over a moderate heat. Toss it around and cook for a further 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the basil leaves and serve.
Arrange in bowls and sprinkle generously with parmesan cheese and black pepper and a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil if you’re feeling fancy!
I’m not really a dessert person, but I do love everything about a panna cotta. The texture, the lightness, the creaminess. It has it all! They’re also deceptively simple to make yourself. Once you’ve mastered how much gelatin to add you’re quite literally set! The panna cotta’s should have a light firmness, like jelly – and a definite wobble – your spoon should slide through with ease. Gelatin sheets differ in strength but bizarrely most brands don’t give you any indication of how much to use, so it’s a bit of trial and error. I have found that titanium strength sheets are the most consistent. Once you find a good brand, stick with it and write your formula down somewhere! My formula is roughly one 5g titanium gelatin sheet per cup (240ml) of liquid. Anyway, back to dessert – this dish has a great combo of flavours and textures. The creamy, light sweetness of the panna cotta marries well with the bitter nuttiness of the praline and the tart, sweet syrup ties the two together in each perfectly harmonious mouthful. Special!!
For the Panna Cotta
1 1/2 cups full fat milk
1 1/2 cups cream
2-3 tablespoons caster sugar
1 vanilla bean
3 x 5g gelatin sheets (titanium strength)
For the praline
1/2 cup whole, shelled pistachio nuts
1 cup caster sugar
pinch sea salt
For the syrup
1 small bottle of Botrytis dessert wine (or any sweet white wine).
1 teaspoon sugar
For the panna cotta
Cut the vanilla bean lengthways in half. Using a teaspoon or knife, scrape out the beans from both sides. Add to a saucepan along with the milk, cream and sugar and turn on the heat. (Don’t throw out the bean, add this to a jar of sugar, for fabulous vanilla sugar, great over fruit or in tea.)
Soak the gelatine sheets in cold water while the milk heats.
When the milk is hot, remove from the heat. Squeeze out the gelatine sheets and add to the milk until dissolved. Pour the milk through a strainer, and then decant the liquid into small ramekins or panna cotta moulds. (makes 4-6 depending on size). Cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least 4 hours for the panna cottas to set.
For the praline
Arrange a lightly greased piece of greaseproof paper on a baking tray then arrange the nuts in one layer quite close together.
Heat a small frying pan over a moderate/high heat. Pour in the sugar and shake into one layer. Keep over the heat until the sugar melts. DO NOT STIR! The sugar will eventually turn a deep golden brown. Be careful to no burn the sugar. When it’s deep amber colour, remove from the heat and quickly and carefully drizzle over the nuts. Don’t be tempted to touch the mixture – it’s molten hot! Add a pinch of sea salt to the top and leave this to cool completely. It’ll harden.
When cooled, snap the praline into small pieces. Set four pieces aside and put the remaining pieces into a food processor. Pulse blend until you have a crumble, like coarse breadcrumbs.
For the Syrup
Place the wine and sugar in a small frying pan and over a moderate/high heat reduce by 2/3 – about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and decant into a small jug. Refrigerate to cool and thicken the syrup.
With a knife, gently ease the top edges of the panna cottas from their mould. Dip the ramekins into a shallow bowl of hot water that goes up about half way. Leave for 5 seconds then turn out onto a waiting plate or bowl. Drizzle over some syrup then add a spoonful of the praline crumble. Finally add the small piece of praline and serve.
I’m not a big fan of roasted squash on its own. I find it quite mushy and unappealing, but when I saw this recipe, where it’s mashed and enhanced with tahini, one of my favourite flavours I just had to give it a try out. I’m very pleased I did – what a transformation! The natural sweetness of the squash is enhanced with the use of tahini and yoghurt and with an extra hit of tart pomegranate molasses elevates a straightforward vegetable into something very special indeed. It looks great and tastes even better.
1kg sized butternut squash
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons light olive oil
5 cloves garlic (skin on)
2 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
2 tablespoons tahini paste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon (juice of)
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon nigella seeds
1 teaspoon pumpkin seeds
Preheat oven to 190ºC
Cut the butternut squash in half, remove the seeds and pulp from the centre and discard. Chop into large chunks then remove the skin. Arrange on a large baking tray with the garlic cloves. Drizzle over the light olive oil and then scatter over the cumin, salt and pepper. Toss with your hands to coat all the squash. Bake in the oven for 70-80 minutes until soft, turning once or twice during that time.
Remove from the oven, then using a fork, mash roughly. Squeeze the garlic from the skins and mash those too. Add to a large bowl then stir in the yoghurt, tahini, extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice.
Serve warm or at room temperature, scatter over the sesame, nigella and pumpkin seeds and then drizzle over the pomegranate molasses. Serve as a side dish to meat or fish, or alongside bread to use as a spread/dip.
It was a cold wintery Sydney that inspired me to bake a cake today. There’s something so comforting about the smell of a baking cake wafting through a warm house when it’s cold outside. This cake was created with stuff I had lying around, after a thorough rummage to look for almonds, I discovered a whole pack of hazelnuts which I knew would work equally as well with my tried and tested lemon cake recipe. Using yoghurt is definitely a favourite of mine, the results are always great – always spongy, light and not too rich. The cake turned out great and just the antidote for the beginning of the rain outside.
225g caster sugar
225g Greek yoghurt
3 lemons (zest of)
150g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup icing sugar
juice of 1-2 lemons
Preheat oven to 170ºC
Lightly grease a non-stick 20cm round cake tin and dust with flour. Set aside.
Beat together the eggs and sugar until lights and creamy. Beat in the yoghurt and lemon zest then set aside. In a food processor, blend the hazelnuts until they resemble breadcrumbs. Combine with the flour, baking powder and salt. Tip this mixture into the wet ingredients and stir to incorporate. Don’t over stir.
Pour the ingredients into the cake tin and smooth out. Bake for 45 minutes until cooked in the centre.
Remove from the oven and cool slightly before turning out to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the icing, using a whisk, gradually pour into the icing sugar a little lemon juice at a time, until the consistency is thick, but pourable. The consistency of honey. When the cake is completely cooled, pour over the icing and smooth out to cover the cake.
I served mine as I do with all my cakes, with a cup of coffee and a TV show about food.
One of the first things my mother taught me how to cook was lentil soup. We ate it regularly as I grew up. I would ask for it constantly in any weather. Maybe her idea to teach me, was that if I wanted it all the time, I could cook it myself, thereby saving her a job! Whatever the reason, It’s still one of my favourites. So, as the temperature in Sydney cools for winter – it’s time for lentil soup. It warms every inch of the body and takes me back to bitter English winters where there was always a pan on the go. My mother’s recipe would see the ham hock cooked in the soup. I’ve slightly changed her recipe, in that I create my ham stock first before cooking the lentils. For whatever reason, the ham hocks in Australia aren’t quite as smoky or intense as I remember the British ones being, so the soup needs all the help it can get to draw out that salty bacon flavour. It takes longer, but it’s that flavour that makes this soup so special – so I’m happy I’ve struck upon this slight variation. She also left hers chunky, which I like too, but prefer to blend mine ’til smooth. Either way, you must make this etc…
For the stock:
1 ham hock (5-6 deep cuts in the flesh – to the bone)
1 medium onion (quartered)
1 carrot (cut into chunks)
1 stem rosemary
2 bay leaves
4 stems fresh parsley
2 garlic cloves
For the soup:
2 cups split red lentils
1 onion (chopped)
1 carrot (chopped)
2 medium potatoes (peeled and cubed)
salt & pepper
To make the stock:
Place all the stock ingredients into a large pan along with 3 litres of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low. Cover the pan and simmer very gently for 2 hours. Remove from the heat.
Take out the hock and cool slightly. Remove as much meat from the bone as you can – set aside and discard any fat and sinew.
Drain the liquid into another large pan and discard the vegetables and herbs. Add the bone to the liquid along with the lentils, onion, carrot and potatoes. Place this over a moderate heat until just simmering. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered for 30 minutes until the lentils have pretty much disintegrated. Remove from the heat. Remove the bone and discard then using a hand blender, blend the soup until smooth. Season generously with salt & pepper before serving.
Serve with a little of the ham sprinkled over the soup along with some black pepper and a little drizzle of good quality olive oil or melted butter.
I have always LOVED tarte tatin. A simple and amazingly sweet blend of fruit and pastry. Sweet and caramelised pears atop of a flaky, crunchy pastry. Much easier to make than you’d think it’s a great dinner party spectacular that can be prepared ahead and popped into the oven as and when. When it’s turned out, it’s guaranteed a ripple of applause and with the first mouthful guaranteed a sigh of pleasure from everyone involved in its eating.
Serves 2 (I suppose).
50g caster sugar
50g unsalted butter
3 medium pears (peeled, cored and quartered lengthways)
2 star anise
pinch cinnamon powder
1 frozen puff pastry sheet (half thawed)
In a small oven proof frying pan (about 15m width), heat the sugar and butter over a moderate/high heat, shaking the pan until bubbling and turning golden brown. Add the star anise, cinnamon and pears in one layer and shake pan to coat. The sugar and butter may separate. Worry not, it’ll all be fine. Let the pears cook for 10 minutes, shaking occasionally. Remove from the heat and cool for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 200ºC
Using a plate that is slightly larger than the frying pan, cut a circle from the pastry.
Arrange the pears in the pan, outer edge facing down. Place the pastry over the pears and carefully tuck it around the edges into the pan. Prick the top a few times then place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and puffed up.
Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Place a large plate over the pan and carefully invert the pan onto the plate. Scrape any syrup from the pan and spoon over the tarte.
Serve with a spoonful of cream or mascarpone.
Every day I cycle around the inner West of Sydney. Most days, I pass the Sydney Fish Markets. Some days, I remember to bring the lock for my bike so that I can make a quick, red faced stop to buy fresh seafood for the night’s dinner. Today, an abundance of New Zealand snappers caught my eye. They looked super fresh and plump and weren’t expensive either. Fighting my way through the tourists I finally managed to get to the counter, pay and get it home, whereupon I cooked this delicious Vietnamese dish. Deep fried needn’t mean unhealthy. If the oil you fry in is hot enough, the fish will not be greasy at all. It will almost steam itself cooked around the hot oil. The results are crisp on the outside and deliciously delicate and soft on the inside. The aromatic marinade is the perfect balance, letting the fish be the star of the show, while still bringing a complex and unique blend of south east Asian flavour.
1 medium fish, I used NZ snapper. (about 1kg, gutted and descaled)
1 shallot (chopped)
3 cloves garlic (peeled & chopped)
2 lemon grass stalks (whites only, chopped)
5cm piece fresh ginger (peeled & chopped)
1 hot Thai chilli (seeds in, chopped)
1 tablespoon palm sugar (or brown sugar)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
500ml peanut oil (or vegetable, canola etc).
4 garlic cloves (peeled and thinly sliced)
3 spring onions (finely sliced)
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 lime (cut into wedges)
To make the marinade: Using a hand blender, food processor or pestle & mortar, blend together all the marinade ingredients into a smooth paste.
Make deep cuts diagonally on both sides of the fish to make diamond shapes. Rub the marinade into the skin and inside the fish carcass. Wrap in foil and refrigerate for 3-4 hours.
When you’re ready, heat the oil in a large deep frying pan or wok over full heat until hot and rippling on the surface. Drop in the sliced garlic and let this sizzle until turning brown, about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside.
Pick up the fish by its tail and with the head towards you carefully lower the fish, head first and away from yourself into the hot oil. The fish will fry vigorously. Using the slotted spoon, splash the oil over to top of the fish as it cooks. After 3-4 minutes, using a fish slice, carefully turn the fish over. Cook for a further 3-4 minutes until the fish is cooked through and the skin crispy. Remove from heat and carefully lift it out with a fish slice and drain on paper towels.
Place the fish on a platter. Combine the soy sauce and fish sauce and pour over, then scatter over the spring onion and the fried garlic.
Serve with lime wedges. I had mine alongside a delicious vermicelli noodle salad and Nước mắm pya to pour over everything.
I love NOTHING more than a big wedge of Spanish tortilla at any time of the day. Eggs are my favourite – any shape or form but this classic Spanish tortilla elevates the humble egg into something quite spectacular. Soft potato slices and good quality tuna make for a spectacular, simple tapas creation that is an absolute must for any tapas offering. Given my own way, I would eat this all day, every day.
1 small onion (sliced thinly)
4 medium waxy potatoes (sliced thinly)
1 small jar of best quality tuna in olive oil
1 teaspoon of fresh thyme or oregano
1 tablespoon parsley (chopped)
8 free-range eggs
1/2 cup milk
salt & pepper
Heat about 4cm depth of olive oil in a frying pan until hot, but not smoking. Add some of the potatoes but not all of them. Fry until the potatoes soften but don’t brown or crispen. Drain on paper towels and repeat process with the other potatoes.
Drain the oil leaving about 2 tablespoons in the pan. Cook the onions until golden. leave to cool with the potatoes. Drain the oil from the pan.
In a large bowl beat the eggs and milk well and add the tuna in flakes (keep the tuna oil), the thyme, parsley, potatoes and onion and salt & pepper. Leave the mixture covered for about 1/2 hour.
Preheat oven to 200ºC
Heat a medium, deep and ovenproof frying pan with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil from the jar of tuna until hot.
Pour in the egg mixture. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the base starts to brown. Place in the oven and cook for 10-15 minutes until the centre is cooked through. Cool for 1-2 minutes then using a palette knife release the tortilla from the edges of the pan. Place a large plate on top, then invert the pan to release the tortilla to the plate. Leave to cool slightly and serve warm or, my favourite, room temperature.
cut into bitesize tapas and skewer with cocktail sticks. You can eat warm or cold. I prefer cold with a dollop of fresh saffron alioli
If there is something I love more than anything it is eggs! They are so versatile – hot, cold, sweet and savoury – they are a staple I just couldn’t live without. One use that I make all the time is my own mayonnaise. I can’t go back to shop bought ever – the homemade stuff is on another level! This recipe takes my standard recipe for garlic mayonnaise (aoli, alioli – whatever you want to call it) and uses saffron to bring a bit of luxury and colour to the party. The creamy mayo takes on a wonderful yellow appearance and is beyond creamy and delicious. Last night, I was serving mine with some crunchy fried squid cooked Spanish style with paprika so I named it Alioli! There was plenty leftover, so the next day, for lunch I ate the rest with one of my all time, all time, all time favourites Tortilla Española, a beautiful potato and tuna tortilla that is just out of this world. The two are just made for each other… If you love mayonnaise, you will love this – I guarantee!
20-30 strands saffron
1 large clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup vegetable oil & 1/2 cup light olive oil combined.
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
Soak the saffron threads in 1/3 cup freshly boiled water for 10 minutes. Set aside.
Meanwhile, mash together the anchovy and garlic with the salt until smooth. In a medium bowl, mix this with the egg yolk, mustard and pepper until smooth. In very small amounts drizzle in the oil. Whisk until fully incorporated before adding a little more oil and whisking again – the mixture should emulsify and create a thick mayonnaise as you incorporate the oil. Towards the end you may add the oil in larger amounts as the mixture will be more stable.
Stir in the sherry vinegar and the saffron with the soaking liquid. The mayonnaise will become thinner and turn a light yellow colour. Check for seasoning and serve.
As I mentioned above, this is great with seafood, with eggs and I also love with hot boiled potatoes and some steamed asparagus. Heaven!
The benefits of cooking so much Indian food, is that I am often left with lots of freezer leftovers. This means, with little effort, I can put together an Indian feast. What normally happens is I dig out one or two meat curries from the freezer, then cook fresh one or two vegetable curries to accompany. This eggplant dish is a regular. A comforting, wholesome dish thats’s easy to put together. It benefits from cooking until very soft. The overall texture rich and smooth and very easy to eat an entire pan of. Works very well on its own incidentally, with a naan bread or rice. Delicious.
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 onion (thinly sliced)
1 tablespoon grated garlic
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 small chilli (seeded and finely chopped)
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon chilli powder
2 tomatoes (chopped)
2 medium eggplant (cut into large chunks)
2 medium potatoes (peeled and cubed)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 lime (juice of)
1 small bunch fresh coriander (chopped)
In a large saucepan, heat the oil over a moderate/high heat until hot. Add the mustard seeds and cumin and sizzle for 30 seconds until the seeds start to pop. Add the onion and fry for 2-3 minutes until they start to darken around the edges. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli and stir briefly before adding about 1/4 cup water. This will avoid them sticking. Let the water reduce until everything is frying again then repeat this 1/4 cup water method twice more. Add the turmeric, chilli and tomatoes and stir well for 3-4 minutes until the tomato turns into a paste.
Stir in the potatoes, eggplant and salt along with 400ml water. Bring to a simmer then reduce the heat to low. Place a lid over the pan and cook for 30 minutes or until the potatoes and eggplant are very soft. Some of the eggplant will break up, this will help thicken the sauce. Remove the lid, and if needed, simmer the sauce for 5-10 minutes to reduce to a dryish thick paste. Remove from heat.
Squeeze over the lime juice, stir in the fresh coriander and serve.
Serve with Indian breads or basmati rice, on its own or as part of a larger Indian feast.