ricotta fritters. and three years of blogging

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In six days, it’s going to be exactly three years since I sent my first post into the blogosphere. That’s thirty six months, or 1,095 days if you’re the analytic type.

It sounds more significant if I state that I’ve now spent one tenth of my life sporadically typing into a WordPress template. On average, I’ve generated one post every eight days (141 in total), which means that a sizeable chunk of each week has been dedicated to late night contemplation, recipe testing, dish washing and amateur photo editing. And eating, of course (arguably the best part).

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It’s been a long journey. Believe me, my enthusiasm has waxed, waned and wilted as each season has passed. Despite my unwavering passion for food, there have been moments of intense frustration when I’ve wondered what the hell I’m doing, donating my free time, finance and energy into something that’s essentially ‘just another food blog’ (there are hundreds in my home town of Perth alone).

After a lot of reflection, I can honestly state that my ‘staying power’ is attributable to two core elements:

  • a firm, quiet belief that this blog may someday lead to greater, more financially viable career options in the food industry, and
  • you guys. The readers. Incredible blogging friends, new passionate foodies and other genuine individuals who have somehow found an affinity with this overly reflective, food-obsessed, somewhat insecure and photo-phobic (yep, that’s why there are no head shots of me) girl from one of the most isolated capital cities on Earth. Despite my irregular posting, occasional absences and sleep-deprived drivel on work nights, you’re still here. Amazing. You continually humble, encourage and inspire me.

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Anyway, back to the approaching third blogiversary of this little food journal. I’ve engaged in a lot of rumination over ‘dot point one’ over the past few weeks. Over many cups of tea, late night chats and scrawl-sessions in my list pad, I’ve realized that I’m desperate for my interest in food to be more than just a scattered hobby around full-time work and other responsibilities. I want to live and breathe food, for this blog to be more than it is and for this volume of words to overflow into reality.

I want my readers to feel excited about pending content, to be able to rely upon the Mess for new recipes with each coming week. I want people to taste my food with eager hands, licking sauce off their fingers and syrup from their teeth.

I want to cook. To cook with abandon, til my arms are sore and my brow is smeared with butter. To collapse into bed exhausted, but wholly content.

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Now, I realize that the above statements are somewhat idealized and that the reality of working in food isn’t all cinnamon-scented and delicious. Hospitality is a difficult industry to crack, and blogging is… well, blogging. I’m still a small fish in a river of glossy salmon.

Nevertheless, I have goals for my obsessive contemplation to translate into tangible activity over the next few months. My initial focus will be on cranking this blog into the next gear – as of this week, you can expect at least one post per week from the Mess, predominantly focusing on healthy, plant-based vegetarian wholefood cooking (we do eat some meat in our household, Aaron more than I, however as time has passed I’ve progressively transitioned to eating mostly plant-based sources of protein).

For those readers who live in my hometown of Perth, you will also be given some opportunities to eat my food over the next few months. I’m not going to give away too much detail whilst we remain in the planning stages, but keep an eye on my Instagram and Facebook for up-to-the-minute details as plans progress. What I can tell you is that I’m currently engaging in recipe writing, planning and testing, all of which is rather fun. There’s also been a hefty chunk of research regarding local councils, food venues and licensing (Aaron’s been managing the last part. He’s loving it, obviously).

lokinoseAnyway, aside from plans for the next few months – I wanted to share some deliciousness with you today.

Deliciousness in the form of a recipe for fat, chilli-flecked ricotta fritters with fresh zucchini, rocket leaves and a creamy yoghurt sauce. They’re perfect for breakfast, topped with a soft poached egg and crispy fried bacon or chorizo. Two or three fritters are also wonderful on their own as a light meal with some cherry tomatoes, piquant red wine vinegar and Spanish onion.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone x

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Zucchini Ricotta Fritters with Minted Yoghurt

Makes 8

  • 1 cup (250g) fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1 small zucchini, finely grated, excess liquid squeezed out* (about 1 cup/175g drained weight)
  • 1/4 cup finely grated smoked cheddar (or Parmesan)
  • 2 tbsp buckwheat flour plus extra, for dusting
  • 1/2 – 1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped (remove seeds for less heat) OR 1/4 tsp dried chilli flakes (to taste)
  • 1 free-range egg + 1 egg white, extra
  • sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • olive oil, for frying
  • rocket (arugula) leaves and extra virgin olive oil, to serve (optional)

*place the grated zucchini in a fine sieve, cover with a clean paper towel and push down with my palm or a broad spoon. Do not skip this step; squeezing the excess water out of the zucchini is important to ensure that your fritters don’t become waterlogged. Use the zucchini juice in your next green smoothie – it’s hydrating and full of goodness

Minted Yoghurt

  • 1/2 cup thick Greek or natural yoghurt
  • finely grated rind from one lemon (about 1 tsp)
  • handful of chopped fresh mint
  • sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Place the ricotta, smoked cheddar or Parmesan, flour, zucchini, egg and seasonings together in a bowl. Mix well to combine. Whisk the other egg white until form peaks form, then fold through the ricotta and zucchini mixture.

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Shape 1/4 cupfuls of the mixture into fritter shapes and dust with the extra flour (the mixture will be quite wet, but don’t worry – they’ll firm up in the pan). Heat some oil in a large, heavy-based pan over medium heat.

Drop the fritters into the hot oil (ensure there is enough space between them for easy turning). Cook in batches for 2-3 minutes on each side or until browned and crisp. Drain on a paper towel.

yoghurt1Mix together the yoghurt, mint and lemon zest in a small bowl, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Serve a couple of fritters per person with a large dollop of minted yoghurt, a handful of rocket and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

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chard, goat cheese and walnut galette with oat pastry

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My mother is one of those thoroughly gifted, green-fingered people who breathes life into dwindled branches on a daily basis. When I was a child, she’d routinely rescue half-dead potted shrubs from local garden centres for one dollar apiece; a few weeks later, she’d be separating densely-packed roots into two separate pots of glossy green leaves.

She’d also frequently save seeds from fruit such as apples or papaya, drying them on the windowsill til their skins became hard and glossy.  She’d then plant them, with plenty of faith and a mound of organic mulch (she still swears by the efficacy of regular mulching).

We had thirty papayas from one of those dried seeds. Fledgling tomatoes and an avocado too. Each year, I benefit from her yield of apples and citrus fruit until my fridge is bursting at the seams.

But no. I haven’t inherited her gift.

I’ve tried. Oh gosh, I’ve tried. My front doorstep is frequently cluttered with dusty pots from plants-that-were; a sad memorial to my horticultural ineptness. I’ve spent a fortune on seeds and organic potting mix, only to be met with the rotting stench of dead foliage (and failure, obviously).

So you can imagine my surprise when a last-ditch effort to grow organic rainbow chard actually yielded results. Meaning, they’re STILL ALIVE. And thriving.

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Since my initial planting in November last year, my little crop of rainbow chard has grown spectacularly; I’ve harvested handfuls of stems every other week and there’s no sign of waning yet.

Other than eating the leaves raw in salads, I’ve made many a thin-crusted chard pizza (with caramelized onions, pesto and goats cheese), variations of sauteed greens and a few toasted coconut sweet potato and chard based curries.

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However, a few days ago I happened upon the idea of making an oat-flour based chard galette, with fresh walnuts that my mother picked on a recent trip to Bright, Victoria.

This thing is glorious. Absolutely bursting with savoury deliciousness. The slight bitterness from the chard combines beautifully with the earthy toasted walnuts, sweet onions and rich melted cheese, all encased in flaky oaten pastry.

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If you haven’t got a glut of chard in your own garden, feel free to substitute with any other leafy green (Tuscan kale works exceptionally well) or just use a whole quantity of spinach.  Walnuts can be easily traded for pine nuts if you prefer.

This galette is beautiful served in thick wedges for lunch with a simple dressed salad and marinated olives, or perhaps accompanied by buttered sourdough for a light dinner.

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Chard, Goat Cheese and Walnut Galette with Oat Pastry

Serves 4-6

  • 1 cup (100g) organic, finely milled* oat flour
  • 1 cup (125g) plain (all-purpose) white flour + about 1/4 cup extra for kneading
  • 200g cold, cubed unsalted butter
  • a good pinch of salt
  • iced water, as required (about 2 tbsp)
  • a splash (about 1/4 tsp) apple cider vinegar
  • 1 free-range egg, white and yolk separated

*use a coarse mill if you prefer more of an oaten texture

Filling:

  • 1 medium red (Spanish) onion, finely chopped
  • 3 small cloves of garlic, peeled and finely diced
  • 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 100g fresh organic rainbow chard, stalks finely sliced, large leaves torn
  • 150g baby English spinach, leaves only
  • 50g raw walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 75g good-quality cheddar or ‘tasty’ cheese, grated
  • 50g goats cheese, crumbled
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp plain flour
  • 1 egg white, beaten with a splash of iced water (reserved from the egg used for the pastry)

For the dough: add the flours to a large mixing bowl with the salt and butter. Rub the butter in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Add in the apple cider vinegar, egg yolk (reserve the white for glazing) and a trickle of iced water. Mix well with your hands, adding a little more iced water as you go until the mixture becomes smooth and cohesive (the dough will become a little sticky).

Tip out onto a well floured surface and knead until smooth. Form into a rough disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes whilst you prepare your filling.

For the filling: add the onion, herbs and garlic to a saucepan with a good splash of olive oil. Allow to saute on low heat until opaque (do not allow to brown).

Increase heat to medium, then add the rainbow chard stems and leaves. Cook, stirring for one minute until wilted. Add in the English spinach and cook for another 2 minutes or until just wilted. Season with salt, turn off the heat and set the mixture aside to cool slightly.

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Line large tray with baking paper and set aside.

On a well-floured surface, roll out your pastry to 35 cm diameter (about 0.5mm thick). Carefully transfer the pastry onto your lined baking tray.

Sprinkle the teaspoon of flour over the centre of the pastry disc in a thin layer (this will absorb any fluid from the spinach and ensure your pastry doesn’t become soggy). Evenly distribute the cooled spinach mixture over the flour, leaving a 3cm border around the edge of the pastry.

Sprinkle over the cheeses and walnuts, then grind a good helping of black pepper over the filling. Turn the edges of the pastry disc up to roughly enclose the filling (don’t worry if it looks ‘rustic’, this is what a galette is all about!). Press together any overlapping pastry edges until you have a well sealed pastry crust. Brush with beaten egg white.

Bake the galette on a centre shelf in your preheated oven for 50-60 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and golden and the filling is bubbling. Allow to cool for five minutes before slicing to serve.

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Note: if you have a pizza stone (and love a crisp pastry crust) I’d highly recommend using it to bake this galette. Preheat the stone for five minutes, then carefully transfer the galette onto the stone atop the baking paper. Bake as above.

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asparagus and cheese tarts

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It’s Monday night, blackened quiet, a few hours away from the pale dawn of Tuesday. I’m sitting on the couch, right hand nursing a glass of wine as my left taps on plastic keys.

The wine seemed like a good idea three hours ago because… well, I like wine. But as sleep envelops my senses, I’m starting to regret the decision. This blog has been long-neglected since I returned from Europe, buried under work and fatigue. So, as I’ve found a quiet evening, I’m determined to pump out a post before my brain retires. Hear that, red wine? Good.

asparagus

buttercheese

A few nights ago, Aaron and I picnicked at King’s Park with two of our very best friends. As night slowly swallowed the blush of day, we spread blankets upon dewy grass and ate smooth cultured butter upon chewy sourdough.

Glasses were clinked and stories were swapped beneath plaid woollen blankets. Our feet grew cold and our hearts warmed as we feasted on fresh mango, olive and zucchini salad, beef meatballs with nectarine chutney, soft cheese, asparagus tarts and cured salami.

Oh, it was good.

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By late evening, we were laughing into empty plates as brown ducks battled over the leftovers. My half-eaten asparagus tarts (the product of a glut of new-season asparagus at the market) were swiftly packed away from prying beaks and feet.

By 10:00pm, the canopy of cloud started weeping on the darkened landscape. We shuffled towards the car, lugging baskets, lanterns and blankets, packing them away before officially calling the night’s end.

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These asparagus and cheese tarts are still a bit of work in progress. The first taste-testers proclaimed them to be a ‘cross between sweet and savoury’ due to the creamy mascarpone and lemon zest.

Despite liking the original tarts, I’ve amped up the flavour in the recipe below with extra cheese and peppery Dijon mustard. The finished product is a shallow, pale-golden savoury tart with streaks of crunchy asparagus, fragrant lemon zest, salty cheese and soft egg custard. The crisp cheese pastry adds both flavour and transportability. Chipotle sauce is optional (unless you’re, me, of course).

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These little tarts are begging to be brought to your next barbecue or family gathering. Their cheesy asparagus flavour is perfect for what’s left of the Australian Spring asparagus season*.

Get amongst it.

*Northern Hemisphere friends, don’t let winter stop you. Thin batons of raw zucchini, halved cherry tomatoes or bits of finely diced broccoli would be a perfect substitute for asparagus during the off-season.

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Asparagus and Cheese Tarts

Makes eight 12cm diameter x 2cm height tarts

Pastry:

  • 100g plain flour
  • 40g wholemeal spelt flour (or just add another 40g plain flour)
  • 85g butter
  • 85g cheese (mixture of cheddar and Parmesan)

Filling:

  • 6 free-range eggs
  • 100g cheese (cheddar and/or Parmesan)
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tsp freshly grated lemon rind
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 tbsp mascarpone cheese
  • 2 bunches (400g) fresh asparagus spears, trimmed and halved (do NOT use canned asparagus. Substitute raw zucchini batons or halved cherry tomatoes if desired)
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 50g blue cheese, crumbled (such as Roquefort or Stilton, optional)

For the pastry: Butter eight loose-bottomed tart tins, place onto a sturdy oven tray and set aside in a cool place (put them in the refrigerator if your apartment or house is hot). Put the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the butter to the flour and rub it in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add in the grated cheese and mix. Add 3 tbsp cold water and mix until the pastry forms a ball. Wrap in cling film and chill for 5 minutes whilst you prepare your filling.

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When pastry is sufficiently chilled, roll it into a log and cut it into eight even portions.

pastrycutPress one portion into a rough circle and flatten using the ball of your hand. Carefully lay it into a buttered tart case. Press to fit with your fingers (don’t worry if the pastry seems very thin, it’s supposed to be like that). Line each case with baking paper and baking beads. Blind bake at 180 degrees C (360 degrees f) for 10 minutes or until light golden.

For the filling: whilst the cases are blind baking, combine eggs, herbs, cheese, lemon zest, salt and pepper, Dijon mustard and mascarpone into a large bowl. Whisk together well.

Wash, trim and halve your asparagus spears. After removing the tart cases from oven, gently distribute the egg mix between the cases, then top with sliced asparagus, salt and pepper. Dot with crumbled blue cheese (optional).

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Bake uncovered for 15 minutes or until egg mix is set (do not allow to brown). Enjoy warm or cold with chutney, bread and/or some dressed rocket leaves.

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prosciutto and roast sweetcorn muffins

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This coming Sunday, my beautiful friend Elissa (doctor and haiku writer extraordinaire) is moving to the port city of Bunbury from Perth, Western Australia. That’s 175 kilometres away; a great chunk of bitumen framed by dirt, trees and a kangaroo if you’re lucky.

No, it’s not the end of the world, or even the end of Western Australia. But it’s far enough to mean no last minute coffee dates, weeknight dinners or Rage-a-thons on Friday nights. For the next six-or-so months, our ‘dates’ will require a full tank of fuel and a sizeable drive. And a packed lunch (if you’re a Hobbit like me).

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parsley

Understandably, the past fortnight has been a series of goodbye events for those of us in Elissa’s friendship group; particularly her beautiful bestie Deanne and… well, me (also known as ‘sisterling’, as we’ve been happily mistaken for sisters more than once).

The first of these goodbye events was two weeks ago; an afternoon tea at Elissa’s apartment for a small group of girlfriends. We drank tea from pretty cups whilst feasting on anecdotes, crudites, taramasalata, soft cheese and corn muffins with Parmesan and smoky paprika.

The latter were made by myself and Deanne with occasional help from a spotty-socked Kelpie named Lucy (below; she smiles for pig’s ears).

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lucy1Throughout the course of an afternoon, Deanne and I chatted, laughed, baked and cried. Somehow in the midst of that, these muffins emerged from the oven.

Despite the fact that I met Deanne through our mutual friendship with Elissa, I feel very blessed to have her in my life. She’s one of the most genuine, transparent, loving and generous hearts I have ever met on this earth. Her second blog Gratitude, All the Time is testament to that.

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But back to the muffins: these were real crowd-pleasers. Moist, soft, sweet with blackened corn and salty with crisp prosciutto. They also had some added kick from the fragrant smoked paprika (Elissa referred to it as the ‘secret ingredient’ and I’d have to agree).

As for the recipe, Dea found it here via Good Food. We made a few edits, including the addition of dried parsley (there wasn’t enough of the fresh herb in the pot) and the substitution of whole milk for buttermilk (as Dea doesn’t believe in buttermilk. I think. Or something like that).

smokedpaprikaI’ve included an edited but unabridged version of the recipe below in case you’d like to try them. They’re simple and very forgiving (trust me, we interrupted the process multiple times).

Dea and I also feel that the muffins would be highly adaptable for those who prefer to exercise some artistic license. Chipotle and lime butter, anyone?

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Prosciutto and Roast Sweetcorn Muffins

Adapted from this recipe by Good Food.

Makes 12 regular-sized muffins

  • 200g canned corn kernels, drained (or fresh kernels from 2-3 cobs, removed)
  • 6 slices prosciutto
  • 225g self-raising flour, sifted
  • tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp castor sugar
  • tsp sea salt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 150ml buttermilk
  • 80g butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp grated Parmesan or cheddar cheese

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees C (374 degrees f). Drain your canned corn and scatter it over a lined oven tray.

corntrayBake for 10-15 minutes or until slightly blackened around the edges. Leave to cool.

Add the flour, paprika, cumin, sugar and sea salt to a large mixing bowl.

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In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk and melted butter. Add in the parsley and all but one tablespoon of the corn, mixing well.

Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture, then add in the egg and milk. Combine very lightly with a fork until thick and clumpy. Do not overmix.

Lightly oil twelve regular-sized muffin holes. Line the sides of each hole with a slice of prosciutto.

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Divide the mixture between the muffin holes, filling right to the top. Scatter over the remaining corn kernels and Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden (an inserted skewer should come out clean).

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Serve these muffins warm with butter, cream cheese and/or tomato chutney. They are best consumed on the day they were made.

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Elissa: thanks for being the genuinely beautiful friend that you are. Have a safe trip down to Bunno and know that we’re coming to visit you very, very soon (in fact, you’d better put the kettle on. You may never get rid of us).

Deanne: you’re amazing. You deserve to be treasured for the incredibly generous and wise person that you are. I look forward to our next cook-up very soon!

potato, fennel and thyme gratin

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I still remember the first time I tasted fresh fennel. I was in the lunchroom at work, eating something very mundane (like a cheese and ham sandwich; this was before I discovered the value of preparing nutritious lunches the night before) when Aviva, a colleague of mine, pulled out a snap-lock bag of carrot sticks. Hiding among the carrots were some pieces of sliced white vegetable with pale green veins. Noting my curiosity, she gave me a piece to try; it was crisp, watery, fragrant with peppery aniseed. Now, I’m not a fan of liquorice but I love aniseed (weird but true. My husband is exactly the same). This thing was like Sambuca in vegetable form.

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On the way home, I stopped in at my local greengrocer to find a piece of this vegetable heaven (which had now been identified as fennel). I bought two small bulbs, an organic lemon and a can of chickpeas. Half an hour later, I crunched through a whole bulb dipped in good extra virgin olive oil and homemade harissa-spiked hummus.

fennellike

Needless to say, since then fennel has become a permanent item on my shopping list. Aaron and I (being aniseed fiends) eat it shaved in various salads, braised in stock, roasted with potatoes and carrots, pan-fried with pine nuts or, simplest of all, in chunks with a drizzle of olive oil and shaved Parmesan. So good.

Today’s post contains a slightly more complicated recipe than those mentioned above. My husband and I had a group of friends over last night to play The Settlers of Catan (don’t start playing this game, it’s addictive) and I decided to cater with a garlicky slow-roasted lamb shoulder, potato and fennel gratin, roasted Brussels sprouts and carrots followed by warm sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce. The gratin was a hit. The sauteing process and the deliciously creamy sauce diffuse the pungent fennel just enough for aniseed-haters to enjoy it whilst also maintaining a pleasing balance of flavour against the crunchy toasted walnuts and fresh thyme.

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So, whether you’re a fennel fan or not, I’d encourage you to try this recipe soon with some succulent roast meat, crusty bread and a glass of good Shiraz. It takes a bit of time to prepare but once you’ve perfected the method, it will soon come together into a warming, nourishing dish to enjoy on a cold winter’ evening.

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Potato, Fennel and Thyme Gratin

Adapted from this recipe by Ina Garten

Serves 6-8 as a side dish

  • 1 large or 2 small Florence fennel bulbs (equivalent to 4 cups sliced fennel)
  • 1 brown onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 kg (2 lb) firm-fleshed potatoes (I used Royal Blue)
  • 2 cups thickened (heavy) cream
  • 2 1/2 cups grated cheese (I used 1 cup grated vintage Cheddar, 1 cup grated Dutch Gouda and 1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled)
  • a small handful of fresh thyme, leaves picked (about 1 tbsp of leaves)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup crumbled raw walnuts

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (350 degrees F). Butter the inside of a 10-cup baking dish, then set aside.

Thoroughly wash your fennel to remove any soil or grit. With a sharp knife, remove the stalks, woody base and fronds (retain the feathery fronds for garnish and discard the rest). Divide the fennel bulb in half; thinly slice the bulbs crosswise.

fennelcut2Melt the butter in a large pan or pot with the splash of olive oil (the oil helps to prevent the butter from burning).  Add in your sliced onion and fennel, then sauté on medium heat for approximately 15 minutes (or until tender). Set aside to cool slightly.

potatomontWash and peel your potatoes. Thinly slice them (about 3mm thick) by hand or with a mandoline. In a large bowl, mix your sliced potatoes with the cream, 2 cups of cheese,  the fresh thyme leaves, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add in the sautéed fennel and onion. Mix well until the cheese and fennel mixture are thoroughly incorporated.

potatoes and creamPour the potato mixture into your prepared baking dish. Arrange the top layer of potatoes if necessary (for presentation purposes) then press down lightly to immerse the top layer under the cream. Sprinkle over the remaining cheese.

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Cover with foil and bake for one hour before removing the foil and sprinkling over the walnuts. Bake for another 30-40 minutes, or until the potatoes are very tender and the top is browned and bubbling. Set aside for ten minutes to rest before serving.

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Extra notes about Fennel:

  • Fennel is widely cultivated for both culinary and medicinal uses. Florence fennel (the popular cultivated type of fennel used in this recipe) has sweeter flesh than wild types and the inflated leaf bases are edible both in raw and cooked form. Florence fennel is one of the three main herbs used in the preparation of absinthe (an alcoholic mixture which originated as a medicinal elixir in Switzerland and became, by the late 19th century, a popular alcoholic drink worldwide).
  • Fennel is sometimes mislabeled as ‘anise’ in supermarkets (I’ve also seen it labelled as ‘aniseed’ here in Australia)
  • The bulb, foliage and seeds of fennel (both wild and cultivated) are edible. Dried fennel seed is an aromatic, anise-flavoured spice that is often used in Middle Eastern and Indian cooking. In many parts of India and Pakistan, roasted fennel seeds are consumed as mukhwas, an after-meal digestive and breath freshener.
  • Medicinal uses: Fennel is sometimes used to treat flatulence in humans (and dogs!) by encouraging the expulsion of intestinal gas. Other sources claim that fennel is useful as a diuretic, that it improves eyesight and also lowers blood pressure. An organic compound in the fennel, anethole, is responsible for most medicinal benefits (but then again, anethole is also responsible for the psychoactive effects of guarana and absinthe… so moderation is likely the key).

buttermilk corn fritters

imagelikefritters

I’m listening to the breeze. It’s whisper-soft and gentle, fragrant with the smell of nearby eucalyptus trees, dust and fresh rainfall. The sun is high in the sky, casting patches of shadow on grass as a nearby emu ambles along a wire fence.

As you may have guessed, this post hasn’t been written from the common confines of our shoebox apartment (contrary to popular belief, emus and kangaroos don’t wander free in Australian capital cities). Two days ago, my husband and I packed our bags for a weekender in Dunsborough, a quiet town 254km south of Perth on the shores of Geographe Bay.   leaflandscape

Dunsborough is a beautiful place, known for its white sand, artisan food stores, aged timber and quality wines. It’s a popular weekend escape for Sandgropers of all ages, particularly due to its close proximity to Margaret River, a premium wine region surrounded by world-class surf beaches and rugged timber forests.

We were lucky enough to score a last minute invitation to a friend’s farm stay property, five minutes from Dunsborough town centre and one minute away from the famous Simmo’s ice creamery. We arrived late on Friday night in a flash of headlights and immediately felt… different. All the troubles of the week faded into a fragrant tumble of eucalyptus, scratching happy chickens and fresh figs from the tree, the latter eaten with local honey and foraged sprigs of mint.

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Over the past two days, we’ve spent hours at the beach, sunbathing and searching for tiny crabs before barbecuing fresh-caught fish on a gas camp stove. We’ve played the guitar in the moonlight, swirling glasses of wine whilst singing along to the chirp of crickets in nearby grass and the boom of the local emu.

After sleeping on creaking mattresses we’ve woken to natural light before eating fresh farmyard eggs and bacon cooked on an outdoor barbecue. It’s been perfection, in holiday form, made better by the presence of lifelong friends who in my opinion are some of the best people on the planet.

lau&melcrab

I’m writing this last paragraph two days after our return to Perth. It’s 7.00am, the sun is casting a warm glow through the window and my mind is flickering towards my office and the growing pile of paperwork requiring my attention. However, I can’t finish this post without the addition of a recipe, so below you’ll find a breakfast dish that was developed, cooked and devoured in the fresh air during our weekend in Dunsborough.

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These corn fritters are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and flaked with juicy nuggets of golden sweetcorn. They’re deliciously versatile, made even better during our time away by the addition of fresh organic eggs, hand-picked garlic chives and dried chillies (the latter were grown and harvested by my friends Patti and Mel). We enjoyed our fritters with smoked salmon, fried eggs (I attempted poaching over a camp stove but failed dismally), tomato chutney, lemon-infused sour cream, spinach and avocado. I’ve included some recipe additions and variations under ‘notes’ below if you’re feeling adventurous.

However you try them, I hope you enjoy these corn fritters as much as we did. Oh, and if you’re a Perth city slicker, I’d highly recommend a trip to the country. It’s refreshing for the body, mind and spirit… the way nature intended.

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Buttermilk Corn Fritters

Makes approximately 12, 6-8cm diameter fritters

  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 2 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
  • 315g creamed corn
  • 400g sweetcorn kernels (equivalent to 1 large sweetcorn cob, kernels removed, or 420g can corn kernels, drained)
  • ¼ cup chopped garlic chives
  • ¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • sea salt
  • white pepper
  • unsalted butter and olive oil, to fry

Sift flour into a large bowl, then make a well in the centre. Fold in your liquid ingredients: buttermilk, eggs and creamed corn. Taste, then season with salt, pepper and chilli flakes. mixmont

Add in your corn kernels, chives and parmesan, then fold until just combined. Your mix is now ready to fry.

Warm a heavy-based, non-stick frypan over medium heat. When hot, remove from heat before adding a tablespoon of unsalted butter and some good quality olive oil. When the butter has melted, return the pan to the heat and add heaped tablespoons of the mixture, three at a time. Use the back of a spoon to shape the fritter mixture into 6-8cm diameter rounds.

forks

Cook your fritters until the edges begin to crisp up and small bubbles start appearing in the mixture. Flip them over carefully with a slotted spatula. Cook for a further 2-3 minutes, or until the fritters are crisp on both sides, lightly browned and firm to the touch. If it’s a cold day, I’d recommend placing your cooked fritters in a slow oven (150 degrees C/300 degrees f) to keep warm whilst you begin your next batch.

Drain on paper towels before serving 2-3 fritters per person. Great accompaniments include lemon-infused sour cream, crème fraiche, smoked salmon or crispy bacon, poached eggs, fresh herbs, sliced avocado and tomato chutney.

split

Notes:

  • Corn is a great source of dietary fibre whilst being low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. It also contains beneficial amounts of thiamin, niacin (B vitamins), vitamin C, potassium and folate. However, being high in starch and natural sugars, it’s definitely not a low carbohydrate food (which is why it’s used to make sweet corn syrup). Watch your intake if you enjoy being sedentary!
  • If you’re feeling inventive, these fritters are very open to adaptation. Great additions to the basic fritter mixture include small pieces of crispy bacon, extra cheese (crumbled feta is fantastic), finely chopped herbs (try parsley or coriander), spices (try some cumin and coriander seeds for a deliciously Middle Eastern twist) or for extra nutritional value, grated carrot.
  • For a Southern American version, omit the chilli, pepper and chives from your mixture and mix in 1 tsp caster sugar before frying. Serve with crispy bacon and maple syrup or honey for a classic sweet-and-salty hit. Yum. Oh, and please don’t deep-fry them. It’s not necessary (repeat after me: you are not Elvis).
  • If you’re a vegan, I’ve found a deliciously suitable corn fritter recipe just for you. It’s by Nancy at The Sensitive Pantry and utilises an egg replacer alongside coconut milk and sorghum flour. I haven’t test-driven it yet, but I have absolute faith in this woman’s abilities. She is the queen of cooks for those with food allergies and intolerances.  forkplate

roasted figs with black pepper and wild thyme honey

traylike

When I was a child, my mother and I lived in an old red-brick house in suburban Perth, girt by a Bottlebrush hedge and river sand. It was a beautiful old place; slightly cold in winter and hot in summer, but essentially full of character. I loved every part of it in a very sentimental way; the splotchy brown carpet, the crackling warmth of an original oil-fueled fireplace, the speckled, hand-painted kitchen cupboards in bright shades of gold and blue.

My mother poured a lot of love into that old place. It was all we could afford when I was a fledgling human of three short years and little courage. I knew nothing of how little we had, spending most of my irresponsible youth in the garden catching bugs and evasive butterflies. My mother, on the other hand, worked the second shift,  nursing part time whilst caring for me, ironing for extra pennies and maintaining the property’s crumbling old fixtures and superfluous garden on weekends.

Ah, maintenance. It’s the bugbear of many established home owners, and my mother was no different. Well, actually, I need to correct that statement: she was different, in the sense that she attempted to be both mother and father to me and our rambling property.  Around work and mothering commitments, she attacked everything from crumbling lino in the bathroom to invasive rubber tree roots and holes in the kitchen cupboards. Over the years, she amassed a sizeable tool collection, a ‘utility drawer’ and much on-the-job learning, much to the bemusement of men in our social circle.

figsAs for me? Well, I ‘helped’. This mostly included handing my mother tools at various intervals, though I do recollect one occasion when I got up early to ‘surprise’ her by stripping the kitchen cupboards in readiness for a fresh paint job. I think I was about six years old, pyjama-clad and keen. I sat with a paint scraper in the early hours of the morning for about sixty minutes before mum rose wearily from her bed. Whilst rubbing her eyes, she discovered that I’d scraped off all of the primer she’d applied the night before. With a weary smile, she gave her little helper a hug before starting to make me my favourite breakfast: a runny boiled egg with toast soldiers. Now, that’s one hundred percent love: lavishing generosity and time upon someone, noticing their pure intent, when you’d probably rather kick their ass. She’s my hero; she always has been, and she always will be. She’s the strongest person that I’ve ever met.

So; by now you may be wondering why I’m traveling down memory lane as a prelude to a recipe for roasted figs. It’s primarily due to a strong personal association between fresh figs, my childhood and our old house amongst the trees. Living in that house exposed me to the fact that fresh chayotes grew on vine-covered fences, that passionfruit wasn’t always sweet and that mulberries stained fingers and toes. We didn’t grow all of this produce ourselves; rather, there were quite a few Vietnamese immigrants in our suburb who shared a penchant for turning their front yards into market gardens. Mum and I used to walk around our suburb regularly, hand in hand, and occasionally I’d pick a mulberry from a roadside tree. It was during one of these walks that I first discovered the deciduous wonderment of a live, blushing fig tree.

herbslikeI still remember that first bite; sweet, unusually thread-like, with crunchy seeds and slightly savoury skin. I didn’t like it much to begin with, presumably due to the fact that it was worlds apart from my favourite fruit, the Kensington Pride mango. Nevertheless, it left a unique mark on my mind that remained until I rediscovered this fruit in dried form some years later. Being a typical, sugar-obsessed child, I liked this version much more than the fresh, mild fig I’d eaten by the roadside. But now, with both time and experience under my belt, I’ve developed a new appreciation for the delicacy of fresh, perfectly ripe figs. They’re versatile enough to add to both sweet and savoury dishes, whilst their unsurpassed beauty adds a touch of sophistication to any serving platter.

ingredsIn most countries, figs are at their peak in summer and autumn. During these months, I’ll quite happily eat them straight from their skins with sticky fingers and a smile of sweet content. However, towards the end of the season, figs often become more woody and flavourless. On these occasions, I’ll often slice them onto an oven tray with a bit of honey, cracked black pepper and some woody herbs to accentuate their subtle flavour.

In under half an hour, your figs will be transformed into sticky, sweet-but-savoury goodness with a caramelised crust that goes beautifully with mild chèvre. I’ve included a rough recipe below, but feel free to experiment with quantities and whatever toppings you like (well, within reason. Figs don’t compliment tomato sauce). Just remember that you want to accentuate the flavour of the figs, not mask it, and you can’t go wrong. So, I’d encourage you to give this recipe a go: eat well, then smile with seeds in your teeth. Life’s too short to do otherwise.

bite

Roasted Figs with Wild Thyme Honey

Serves 4-6 as a cheese course

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f). Wash and stem your figs before slicing them into 1cm thick slices (vertically) and arranging them in a single layer on a lined baking tray. Drizzle the honey and herbs on top before grinding fresh black pepper into everything.

honeymont

Roast your figs for about 15 minutes, turning them half way if the top starts to brown. When they are ready, the figs should be light golden, softened and fragrant with caramel and herbaceous notes.

At this stage, remove your figs from the oven and cool them on their lined trays. When the figs reach room temperature, place them onto a serving platter with some mild soft cheese, crispbreads and some salty prosciutto.

roasted

Notes:

  • Figs are not only delicious; they’re incredibly good for you. They are the richest plant source of calcium known to man, whilst also containing significant amounts of fibre, copper, manganese, magnesium, vitamin K and potassium. Nutritional analysis has also revealed trace elements of flavonoids, polyphenols and antioxidants.
  • If you like dried figs but often find supermarket versions to be too sweet, try these little figs from Whisk & Pin. They’re chewy, subtly sweet and delicious in everything from your morning cereal to a spiced lamb tagine. Try poaching them in sugar syrup with cinnamon and vanilla before serving them with bircher muesli or yoghurt for breakfast. Yum.
  • Natural partners to figs are prosciutto, bacon (it works!), goats cheese (or any other soft white cheese, such as mascarpone, ricotta and chèvre), walnuts and hazelnuts. For a delicious treat, try stuffing them with thyme-honey-infused mascarpone or ricotta cheese, a little orange zest and fresh thyme.

honeyinfoFor some more information on J. Friend and Co’s organic, carbon zero, single-vintage artisan honey, check out their beautiful website here. This company is a partnership between New Zealanders’ Jeremy Friend and Sharyn Woodnorth, both of whom believe in honesty, integrity and 100% sustainable farming. Their products are available for purchase on line, where you can also meet the bee keepers (apiarists) who lovingly harvest every batch… like Ernest from Central Otago (he seems cool). Oh, and by the way, this promotion has been unsolicited and unpaid, based entirely on my positive view of this particular company. My view is entirely my own.

roasted beet salad with walnuts and chèvre

beetknife

It’s not exactly a secret, but… well, I’m a little bit in love with cheese. Actually, make that a lot. Give me a glass of red, some crackers and some cheese on a balmy evening and I’ll be in my version of dairy heaven. Well, except if the cheese of choice is Kraft Singles, as that’s not really cheese at all (ah, I’ll rant about this topic another day). In terms of recipe adaptability, my new favourite cheese is the deliciously creamy chèvre. It’s characteristically piquant flavour is adaptable enough to add to a range of dishes, from stuffed mushrooms, crepes and salads to creamy, semi-sweet desserts.

What, might you ask, is chèvre? Well, although it sounds fancy, it’s just the French name for soft, pressed curd cheese that’s been made with goat’s milk. It’s creamy, white and full of medium-chain fatty acids such as caproic, caprylic and capric acid, all of which contribute to a slightly tart flavour. I love it, and regularly consume it in a very simple fashion: spread thickly onto toasted sourdough, with fresh Italian parsley and a drizzle of lemon oil. It’s also fabulous in any recipe that calls for feta cheese, but make sure that you buy a medium-firm variety or you’ll end up with milky goat goo (don’t you love that word?) throughout your salad.

Image credit: Leela at 'She Simmers'. Click for a recipe on how to make your own homemade chèvre

Image credit: Leela at ‘She Simmers’. Click for a recipe on how to make your own homemade chèvre.

For those of you who are deterred by the fact that chèvre comes from a goat rather than a cow, let me explain a few benefits:

  • Goat milk typically contains less lactose than cow’s milk, which makes it favourable for people who suffer from lactose intolerance.
  • It’s protein composition is more similar to human milk than cow’s milk, so it’s often the milk of choice for the elderly, or children who are intolerant of certain proteins or sugars in traditional dairy milk
  • On average, goat cheese tends to contain 20% less calories and fat than cow’s milk cheese. It also contains shorter fat molecules that are easier to digest into ready-to-use energy.
  • It’s also lower in saturated fat, salt and cholesterol. In an average comparison of 1-0z. of cheddar cheese to 1-oz. goat’s cheese, cheddar comes up at 9g total fat, 6g saturated fat, 170mg sodium and 25mg cholesterol. Goat’s cheese scores 5g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 65mg sodium and no cholesterol. At all. How good is that?
  • Goat’s cheese doesn’t contain as much protein as pressed cheddar, as it’s less concentrated. But… if you look at the raw product, milk, goat’s milk contains an average of 8.7g protein, whereas cow’s milk contains 8.1g. In a balanced diet containing other sources of protein, the difference is negligible.
  • Other nutrients and vitamins readily available in goat’s cheese include tryptophan (an amino acid), phosphorus, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin A (47% higher than cow’s cheese), niacin (three times as much as cow’s milk), selenium (an antioxidant), potassium and vitamin B6 (25% more than cow’s cheese). Goat cheese also contains a moderate level of probiotics (which aid gastrointestinal health) and lots of calcium (which is essential for bone health, amongst other things).
  • Last but not least, because goat products are often not as mass-produced as cow products, they’re less likely to have nasty synthetic hormones and other additives that can cause allergic reactions. That’s definitely a good thing.

beets1

If you’ve looked at the picture above (yeah, that one of the beetroot) you’re probably wondering why I’ve spent the majority of this post talking about the benefits of goat’s cheese. Well… when eating some warm, crusty bread adorned with goat’s cheese, extra virgin olive oil and a splash of aged balsamic, I guess other things pale in comparison. But, I digress… both beetroot and goat’s cheese are very relevant to this recipe post, as we’ll be roasting this vibrant root vegetable in a deliciously sticky glaze before combining it with soft goat’s cheese, crunchy toasted walnuts, fresh herbs and balsamic dressing (if you’re wondering, beetroot is also very good for you. Take a look at the stats, here).

Below, you’ll find my go-to recipe for this classic roasted beetroot, walnut and chèvre (I felt like being French again) salad. It’s delicious on it’s own, with some added quinoa or as an accompaniment to a crispy-skinned salmon steak. If you feel like experimenting, check the ‘notes’ section below. I’ve included some of my favourite recipe variations which will hopefully be a delicious addition to your table over the festive Summer months.

Thanks again for reading, and apologies that my estimated week (for my next recipe post) ended up being almost two. Jouir de!

saladmont

Roasted Beetroot, Walnut and Chèvre Salad with Balsamic Dressing

Serves 2 as a substantial salad, 4 as an accompaniment.

*When making this recipe, please keep in mind that beetroot stains everything. Everything, including skin, chopping boards, clothing and unvarnished wooden benchtops. Please make sure that you handle them respectfully and cautiously, with gloves if desired. But despite this warning, any incidental staining is definitely worth it.

  • 1 bunch raw baby beets (leaves still attached, if possible)
  • 1/2 small Spanish (red) onion
  • 1 cup (packed) washed and dried baby spinach leaves
  • a handful of parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup walnuts, roasted then lightly crushed
  • 80g (or more, depending upon your preference) fresh chèvre (soft goat’s cheese), crumbled
  • good quality olive oil, to roast
  • aged balsamic vinegar
  • red wine vinegar
  • a drizzle of honey or rice malt syrup
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil, to dress

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f). Detach leaves from beetroot, wash the small, tender ones well and set them aside (keep the rest of the beet greens! Separate the leaves, finely chop the stalks and saute in olive oil with some finely chopped shallot and a splash of water. Simmer until tender, add some salt (and a knob of butter, if you’re feeling generous) and serve… maybe with a poached egg on top!).

beetmont

Wash your beetroot well under cold running water, trimming any stray roots and tough bits of skin with a small, sharp knife. Pat beetroot dry with a paper towel, then cut them into even-sized wedges. Place them into a shallow, foil-lined baking tray then splash over some good olive oil, some aged balsamic, red wine vinegar, water, sea salt and cracked pepper (I don’t strictly follow any quantities here… basically, you want to create enough liquid for the beetroot to initially steam, then caramelise with a sticky, delicious glaze. Make sure there’s about 0.5-1cm of liquid covering the base of your tray before putting it in the oven). Toss to coat, then place your tray into the preheated oven to cook, turning occasionally, for about 40-60 minutes.

roastingmont

Half way through the cooking time, add in your sliced Spanish onion to caramelise. Your beetroot will be done when the vinegars have reduced, the onion is translucent and slightly browned, and the beetroot can be pierced easily with a knife. Remove the tray from them oven, then allow to cool.

traymont

Now, here’s the easy part: assemble your salad. Place your beetroot, the reserved tender beetroot leaves and spinach in a shallow bowl. Add in three quarters of the walnuts and chèvre. In a separate bowl (or your oven tray, if sufficiently cooled), add the beetroot and onion to your chopped parsley leaves. Toss well to coat, then add to the rest of your ingredients, including a splash more olive oil, balsamic and red wine vinegar. Scatter over the remaining walnuts, chèvre and some freshly cracked black pepper to garnish. Enjoy alone or as an accompaniment to your favourite protein.

salad

Notes:

  • Now you’ve mastered the basics of a beetroot salad, you can adapt this recipe to your individual preferences. Flavours that work wonderfully with beetroot include mint, feta, fresh green peas, yoghurt, crème fraîche or sour cream, Moroccan spices and other root vegetables such as sweet potato or carrots. I’ve made this recipe with additional roasted sweet potato, a sprinkling of dukkah and a yoghurt dressing instead of chèvre. Delicious.
  • An alternate way to roast your beetroot is to wrap it whole, in foil with a good splash of water and red wine vinegar. Place in the oven and roast for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, or until the vegetable can be easily pierced with a fork. Peel the beetroot, with gloved hands (I am talking from personal experience – beetroot stains take hours of scrubbing to remove), then discard the skins. You can then cut your beetroot into wedges for the above recipe, or finely dice it and add it to lots of finely chopped mint with some finely sliced raw Spanish onion, crumbled chèvre and a splash of extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche. So good with steamed salmon or gravadlax (Swedish dill-cured salmon. So delicious).
  • Beetroot also makes a wonderful base for healthy, vibrantly-hued dips. Roast your beetroot in foil as above, peel then add to a food processor with whatever flavours you desire: Moroccan spices, yoghurt, crème fraîche or sour cream (I like using a bit of both), ground walnuts, fresh mint or parsley, lemon juice and a slug of olive oil. All of these flavours work remarkably well with the beetroot, so definitely experiment and see what combination you like best. My friend Caryse also makes an amazing beetroot dip with pine nuts, olive oil and parmesan… I still need to wheedle out the recipe but it was deliciously good with grilled chicken, sourdough toasts and soft double brie.

bottlemont leaves

Uh, just one more point about my beloved cheese. And a TV show. You may or may not have heard of The Mighty Boosh but this absolute genius-of-a-show was the brainchild of comedians Julian Barrett and Noel Fielding. I’ll let you read up on other details via the link above, but… for the sake of novelty value, I’m going to conclude this post with one of my favourite scenes of all time. Indeed, it is cheese related. Indeed, it is legendary. It’s protein, in video form. Enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8kkwXnTmMc

foodtable

making pesto

I’m sitting on the couch, wrapped tightly in a blanket as a storm brews in the grey sky outside. Raindrops splatter against muddied glass and I watch them fall, flickering in shadow to the ground below. My eyes are also flickering as I gaze over my hand-written recipe notes; mostly due to lack of sleep, a banging headache and post-jovial fatigue from the Saturday past.

Ah, Saturday. I had all good intentions of writing a huge post this weekend, full of recipes for chocolate and minted berry pavlova, Moroccan carrot salad, honey balsamic roast beetroot with goat’s cheese, cumin-spiced pumpkin dip and hazelnut praline. Don’t get me wrong, all were successfully created, tested and consumed with slices of herbed roast beef, roast potatoes and fresh Turkish bread.  The only problem is… well, we washed everything down with quality Pinot Noir and great conversation, and I was so engrossed in spending time with everyone that I couldn’t be bothered with photographs. Especially when I was dragged upstairs for a never-ending game of Cowboys and Aliens before being ‘pecked’ in the stairwell by a plastic bird on a stick.

Anyway, back to today’s post. Due to lack of photography I’ve decided to leave the above-mentioned recipes for another time when I can provide a complete, methodical post, but be assured, all recipes have been dutifully scribbled onto blotched paper with accurate ingredient lists for later use. Today’s post however, is for a staple in our household cuisine: the incredibly versatile, herbaceous and fragrant Pesto. Though there are arguably endless ways that you can create a tasty mix, my favourites in recent months have been 1) rocket, basil and pine nut, and 2) parsley, walnut and lemon zest (with or without chilli flakes). The latter was invented when I had a glut of parsley in the fridge, collected on a recent trip to the farmer’s market. It ended up being a delicious combination, bright green in colour and wonderful when drizzled over freshly-toasted, blackened ciabatta.

Below you’ll find recipes for both of my concoctions in quantities that suit my family, however if you want to change, substitute or add more of anything, then definitely do so! One of the benefits of pesto is that it’s an extremely forgiving condiment. You can substitute almost any soft, fragrant herb or greenery with different nuts, chilli, citrus, oil or roasted vegetables (like semi-dried tomatoes or roasted capsicum) and  it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll have a jar of deliciousness in under ten minutes. Just be careful with the garlic, and maintain the rule that it’s always better to add less of a strong flavour from the outset rather than trying to frantically save a garlic-soaked pesto with leftover chopped spinach from the vegetable box.

Rocket and Basil Pesto

Makes approx one and a half cups

  • 2 cups tightly packed rocket leaves (arugula)
  • 2 cups tightly packed basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (make sure you have a little more on hand, if required)
  • 3 tbsp toasted pine nuts
  • 2 tbsp toasted cashews
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1-2 minced garlic cloves
  • sea salt to taste
  • optional: lemon zest, to taste

Wash and thoroughly dry your rocket and basil leaves. Roughly chop and place in a food processor bowl. Add your garlic (I’d recommend adding one clove initially, as you can always add more later if required), olive oil, lemon zest (if using), 2 tbsp pine nuts and 1 tbsp cashews. Pulse until your oil begins to colour and ingredients are mixed thoroughly. Add in your Parmesan and pulse to combine – if the mixture seems a little thick for your liking, add more oil. Once at your desired consistency, taste and season with salt, if necessary.

Mix through extra whole nuts (I usually roughly chop my remaining cashews) then seal your mixture in a sterilised jar. If the solids in your mix are exposed at the top I’d recommend covering your pesto with a thin layer of fresh olive oil to preserve colour and freshness (any greenery exposed to the air with oxidise and darken). Your finished pesto will keep refrigerated for a couple of weeks, or if required, it can also be frozen (*see ‘notes’, below).

Parsley, Walnut and Lemon Pesto

Makes roughly one cup.

  • 2 cups tightly packed flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
  • 3/4 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1-2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp lemon zest
  • sea salt

Wash and thoroughly dry your parsley leaves. Roughly chop and then place them in a food processor bowl with 1/2 cup walnuts, olive oil, garlic to taste, lemon juice and zest. Pulse until thoroughly combined, and if too thick for your liking, add more oil until the mixture reaches your desired consistency. Taste and season with salt, if necessary.

Add in your remaining 1/4 cup walnuts and stir to combine. Seal in a sterilised jar. As per basil pesto, mixture will keep in a sealed jar for a couple of weeks (*see ‘notes’ below for instructions on freezing).

Notes:

  • ‘Pesto’ is an abbreviation of ‘pestello’ in Italian where the recipe first originated. It means ‘pestle’, hinting back to traditional mortar-and-pestle preparation of the condiment in old Italian kitchens. You can still prepare small-batch pesto in a mortar and pestle if desired. It brings a beautiful rustic quality to the dish, and is great for the biceps (actually, maybe I should stick with this method more regularly).
  • High quality oil is non-negotiable in pesto. I usually use extra virgin olive oil (my favourite oil at the moment is Australian Reserve Picual by Cobram Estate) but you can also substitute high quality macadamia oil, walnut oil or another oil of your choice that will compliment your chosen ingredients. I sometimes add a splash of walnut oil to the Parsley, Walnut and Lemon pesto which is deliciously fragrant.
  • Great herbs/leaves for substitution in pesto include: spinach, rocket (arugula), coriander (cilantro), parsley, nettle and the traditional basil.
  • If you’re using a stronger herb, such as coriander, use parsley as an extender to diffuse the flavour. It has a mellow, delicious flavour that will compliment rather than clashing.
  • Good quality cheese is also a must for flavoursome pesto. Great substitutes for parmesan include: asagio, romano.
  • Nut substitutes: my favourites are almonds (preferably blanched), walnuts, pine nuts and macadamias.
  • If you love the flavour of garlic but find pure cloves to be too strong, use garlic chives. They add a bright green, fragrant hint of garlic without being overpowering. You can also experiment with green shallots if desired.
  • *freezing: mixture can be frozen in ice-cube trays for up to three months. Just pop out a cube or two and defrost for spreading, or add straight to hot pasta as required.

My favourite uses for Pesto:

  • I stuff field mushrooms with a mixture of breadcrumbs, a generous amount of pesto, crispy bacon & semi-dried tomatoes. Oven bake for 15-20 minutes (add a mixture of parmesan & mozzarella to the top for the last 5-10 minutes) at 180 degrees C for a deliciously juicy addition to any meal.
  • Add it to grilled cheese sandwiches. My favourite is Rocket and Basil Pesto, mozzarella, sliced mushrooms, roma tomatoes and baby spinach on Turkish bread, grilled in the oven (or in a sandwich toaster, but I don’t have one) until the outside is crisp, the inside is molten and fragrant with basil oil and the mushrooms are tender. If I’m feeling lazy, homemade pesto with cheese is just as good!
  • Add two generous tablespoons of pesto to hot al dente pasta with some of the cooking water then mix til well coated. Add in some roasted cherry tomatoes for a delicious dinner.
  • Melt some pesto over the top of your roasted or steamed vegetables
  • Spread it on grilled ciabatta for a tasty bread entree, topped with roasted cherry tomatoes (or alternatively, like garlic bread, spread pesto between the half-cut slices in a baguette, wrap in foil and toast it in a hot oven).
  • Add it on top of your pizza. I particularly like pesto, roasted pumpkin, bacon and pine nuts with fresh goat’s feta and rocket.
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