Mietta’s Rigatoni with Cauliflower

Serves: 6

Mietta (O’Donnell) was a bit ahead of my time.

She was one of those 80s and 90s doyens that drove food and fine dining in Australia out of the dowdy 70s and much closer to the amazing foodie place we have now; first by opening an Italian restaurant of the kind Australia had never seen: then, by starting Australia’s first serious review of restaurants.

Her contribution to Australian food cannot be overstated, certainly by everything I have read.

Sadly, Mietta was killed in a car accident in 2001.

Last Mother’s Day, I purchased Mietta’s book for Nat and gave her the back story.

We have been meaning to cook something from it since then and geez, I wish we had done so earlier.

I’ve said that unique, restaurant-quality pastas really excite me.

This is one of them.

The quality of food – at home and out – is remarkable in Australia. My mother occasionally talks about how expensive chicken was 30 years back.

It was people like Mietta that laid the foundations for such extraordinary change in the culinary scene in Australia over the last 20 years and this pasta really sums up how the simple things she introduced us to led to the amazing foodie place we live in today.

Ingredients

1 medium onion, sliced and soaked in milk
30ml olive oil
1 medium cauliflower, cut into flowerets
100gm pancetta or bacon, julienned
A little chilli
90ml tomato sauce
500g rigatoni
Parmesan, grated

Tomato sauce

300ml olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
80gm ham, chopped
12gm flour mixed with 5ml oil
800gm canned Italian plum tomatoes, drained
Pinch of sugar
1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper

Method

  1. For the tomato sauce: Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan and add the chopped onion and ham and brown over a fairly high heat for 5 minutes. Add the flour and mix well; turn down the heat to moderate and add the canned tomatoes.
  2. Season with the salt, pepper and sugar; add the thyme and bay leaf.
  3. Cook for about 45 minutes, stirring from time to time.
  4. For the rigatoni: fry the onions in oil and add the cauliflower flowerets.
  5. Put the lid on the pan so that the cauliflower can cook through the add the pancetta or bacon and then a little chilli. When the cauliflower is just cooked, add the tomato sauce.
  6. Boil the rigatoni until cooked and strain. Toss the cauliflower mixture through the pasta and serve, sprinkled with plenty of grated Parmesan.

Sausage, Caramalised Onion, Harrisa and Hummus Pizza

Serves: 4

We’re suckers for homemade pizza.

We don’t have it often, though when we do, it’s Ugg Boots on, spicy salami, oregano and basil and plenty of cheese. Mushrooms, chilli, ham, egg, onion…

We also use whole meal pita bread which – I promise – delivers the best crust, time and time again.

We vary the toppings plenty however.

Tom loves his pineapple and Oliver experiments with different meats and cheeses.

And it’s a great night in with wine (parents) and popcorn (parents and children).

Though as proud as I am of my ownership of making homemade pizzas that are as good as you can make at home, I know my limitations and the limitations of homemade pizza.

It’s a great genre though it ain’t commercial pizza, however crispy and spicy I dial it up.

(Conversely, it’s fun to make, we can stay in and it’s cheap.)

The other night, despite it being Saturday night and having a booking at some clever Vietnamese restaurant near us, we both agreed we just could not be bothered.

Feeble suggestions for dinner were made, though cooking dinner was part of not being bothered. We also don’t do home delivery because it is always so disappointing.

I suggested homemade pizza because it epitomises my thinking of a perfect, unplanned dinner on the couch.

Nat agreed though as we drove home, she started lobbing trendy homemade pizza ideas at me. Sous-vided crab with scrambled eggs and chives, shaved pork hock with truffle and something with a whole side of smoked trout and a cod aniseed yoghurt.

Look lady, homemade pizza means crappy pizza, overloaded with cheese and burnt to hell. It doesn’t mean thinking about it and it certainly doesn’t mean prep.

Which is why, when Nat suggested this pizza, I wasn’t super amused and sulked all the way home.

So… let’s be clear.

This is the best homemade pizza I have ever had. Indeed, if I got this at a restaurant, I’d be pretty blown away.

It is just that good.

Which leaves me torn.

Can I ever just make another homemade pizza knowing this exists?

Fuck.

(Note, I have substituted wholemeal pita bread for making your own dough. I believe that for all that is decent about homemade pizza, you should too.)

Ingredients

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 brown onions, thinly sliced
Large punch of caster sugar
1/2 cup hummus
1 tbsp harissa
1/2 cup smoky BBQ sauce
1 1/4 cups pizza cheese
3 gourmet beef sausages
1 tbsp pine nuts
2 wholemeal pita bread
Flat-leaf parsley, chopped to serve

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 220c and get your pizza trays ready.
  2. Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until the onion is softened. Add the sugar, stir well and remove from the heat.
  3. Mix the harrisa and hummus.
  4. Spread each pita bread with hummus and then drizzle with BBQ sauce. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup of the pizza cheese. Top with caramelised onion.
  5. Squeeze sausage meat from casing and roll into 1cm balls; arrange on the pizzas. Sprinkle with the remaining pizza cheese and top with pine nuts. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes or until the pita bread is crisp and the sausage cooked through. Serve topped with parsley.

Spaghetti and Meatballs with Tomato Sauce

Serves: 6 – 8

I originally found this recipe in the New York Times and dialled it up over the weekend as a meal for the three boys: doubled the quantity of meatballs, added fresh tomato to the sauce as well as a cup of red wine and a handful of oregano.

It smashed it out of the park.

The sort of dinner kids – and adults – die for on a Saturday night before a movie, popcorn and ice cream.

The meatballs are the cracker here, with handfuls of Parmesan, extra breadcrumbs, eggs and parsley, additions I added and have reflected below.

Slow cook the tomato sauce, throw in the browned meatballs and boom.

This is definitely worth coming home to.

Ingredients

Salt
Freshly ground pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
1 kg beef mince
3 cups, grated Parmesan
1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
1 breadcrumbs
3 eggs
1 large onion
3 garlic cloves
3 cans crushed tomatoes
2 tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
3 bay leaves
1 cup red wine
Handful of fresh oregano leaves
500gm spaghetti

Method

  1. Heat the 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Sauté the onions for 10 minutes until starting to golden; mince the garlic and add, cooking for a few minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes, bay leaves and the cup of red wine. Bring to the boil and then slowly simmer until the sauce is thickened; an hour or so.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the mince, 2 cups of the Parmesan (setting aside the remaining cup), the parsley, breadcrumbs, eggs and a good pinch or two of salt and freshly cracked pepper. Gently mix until it is combined.
  4. Shape the meatballs so that they are golfball in size.
  5. Heat the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil in a heavy skillet over a medium heat. Add the meatballs, cooking them on all sides until browned.
  6. Remove the bay leaves from the sauce and add the oregano leaves. Season well with salt and pepper.
  7. Add the meatballs, ensuring that they do not break up. Simmer on a low heat.
  8. Heat water in large sauce pan until boiling and cook the spaghetti until cooked through.
  9. Add the spaghetti to the sauce and meatballs, combining gently.
  10. Serve with plenty of Parmesan cheese on top.

Rigatoni with Chicken Ragù and Green Sauce

Serves: 4 – 6

I really didn’t see this one coming, though what a great – and unique – pasta.

This recipe from Gourmet Traveller is excellent and something you’d find in a good Italian restaurant. It has a quality, a richness and yet a dryness: it is hard to put your finger on why it is just so moorish: could be the butter, could be the contrast with the green sauce, could be that you’re eating pasta, something we don’t do as often as we would like.

We are always on the lookout for unusual, restaurant-quality pastas and this one definitely ticks that box.

As Nat put it, served alongside a red pasta, this would make for a really fun lunch.

So much so that Tom (7) asked us to make sure we typed this recipe up so he could have it handy for when he was cooking for his girlfriend in due course.

You should try.

(We upped the mince to 1kg and we’d do it again. And very minor changes to the original recipe which we have reflected below.)

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 baby fennel bulb, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
600gm coarsely minced chicken
2 tbsp coarsely chopped rosemary
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
250ml dry white wine
300ml hot chicken stock
20gm butter, diced
20gm Parmesan
400gm dried rigatoni
200gm kale leaves, roughly chopped

Green sauce

1 garlic clove crushed
1 tbsp coarsely chopped parsley
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup basil, coarsely chopped
Finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil

Method

  1. Heat the oil over a medium heat in a large saucepan and add the onion, garlic and fennel and sauté until starting to soften: 2 – 3 minutes. Add the chicken mince – increasing the temperature to high – and fry until starting to colour: 5 – 7 minutes.
  2. Stir in the rosemary, nutmeg and the wine and bring to a simmer; add the stock, reducing the heat to medium and simmer until slightly reduced: 5 – 7 minutes. You only want a little liquid remaining.
  3. Stir in the butter and Parmesan and season to taste.
  4. For the green sauce, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and season to taste.
  5. Cook the pasta in boiling water until al dente; a minute before finishing, add the kale to the pasta and wilt.
  6. Drain and combine the pasta and kale with the sauce.
  7. Serve, topped with the Green sauce and extra Parmesan.

Jamie Oliver’s Pork Afelia

Serves: 8

Well, it pretty much doesn’t get easier or better than this for a slow Sunday night on the couch with a bottle of red.

Literally.

And we mean better just as much as easier.

It is awesome! And better.

Ingredients

1 onion, peeled and sliced into onion rings
3 garlic gloves, peeled and sliced thinly lengthways
2 tbsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed
4 tbsp olive oil
1.5kg pork shoulder, cut into 5cm pieces
375ml dry red wine
200ml passata
Parmesan cheese to serve
Rice or polenta to serve

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan over a medium heat and cook the pork in batches, until browned on all sides. Set aside.
  2. Add the onion, garlic and crushed coriander seeds to the pan and cook until softened.
  3. Return the pork to the pan and add the wine and passata. Bring to the boil, lower to a simmer, season and cover for 2 hours or more.
  4. When reduced, rich and the pork is to die for, serve on rice (or polenta) with plenty of shaved Parmesan to serve.
  5. Fuck you Monday.

Matt Preston’s Classic Ragu with Polenta Dumplings

Serves: 4 – 6

We’ve typed up a few ragus and slow braises and we have reached a point where unless there is something radical about the dish, it wont make the cut.

This Matt Preston ragu makes the cut.

It is from his book, Yummy Easy Quick, a Christmas gift from Nat.

I’ve never had a failed Matt Preston dish and really admire his wholesome, no-holding-back cooking.

Despite the name of the book, his book – and this recipe – isn’t some sort of magazine aisle ‘I don’t have time to cook’ publication: the book is is just great recipes that are easy enough and certainly fun enough for any night of the week.

Specifically for this ragu, it is the ragu itself and especially the fun of the polenta dumplings that makes the whole thing really work.

Complex it is not, tasty, ragu amazing it is.

We had this the night before NYE 2017 with our friends Woodles and Billy.

It was fabulous and ticked all the boxes.

Happy 2018.

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil
1 kg gravy beef, cut into 4cm pieces
100gm pancetta or bacon, coarsely chopped
2 anchovy fillets
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
3 fresh or dry bay leaves
1/2 cup red wine
1 x 400gm can crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 cups passata
1 cup chicken stock
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Polenta Dumplings

1 cup self-raising flour
2/3 cup polenta
1/2 cup shredded Pecorino or Parmesan, plus 2 tbsp to sprinkle
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten

Method

  1. Heat the over to 160c.
  2. Heat 1 tbsp of the oil over a medium-high heat in a large, oven-proof saucepan. Cook the beef until browned, in batches if necessary. Set aside.
  3. Heat the remaining oil in the saucepan over a medium heat. Add the pancetta and anchovies. Cook for 2 minutes. Add the celery, onion, garlic and bay leaves and cook until soft. Add the wine and simmer for 5 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by half.
  4. Add the beef, tomatoes, stock and passata. Cover and bake for 2 hours; taste and season well.
  5. 15 minutes prior to this, make the dumplings: combine the flour, polenta and cheese in a bowl. Add the milk and eggs and stir until well combined. When the ragu comes out, scoop 1/4 cups of dumpling mixture on the ragu like golf balls. Sprinkle the dumplings with extra cheese.
  6. Return the dish, covered, to the oven for a further 30 minutes.
  7. ENJOY!

Cavatelli with Pork Ragu

Serves: 8

This is a wonderful braise where is it all about cooking it as slow as possible… and as rich as possible.

The Cavatelli is a wonder, shell pasta pairing.

The really fun part however is the addition of the currants and kale. They really make the ragu pop.

I cooked this dish for Nat and I when she was in hospital waiting for Maxy B to come out. Our home-cooked dinners in the hospital made days of walking the corridors and staring at the roof so much better.

And this dish was one of the best we had during that long week.

Cook, eat, enjoy… and freeze for a dinner next week.

Ingredients

750gm boneless pork shoulder cut into 3cm pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 sprig rosemary
1 sprig oregano
1 bay leaf
1 x 400ml can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/4 tsp black peppercorns
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
500gm cavatelli or other small shell pasta
1/3 cup dried currants soaked in hot water
1 bunch kale, ribs and stems removed, torn into 6cm pieces
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more

Method

  1. Season the pork with salt and pepper. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large heavy pot over a medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook the meat until browned all-over. Set aside.
  2. Drain all but 2 tbsp of fat from the pot; reduce the heat to medium and cook the onion, carrot, celery and garlic, stirring occasionally until golden brown: around 10 minutes.
  3. Tie rosemary, oregano and bay leaf into a bundle with kitchen twine and add to the pot along with the pork, tomatoes, wine, peppercorns, nutmeg and cloves.
  4. Add water just to cover meat and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer, adding more water as needed, until the meat is very tender: around 1 1/2 hours.
  5. Discard the herb bundle. Using 2 forms, shred the meat in the pot and cook, uncovered over a medium heat until the sauce has thickened and you have a ragu.
  6. Cook the past in a large pot of boiling water until al dente.
  7. Add the currants and kale to the ragu and cook until the kale is soft and cooked: around 5 minutes. Mix in the butter and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan and season again.
  8. Serve the ragu on the pasta, topped with more Parmesan.