Roasted Vegetable and French Lentil Soup

Serves: 4 – 6

Tis the season of soup: four days into winter and I don’t think we have managed to get over 10 degrees in Sydney.

Cue the long line of winter soups and we’re not sad about it.

This one is a winner: its thick, warming, healthy and kids love it – Tom Tom went in successively for four bowls.

And it’s sophisticated enough to serve as a starter at a lunch over the next few months. This really is French bistro.

Bring on winter. And extra Parmesan.

Ingredients

For the roasted vegetables

4 tbsp olive oil
2 carrots
1 capsicum
1 broccoli
1 red onion
1 head of garlic (or about 6 cloves)
4 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

For the stew base

2 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
2 bay leaves
2 cans tomatoes
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups of vegetable stock
100g of green beans, trimmed and cut 0.5cm pieces
1 cup French lentils
Parmesan soup

Method

Roasted vegetables

  1. Turn on oven to 180C. Chop up vegetables (don’t bother peeling the carrots) and drizzle with olive oil and toss so the veges are evenly coated.
  2. Wrap the garlic in foil and drizzle with olive oil and seal in a bundle. Put in the oven with the tray of vegetables.
  3. Roast for about 30-40 mins.

Stew base

  1. In a large pot on medium heat cook the onion and garlic until it is soft and translucent.
  2. Add the oregano, thyme, bay leaves, canned tomatoes, stock, beans and lentils. Bring to the boil and let simmer for about 15 mins or until the lentils are cooked, stirring so the lentils don’t stick to the pot.
  3. When the vegetables have finished roasting put them in a blender with roasted garlic, balsamic, tomato paste and a couple of big spoons of the soup. Blend to combine.
  4. Mix the blended vegetables into the soup base and simmer for another 5-10 mins depending on how thick you want the soup.
  5. Add the Parmesan cheese to serve.

Bianca Zapatka’s Spinach Ravioli with Mushrooms

Serves: 4 – 6

This is probably one of the most comfortable pastas I have ever eaten, though calling it comfortable is an understatement.

It’s simplicity is its sophistication.

This is 2-hat sort of stuff. And yet, so simple.

Nat served this as the first course of a slow, Sunday afternoon of pastas and wow.

She adapted the dough slightly and I cooked the mushrooms for longer because mushrooms only improve with time in the pan.

We discovered some time ago that pasta assembly is best accompanied with a few flutes of good Champagne. A celebration of sorts that you have hit the final straight!

As the first course for a late autumn lunch, people would be blown away. A crisp Pinot Grigio, a fire and some good music and here you have all the pieces to start a very good afternoon.

Well done Nat.

Ingredients

For the Ravioli

1 3/4 cups plain flour
1/2 00 flour
1/4 semolina flour
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 c water
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

For the Spinach Filling

225gm frozen spinach, thawed
125gm cream cheese
5 tbsp Parmesan Cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to taste

For the Mushrooms

2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
300gm brown mushrooms, sliced
3 tbsp soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh herbs and/or grated Parmesan to serve

Method

Pasta Dough

  1. Mix the flours, semolina and salt. Heap into a pile and press a well into the centre. Pour in water and olive oil and knead to a smooth dough. (We used the dough hook on a KitchenAid.)
  2. Shape the dough into a ball, wrap in cling foil and place in the fridge for at least 1/2 hour.

Spinach filling

  1. Squeeze the spinach to remove all excess water and chop.
  2. Add the Parmesan, cream cheese, season and mix until combined.

To make the Ravioli

  1. Roll out the prepared pasta dough thinly on a lightly floured surface. (We used a pasta roller down to setting 2.)
  2. Cut out 7cm circles with a round form.
  3. Place approximately 1 tbsp of the spinach filling in the centre of each circle. Brush the sides with a bit of water and fold over the filling into semicircles. Carefully seal with your finer and then press down lightly with a fork.
  4. Bring salted water to the boil in a large pot. Let the ravioli slide in a simmer for 3 – 4 minutes until they have floated to the surface.
  5. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain.

Fried Mushrooms

  1. Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry the mushrooms until browned and all the liquid has evaporated.
  2. Add the chopped garlic and sauté for a few minutes. Deglaze with the soy sauce and sauté for at least a few more minutes.
  3. Serve with the drained ravioli. Season and garnish with fresh herbs and/or grated Parmesan.

Ajoy Joshi’s Chicken with Spinach

Serves: 4 – 6

A love a good spinach curry!

Unlike what we all get served up at our local Indian however, this dish by Ajoy Joshi has depth, heat and character. It is clearly a curry that doesn’t share a base with 200 other curries on the menu.

As with all Ajoy dishes, there are twists: the processed onions cooked gold in the oil is just one trick that makes this recipe special.

As part of a banquet, you could do a whole lot worse.

Ingredients

500gm (baby) spinach, stems removed
3 fresh mild long green chillies, slit lengthways
2 large yellow (brown) onions, roughly chopped
1/2 c vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 c whole milk
1 whole chicken (1.5kg) cut into 10 pieces, or 1kg chicken pieces (I used thigh)
1 tsp Garam Masala
1/2 tsp chilli powder
3 ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 c heavy (double) cream

Method

  1. In a food processor, combine spinach and chillies and process until a paste forms. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Rinse and dry process, add onions and process until finely ground. Remove from the processor and set aside.
  2. In a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan, heat oil over a medium-heat. Add onions and salt and cooked uncovered, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Stir in the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the milk and cook for another 5 minutes longer.
  3. Raise heat to high, add chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned, about 5 minutes.* Stir in the Garam Masala and chilli powder and cook, stirring, until all the moisture evaporates and the oil separates, 5 – 10 minutes.
  4. Stir in the spinach purée and tomatoes. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook until the chicken is cooked throughout and tender, 20 – 25 minutes. Uncover and if liquid remains, continue to cook on a medium heat until it evaporates.
  5. Just before serving, stir in the cream. Serve immediately.

* Respectfully, when chefs ask for meat to be browned in a sauce or gravy, I just don’t understand if this is possible without commercial cooking. Meat just doesn’t brown in milk. Just cook the meat.

Yotam Ottolenghi’s (All the) Herb Dumplings with Caremelised Onions

Serves: 4

A few weeks back, Nat pull together an absolutely wonderful three-part Yotam Ottolenghi dinner.

Every dish was just Yoman clever/unique/amazing as they always are.

Though these herb dumplings with caremalised onions were the evening’s winner. (They’re from his cookbook Ottolenghi Test Kitchen (OTK) Shelf Love, a cookbook I highly, highly recommend. An absolute delight to flick through, not a recipe you wouldn’t cook.)

Slightly Middle Eastern, it’s one part the herbs which really are earthy and deep. With the other part being the slow-cooked onions, with the butter, saffron and cardamom.

It would be a meal in itself, alongside a green salad.

Though as a side, it was just damn clever; and it would certainly indicate to your quests that a special meal was coming.

Ingredients

1kg onions (about 5 or 6), halved and sliced 1/2cm thick
10 cardamom pods, roughly bashed open with a mortar and pestle
60ml olive oil
110gm unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 garlic cloves, crushed
100gm fresh coriander, roughly chopped
100gm parsley, roughly chopped
70gm dill, roughly chopped
30gm tarragon leaves, roughly chopped
7 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, roughly crushed with a mortar and pestle
3/4 tsp ground turmeric
50gm whole-milk ricotta
100gm Greek feta, roughly crumbled
60gm Parmesan, finely grated
1 large egg
70gm plain flour
1/3 tsp saffron threads, roughly crushed
2 tbsp lemon juice
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c.
  2. Put the onions, cardamom, half the oil, 40gm of butter and 1 tsp of salt into a medium baking dish and mix together to combine. Bake for 60 – 70 minutes, stirring 4 – 5 times during, until softened and nicely caramelised.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tbsp of oil in a large, non-stick sauté pan on a medium heat. Add the herbs and spring onions and cook, stirring often for about 10 minutes. Add the cumin and turmeric and cook for 10 minutes more or until the herbs are deeply green and fragrant. Set aside to cool.
  4. Beat together the ricotta, feta, 50gm of the Parmesan, the egg, 1 tsp of salt and plenty of pepper in a large bowl. Add the flour and the cooled herb mixture and mix well. Refrigerate to set, about 20 – 40 minutes. Use your hands to roll into 12 compact dumplings, about 45 – 50gm each.
  5. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, then turn the heat down to a bare simmer on a medium heat. Drop in the dumplings and cook for 10 – 12 minutes, or until they rise to the surface and have cooked through the centre. Use a slotted spoon to gently transfer the dumplings to a tray lined with kitchen paper, to dry.
  6. When the onions are ready and hot from the oven, add the remaining 70gm of butter, the saffron and the lemon juice and mix everything to combine. Turn the oven temperature up to 200c fan.
  7. Top the onions with the dumplings, slightly spaced apart, then sprinkle over with the remaining Parmesan. Return to the oven for 8 – 10 minutes, or until everything is bubbling and warmed through.

Matt Preston’s Pork Braise

Serves: 4

Matt Preston calls this pork braise this favourite – ever – and my Lordy, it is definitely something great.

Like, completely, excessively magnificent. Finished with whole, toasted pecans, because why not?

The caramelisation of the pork pieces is critical and so take the time there.

Otherwise, its just a matter of combining all the ingredients and into the oven it goes.

I served this with the basis Neil Perry’s Pan-Fried Polenta (I just didn’t do the pan-frying) and a great cabbage braise with butter, cider vinegar, capers and dates.

Moorish.

Ingredients

1.2kg rindless boneless pork shoulder, cut into 4cm pieces
2 tbsp plain flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 c pineapple juice
140gm tomato paste
1/3 c soy sauce
2 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp curry powder
1cm knob of ginger, peeled and finely grated
3/4 c toasted pecans

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c. Place the pork and flour in a large zip lock bag, season, , seal and shake until coated.
  2. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a fry pan over a medium-high heat. Cook the pork in batches for 4 – 5 minutes, or until well browned all over. Transfer to a casserole dish.
  3. Heat the remaining oil in the frying pan. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds or until aromatic. Add the pineapple juice, tomato paste, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, curry powder and ginger. Bring to the boil.
  4. Pour over the pork. Cover and bake for 2 hours or until the pork is tender.
  5. Stir in the pecans and season to serve.

Dan Toombs’ Chicken Xacuti

Serves: 4

This famous Goan curry is a hit.

Like so many I have typed – all I hope – it is just so unique, so special, so different to your usual local Indian. Indeed, we couldn’t see a world where we would get this served up outside of your really top Indian nosheries.

It is of course, a completely unique curry base.

I quartered the stock and then cooked it down far more than Dan suggests, though I cannot see how this wasn’t necessary to achieve the sort of gravy you would expect.

Substituted thyme for the ajwain seeds – which seemed fine – though ironically picked up some ajwain seeds the next day at an Indian grocer. Next time.

This is a special Saturday-night in curry.

Unique as I said. Special. Just special and oh wow wonderful.

Ingredients

Xacuti Masala

6 Kashmiri red dried chillies, chopped
1 c dried coconut flakes
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp ajwain (carom) seeds
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp black poppy seeds (substitute black sesame seeds)
7 cloves
1 tbsp black peppercorns
5cm piece of cinnamon stick
4 star anise
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
5cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped

For the curry

8 skinless chicken thighs
2 tsp rapeseed oil (canola)*
1 tsp black mustard seeds
10 curry leaves
2 onions, finely chopped
2 green bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped
2 c chicken stock (I suggest 1/2c)
1 1/2 tamarind paste or concentrate
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 c coriander, finely chopped
Salt, to taste

Method

  1. Start by making the Xacuti masala: in a dry frypan, toast the Kashmiri chillies for about a minute, turning regularly until fragrant. Place in a bowl of warm water to soak for 30 minutes.
  2. Toast the coconut flakes until lightly browned and set aside.
  3. Toast the cumin, coriander, ajwain seeds, fennel and poppy seeds, the cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon stick and star anise over a medium-heat until fragrant and warm to the touch. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.
  4. When the chillies are soft, drain them reserving the soaking water, then blend them with the coconut flakes and the rest of the masala ingredients along with a little of the chilli soaking water to make a paste. (If the soaking water is too bitter, use fresh water instead.)
  5. Pour the paste over the chicken in a large bowl and mix to coat. Marinate for as long as you can: overnight if possible.
  6. Heat the oil in a large frypan over a high-heat and when bubbling, adding the mustard seeds, stirring until they pop. Reduce the heat and add the curry leaves and cook for 30 seconds. Add the onions and fry for 5 minutes until soft, lightly browned and translucent. Stir in the chillies, then the chicken and all the marinade.
  7. Stir well to cover the chicken in the marinade and onion mixture; add the stock and cook down to a gravy.
  8. Stir in the tamarind and nutmeg and season. Stir in the coriander, season with salt and serve.

* We have doubled down on our oils this year and it makes a difference. Of course. Coconut oil, especially mustard oil. Canola will make the cut here, though do yourself the favour and invest in some Grapeseed oil. Doesn’t burn, no flavour, great for this sort of thing.

Chelsie Collins’ Chilli Con Carne Jackets

Serves: 4

I didn’t think I would type this somewhat simple, possibly low-blow mid-week dinner.

A dinner that would not ordinarily be what we would dish, though someone was not feeling well and comfort food was in need.

Wow, this is a keeper.

The kids absolutely love it, we absolutely love it, especially served with dollops of sour cream, butter for the potato and avocado.

We also substitute turkey mince for the pork mince on account of calories.

Yes, lobster tet-a-tet it isn’t. Super easy, home run Wednesday-night dinner it is.

Ingredients

4 baking potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
400gm pork mince (we used turkey)
1 tbsp chipotle paste*
400gm can chopped tomatoes
1 chicken stock cube
300ml sour cream
1/4 bunch chives, snipped

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 180c and prick the potatoes all over with a fork. Use 1 tbsp of the oil to rub over the potatoes and place on a baking sheet in the oven for about 1 hour until cooked through.
  2. Meanwhile, make the chilli. Put the remaining oil in a deep frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for about 10 minutes until softened. Add the mince, breaking up with a wooden spoon and stirring until turning pale. Stir through the chipotle paste, cook for 1 minutes, then tip in the tomatoes, crumble over the stock cube and season well. Cover and simmer over a gentle heat with the lid on for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove the lid from the chilli and cook for 10 minutes more. Once the potatoes are cooked, halve them and top with the chilli, a dollop of soured cream and a sprinkling of chives

* I was really, really surprised by this. So surprised I suggested we simply substitute a powdered chilli con carne pack, though Nat was adamant we go with this sauce. It is a total win.

Made in Poland. The Chipotle capital of the world?

Ricky’s Herb Vinaigrette

Serves: 4

A few weeks ago, we spent a weekend in Noosa – sans kids – and it was just marvellous.

Day after day of late lunches, lying on the beach, reading, walking it off. Some very memorable dinners too.

When in Noosa, the beach is a must… before lunch. (And a diet after all these lunches!)
Nat. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

A good mate recommended Rickys which really was a highlight.

If in Noosa, Rickys is a must.

It is a beautiful restaurant on the river. A modern, relaxed interior of wood and glass, opening onto the water.

Friendly, incredibly professional service. A wonderful wine list. The ferry pulling alongside every half hour or so.

It was just a great lunch, though perhaps ironically, it was the greens and herby salad that stood out for me.

And thankyou to the kind chef who jotted down the recipe for me, which I have adapted below:

Because we have recently been chasing the best vinaigrettes to serve with leaves: convinced that after a beautiful piece of steak, pork, chicken or fish, a wonderfully simple salad of greens just mops it up.

This is one of the best, for three reasons: it is so simple, it hero’s herbs, a key signature of Neil Perry’s brilliant vinaigrette and finally, it isn’t sweet.

Not that there is anything wrong with a sweet vinaigrette, though the muted flavour of the canola oil and white balsamic (substitute white wine vinegar) really does blunt the whole thing down to almost the best, simplest paring you could ask.

Safely back in Sydney, we did a wonderfully simple seafood lunch, accompanied by this excellent Iceberg’s pea and farro salad as well as the Ricky’s salad:

How good is a seared tuna. And only a seared tuna.

It had 1-hat genius written all over it.

Try this vinaigrette. It is the best of all the vinaigrette worlds we have been trying.

Ingredients

100ml canola oil
50ml white balsamic (or white wine vinegar)
A handful of basil leaves
A handful of tarragon leaves
A handful of Italian parsley leaves
Salt
Green leaves

Method

  1. Combine all the ingredients except the green leaves in a blender until well emulsified.
  2. Stir well through the greens and serve immediately.

Damien Pignolet’s Grilled Tuna with Pistou & Tomato Aioli, with Fennel and Kipfler Potato Salad

Serves: 6

This very much 80s, very much Southern French dish is still absolutely in vogue.

Mayonnaise (aioli) and fish has never, ever dated.

Especially in the warmer months.

The whole thing is just sublime. The olives and fennel with the potato.

The wonderful tomato aioli with the tuna and pistou.

You would knock people’s socks off with this dish and it isn’t that hard to prepare.

Indeed, other than the salad and cooking the fish, the rest could be done in advance.

This is lux, 80s, 1-hat eating.

Just add sunshine and a good, cold white.

I just love it when a dish like this works just so, so well.

Ingredients

6 x 200gm portions tuna fillet
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Pistou

2 small cloves garlic, pelled
20 large basil leaves
3 – 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Tomato aioli*

3 ripe tomatoes, quartered
A drizzle of olive oil
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 egg yolks
100ml extra virgin olive oil
60 – 80ml grapeseed oil
A little lemon juice

Fennel and kipfler potato salad

8 – 10 medium kipfler potatoes
60ml extra virgin olive oil
1 medium-sized fennel bulb
A touch of aged balsamic vinegar
24 Ligurian olives (we used half this amount)

Method

  1. Make the pistou: finely chop the garlic, then work to a paste with a pinch of salt, using the flat of a knife. Transfer to a mortar and then add the basil and grind to a paste, adding a few drops of oil. When smooth, work in the remaining oil and season to taste.
  2. For the tomato aioli, preheat the oven to 250c. Toss the tomatoes with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in a shallow dish until the tomatoes are scorched and very soft, then pass through a fine sieve and set the juice aside.
  3. Cover the garlic with cold water and bring to the boil. Drain and repeat, cooking this time until the cloves are tender when pierced with a small knife, then drain the garlic, remove the skin and crush with a small spoon in a small mixing bowl. Add the egg yolks and a pinch of salt and gradually add the oils in a thin stream, just a few drops to begin with, whisking constantly. The aioli should be very thick; if not, work in a little more oil.**
  4. Work in enough of the reserved tomato puree to flavour the aioli but retain the consistency of thick cream. Adjust the seasoning, adding lemon juice to taste.
  5. Next, make the salad. Peel the potatoes, cut intp 1cm thick slices then steam until tender, about 15 minutes. *** While the potatoes are still hot, dress them with the oil and vinegar, add the olives and season to taste.
  6. Trim the the base and top of the fennel. Shave the fennel bulb into 2mm-thick slices, preferably with a mandoline, then combine with the warm potatoes and olives. Mix well and do not worry if the potatoes break up – this is meant to be rustic food.
  7. Using a thin paring knife, cut a pocket in the side of each piece of tuna and work in the pistou.
  8. Heat a cast-iron grill or a large, heavy based frying pan until very hot but not smoking then lightly brush with olive oil. Brush one side of each tuna portion with oil and season this side only. Sear for about 2 minutes or until the edges of the fish just begin to change colour. Brush the raw side with oil, season, then flip over and cook for another minute or so. Transfer the tuna to warm plates, coat with the tomato aioli and garnish with the salad.

* A dish like this calls for a homemade mayonnaise/aioli, though I also very much get the merits of cheating. Simply follow the tomato step, do this cheat aioli and voila.

** Hats off if you whisk mayonnaise and aioli by hand, though seriously, consider a food processor as has been the norm since the 70s.

*** Microwave container. Splash of water. 8 minutes. Job done.

Kathryne Taylor’s Cheater’s Aioli

Yields: 1/2 cup

Sure, nothing beats an original mayonnaise (and therefore, aioli).

Though surely, nothing beats avoiding egg yolks and salt and garlic and two oils and food processors (or god forbid, whisks) and sometimes, a null result.

This cheater’s aioli is the real deal.

Just make sure you have a great egg mayonnaise to start.

Ingredients

5 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp lemon juice
Sprinkle of sea salt
1/2 c good quality mayonnaise
Optional: 1/4 tsp Dijon mustard

Method

  1. In a small, non-reactive bowl, combined minced garlic and lemon juice. Stir to combine and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Let the mixture rest for 10 minutes.
  2. Place a fine mesh strainer over another bowl. Using a spatula, strain the garlic mixture to get as much of the juice as possible. Discard the garlic.
  3. Stir the garlic juice into the mayonnaise, adding the Dijon optionally. Add a little more lemon juice to taste.