olive oil, rosemary and citrus cake

tableIf any of you are following me on Instagram, you’d know that I’m experiencing a woody herb obsession. It’s something to do with winter, cold nights and frosty mornings, slow roasting and baking whilst sipping a glass of wine.

Differing from soft-stemmed herbs such as parsley, coriander and basil (from which the entire plant is edible), woody herbs include the much-loved rosemary, sage, lavender, oregano and thyme.

As the name suggests, the stems of woody herbs are hard, fibrous and often inedible (think rosemary). As a general rule, they’re better in cooked dishes, finely chopped, bruised in a mortar and pestle, fried until crispy (think sage. JUST DO IT) or infused into oil.

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The robust nature of woody herbs makes them wonderful for savoury applications such as a classic meat stuffing or slow cooked meal. However, they’re also delicious in Mediterranean-inspired desserts when combined with delicately sweet ingredients such as citrus fruit, nuts, stone fruit and glossy olive oil. To me, it’s a little bit like the flavour profile of a cheese board in the semblance of a traditional dessert. Sweet with savoury notes. Perfect for those of us with dwindling sweet tooths.

Like my recent recipe for lemon thyme ice cream sandwiches, this cake offers beautifully herbal, woody and savoury notes alongside the sweetness of citrus and olive oil. It’s perfect when eaten with coffee and a big dollop of double cream.

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Olive Oil, Rosemary and Citrus Cake

Adapted from this recipe by Michael Chiarello at Food Network

  • 2 cups plain flour (I used gluten-free)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups white caster sugar
  • 2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups (375ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp ground anise (Spanish anise seed, not star anise. Substitute fennel seeds)
  • 1 tbsp mixed orange and lemon zest, finely grated*
  • 1 cup mixed orange and lemon juice*
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups (315ml) whole milk
  • 1/4 cup orange liqueur (eg. Cointreau, substitute brandy)

*I used 2 medium oranges and 1 small lemon to extract 1 cup of juice.

To serve:

  • 4 tbsp citrus marmalade, preferably without peel
  • icing sugar, optional
  • fresh rosemary sprigs and/or edible flowers

Grease and line a 24cm spring-form cake pan, then set aside. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f).

In a nonreactive saucepan, reduce the citrus juice over medium heat to 1/4 cup. Add the salt, mix well and allow to cool.

Lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl until frothy. Add the milk, sugar, liqueur, olive oil, reduced (and cooled) citrus juice, zest, ground anise and half of the fresh rosemary (the other tsp will be used for glazing the cake). Mix well.

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Sift in the flour, baking soda and baking powder. Mix until you achieve a smooth, even batter.

Pour the mixture into your prepared cake pan. Bake for 1 hour or until the cake is risen and golden (a skewer inserted into the centre should have only a few moist crumbs attached. Cover the cake with foil three-quarters of the way through cooking if it is browning too quickly. The cake will crack, it’s pretty much inedible so don’t worry!).

Place the cake onto a wire rack. While the cake is still warm, heat the marmalade until runny and incorporate the leftover chopped rosemary.Gently pour over the cake, using a spoon to smooth out any clumps. Allow to cool completely, then turn out onto a plate. Dust with icing sugar and top with rosemary sprigs.

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broccoli and quinoa tabbouleh with harissa dressing

aerial Broccoli was ridiculously cheap at my local market this week. Beautiful, too – tight green florets, crisp stalks, fresh-cut stems dripping with moisture. So, as most seasonal eaters do, I squirreled a few heads into my shopping basket without further thought as to what I’d do with them. They went straight into the vegetable drawer.

Cue yesterday afternoon when, in search of an avocado, I rediscovered my cruciferous hoard. I decided to turn some of it into ‘dinner’ but had little enthusiasm for my default roasted broccoli with garlic. broccoli I decided upon a salad, with initial thoughts gravitating towards this pomegranate wonder from Green Kitchen Stories. However, as pomegranates were $5 each at the supermarket, the idea became slightly less appealing (whilst also quietly defeating my seasonal locavore principles).

That brings us to this gloriously spicy, crunchy, nutrient packed bowl of green deliciousness that I’ve loosely dubbed as ‘tabbouleh’ (hopefully the Levantines will forgive me). mix I’m sure that most of you would be familiar with traditional tabbouleh, a Middle Eastern salad packed with fragrant herbs, tomatoes, lemon juice, finely chopped onion and cracked wheat (known as burghul or ‘bulgur‘). I think I first came across it at a kebab stand as a young teenager, when I declined to have it applied to doner (my idea of ‘salad’ was iceberg lettuce and tomato).

I’ve since learned the error of my ways and enjoy tabbouleh in all its forms, both for nutritional and taste benefits. I’ve swapped out the bulgur for either quinoa or cous cous on a number of occasions and added a few crushed pistachios, however this is my first proper ‘reinvention’. harissa The base of this salad is a rough tumble of finely chopped broccoli and quinoa, with familiar herbs, onions and lemon drawing reference from tabbouleh. Crumbled feta adds creaminess whilst toasted almonds add a welcome crunch.

For me, the harissa dressing is the stuff of dreams: hot, smoky and slightly sweet from the addition of honey. I’d recommend that you taste and adjust your dressing to suit your personal heat tolerance.

I like to serve this salad on its own, with a big dollop of lemony hummus, for a complete lunch. For dinner, I’d push the boat out with some additional crispy falafel, pickled radishes, natural yoghurt and warmed flat bread. handbowl Broccoli and Quinoa Tabbouleh with Harissa Dressing Adapted from this recipe by BBC Food.

  • 100g quinoa, rinsed (I used black and red, but any colour will do)
  • 300g broccoli florets (don’t throw the stems away, take a look at these gorgeous ideas), very finely chopped or finely blitzed in a food processor
  • 4 spring onion stalks, thinly sliced
  • 1 lemon, zested and halved*
  • 100g feta cheese (the creamy type, I use goats feta), crumbled
  • large bunch parsley, washed and finely chopped
  • small bunch mint, washed and finely chopped
  • 50g toasted almonds, roughly crushed in a mortar and pestle
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Dressing:

  • 1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp harissa paste (maybe start with a little less, mix, taste and add as desired)
  • 1 tbsp raw honey
  • juice from 1/2 lemon (above*)

Add the quinoa to a medium saucepan with 1 1/4 cups of water. Bring to the boil, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes, then add the broccoli and continue to cook until the quinoa is tender and the broccoli steamed until bright green (you may need to add a splash more water before replacing the lid, do not allow the pot to boil dry).

Tip the broccoli and quinoa mix into a large bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Mix, then set aside to cool slightly. When at room temperature, add the herbs, spring onions, lemon zest and a good amount of salt and pepper. Set aside whilst you make the dressing.

Add all of the dressing ingredients to a medium screw-top jar. Shake, then check the balance of flavours (add a little more honey if too hot, a little more lemon if too viscous, a little more harissa if the heat’s not enough for you). pour Pour over the quinoa mix, add the crumbled feta and almonds, then mix thoroughly. Taste and check for seasoning. Serves 4-6 as a side dish (though I would happily eat it all myself!).  bowl2

marinated bell peppers with herbs and goats cheese

peppersBy now, you’ve probably already read my epic Spanish Table post that was generated after last weekend’s festivities with Inspired Food and Feed Your Soul, Perth. Here’s the final recipe for bell peppers marinated in fragrant herbs, lemon zest, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. Pile onto some fresh bread for a wonderful entree, lunch or tapas dish.

Marinated Peppers with Herbs and Goats Cheese

Serves 6 as part of a tapas meal, 2 as an entree

  • 200g mixed baby peppers
  • 1/4 cup chopped mixed herbs (I used dill, mint, parsley and coriander)
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 60g soft mild goats cheese or Persian feta
  • fresh bread, to serve

Preheat a char grill pan over medium-high heat. Add the whole baby peppers to the pan and cook, turning occasionally, until blistered and blackened.

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Whilst still hot, place into a plastic bag or bowl covered in plastic wrap and allow to steam (this allows the skins to loosen from the flesh). Set aside.

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Place the chopped herbs, lemon zest, crushed garlic and olive oil into a medium bowl. Mix well and season to taste. Set aside.

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When the peppers are cool, peel off the blackened skins and scrape out the seeds and membranes. Cut or tear into thick slices, then add to the bowl of herb oil. Mix well and allow to marinate for one hour.

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To serve, gently add in the crumbled goats cheese and turn into a serving bowl. Garnish with a bit of extra herbage if desired. Serve the peppers piled onto fresh bread or as a tasty addition to a wrap or sandwich. Make sure you drizzle over a bit of the delicious oil, too.

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char-grilled vegetable and quinoa salad

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Yesterday morning, Aaron and I woke early to have breakfast with my beautiful mother at Perth City Farm. The day was cool and fresh, slightly overcast; a welcome change from the blistering temperatures of summer.

We chatted and laughed, feasting on free-range eggs, organic sourdough, grilled tomatoes and lemony smashed avocado in the dappled shade. Between sips of coffee, we sampled spinach from the farm’s own garden before discussing family foibles, travel plans and (mostly) the 2014 Western Australian Senate (re)election.

Before leaving the farm, Aaron and my mother perused the Farm’s art exhibition while I chatted to some friendly Armenian growers at the Organic Market. I left with an armload of fresh produce including Armenian cucumbers, fresh zucchini, homegrown kale and tri-colour capsicums from their bio-dynamic garden.

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That afternoon, I snacked on torn bread and babaghanouj (made with their organic aubergines and home-pressed olive oil) whilst making the grilled vegetable salad below. My mother stayed for some quality mother-daughter time; we drank tea, laughed, took photographs and reminisced about old times.

That evening, the sky grew dark and cold. Aaron and I had a picnic in the park with our best friends, sharing stories over paper plates, grilled chicken and homemade empanadas. Whilst chewing a forkful of homegrown zucchini, I felt truly blessed and grateful; for farmers, fresh vegetables, weekends, warm jumpers and quality time with those I love the most.

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Thanks to all who travel through this life with me. In particular, my family, who embrace me despite weaknesses and always love unconditionally.

I’m grateful. I always will be.

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Char-grilled Vegetable and Quinoa Salad

Adapted from this recipe by the Australian Women’s Weekly

Serves 6 as a side dish or 4 as a light meal

  • 190g (1 cup) royal quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 3 small capsicums (bell peppers), preferably mixed colours
  • 200g sweet potatoes
  • 1 zucchini, thickly sliced
  • 1/2 Spanish (red onion) sliced into thin wedges
  • 1 cup washed, picked herbs (I used parsley and mint), coarsely chopped
  • 100g goats feta, crumbled
  • finely grated zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, roasted and crushed
  • olive oil, to cook

Dressing:

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 small clove garlic, crushed
  • salt and pepper

Place the rinsed quinoa into a medium pot with 500ml (2 cups) of water. Bring to the boil, then replace the lid and simmer for 15 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa is translucent. Place into a large bowl, drizzle over a little olive oil and add in the lemon zest. Mix well, then set aside to cool.

Cut the sweet potatoes into a medium (2x2cm) dice. Steam or boil until just tender. Drizzle with a little olive oil, then set aside.

Preheat a char-grill pan over medium-high heat. Cut the capsicums in half and scoop out the seeds and membranes. Brush the skins with oil, then char-grill them skin side down until the skins blacken and blister. Turn and cook for an extra minute to allow the inside to steam.

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Place into a sealed bag, covered bowl or airtight container and leave at room temperature until cool (the steam will help the skins to loosen, making them easier to peel).

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Brush the zucchini and onion with a little olive oil, then add them to the grill pan with the sweet potatoes. Cook until soft and lightly grill-marked. Add the grilled vegetables to the same bowl as the quinoa.

Peel the capsicum halves and slice them into long, thin strips. Add them to the salad bowl with the chopped fresh herbs, walnuts and feta.

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To make the dressing, place the oil, mustard, sugar, garlic and vinegar into a small bowl. Whisk until well emulsified. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

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To serve, pour over the dressing and mix gently with a spoon or salad tongs. Place onto a platter and garnish with more herbs if desired.

This salad is wonderful as an accompaniment to grilled meats or fish. It’s also a nutritious light meal, embellished with some plump black olives and served with some fresh bread and butter.

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freekeh salad with hot-smoked salmon, pomegranate and feta

saladThere’s been a lot of talk about ancient grains recently. A LOT of talk. And by talk, I’m referring to virtual obsession… on the internet, in restaurant menus, in burgers, breads, cakes and breakfast cereals.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that this is a bad thing. In fact, I’d happily state the opposite. Ancient grains are ridiculously good for you, they’re less refined and generally more nutritious than modern, over-processed grain products. They’re also frequently grown in an organic and sustainable manner, which is much better for the soil and the environment in general.

Yep, it’s all good.

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But rather than spending the rest of this post harping on about ancient grains (I’ll let those more qualified do that) I’m going to narrow down to one particular type of grain that I’ve recently fallen in love with: freekeh.

Technically, freekeh (“free-kah”) is a term given to any grain that is harvested, sun-dried, roasted and threshed whilst still green. In Australia, most available freekeh is currently made from durum wheat, however companies such as Greenwheat Freekeh in South Australia are currently working to produce green triticale and barley for commercial sale.

freekeh

Due to its early harvest, green freekeh contains more protein, vitamins and minerals than mature wheat and other grains. It is also higher in fibre whilst having a lower glycaemic index (GI), which means it’s great for management of diabetes.

Freekeh has been a staple part of Middle Eastern and North African cuisine for centuries, most commonly used in side dishes (like pilafs), stews and soups. It’s a wonderful, natural alternative to pasta or rice, with a slightly nutty flavour and crunchy texture.

My favourite way to consume freekeh is in a fresh, textural salad full of green herbs, nuts and seeds, great olive oil and sweet pops of fresh or dried berries. I’ve tried many over the past two years and I’ve loved most of them, the stand-outs being those that incorporate soft labne or goats curd, pomegranate arils and toasted nuts.

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The recipe that I’ve included below was a rather impromptu creation; the result of extreme hunger and some after-work fridge foraging (hence why some of the photographs were taken after dark; darn that yellowish tinge). Luckily, I had a beautiful Tasmanian hot-smoked salmon fillet on hand, alongside half a zucchini, broad beans, some organic freekeh and my favourite goats feta.

It all came together in a matter of minutes, discounting the ‘inactive cooking time’ required for wholegrain freekeh (about 45 minutes, which I spent drinking a Hendricks gin and tonic).

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When seasoning this salad, keep in mind that the salmon retains a lot of saltiness from the curing and smoking process. You’ll only need a little bit of salt to balance the rest of the dish.

However, if you generally avoid smoked fish, feel free to omit the salmon completely or substitute chunks of fresh seared salmon as desired. Whichever way, it’ll be delicious.

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Freekeh and Herb Salad with Hot-Smoked Salmon, Pomegranate and Feta

Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main meal

  • 180g hot-smoked salmon fillets (preferably plain or peppered, not flavoured) roughly torn into pieces
  • 1/2 cup wholegrain freekeh, rinsed
  • 1 cup broad beans (fresh or frozen are fine), double-podded
  • 1/2 medium zucchini, washed and diced
  • 1 cup washed and coarsely chopped mint, coriander and parsley leaves
  • a big handful of washed baby spinach leaves
  • About 60g marinated feta, chopped or broken into pieces
  • 1/4 cup toasted, crushed nuts (I used almonds but pistachios or pine nuts would be wonderful)
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds (arils) – about 1/2 large pomegranate
  • 1 tsp sherry vinegar
  • juice from 1/2 lemon + 1-2 tsp finely grated rind
  • 3-4 tsp Brookfarm lemon myrtle infused macadamia oil
  • 1 tsp pomegranate molasses, or to taste

Place freekeh into a pot over high heat with 2 1/2 cups boiled water. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, covered, for 40 minutes or until the grains are softened but intact (they should still have a bit of ‘bite’ to them). Transfer to a large bowl, then set aside to cool slightly.

Heat 1 tsp Brookfarm lemon myrtle infused macadamia oil in a heavy-based pan over medium heat. Add zucchini and cook until slightly translucent. Add broad beans to the pan and continue cooking until the vegetables are light golden.

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Transfer to the same bowl as the freekeh (add any cooking juices that have collected in the pan).

Mix the lemon juice and rind, the rest of the Brookfarm oil, pomegranate molasses and sherry vinegar in a small bowl with salt and pepper to taste. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl (reserve a bit of feta and some pomegranate arils to garnish, if desired), drizzle over the dressing and mix well.

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Serve on a platter, garnished with the reserved feta and arils. Drizzle with a little more Brookfarm oil or pomegranate molasses if desired.

This salad is beautiful on its own, as a barbecue accompaniment or just wrapped in warm, fresh flatbreads with a smear of homemade hummus (perfect for lunch).

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Disclaimer: Brookfarm supplied me with a sample of their lemon myrtle infused macadamia oil for the purpose of this recipe post. However, I was not compensated and as always, all opinions are my own.

seared salmon with herbed roast potatoes

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A few months ago, I promised a recipe for my husband Aaron‘s favourite dinner: crispy-skinned salmon with roast potatoes and asparagus. It never happened; mostly as whenever I cooked it, the lighting in our kitchen was bad or it was just too late in the evening for photography (ah, food blogger problems).

However, seeing as we’ve had beautifully light, hot summer days over the past few weeks, you’re finally getting the promised salmon recipe. I hope that it’s worth the wait.

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Seared Salmon

Now, to start I should probably clarify that this is more of a ‘method’ than a recipe. Cooking fish is rather intuitive, so the object of this post is to help you gain familiarity with the process of cooking a perfectly pink, crisp-skinned piece of salmon. It’s definitely not as hard as one might think.

Start by choosing one piece of fish per person. I always choose a 150-175g (5-6 oz) skin-on salmon fillet (cut from the sides of the fish; often boneless) per person; look for fish that is bright, firm and ‘fresh-smelling’ (there should be no overly strong ‘fishy’ odour). Salmon steaks (cross-sections of the fish which always have a central piece of backbone) are also delicious, however you’ll have a harder time achieving a good piece of crispy skin.

Place your salmon skin-side up onto a clean chopping board. Take a good look at it in the light; if you can see any glistening scales, remove them by running your knife at a 90 degree angle against the skin. When the scales have detached, brush them off with a piece of kitchen paper. Run your finger against the grain of the fish to check for ‘pin bones‘, the small floating bones that occasionally remain embedded in the soft flesh after the fish is filleted. If you can feel the tips of any bones, remove them with a pair of tweezers and discard them.

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Season the skin well with sea salt flakes, then leave the fillets for a few minutes or until moisture pools on the skin (the salt helps to pull the moisture out of the skin). Blot the skin with paper towels until it’s as dry as possible, then add a little more sea salt. You’re now ready to cook.

Heat some good quality oil (with a high smoke point; I usually use Brookfarm cold-pressed macadamia oil however the more neutral grapeseed oil will perform equally well) in a heavy-based frying pan over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes or until hot (but not smoking).

Gently place the salmon fillets into the pan, skin-side down, leaving a 2cm gap between fillets (if you have more fish than this allows, you will need to cook your fillets in batches). Cook, skin-side down, for 4-5 minutes depending upon the thickness of your fish. You should see the colour rising on the side of the fillet; when it reaches about half of the way up, season the skinless side of the fillet with salt and pepper, then flip it over.

skinCook for another 3-4 minutes or until the fish easily flakes with a fork (if you’re testing the sides of the fillet with your fingers, it should still have a slight ‘spring’ to it… salmon is best served when it’s still slightly soft and pink in the centre).

Serve immediately, while the skin is still crispy*, with roasted potatoes and grilled asparagus or salad.

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* Note to food bloggers: do not leave the crispy-skinned salmon on a plate in a humid kitchen for ten minutes (whilst arranging, primping and photographing it) before serving it to your husband (sorry Aaron)

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Herbed Roasted Potatoes

  • 2 medium red or purple potatoes (200-250g) per person
  • olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, lightly bashed with the back of a knife
  • small bunch of rosemary, thyme and sage
  • smoked sea salt (I use Gewürzhaus Salish Alder smoked sea salt)
  • cracked black pepper

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees f). Wash your potatoes and roughly dice them into 3 cm chunks, then place them into a pot of lightly salted water. Bring to the boil over medium-high heat.

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Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until just cooked (should be just tender when pierced with a fork). Drain well and leave for a few minutes until any remaining water evaporates. Shake your strainer to slightly roughen the surface of your potatoes, then sprinkle them with smoked sea salt and black pepper.

Pour about 2 tbsp oil into a large roasting pan with the garlic cloves and herbs . If you have a gas hob, place the pan over the heat until the herbs start to crackle; alternately, place the roasting pan into the oven for 5 minutes or until hot. Carefully tip the potatoes into the hot oil, toss and return the pan to the hot oven.

tatiesdoneRoast the potatoes for 30 minutes; turn and roast for another 30 minutes or until crisp and golden. Drain on paper towels and add a little more salt if necessary. Serve with sour cream or aioli alongside the seared salmon with a green salad or some grilled asparagus.

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courgette salad with lemon myrtle oil, chilli and mint

closeupThere’s something beautiful about summer squash. Their firm, sweet flesh requires little more than a brief flash in the pan before being served, drizzled in oil with a smattering of fragrant herbs.

I love them, whether they’re roasted, grilled, steamed or charred on a hot barbecue… particularly with lots of lemon, minted yoghurt and chilli. Perfectly easy food for summer nights.

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Over the past week, Aaron and I have eaten a lot of summer squash. Our first taste was fresh from Vicky’s garden, thick slices of charred green and yellow courgette bathed in olive oil, black pepper and herbs. We ate with sticky fingers and wide grins as the sun dropped below the horizon, breathing the scent of fresh eucalyptus on the wind.

That evening, our conversation rambled for hours. Plates were refilled, emptied and eagerly mopped up with torn ciabatta. Fresh air, open space and good company makes everything taste better. Sometimes, that’s all you need.

mint

Back to tonight’s courgette adventure. To be honest, it was more the product of an after-work ‘fridge hunt’ than anything else. Lucky for me, fresh goats cheese, herbs and lemons are staple refrigerator items, alongside home-cured olives, various nuts and grains.

I added these to a bag of fresh baby courgettes that I picked up at the weekend market, shiny and glistening in their skins. In an hour, dinner was on the table: roast chicken, courgette salad, hummus, garlicky tzatziki, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and olives. Summer food done simply.

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The recipe below is more of a ‘concept’ than a strict statement of quantities. It’s a dish that I make often with ingredients that I have on hand (you’ll see that I’ve added some ‘optional’ suggestions in the ingredients list) so all in all, it’s very forgiving.

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In my mind, courgettes partner beautifully with mint, however you could easily substitute coriander or basil as desired. If you’re gluten or wheat intolerant, just switch out the bulgur for cooked and cooled quinoa as a deliciously wholesome alternative.

It may go without saying, but this recipe works brilliantly with all summer squash including yellow squash, pattypans, tromboncinos and crooknecks… just ensure that they’re sliced similarly for ease of cooking.

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Courgette Salad with Macadamia Lemon Myrtle Oil, Chilli and Mint

Serves 4 as a side dish

  • 6-8 small courgettes (zucchini), washed and halved lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup fine grit bulgur (burghul)
  • 1/2 long red chilli, finely chopped (remove seeds if you’d like less heat)
  • mint and parsley leaves (about 1/4 cup in total) washed and finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
  • good squeeze of lemon juice
  • about 30g goats cheese, crumbled (substitute good quality feta)
  • Brookfarm macadamia oil infused with lemon myrtle (substitute another lemon infused oil or good quality extra virgin olive oil)
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • optional: toasted, crushed pistachio nuts or macadamias (sprinkle over to serve)
  • optional: small handful of pitted green olives, finely sliced

Heat a large griddle pan over high heat until hot but not smoking. Toss the courgettes in a little macadamia oil then lay them in a single layer onto the hot griddle, ensuring that each piece is in contact with the hotplate.

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Cook for 5 minutes each side or until cooked through and slightly charred.

Place the raw bulgur into a heatproof bowl or jug. Cover with boiling water until fully submerged, then cover with plastic wrap or an upturned plate.

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Leave for 10 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Fluff with a fork and allow to cool.

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Place the chilli, mint, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper into a small bowl (if using olives, combine at this point). Drizzle over a good slug of lemon myrtle macadamia oil, then toss to coat.

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When the bulgur has cooled, combine with the chilli, mint and lemon mixture. Mix well.

Lay the courgettes out onto a serving plate. Top with the seasoned bulgur (make sure to pour over all of the juices) then crumble over the goats cheese.

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Grind over some cracked black pepper then drizzle over some extra lemon myrtle macadamia oil. Add some chopped mint and/or toasted, crushed nuts if desired.

sideplateBrookfarm macadamia oil infused with lemon myrtle is an award-winning high quality oil produced in New South Wales, Australia. It has a high smoke point (210 degrees C / 410 degrees f) and the beautiful herbal tang of lemon myrtle, an Australian spice that is unique to the northern rivers.

Brookfarm macadamia oil infused with lemon myrtle is a wonderful accompaniment to seafood, vegetable and pasta dishes. Find stockists here.

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Disclaimer: Brookfarm supplied me with a sample of their macadamia oil infused with lemon myrtle for the purpose of this recipe post. However, I was not compensated for this post and as always, all opinions are my own.

curing olives, part three. dressings

jarbestDespite some personal disbelief, today marks the tenth week since my first batch of olives entered their jars of salty brine. Ten weeks of suspended hope, of weekly brine changes, of fleeting inspections and occasional puckered faces.

I’m glad to announce, whilst inspecting five large jars of marinated olives, that’s it’s all come to an end. A productive, successful and delicious end that’s made the entire process seem worthwhile.

twobowlsliketwobowlsIn hindsight, I’ve largely enjoyed curing my own olives. Everything from boiling (multiple) pots of steaming brine to watching crimson-streaked water swirl down the drain.

Yes, admittedly there have been disappointing moments, frustrating times and slack jaws over the endless mounds of sea salt I’ve used (about two kilos in the past ten weeks). However, whilst eating a soft, sweet olive marinated in fennel, chilli and orange… I’d say that I no longer care.

citrusthymeIn my initial Curing Olives post, I stated that black olives should take around 2-3 weeks to cure, with green olives taking a ‘lengthy’ 4-8 weeks to lose their high level of bitter astringency. Signs of the error in this estimation were obvious by the time of my second olive post, four weeks later.

Let me give a revised estimation: it took around 7-8 weeks for my batch of black olives to reach a level of soft, sweet edibility, whereas the green olives… uh, they took the entire ten weeks to soften and taste edible. Yes, ten weeks. But let me remind you: it’s entirely worth it.

orangefennel2detaillikeI’ve included four variations for dressing olives in the text below (uh, I got a little overexcited). All specify ‘brined then soaked olives‘, which simply means that you’ll need to soak your olives in cool, fresh water for about two hours to release some of the salty brine prior to dressing them. Don’t skip this step. If you do, you’ll end up with beautifully dressed but overpoweringly salty olives.

Taste one during the soaking process: if it’s soft and just slightly salted, you’re ready to dress the batch in whatever flavours you desire. If the ‘salt level’ continues to exceed what’s tolerable, keep soaking the olives as required (if you’ve started the process late at night, place your soaking olives in the refrigerator so that the water doesn’t become tepid overnight).

corseedsmontOne note when it comes to marinating olives: the longer you leave them, the better they’ll taste. In general, I’d recommend storing the well-sealed jars in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks prior to serving the olives… however, if you can’t bear the wait, there’s a simple trick to getting the most out of any of the marinades below.

*For accelerated flavour: in a small pan, lightly warm the olive oil with the aromatics (herbs, spices, garlic) until fragrant. Allow the oil to cool, then pour it over your olives. Leave for at least 2 hours, mixing well, prior to serving.

Once opened, all of these olives will keep for about 2 months in the refrigerator.

Got all of that? Okay, now for the fun (recipe) part:

lemoncorianderRecipe 1: Lemon and coriander olives

  • 1 cup (about 110g) mixed olives, brined then soaked (as above)
  • 1 tsp (about 7g) coriander seeds, toasted
  • 4-5 long strips of lemon rind
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Crush the coriander seeds lightly in a mortar and pestle. Place them into a medium bowl with the olives and lemon rind. Squeeze over the lemon juice, then top up with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle over some salt and pepper, then mix well.

Pour the mixture into a sterilised medium jar, then top up with olive oil so that the mixture is fully submerged. Replace the lid tightly, then invert (turn the jar upside down) to ensure that all of the ingredients are well mixed. Store in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks to allow the flavours to develop.

orangedish

orangefennelRecipe 2: Orange and fennel olives

  • 1 cup (about 110g) mixed olives, brined then soaked (as above)
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds, toasted
  • 1 bay leaf (dried is fine), torn into two
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 4-5 long strips of orange rind
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Place the olives into a medium bowl with the garlic, dried herbs and orange rind. Pour over some extra virgin olive oil, add a sprinkle of salt and pepper, then mix well.

Pour into a sterilised medium jar, then top up with olive oil so that the mixture is fully submerged. Seal tightly, then invert to ensure that the olive oil is well distributed. Store in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks to allow the flavours to develop.

thymepot olivesdoneRecipe 3: Herb and garlic olives

  • 1 cup (about 110g) mixed olives, brined then soaked (as above)
  • 1 small handful mixed fresh herbs, leaves picked (I used rosemary, oregano and thyme)
  • 2-3 long strips of lemon rind
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Place the olives into a medium bowl with the garlic, herbs and lemon rind. Squeeze over the lemon juice, then add some extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix well.

Pour into a sterilised medium jar, then top up with olive oil so that the mixture is fully submerged. Seal tightly, then invert to ensure that the olive oil is well distributed. Store in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks to allow the flavours to develop.

herbgarlictequilaRecipe 4: Tequila and lime olives

  • 1 cup (about 110g) green olives, brined then soaked (as above)
  • 2 fresh Serrano chillies, halved (seeds intact; substitute any other medium heat chilli)
  • a good splash of tequila
  • good splash of Cointreau (substitute another triple sec)
  • 4-5 long strips of orange rind
  • juice from 1/2 lime
  • a small handful of coriander (cilantro), leaves picked
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced

Place the olives into a medium bowl with the garlic, orange rind and chillies. Pour over the lime juice, booze and some extra virgin olive oil. Add the fresh coriander and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, then mix well.

Pour into a sterilised medium jar, then top up with olive oil so that the mixture is fully submerged. Seal tightly, then invert to ensure that the olive oil is well distributed. Store in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks to allow the flavours to develop.

jarsbetterJust a few extra things:

  • For those of you who have been following the journey of my beautiful friend Kendall, her latest blog post can be found here. She and Brett have very much valued your thoughts, prayers and love… despite geographical and physical boundaries, it means a lot. Things aren’t getting any easier for Kendall at present, so please keep it coming (thanks so much, blogging family!).
  • If you’re wondering why my pictures look different in this post, it’s because Aaron and I have been experimenting with our friend Paul’s DSLR (Canon EOS 50D) over the past few days. I’m loving it. Even accidental photos (e.g. my foot, whilst adjusting the manual focus!) look good!
  • Aaron and I are currently researching Canon DSLR’s for our own investment… we love macro photography and would mostly be using it for food photography (me), nature (Aaron) and travel (Aaron and I). Any tips, good experiences, bad experiences? We would love to know what’s worked for people with similar interests.

lemon quinoa salad with cherry tomatoes and persian feta

bowl2It’s just passed 02:00am. Instead of sleeping, I’m listening to the sound of rain beating on the bedroom window; steady, soft, dull and rhythmic. A lone bus drifts down the highway, groaning under the weight of tired passengers and reinforced steel. I feel equally heavy. Strained under the weight of contemplation, emotion and unreasonable alertness.

I fidget, shifting my weight from right to left. Cold fingers tap incessantly on black keys, futilely aiming to translate muddled thoughts.

Type. Erase. Type…. rephrase. Begin again.

Progress. Fail. Darn it.

tommontBy now, you’re probably wondering why I’m writing such a bleak introduction to a vibrant, colourful recipe post. I’m not really sure; my brain has many things to say, but my heart and hands aren’t adequate translators. Let me start with a small recollection of recent events.

Earlier this evening, Aaron and I visited two beautiful friends of ours, Brett and Kendall Stanford. I’m being completely honest in saying that Brett and Kendall are some of the best people you could ever meet: warm, gentle, kind, strong, ridiculously funny, faithful and wise. They’re both generous and loving in every sense of the word.

tomboxl

By day, Brett works as a physiotherapist in a private clinic. He donates his weekends and extra time to Perth-based basketball trick shot group How Ridiculous, which you may have heard of in relation to their Guinness World Record for highest basketball shot (66.89m / 219 ft 5 in). Since 2009, these four Perth guys have been making basketball trick shot videos as a source of both entertainment and sponsorship for the not-for-profit organization Compassion. They’ve been featured by media worldwide and have over 72K subscribers on YouTube. Everything they do radiates genuine passion for the alleviation of poverty, worldwide.

On the other hand, Kendall is one of the sweetest, kindest nurses that you could ever wish to meet. She has a generous heart for people and has been a loyal friend to Aaron and I for many years now. She sung at our wedding at short notice, standing in the boiling sun for sound checks with a bad sound system and persistent flies (nevertheless, she was wonderful, as was Chris, who sung and played with her). Aaron and I attended the Stanford wedding around one month later, hand-in-hand as husband and wife, with smiles from ear to ear. It was beautiful, memorable… uniquely Brett and Kendall.

avoLast Sunday, Aaron and I read a message from Brett that has since permanently burned into the back of our minds. Around four weeks ago, Kendall began experiencing increased fatigue, headaches and facial swelling. After many investigations, she was diagnosed with Primary Mediastinal B-Cell Lymphoma, a rare form of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Yes, cancer. It’s scary. I’m angry, sad and frustrated all at the same time. Kendall’s diagnosis brings back memories of my beautiful mother suffering through breast cancer surgery, then months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy a few years ago. It’s a fate that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, particularly not a woman of 24 years.

Kendall has now commenced chemotherapy, and the rest of us have commenced a routine of prayer, more prayer and practical help as required. A few days ago, Kendall sent me a message to ask if I could bring them a bite of dinner on Thursday night. I jumped at the chance, ecstatic to be able to do something tangibly ‘helpful’. I brought over this salad (below) with warm bread, dips and slow-cooked lamb. I hoped that the food would be palatable, nourishing and satisfying, but I still felt a little bit… well, ineffective. Kendall jokingly remarked in a text, ‘…we may want to be on your blog too’. So, after some thought, that’s exactly what I did.

fetacloseAs Kendall tells her story much better than I can, I’d encourage you to read her beautifully honest words over at Kendall Stanford: As I Battle Lymphoma. She’s planning to write updates as she progresses through the next few months, both as a personal means of catharsis and for information sharing. As for me, I’ve signed up for the ‘food roster’ (actually, I requested that she create a food roster!) so you may see a few more Kendall updates on here as time passes, if it feels right to do so.

One last request: if you’re a Christian as we are, I’d like to humbly ask you to please pray alongside us, specifically for Kendall, Brett, their families and friends, the treating doctors involved in her care… and otherwise as you feel led. We’re praying for victory, healing and renewed strength. Thanks beautiful friends. I appreciate every one of you.

quinoasalad2

This salad is simple, nourishing and comforting, speckled with lemon zest and fresh garden herbs. If you don’t have quinoa, you can easily substitute it for brown rice, bulgur (burghul) or cous cous.

Lemon Quinoa Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Goats Cheese

Serves 2 as a light meal, 4 as a side dish

  • 1 cup dry organic white Royal Quinoa
  • 200g punnet mixed cherry tomatoes, washed
  • 1/2 red capsicum, stem and seeds removed
  • 1 avocado, seed and peel removed
  • 1 small Lebanese cucumber (substitute half a telegraph cucumber)
  • 1/2 small Spanish onion, outer peel removed
  • 1 handful washed Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 handful washed coriander leaves (retain stalk)
  • 1 large unwaxed lemon, zest and juice
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup organic Persian marinated feta
  • extra virgin olive oil

Place the quinoa into a fine mesh strainer, then rinse it thoroughly under fresh cold water. Swish the quinoa around with your hands, rubbing slightly to remove the bitter outer coating (called saponin, which can contribute a slightly bitter or soapy flavour).

Drain well, then place into a medium saucepan with two cups of fresh cold water. Replace the lid and bring the mixture to a rolling boil; immediately lower the heat to a gentle simmer, then cook with the lid on for 10-15 minutes.

lemonycookedWhen your quinoa is cooked, the liquid should be fully absorbed and the germ should slightly curl away from the quinoa seeds. Allow to stand for five minutes (covered) then add in a good splash of extra virgin olive oil, some salt and the fresh lemon zest. Mix well, then set aside to cool.

caponionChop your cherry tomatoes, capsicum, Spanish onion, cucumber and avocado into small (0.5 x 0.5cm) dice. Place into a medium bowl, then squeeze over the juice of half a lemon. Finely chop the herbs and add them to the rest of the raw ingredients with the lemony quinoa, crumbled Persian feta, a good drizzle of olive oil and the rest of the lemon juice. Mix well and season to taste with sea salt and black pepper.

finmontServe this salad on its own or topped with warm chickpeas, freshly grilled chicken, fish or a handful of toasted pepitas. It’s also great as part of a Summer barbecue spread with a selection of salads, meat and some cold beer.

quinoasaladNotes:

  • Quinoa (‘keen wah’) is one of the most nutrient rich grains around. It’s an excellent source of iron (needed to transport oxygen around the body), B vitamins for energy, calcium and magnesium (for healthy nervous system function) and vitamin E (a powerful antioxidant).
  • For more information on quinoa (including basic cooking ratios) see my previous post, Quinoa Salad with Preserved Lemon, Pomegranate and Mint.
  • The Australian website taste.com.au has a nice little collection of quinoa recipes here. Beautiful, versatile nutrition. Love it.
  • This salad can be easily veganised by omitting the Persian feta. I’d recommend additions of toasted pepitas, chickpeas or other nuts for added substance, texture and flavour.

root

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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