Category Archives: food & recipes

a winter sundae

Last week (our second back in Australia) was the start of winter. The first of June was cool, but sunny and clear-skied—a timely reminder of why this is a fantastic country to live in.

Winter is a gentle season here. Unlike in the European winter this is the greenest time of year, as most trees don’t loose their leaves.  The sun shines most days, at least for a few hours, and the sky just feels lighter and less oppressive than in the cold north.

One of the advantages of this mild cool season is that a wide variety of fruits and vegetables grow in winter here. The fruit bowl in front of me has beautiful apples, pears and oranges. There are bowls of quinces, lemons and grapefruit waiting for my mother to turn them into jam, and there are even a few late tomatoes hanging around.

This is also, apparently, the harvest time for persimmons. Knowing that my mum is a jam-maker extraordinaire, a colleague of my father sent him home with a bag full of these exotic fruit.

Now we’re a fairly omnivorous bunch, but somehow none of us had ever eaten persimmons (or at least no one remembered that they had). We looked at these lovely burn orange fruit, ummed and ahed, googled and decided to turn them into chutney.

Before we got to the persimmons though, the lovely Zannie dropped by and staged an intervention. She showed us the true path towards persimmon appreciation—slices of peeled fruit eaten just as is.

The fruit turns out to be crunchy and very sweet, something like a cross between the texture of a crunchy pear and the flavour of a rockmelon, but with its very own wonderful thing happening.

So, on Sunday I was thinking about how to turn the persimmons into a light dessert and decided to try grilling them, as you can with peaches or pineapple. The sweetness of the persimmon was heightened by the quick cooking, taking on a toffee-ish flavour while retaining their crunch. Combined with some vanilla-infused whipped cream the grilled fruit were a very sweet and satisfying treat.

to make

One piece of fruit per person

300ml cream
3 drops vanilla essence
1 teaspoon brown sugar

Toasted slivered almonds or wafers for serving

Peel and slice the persimmons and pears into thick wedges. Heat a griddle pan until very hot then grill the fruit on each side just long enough to get deep caramel colour.

Add the vanilla essence and brown sugar to the cream and whip until it is light and just forming soft peaks.

Serve three or four pieces of fruit with a good dollop of the cream and slivered almond or a wafer on top.

How exciting to find a new flavour!




This is a recipe for my gorgeous cousins, who are back in Italy with most of a bottle of maple syrup that needs an accompaniment (because lets face it, pancakes are just an excuse for eating maple syrup right?). I promised to teach them how to make pancakes before I left, but unfortunately that was among the long list of things that didn’t get squeezed into our last few weeks in the northern hemisphere.

So, pancakes have been done before: But this is the recipe that I cooked every Sunday morning from as soon as I could see over the top of the stove. The proportions and preparation are incredibly simple, the result delicious. Oh, and I should mention that these are large flat pancakes, not the smaller risen ones.

The basic recipe below has had one minor adjustment in recent years, as I’ve started substituting half of the plain flour for oat flour. This improves the taste and texture of the pancakes, although I wouldn’t promise anything about healthiness, remember the maple syrup!

The amounts below can be multiplied to infinity. Remember, you can always put leftover pancakes in the fridge and eat them the next day.

to make

(serves 2–3 people)

1 egg
1 cup milk
1 cup plain flour

Butter for cooking

Mix the egg, milk and flour together until there are no lumps. Leave to stand for 30 minutes.

Set up a heavy bottomed frying pan, two large plates, the pancake batter with a ladle, butter and an egg flip.

Heat the frying pan on a medium heat. Add a teaspoon of butter, swirl it around the pan to coat the bottom and wait for it to start sizzling. Then, add a small ladle full of batter and swirl the pan to form a circle of the mixture.

Leave the pan alone! Wait for the pancake to be almost totally set on top (you can test it by gently touching the top of the pancake with the egg flip). Once it’s set, flip the pancake over to cook the other side. The second side won’t take quite so long.

Remove the pancake to a plate and then cover with the second plate (this will keep the cooked pancakes warm while you cook the others).

Repeat, repeat, repeat. Keep adding more butter in between each pancake and make sure the butter is sizzling before you add the batter.

Serve the pancakes with your favourite toppings and enjoy!

Buon appetite ragazze, spero che ci vediamo fra poco!

Irish-ish soda bread

In my last post I introduced you to some of my Scottish ancestors. Today’s recipe is a tip of the hat to the Irish peasants in my lineage.

A few weeks ago I decided to have a go at making soda bread. This Irish staple is about as simple as bread making can be – flour mixed with water, salt, bicarbonate soda and (traditionally) buttermilk. The dough takes no kneading or rising — just mix, form and throw in the oven. In other words, this is the bread recipe for lazy or baking-shy sods like me!

My traditional-ish loaf.

Another advantage of soda bread is that the rising isn’t dependent on the gluten in the flour (as with yeast bread). Instead the bread is given lift through a reaction between the bicarb soda and the acid in the buttermilk. This means lower-gluten (‘soft’) flours can be used without compromising the chemical reaction.

I trawled the internet a bit to find the right recipe (read: the recipe with the fewest ingredients) and ended up trying two options. The first used yoghurt in place of the buttermilk. I also used a mix of Kamut and regular flour for this loaf. The dough was very sticky, but came together fairly easily.

The second loaf was made using a recipe from the very endearingly named Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread website. This site has a comprehensive history section, which informs their slightly prescriptive statements about what is ‘true’ soda bread. My yogurt loaf wouldn’t have qualified, however delicious it was.

The revolutionary yogurt loaf.

The recipe from the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread website stuck close to tradition, although I made two adaptations. I substituted rye flour for the wholewheat flour and also used an instant soured milk in place of buttermilk, as the latter is impossible to find in Italy.

To make instant buttermilk mix one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice into one cup of milk. Leave for a few minutes and it is ready to use.

The second dough was much drier than the first, although it rose well in the oven. On balance I think I preferred the yogurt loaf, but only marginally. Both loaves were gobbled up quickly in our house of six people. The bread was quite dense but toasted beautifully. The taste was a little like English scones, particularly when slices of toasted bread were paired with butter and plum jam!

All in all soda bread was a fun experiment, and something I’ll definitely cook in the future. It wouldn’t lend itself to all uses – I can’t imagine making sandwiches or bruschetta on this bread – but for afternoon tea it can’t be beaten.

Soda bread with yoghurt

450g wholemeal flour (I used half kamut, half white flour)
2 teaspoons bicarbonate soda
300ml whole yogurt
150ml warm water
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 200°C. Mix flour, bicarb soda and salt then stir in the yogurt and water.

Turn onto a floured surface and knead just until the dough comes together. Form into a round ball and place on a flat baking tray. Cut a deep cross into the top of the dough.

Bake for 30 minutes, reduce the heat to 180°C and bake for a further 20 minutes. To test if the loaf is ready tap the bottom – if it sounds hollow it’s done.

Traditional(ish) soda bread

4 cups wholewheat flour (I used rye)
2 cups white flour
1.5 teaspoons bicarbonate soda
2 cups buttermilk
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 220°C. Mix the dry ingredients and then gradually mix in the buttermilk.

Turn onto a floured surface and knead just until the dough comes together. Form into a round ball and place on a flat baking tray. Cut a deep cross into the top of the dough.

Bake at 220°C for 25 minutes then reduce the heat to 180°C for a further 15 minutes.

baba ghannouj: roasted eggplant and sesame dip

Eggplant, aubergine, melanzane, squash … whatever you call it it’s delicious, and it is the central ingredient in my favourite dip in the world.

I’ve always loved Baba Ghannouj, enjoying it at Greek restaurants or bought from delicatessens at home in Adelaide. Then I learnt how to make it. The recipe proved to be incredibly simple and delicious … way too delicious. Now I always make at least a double quantity so that there is plenty to go around. Seriously, I have an addiction.

Anyway, this recipe is based on one from The Complete Middle East Cookbook by Tess Mallos. This was first published in Sydney in 1979.

Baba Ghannouj

1 medium-sized eggplant
1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, very finely grated, chopped or crushed
1/4 cup lemon juice
Salt to taste
Olive oil, around 1 tablespoon

Grill the eggplant until very soft and blackened all over. Ideally this should be done over a charcoal fire, but those of you who don’t have a fire BBQ handy, or who live in a fire-ban zone, can cook the eggplant on a gas BBQ or in an oven. You’ll miss out on the smoky element, but you also won’t start a bushfire.

While the eggplant are still hot, peel away the skin and stem of the eggplant and discard them.

At this point you have a choice – chunky or smooth? Make your decision and process the flesh of the eggplant accordingly. I tend to go for a chunkier Baba, so I just give the flesh a good chop on a board and then throw it in the serving bowl.

Add the tahini, parsley and garlic. Mix well. Now you’re in a balancing game. Add olive oil, salt and lemon juice bit-by-bit until you get the perfect balance of flavours.

Serve with an extra sprinkle of parsley and a light slaking of olive oil. Make sure you pull your hands away from the bowl quickly as you’re serving this – hungry crowds are liable to take a finger off in their rush to get into the bowl.

Or you can just keep it all for yourself …


simple pasta with white zucchini and cherry tomatoes

We eat simple pasta dishes like this all the time in Italy. In fact this recipe almost counts as complicated because it has two main ingredients in the ‘sauce’!

Like most very simple dishes this works thanks to a little bit of precision in the cooking, so the order of adding ingredients does matter. If you can get your hands on some white zucchini this is a perfect way to use them. Alternatively asparagus is amazing in this kind of pasta dish.

to make

Serves 6

500g short pasta
2 cups white zucchini, halved lengthways and diced
1–2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon mint, roughly chopped
pecorino cheese, grated
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Get the pasta cooking in salted boiling water.

Put a frying pan on a medium–high heat. Add olive oil and the garlic cloves. When the garlic is just sizzling add the zucchini and sauté until they are just softening and have a little colour. Add the cherry tomatoes and continue cooking until they are warmed and just beginning to soften. Season to taste, but remember that the pecorino cheese is quite salty.

Drain the pasta and add half to a large serving bowl. Add half of the zucchini mix, half of the mint and a good grating of pecorino. Add the remaining pasta, sauce, mint and some more pecorino and then stir everything well. (Adding everything in two layers helps to distribute the sauce and cheese evenly.)

Serve, preferably at a table set with daffodils:


pavlova: by popular demand

I love Pavlova. It’s probably my favourite dessert and is one of those things that turns a few simple ingredients into something magical.

Despite the few ingredients, there are about as many Pavlova recipes out there as there are philosophies for living. In fact they cover a similar spectrum: those which place beauty over substance; those which favour total indulgence in the form of chocolate, caramel or coffee flavourings; those which attempt to strip out all of the fat by removing or replacing the cream; or those show-off recipes involving complicated rolling or stacking.

The recipe my Mum gave me many years ago is in a different category. This Pavlova is beautiful, but in a rustic kind of a way. It’s luxurious, but uses just as much sugar as needed (more sugar will mean less collapse, but who cares about a bit of collapsing, right?) Best of all it is incredibly simple, but it has to be done right. The basic recipe is scribbled into my diary and travels with me everywhere.

For those who haven’t done a Pavlova before I thought I’d expand on that a little.

But first, a word about eggs. This dessert is fundamentally all about eggs. Use lovely free-range eggs from happy chickens as the basis of your Pavlova and it will be a treat to make and to eat. Don’t skimp on the ingredients, it’s not worth it. Lecture over.

You can scale this recipe up as you like, although I tend to keep to multiples of three egg whites so the measurements are simple. The Pav I did for these photos (for my birthday!) had nine egg whites to serve 10 hungry people, but we had a little left over.  Beyond that I’m not offering any serving advice because it really depends on how indulgent you want to be.

to make

6 egg whites (at room temperature)
1 cup fine white sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon corn flour

freshly whipped cream and fruit to decorate.

The pavlova base needs to be cooked at least 4 hours before you intend to eat it to allow for the slow cooling time. You also need to consider your oven schedule as this will monopolise the oven for several hours.

Pre-heat oven to 150°C and line a large flat baking tray with baking paper ready for the mixture. Wait until the oven is hot before you start beating the eggs.

Beat the egg whites until they are white and foamy (see the photo below left). Add the sugar a little at a time, beating constantly until the mix is firm and very shiny. Add the vinegar and cornflour and beat for another 15 seconds or so (photo below right).

Transfer the mix to the tray, all piled up. Smooth the mix out to a round disk around 7cm high.

Put in the oven and bake for 1 hour or until the meringue is just starting to colour. While the Pavlova is baking it should rise a little. Try not to open the door of the oven too much and don’t touch the tray.

After 1 hour turn the oven off but leave the Pavlova in the oven to cool. This is the MOST IMPORTANT part of making a Pavlova. The very slow cooling time finishes the cooking process and prevents collapse on an apocalyptic scale.

That said, don’t get too attached to your amazing, solid, statuesque Pavlova. As it cools there will be some collapse on the top and sides as the crunchy outer meringue settles on the soft and chewy inner part. This is normal, don’t panic.

After the oven is completely cool take the Pavlova out, but try and decorate it just before serving.

To serve, take full advantage of the crater left after the top has collapsed by filling it with whipped cream (I never add sugar to the cream). Then top the Pavlova with plenty of fresh fruit. My favourite is mixed berries with a little bit of chopped mint mixed through.



sort of sicilian salad: with green olives, celery and then some

I learnt two new things while cooking dinner on Friday night. The first was how to prepare alici (fresh anchovy fish). We were making fritto misto for dinner and these were to be one of the varieties of seafood cleaned, tossed in semolina flour and then deep-fried.

It turns out that these little fish are really easy to clean, although the process of ripping the head of, opening the belly and pulling out the backbone isn’t very attractive, so I decided not to make that the focus of this post! Instead I thought I’d share the other thing I learned on Friday night: a new salad recipe.

Working to instructions from Liz I threw this salad together in a few moments. It goes amazingly well with seafood, but would probably compliment chicken or pork just as well.

Using good-quality ingredients is the key to this simple salad. For me that means buying good, pit-in olives. To get the pits out I simply squash the olive with the flat of a knife and then pull the flesh away from the pit. This works fairly well, but if anyone has a better technique I’d be happy to hear it!

to make

2 cups celery, diced
1 cup green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 medium red onion, finely diced
1–2 teaspoons dried oregano
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
2ish tablespoons olive oil

Mix the celery, olives, red onion and oregano in a bowl. Dress with enough lemon juice and olive oil to lightly coat all of the ingredients. Taste and adjust as required.