My lovely friend Rosie took me for a drive to Cowes on Phillip Island a couple of weeks ago. Cocooned as I have been in Melbourne’s inner north, the drive through the south-eastern suburbs and out into Gippsland was at once recognisable and delightfully new. It reminded me of the places I had once lived, when I was growing up, when I was a happy newlywed, when I had babies… Continue reading Day 1 – Pasta with Roast Pumpkin, Pesto and Tomato
Autumn arrived on time in Melbourne this year, blowing in on a southerly change that plunged the temperatures more than fifteen degrees within a day of high summer. Fires were stoked, winter doonas were unpacked. People tweeted their appreciation. Outside, it rained and a cold wind blew.
So I went to the markets. Continue reading Day 9 – Orecchiette with Broccoli
My friend and I have our own local, a shabby pub with plain floorboards and old squishy couches and card tables in a cake-wedge of a building in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. When we first went there one winter’s night, the fire was roaring and we sat and talked until 1am comforted by house-made Guinness pies the size of a Sherrin football and a wee dram or two of single malt scotch. Our friendship and mutual love affair with the pub firmly cemented, we have gone back over the months, greeted by the patron like old friends. I quite like that greeting. It makes me feel part of something.
Late last year my friend quit his job and went back to Uni, but not before taking a few weeks off in between and he suggested we go to lunch. We aimed for our pub, only to find it closed. What sort of pub closes at lunchtime? Adrift, with no prospects of a roaring fire to sit beside, my friend cheerily said, “I’ve been to that café over the road. It’s pretty good.” Continue reading Day 8 – Pappardelle con Salsiccia
There is a school of wisdom that says if you are going to make a pasta bake then for goodness’ sakes, make lots of it. From there you have two options – either invite everyone you know to share it with you or freeze half a batch for another time. Either way, when preparing a lasagne or a cannelloni or even a pasta bake, it is impossible to make just enough for just four people. Not only that, the finished result looks paltry compared to the time and effort involved.
It’s far better to go the extra distance and make enough for a small army.
So, to that end, let me give you the bad news – this meal cost nearly $20.00 to make. The good news? It feeds at least eight people.
It started because my housemate bought 800g of fresh ricotta. Why she bought so much I don’t know, but there it was, a meal waiting to happen. What followed was a combined effort. She made the tomato sauce and pronounced herself happy with the results and I think you will love it as much as I did – it’s a lovely creamy version of a tomato ‘sugo’ without an overwhelming acidity. I added a more conventional béchamel sauce over the top and together we ate this meal for three nights in a row, plus a couple of lunches.
I told you it could feed an army. Continue reading Day 10 – Ricotta and Tomato Cannelloni
It’s mushroom time around the country. There’s simply no better time of year to get away from the mild – dare I say, bland – tasting button mushrooms we rely on throughout the year and to try something with a bit of interest.
Whether your tastes run to pine mushrooms to big flat beauties for barbecuing, or from tiny enoki to swiss browns, from morels to porcini, do try to mix it up a little.
In this case, I went foraging in the wilds of the Queen Vic markets and came away with a mixed bag; just like a pick ‘n’ mix for lollies, only with a decidedly earthy bent, I selected a few of everything from the mushroom stall. Even in supermarkets this time of year you will be able to grab more than your usual selection so don’t be shy. Then add them to some leek and a cooked chicken breast and stir the lot through some buttery fettucine. Continue reading Day 7 – Fettucine with Chicken and Mushroom
During those in-between days before your next big shop, all those bits and pieces of leafy greens and odds and ends in the bottom of the fridge can be a culinary opportunity for thrift. It’s your chance to use it all up in a quick mid-week meal. Hesitate however, and your windfall quickly becomes a horrible, science-experiment mèlange.
This is the result of just such a fridge clear out. It started out as a creamy mushroom pasta sauce, but as you can see from the photo, other vegetables quickly got added – onion, celery, carrot, spinach, even a tin of tomatoes. This is a great base recipe for all those odds and ends, but just make sure you add more of one vegetable than all the rest – in this case there were twice as many mushrooms as any other vegetable, lending an earthy, palate-soothing note.
One of the great joys of writing this blog is that I never get bored or complacent with the same old foods – there is always something new to try.
My father first took me trout fishing as a young child but his enthusiasm didn’t translate all that well into my eating consciousness. Either he was never lucky enough to catch sufficient for me to try it or I grew up an ungrateful and fussy child and so never ate it – either way, I was well into my thirties before I ever tried smoked trout and it was then I suddenly realised what all the fuss was about.
These days smoked trout is a relatively cheap fish to try – I buy them for $5.00 each at a local market – and one trout will easily feed two adults, especially when shared through a pasta dish like this one. It has a strong flavour that is best contrasted so don’t be afraid to pair it up with other bold flavours – lemon and chilli are wonderful when used here, providing light and shade.
Don’t leave it too long to try it.
At this time of year I look for any excuse to eat broad beans while they are firm, fresh and cheap across the country. The trouble is, I usually have to convince someone that they are a wonderful vegetable to eat.
While they may not be the most attractive looking vegetable, they do yield magnificent results if you take the time and trouble to double pod them. It’s not enough to remove them from their waxy pods the first time around – you then slip them from their tough grey skin a second time to show little green and delicately flavoured jewels. Continue reading Day 7 – Ricotta Gnocchi with Broad Beans and Mint
There is something about the first blush of warm weather that sends us all into a frenzy of lightening up. Whether it be a sunnier disposition, an urge to get out into the back yard and feel the sun on our faces, a new exercise plan or shedding the bulky clothing for a few less layers, we all seem to be hard-wired to do it the moment the temperature rises.
It doesn’t matter that these first warm days are so precarious, followed as they are by a crushing cold change or wild weather – we welcome it as a reminder that spring – REAL spring, with hay fever, wisteria blossom, racing carnivals and footy finals – is not too far away.
Which is why, despite the hollering gale that threatens to upend garden furniture and strip the peach tree of all blossom outside as I write this, my attention turns towards a welcome change from slow food, carb-heavy desserts and rib-sticking hearty food. And besides, it’s the first few days of asparagus and I simply can’t wait a day longer to enjoy this once a year treat.
I’m in the middle of the markets on Saturday morning, eyes deep in the last of the winter produce, eyeing off some local fresh walnuts when a Sydney-based friend messages me. We made it and are now settling into our hotel room. Where do you suggest we meet?
And that’s when I realise I had completely forgotten that she would be here and we have planned to meet for afternoon tea.
My heart sinks a little as I start going through my mental to-do list. Like most days it’s a long one, but it’s been a helluva week with all sorts of distractions and I’m running behind schedule. I had planned to go to the markets in the morning, with cooking in the afternoon. As it is I’m also heading out to the movies in the evening with a friend …
“Hi, it’s me. Question: If I come round and cook a meal and photograph it before we eat, can we go to the late session instead?” At the last moment, as if he might need further persuasion, I add the kicker: “It includes blue cheese.”
Which is how I came to have afternoon tea in the city in the late winter sunshine with a bag of sweet potatoes, blue cheese and walnuts (and a secret stash of movie-going Maltesers) at my feet.
In this case the blue cheese is very mild – it has to be if you’re to include everyone at the meal. Those who crave a stinky over-ripe cheese will find this a little too mild, but I loved it. Go for a creamy blue cheese (I bought a half-circle blue foil wrapped version in Aldi) rather than a Roquefort or Gorgonzola piquante. If you taste-test it as you make it and find it to strong, remember that the potato in the gnocchi really will even things out. The nuttiness of sweet potato is the perfect partner.