Archive for the 'dinner' Category

Mushrooms baked with raclette, greens and sourdough

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Last weekend I lay in the garden under a brilliant blue sky, wearing a t-shirt and short skirt, shading my eyes and wondering if I was going to get sunburnt if I stayed out there and finished reading the next chapter of my novel.

Yesterday, I was balancing on a garden chair to pick figs from our tree, smelling chimney smoke from the neighbour’s fireplace, and pulling my cardigan closed against a shiver.

Today I wore jeans and wooly jumper and was slightly too cold in my office all day, then caught the train and walked home through a miserable drizzle. I’d planned to make a lentil salad for dinner, but when I recognized myself sulking, I asked myself what I really wanted for dinner – and warmish lentils were not the answer.

Instead, I was thinking of mushrooms, and winter herbs, and savoury, stinky cheese. I stopped off at the grocer for a couple of bags of mushrooms, a bunch of English spinach and a piece of raclette. Got home and picked herbs from the garden. Remembered that we had half a loaf of sourdough left over from the weekend. HELLO.

The mushrooms are seared to get them golden on the outside and avert soggy beigeness. Onions are slow-cooked for sweetness and a rich base note. Herbs and spinach for a bit of lift. The sourdough soaks up all the liquid released by the mushrooms during cooking, softening and absorbing flavour. Stinky melty cheese melds it all together.

This dish is squishy inside, crispy on top, warming, tasty, comforting. Should serve four, but could probably be eaten by two hungry, greedy people. I’m congratulating myself that we managed to have enough left over for lunch for one tomorrow.


Cheesy, bready, mushroomy baked thing

2 onions, quartered and finely sliced
olive oil
a palmful of finely chopped rosemary, oregano and/or thyme
a large bunch of english spinach, stemmed, washed and chopped
900 g mixed mushrooms (I used field and button)
half a loaf of stale sourdough, crusts removed
200 g raclette, cut into 1 cm cubes
parmesan
salt and pepper

Heat some olive oil in a frypan over medium heat, and add the onions with a good pinch of sea salt. Cook for about 15 minutes or so, stirring now and then, until the onions are golden and very soft. Add the herbs and spinach, and cook another few minutes until the spinach has wilted. Set aside.

Meanwhile, clean the mushrooms and cut into pieces about 1 x 2 x 2 cm in size (very roughly!). Heat a heavy frypan over high heat, add olive oil, and sear the mushrooms in batches. I add the mushrooms to the hot pan (just enough mushrooms so they are all touching the base of the pan, without piling on one another), leave them to sit for a minute or two, then stir, leave another minute, repeat once more, then take them out. They should have some colour on the outside and have released a little liquid, but not be fully cooked. Tip the mushrooms and any liquid they have released into a bowl, then repeat with another batch of mushrooms until they’re all cooked.

Roughly tear the sourdough into pieces about 2 to 3 cm cubed. In a ceramic baking dish, combine the onions and greens, mushrooms and their juices, sourdough pieces, and raclette. Season with salt and pepper, and toss well. Scatter grated parmesan over the top.

Cover the dish with alfoil and bake in the oven at 180C for 15 minutes, then remove the alfoil and cook a further 15 minutes, or until the dish is bubbling and the parmesan is golden and melted. Remove from the oven, rest for 5 minutes, and serve.

I made a pile of crisply blanched green beans to eat with this for textural and healthfulness contrast. (Cut tops off green beans, cook in rapidly boiling salted water for 3 minutes, drain). With beans, and a good bottle of red wine, serves 4.

Summer stew of chicken, zucchini and fennel seed

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

I still don’t cook many meat dishes, and when I make stews they tend to be of the extremely slow-cooked variety. So I was somewhat surprised when I made this stew up, because I had a craving for several of the ingredients, and it worked out exactly as I hoped. It was also super easy and quick. I’m sure I’ll want to revisit this soon so I’m noting it down.

500 g chicken thigh fillets (get them from happy chickens, please)
olive oil
1 large onion, quartered and sliced
1 large or 3 small young carrots, cut into 7 mm cubes
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic
1 heaped teaspoon fennel seed
dry white vermouth
~600 ml home-made chicken stock
4 good sized zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 2 cm batons
half a large bunch of English spinach, stemmed and chopped
flat-leafed parsley, finely chopped

Cut each fillet into about four pieces, each piece a bit more than an inch square. Heat a little slick of olive oil in a non-stick pan and add as many pieces of chicken as can fit without crowding. Cook until the chicken is lightly golden, then turn and repeat on the other side. Remove the chicken and set aside, and repeat with the rest of the pieces.

In a large saucepan, heat a little olive oil and add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are lightly coloured and softening. Add the garlic and fennelseed, and cook a further two minutes. Deglaze the pan with a small glass of vermouth and let it simmer away.

Add the chicken stock, zucchini, and chicken pieces. The stock should come within a few cm of covering the vegetables and chicken. Bring to a simmer, partly cover, and let simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the zucchini has softened. Add the spinach, stir through, and simmer another minute until it is wilted. Remove from the heat, season, and stir the parsley through.

Serve over couscous, and with green beans or other vegetable on the side.

Serves 5-6.

After work dinner: roast vegetable frittata and salad

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Helen and Heather came over straight from work for dinner tonight, and we had a lovely time cooking, eating and chatting. I went a little crazy with the vegetable-buying at the St Kilda markets on Saturday, so we took this opportunity to cook up loads of veggies and get them consumed (not that the consumption was much of a chore). I’d done a bit of the preparation last night by roasting the pumpkin and beetroot, but everything else was easy to get done this evening while we drank a glass or two of pinot noir.

Heather was keeping a close eye on the frittata making, because she said she always forgets how I do it when she goes to make one herself. Heather, here are instructions as precise as I can get when it comes to frittatas!

These two dishes together fed all four of us very well, with enough leftovers for a lunch or two.

 

Pumpkin, cauliflower and silverbeet frittata

750 g pumpkin, peeled (I used a combination of Kent and trombone)
olive oil
cider vinegar
half a large head of cauliflower
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
1 large bunch silverbeet/chard
275 g marinated goat cheese (e.g. Yarra Valley Cardi or Meredith Dairy)
6 eggs
salt and pepper

Cut the pumpkin into pieces about 1.5 cm square. Spread the pieces out in a baking dish, making sure they’re not piled up on one another, and toss with olive oil, a good splash of apple cider vinegar, sea salt and black pepper. Roast at 180 C until soft and golden at the edges – this could take between 25 and 45 minutes, depending on the pumpkin.

Cut the cauliflower into florets a couple of cm in size. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast until somewhat softened and golden brown at the edges, around 20 minutes.

Saute the onion in a frypan until golden and soft (I am seeing a bit of a trend here with the goldening and softening).

Remove the stems from the silverbeet, and roughly chop the leaves. Blanch in boiling water for a minute or two, until soft but still bright green. Drain and gently press the water out of the leaves.

In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, cauliflower, onion and chard and mix together. Remove the feta from its oil and crumble roughly, and mix through the vegetables. Whisk five or six eggs with a little salt and pepper, then mix into the veggies. There should be enough egg to hold them together, but not much more than that – if you press a spoon into the mix, you should see a little egg appear, but not pools of it. Add another egg if there isn’t enough.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large non-stick frypan over low heat, using a heat diffuser if you have one. Tip the mixture into the pan and smooth it out. Cook over that lowish heat for 15 minutes or so, until almost cooked through. Place the pan close under a grill to cook the top. Check that it is cooked through by pressing a knife or a spatula into the middle of the frittata. If it is still raw in the middle, put it back on the low heat and keep cooking until it’s done. It’s best if it’s cooked slowly and taken off the heat as soon as it’s done – if you cook it over too high a heat or for too long it can become tough.

 

Beetroot and avocado salad

3 beetroots
1 avocado
1 large handful pine nuts, toasted
several sprigs of dill, chopped
several sprigs of mint, chopped
3 or 4 large handfuls of baby spinach
1 cup of frozen peas, defrosted in hot water
good olive oil
aged red wine vinegar
wholegrain mustard

Scrub the beetroot and cut off the stems. Place in a baking dish, cover with alfoil, and bake at 180 C until they are completely soft and a butter knife goes into them easily. This takes ages – lots of recipes claim that it only takes half an hour but this is nonsense – it always takes closer to a couple of hours for me. When they’re done, remove from the oven and allow to cool completely (I usually do this step a day or more in advance). When they’re cool, peel the skins off with a knife, and cut them into 1.5 cm pieces.

Cut the avocado in half, remove the seed and the skin, and cut into slices.

Toss together the beets, avocado, herbs, spinach, peas and pine nuts. Make a dressing by whisking together the olive oil, vinegar and mustard. Dress the salad and toss well. Serve at once.

 

Easy but excellent chicken and corn soup

Monday, March 18th, 2013

While I’m on a little bit of a roll, here’s a very good, very quick and easy chicken and corn soup, which relies for its excellence on a the deliciousness of home-made chicken stock. (I’m so smug that I had some in the freezer, and so sad that I’ve now used up the last of it – I must pick up some more necks and frames at the organic chicken stall at the markets this coming weekend). I made this tonight after we’d come home from work and spent two hours cleaning up the house in preparation for an inspection tomorrow. I hate cleaning and doing it in the evenings is very cross-making. But even though I only had about three molecules of energy left afterwards, that was sufficient to get this soup made. Life looks better now that we are full of good soup, and the house is clean and ready. Time to lie on the couch and read a novel.

 

1 onion, peeled, halved and finely sliced
olive oil
2 scallions, sliced, white and green parts kept separate
2 chicken thigh fillets, cut into 2 cm pieces
1 large thumb of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
chili flakes
2 – 3 cups of home-made chicken stock
1 large or 2 smallish cobs of corn, kernels sliced off
parsely or coriander leaves, chopped
sesame oil
salt and pepper

Saute the onion in olive oil until golden and soft. Add the white parts of the scallions and the chicken, and cook until the chicken is changing colour and getting slightly golden. Add the ginger, a big pinch of chili flakes, and most of the green parts of the scallions, and cook a further minute. Add the chicken stock and corn, and simmer for about ten minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the flavours have come together. Add the rest of the scallions, the parsley or coriander, and a drizzle of sesame oil, and season to taste.

Serves two.

Lamb and pistachio kofta

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

Stuff that has been making me happy recently:

1. Spending Christmas with friends – Iñaki, Begoña, Unai, Naia and Heather came over to our place for Christmas lunch. We all contributed mezze; I made these slices of baguette with french goat cheese, roasted cherry Roma tomatoes, and salted capers. Then Iñaki made paella, and we ate it with slow-roasted Roma tomatoes, griddled zucchini with lemon and mint, and roasted peppers tossed with sherry vinegar, and a spinach, pea, mint and ricotta salad.

 

2. Checking out green places around Melbourne, including the Botanic Gardens, where queued for 40 minutes to see this spectacular titan arum blooming on Boxing day:

 

 

 

the fernery, heritage orchard, succulent garden etc etc at Ripponlea Estate:

 

and the perfect hidden river cafe at the Fairfield boathouse (where I had prawns, watercress and lemon aioli on a brioche roll for lunch today):

 

3. Delicious stonefruit from the St Kilda and Victoria markets, this week and last.

4. Seeing Helvetica at ACMI with Ted and Helen last week.

5. Two delicious meals at Dainty Sichuan in Chinatown, including one on the 4th of January, described here, which made a hellish public transport trip in 39 degree heat worthwhile.

6. The garden, where all but one of the nine tomato varieties I have planted have started to produce fruit. Only a couple of wild sweeties have ripened yet, but I have hope for a good harvest from the rest. The fig tree is also covered with green figs – last year the earliest ripe ones were at the end of February, so there is still a while to wait yet. But just sitting out there, or watering, or weeding, the beautiful green box that is our garden always returns me to at least some degree of serenity.

 

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For dinner tonight we made these kofta, inspired strongly by a recipe in Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. The original recipe made a larger amount, used half beef and half lamb, pine nuts instead of pistachios, red chili instead of green, and so on. I modified according to what we had in the house and came up with these, which were delicious.

Lamb and pistachio kofta with tahini sauce

Kofta
400 g freshly minced lamb
half a red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
40 g unsalted pistachios, chopped
2 large handfuls of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 long green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
scant teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Tahini sauce
4 tablespoons tahini paste
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 garlic clove, crushed
hot water to mix

To serve
a big salad of tomato, cucumber and mint
pita bread

To make the kofta, mix the ingredients together well in a bowl, using your hands. Shape them into about ten kofta, either long, thinnish torpedo shapes, or rounder and flatter frittery shapes. Shape them firmly so they stay together during cooking.

Make the tahini sauce by combining the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and a pinch of salt. Add hot water, stirring briskly, until the sauce is a bit runnier than honey (in Ottolenghi’s very clear phrase).

Preheat the oven to 200C. Heat a slick of oil in a pan over medium-high heat, and sear the kofta all over until golden brown. At this point they will be still rare inside. Place them in an oven tray and cook them in the oven until they are done to your liking. How long this takes will depend on how cooked you want them and what shape they are. If you got a butcher to mince the lamb for you today, it’s ok to leave them a little rare if you like; otherwise make sure they are fully cooked. Ours took about 12 minutes in the oven, under alfoil.

To eat, spoon the sauce around the kofta and drizzle a little over the top. Sprinkle with more parsley and some more chopped pistachios if you have any over. Serve with the salad and pita.

Serves 4.

Tuesday pasta for ten

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Luciano is in Melbourne for a workshop, so we gathered up most of the old lab from UQ to come over to our place for wine and chat with him this evening. He was eating dinner at the workshop, so I wanted to make something for the rest of us to have before he arrived, but I also wanted to avoid any frantic or stressful cooking on a Tuesday night. Solution: a giant pot of pasta, served with a not-quite-so-giant side dish of green beans. Ted and I got home and started cooking a bit after 6 pm, and served this up a bit after 7 (and had loads of time to sit about on the couch for a while in between).

I really like the way the eggplant is cooked here. I think cutting it into long wedges and then slices, so that each piece of eggplant has skin on one side and so holds together nicely, works well. And then just chucking it in the oven to roast, rather than sauteeing it, leaves each piece with a little bit of crispy-chewiness, and doesn’t result in it soaking up litres of olive oil. The fact that it requires no stirring or other attention while it cooks is just an added bonus.

 

Fusilli with tomato, chorizo and roast eggplant

4 medium-large eggplants
olive oil
aged red wine vinegar
sea salt and pepper
2 onions, peeled, quartered and sliced
4 cured chorizo (Saskia Beer’s Black Pig chorizo is great)
1 sachet tomato paste
1 ultra-gigantor glass of red wine
3 x 400g cans of whole tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 x 700g jar of passata
1 kg good quality fusilli

Heat the oven to 180 C. Cut the top off each eggplant. Slice each eggplant into quarters lengthwise, then cut each quarter into half lengthwise again. You should have eight equal-sized long wedges. Cut the wedges crosswise into pieces about 1.5 cm wide. You should now have lots of little triangular pieces of eggplant, each with skin on one end. Spread the eggplant out across four oven trays (you might need to do this in a couple of goes unless you have a very large oven). The pieces can touch each other a bit, but should not be piled up, or they will steam rather than roast. Drizzle the eggplant with some olive oil and red wine vinegar, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Note that the eggplant doesn’t have to be drenched in oil! Just a decent drizzle is fine. Put the trays in the oven and  leave to cook 20-30 minutes, until the pieces are cooked through and browning on the edges. No need to toss them part way through cooking. Once they’re cooked, remove from the oven and set aside.

Heat a glug of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, then add the onions and cook for about 10 minutes, until they’re soft and golden. Cut each chorizo in half lengthwise, and then into 1.5 cm pieces. Add the chorizo and the tomato paste to the onions, and cook another couple of minutes. Then add the red wine, tinned tomatoes, and passata. Stir together, bring to the boil, then turn down to a rolling simmer. Cook for about 30-40 minutes, stirring now and then, until the sauce has come together and is a bit reduced. Add the cooked eggplant and cook another minute or two.

Cook the pasta until al dente, then drain. Combine the pasta and the sauce, and serve at once.

Serves 10-12 people with a vegetable on the side or salad to follow.

Potato and chorizo tortilla with chard agrodolce

Monday, April 9th, 2012

This tortilla was dinner tonight, together with some chard agrodolce. It was all delicious. We used royal blue potatoes – purple skin, yellow flesh – though the skin didn’t stay purple through cooking, alas. The chorizo was from Black Pig.  I think the success of the tortilla would depend on using a really flavourful chorizo (this one was fantastic). In the absence of that, I’d add a couple of skinned roasted peppers and some smoked paprika. This tortilla has less egg per potato volume than a traditional tortilla, and is thinner (about 2 cm thick), but that’s how I like it.

The chard agrodolce was a good match. This was a large bunch of ruby chard, stemmed, chopped, blanched and squeezed dry, then sauteed with olive oil, minced garlic and a handful of currants, and finally tossed with a splash of aged red wine vinegar and some toasted pine nuts. A++ would make again.

 

Potato and chorizo tortilla

2 onions, quartered and sliced
olive oil
5 medium waxy or all-rounder potatoes, scrubbed, cut into 1-2 mm slices
1 cured chorizo, ~120 g, sliced
1 good handful chopped parsley leaves
4 eggs
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a frypan over moderate heat, add the onions, and cook until translucent and soft. They’ll get quite a lot more cooking, so no need to take them to the golden stage at this point. Add the raw potato slices and continue to fry, stirring frequently, until they are cooked (but still keeping their shape). This took about 15 minutes for us – it will depend on the potato type and how finely they’re sliced. Add the chorizo a few minutes before the end, so its flavour gets mixed through everything.

Turn down the heat under the pan to low. Whisk together the eggs, parsley and salt and pepper, then add to the pan. Give it a very quick stir through, and pat everything down flat. Our mixture was about 2.5 cm thick at this stage. Leave to cook until the middle of the frittata is getting solid, and just the top remains runny. At this point, you can flip it if you are highly skilled. If you’re like me, on the other hand, you can instead just put the pan under the grill until the top is cooked.

Serves 4, with a vegetable side.

Fritter science, non-best-practice version

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

I like to do my culinary science the right way. Standardisation, controls, a well-thought-out experimental design. This isn’t always possible to achieve on the fly, however, so tonight’s dinner should be considered as exploratory experimental work that will require rigorous follow-up. Fortunately fritters lend themselves to this kind of experimentation, as you can fry a couple, taste, modify the batter, fry another couple, modify again, and so on.

I felt like corn and zucchini fritters for dinner, and wanted to try making them with besan flour. I prepped the vegetables: corn, zucchini, scallions, coriander leaves and chili flakes. I then made up a batter based on this recipe: besan flour, plain flour, salt and water. Mixed the vegetables and the batter, fried the first batch of four, and split one with Ted for a taste test. Not bad! They were particularly good hot off the pan, crispy on the outside and light and toasty inside. I wondered, however, whether they might not be better with a little bit of feta crumbled in. So I added some feta to the mix, and cooked up another four. These were also good straight off the pan, though the feta was a little dominating in flavour. Still, the cheese was in there now, so we pressed on and cooked another four, leaving the rest on a plate underneath a tea-towel to stay warm until we were ready to sit down.

We were pretty peckish at this point, so while cooking we split another one of the first feta fritters once they had cooled down a bit, and actually the flavour was pretty good – more appealing than the no-feta version. Both the feta-free and feta-ful versions, however, were getting slightly lumpen as they cooled. There was enough mixture left for two more fritters, so I added about a quarter of a teaspoon of baking powder to this before frying them off. Ah ha! Now we see a difference – there were a few little bubbles rising to the surface as we cooked the first side, and the fritters were puffier and had straighter sides. Fresh off the pan, the first one of these that we shared was softer and lighter than the previous versions, and tasted great.

We sat down to eat a few more, with some salad and roast tomatoes. After about 5 minutes, when all of the fritters had had a chance to cool down a bit, we did a side-by-side tasting of the three versions. The first version (no feta, no baking powder) was ok, but quite dense. The second (feta, no baking powder) was noticably softer than the first version, and the feta added some more interest to the flavour. The third (feta, baking powder) was quite similar to the second, but still a little lighter.

So, the secret is feta and/or baking powder, right? Perhaps, but I am tormented by the confounding variables. The feta-free fritters were cooked earliest, so were the coldest, and maybe that’s why they seemed less good. What if I cooked the different batches for different times, so that the first set were actually just overcooked? What if the performance of the batter improves with sitting – some fritter recipes do call for a resting period before you start cooking. There’s no way to disentangle these factors! I need to make three batters in parallel, rest them the same amount of time, and then fry a fritter from each batter in the same pan at the same time, using the same amount of batter for each one. Only then will I know the truth. Until then, the recipe below is the one I currently hypothesise to be the best. Further testing required (and I will be happy to oblige – these were damn good fritters).

 

Corn, zucchini and besan flour fritters

2 medium zucchini, finely julienned on a mandoline
kernels cut from 2 cobs of corn
4 scallions, finely sliced
2 large handfuls of coriander leaves, chopped
2 large pinches of chili flakes, or to taste
150 g besan flour
3 tablespoons plain flour
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
salt and pepper
170-200 ml water
80 g feta, crumbled
olive oil

Sprinkle the julienned zucchini well with salt, and leave to drain in a colander or sieve for 30 minutes. Squeeze out excess water, the spread out over a tea-towel, roll it up lengthwise, and twist to squeeze out all the remaining liquid. Put the zucchini into a bowl with the corn, scallions, coriander leaves and chili flakes, and mix.

In another bowl, sieve together the besan flour, plain flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Stir in the water, to make a thick batter. Combine this with the vegetables and the feta. The mixture should be thick but not excessively stiff. Add a little extra water to thin if necessary.

Heat a little olive oil in a frypan over moderate heat. Spoon fritter-sized portions of batter into the pan, and flatten them out so they are about 1 cm thick. Allow them to cook until browning on the bottom, then flip and continue to cook until golden on the other side and cooked in the middle. Remove to a plate and keep warm.

Makes about 14 fritters (about 7-8 cm in diameter).

We ate the fritters with some roast cherry tomatoes  and some snow peas and pea shoots (all harvested from our garden! I was overly pessimistic about our chances of getting more ripe tomatoes on the weekend).

 

Osso buco not-strictly-milanese

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

After a weekend of 37 degrees C a couple of weeks ago, it has rapidly turned autumnish. The doona is back on the bed. I shivered through a day at work when it hit 15 degrees in the afternoon and I had come in stupidly wearing just a T-shirt. The figs on the huge tree in our backyard have finally ripened, and there are enough of them that I’ve been able to eat at least a couple of fresh figs every day, to give some away to friends, and to make this delicious fig, hazelnut and brandy cake.  While I was up the ladder picking figs a couple of evenings ago, I smelled the first wood fire of the season from one of our neighbours’ houses – a little early, perhaps, but I’ll be getting our own chimney swept soon.

When I was at the St Kilda farmers market last weekend, it was chilly, drizzling, almost misty. I had a powerful surge of homesickness for the UK and Ireland! Even though there were stalls there selling the last of the heirloom tomatoes of the summer, in all other ways it felt utterly like autumn was upon us. I stocked up on cold-weather vegetables – cavolo nero, kohlrabi, beetroot – and various bits of meat to go in the freezer for episodes of weekend slow-cooking. One of these purchases was some osso buco from Warialda Beef. The slices were enormous, about 500 g each, dark purple in colour and marbled with fat. Warialda cows are rare breed, grass-fed, and slaughtered at two and a half years, and the meat is then dry aged. And oh my god, it tastes so good. I’ve been more in the habit recently of cooking osso buco in stout, to beef (ha) up the flavour a bit, but since this meat looked so good, I cooked it a bit more traditionally in white wine. It was spectacular. Tender, rich, deeply flavoured – the best osso buco I have ever had.

 

three large pieces of osso buco, approx 1.4 kg in total
olive oil
2 onions, peeled, quartered, and sliced
2 decent-sized carrots, peeled and cut into 1 cm cubes
2 sticks celery, cut into 1 cm cubes
2 large glasses white wine
1 tin peeled tomatoes
500 ml stock (chicken or veal)
2 fresh bay leaves
1 large sprig rosemary
salt

1 clove garlic, crushed finely
zest of a lemon
a handful or two of parsley leaves, finely chopped

Season the meat with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour. Heat some olive oil in a large oven-proof saucepan, and brown the meat on each side. Do each piece separately if they are large – don’t crowd them. Remove the meat and set aside.

Add the onions, carrots and celery to the oil remaining in the pan, and cook over moderate heat until the onion is softened and translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Add the wine, stock, the tin of tomatoes (roughly chop them with a knife in the can before adding), bay leaves, rosemary, and a teaspoon of rock salt (less if using table salt). Stir, then add the meat. The meat should be mostly covered by the liquid.

Put the lid on the saucepan and cook in the oven at about 150 C for 2.5-3 hours, until the meat is extremely tender and the liquid has substantially reduced. I tend to turn the meat over every hour or so to make sure both sides get a go under the liquid. This does make it more likely that the marrow will fall out of the bone, so if you value eating the marrow with a spoon (delicious), you might not want to turn them. It’s almost certainly not really necessary.

Just before eating, combine garlic, lemon zest and parsley to make gremolata, and sprinkle over the meat.

We served this with tubetti pasta because we were too lazy to make the more traditional risotto. It was so, so fine.

Ricotta baked in situ

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

How can I tell that Matt and Leonie came to stay with me for a few days? Well, my kitchen is full of tropical fruit direct from the farmers, I’ve got the memories of many fantastic recent meals, I’m newly re-inspired about wine and food, and I am smiling a lot. That covers most of it.

I met Leonie in an undergraduate entomology course in 1997, and Matt shortly afterwards, when I went out to their place at Brookfield for a meal. Ever since, both of them have been incredible food inspirations for me. When I worked at the CRC, Matt and I used to talk food all the time – I have vivid memories of comments about morning tea cakes, him showing me a tupperware of excellent left-over minestrone with fresh borlotti beans he was eating for lunch, Alistair Little’s pasta recipes, what we’d each had for dinner the night before. During my Honours year, Leonie used to sometimes drop in to the lab when I was working late, for a chat and to share food with me. I still have the pieces of paper on which she wrote recipes for marmalade (complete with drawings!) and potato salad, some of those evenings. We went to many wine tastings at the UQ Staff Club together. They came over to our place in Kent St for new year’s eve – in 2000, I think? can that be right? – with a truffle, pasta dough, and a container of King Island cream, and made fresh pasta with truffles and home-shaken butter.

Since we moved back to Australia, Matt and Leonie have come down to stay with us a few times, always leading to amazing cooking and eating. And last year Ted and I went to visit them in Mareeba and were shown the absolute best of the tablelands, both in and out of their own kitchen. It was a spectacular experience that I can hardly hope to equal again.

On this last visit, we went out for Indian, Italian (at Enoteca – so good) and Moroccan, and ate at home only a couple of nights. On one of those nights I came home from pilates to find Matt making pasta with roast veggies and garlic – yes, these houseguests can stay as long as they like!

On Sunday, I was suffering from a hangover brought on more by lack of sleep (got home from Jean and Edwige’s at 3 a.m. and woke up at 6.30) rather than alcohol, though I’m sure the wine and cognac of the previous night had contributed very slightly. Knowing I needed to buy groceries and make something for M&L when they returned from visiting family that evening, I walked slowly and carefully down to Merthyr village, had lunch at the deli, and then went and stared bovine-ishly at vegetables. I was incapable of forming coherent plans, so just bought what looked good with a belief that things would come together later. The linchpin of these unformed plans was two bunches of springily fresh rainbow chard, which I found at the local hippy shop amongst the limp basil and somewhat withered carrots. From the green grocer I bought amongst other things some squat, heavy red peppers, and from the deli, fresh ricotta cut from a new round.

I had grand plans for multiple dishes, but when it came down to it, I made just a single dish, simple and plain, but very good. I was inspired by recipes I’ve seen recently for eggs, cracked into dimples in a pot of beans or vegetables, baked until just set (like this, or this, for example), but wanted something a bit less egg-focussed. I blanched the chard and roasted the peppers, mixed them with whisked eggs to make a tian, then pressed golfball size balls of fresh ricotta into the mixuture, and baked until just set. The ricotta baked to be crispy on top, still soft in the middle, and absorbing the flavours of chard on the sides. As Leonie said, it was “like Matt’s baked ricotta, but baked in situ”. And Matt’s “It’s good, Mego” was every bit of praise I required. We went to bed early but, at least in my case, well satisfied by dinner.

Ricotta baked in chard and peppers

2 large red peppers/capsicums
2 large bunches of rainbow chard, stemmed
1 onion, peeled and chopped
olive oil
4 eggs
2 heaped dessert spoons natural yoghurt
salt and pepper
a wedge of fresh ricotta about 3x2x1 inch

First roast the peppers. Turn the grill/broiler in the oven on. Place the peppers underneath, close to the grill, and turn them every 5 minutes or so, until they are blackened all over. Remove and place them in a bowl and cover to steam, for about 10-20 minutes. Cut out the stem, remove the seeds and membranes, and peel off all the skin. Cut or pull into pieces a few centimetres square.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Blanch the chard leaves for about 3 minutes, then drain well. Squeeze out as much water as possible – I put them between two teatowels and twist and squeeze. Tip the leaves onto a cutting board, separate them out a bit, and chop.

Fry the onion in olive oil until soft, translucent, and lightly golden.

Whisk together eggs, yoghurt, salt and pepper. Mix in the chard, peppers and onion. There should be enough egg to hold it together with a bit of a liquidy look, while still being more vegetable than egg. Tip the mixture into a tian – I used a round earthenware casserole about 25 cm in diameter, which made the mixture about 2-3 cm deep.

With your fingers, make holes in the mixture large enough to drop in chunks of ricotta about 2-3 cm in diameter. Use your fingers to push the chard mixture back around to embrace the ricotta. The ricotta shouldn’t stick up higher than the chard – it should all be level.

Bake at 180 for about 20 minutes, or until the eggs are just set. The precise timing will depend on the size of your cooking vessel. Check on it now and then, don’t overcook it. Remove from the oven and let rest for a couple of minutes before eating. Serves 3-4 as a light meal.