Sicilian Roast Chicken - As good as it gets

Nonna’s Rice-Stuffed Chicken

Serves: 4 – 6

This recipe by Mattel Tine of Bar Carolina in Melbourne, is a brilliant example of Sicilian home cooking.

One of the best chicken dishes ever. Blow-away good.

Cooked by Nat last Sunday night, this was just genius. I literally sat back and watched and wow, was I impressed.

With all of the fresh herbs and the lemon, it is such an aromatic dish. The risotto – especially the risotto dumplings – are amazing. And despite my misgivings about roast potatoes, they just work in this dish.

Line this up for Sunday night. Open a Pinot. Dim the lights, put on some music and enjoy the Covid lockup in style.

Ingredients

1.8kg chicken
100ml olive oil
1 cup each courses chopped flat-leaf parsley, rosemary and sage
Juice of two lemons
5 roasting potatoes, peeled and quartered

Rice Stuffing

60ml (1/4 cup) olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
300gm ( 1 1/2 cups) quality risotto rice
600ml chicken stock
80gm (1 cup) Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, finely grated
50gm (1/2 cup) fine breadcrumbs
1 egg
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp each finely chopped oregano and flat-leaf parsley

Method

  1. For rice stuffing, heat oil in a casserole over low-medium heat. Add onion and garlic and stir until translucent and aromatic (4 – 6 minutes). Add rice and stir (1 minute, then add chicken stock and cook stirring continuously, until rice has absorbed the liquid and is al dente (6 – 8 minutes; you want the rice to be undercooked).
  2. Spread the rice over a tray to cool (15 minutes). Add remaining ingredients and mix well to combine.
  3. Preheat over to 200C. Stuff rice stuffing into chicken cavity to fill completely, then roll remaining stuffing into walnut-sized balls.
  4. Combine oil, herbs and lemon juice in a bowl. Season to taste. Place the chicken in the baking dish and then place the potatoes and dumplings around the chicken. Brush the chicken all over with the herb dressing. Pour 5mm of water into the pan and roast until the chicken is cooked through (1 1/2 hours). Set aside to rest (30 minutes) then carve and serve.

P.S. This post is dedicated to Alexa Donovan. I’ve known her since she was born, I’ve watched her grow up into a wonderful, thoughtful young woman, she has babysat my three kids plenty of times… and she can cook. (And cooks (or at least reads) this blog. I’ll see if she can do a guest post!)

Spaghetti Machiavelli

Serves: 4 as an entree

Machiavelli’s – a Sydney lunchtime institute for as long as I can remember – is one of our favourite restaurants.

Full of men in suits – with walls covered in photos of famous men in suits – Machiavelli has plenty of appeal to us. It’s underground and a great place to hide; we get to watch bankers and lawyers and important women and men lunch whilst we spend the whole time talking about our kids and planning our next holiday.

The service is on-point. The food is excellent. There is a real excitement about the place.

Being a business restaurant, the food flies out.

We always order the calamari and gamberi fritti to start and I swear it arrives before the waiter has punched in the order.

Then it is on to the signature dish: Spaghetti Machiavelli.

Which is one of my top 5 favourite pastas ever. And the only main I have ever ordered at Machiavelli’s.

Butter. Fish Stock, Prawn. Chilli.

Stop it!

A few weeks back, we had an Italian cook off at my parent’s house. I found the recipe for the Spaghetti Machiavelli at the back of the Internet and boom.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is Spaghetti Machiavelli.

And let me leave you with this:

My mother – who is my cooking inspiration – said it was the best pasta she had ever had.

What are you waiting for!

Ingredients

160gm prawn meat, rough chopped
100gm button mushrooms, sliced
2 tsp fresh garlic, crushed
1 tsp Thai red chilli, chopped
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
300gm Spaghetti
300ml fish stock

To Serve

4 tsp butter
2 handfuls of basil leaves0
Salt and pepper to season

Method

  1. Saute the prawn meat, mushrooms, garlic and chilli in the oil until the prawns are half cooked through.
  2. Cook the spaghetti in salted water until al dente. Drain and add the pasta to the prawn mixture.
  3. Add the fish stock and cook for another 2 minutes.
  4. Toss the butter and basil leaves through, season and serve immediately.

Nat and Rob’s Long Lunch

Serves: 30

Last Saturday, Nat and I finally did it.

We got married! In Palm Beach. In front of our family and very closest friends.

It was a close to eloping as Nat’s mother would allow.

Here we are:

And our three monkeys, Oliver, TT. And Max:

Rather than a traditional wedding – which neither of us wanted – we based the whole thing around a long lunch (with a very short wedding to begin). Because long lunches we do, weddings much less so.

Six courses. And plenty of champagne and wine.

My mother Ellen was a genius planning the menu, a process that took weeks and weeks to refine, test, refine and debate. We really would not have gotten there without her, especially the part where she cooked 20 duck confit two nights beforehand.

Hats off to Nat too: she sliced 16 kilos of onion, made 4 litres of corn stock, cubed 5 kilos of snapper, cured a salmon and reduced 10 litres of cream and fish stock two, one and zero days to the d-day. (These are qualities anyone should look for in a wife!)

And so it’s on the record, firstly, thanks to everyone that helped on the day…

Ellen: the menu, cooking half the food, looking a million bucks on the day:

Court: planning, support and advice for the day as well as cooking a cookie for the cookie course… and setting up and cleaning up after:

Bec, Woodles and Lob: for their amazing contribution to the cookie course.

(And Woodles again for her beautiful, off-the-cuff speech that could have dissected me, though instead just reinforced what a beautiful person Nat is…)

Sare Bear: for her incredibly generous contribution of the flowers and photography. We owe you big time.

Rob A, Greg and Sean: for being the logistics backbone of the day: hauling up wine and champagne, setting up in the rain, cleaning up in the pouring rain the next day.

Rob A (again) and Deb: for running around for weeks beforehand helping organise things and always asking what more they could do… the best parents-in-law anyone could ask for:

(And thanks for the cracker speech Rob. Unusually light on me! And Deb’s toast: Mazzeltov!)

Bill: for his really moving speech… it is clear how much he loves Nat and there wasn’t anyone that wasn’t really touched by the end of it:

Giles: my best mate and someone who can be relied upon to have a brilliantly funny speech up his sleeve for any occasion, even if I still can’t understand a word!

Oliver and Tom: these young men delivered two wonderful speeches that were as touching as they were funny. The entire house was in tears:

Brooke: for the beautiful bouquet:

Christian (The Boathouse at Blackwattle Bay), Laura (Palisade) and Vincenzo (Appetito, Rockpool in Perth): the best trio of cooking and waiting we could have ever asked for. Serious professionals:

Daniella: our always dependable friend who can help out with our kids on a Saturday night, plate 31 snapper pies, speak Italian and flip our AirBNB whilst we are in the Maldives.

Secondly, for everyone that asked, here are the dishes we served on the day:

#1 Soup and Sandwich

#2 Cheese and Salad

#3 Duck and Cherries

#4 Snapper Pie

#5 Mexican Wall

#6 Cookies and Cream (a shot of Baileys):

– Cookie 1 – Lobba’s Choc Chip
– Cookie 2 – Court’s Peanut Butter-Stuffed Cookies
– Cookie 3 – Woodle’s Butter Cookies
– Cookie 4 – Bec’s Hazelnut Cookies

Thirdly, here is the shortlist of photos from the day.

And the photos from our guests.

And finally… thank you to my gorgeous wife and best friend. Thank you for agreeing to marry this old dog.

I promise I’ll make it worth your while NB:

Court’s Peanut Butter-Stuffed Cookies

Makes: 12

My sister-in-law Court is a foodie like we are.

She and her husband Greg both are:

They cook great food. We share recipes. We promise to try restaurants.

They have Margarita Saturday’s. So do we.

I love my sister and brother in law on many levels, though let’s start with food. (Because this is a food blog.)

Which means these cookies Court made for our wedding – course #6/#6 – are predictably amazing. The sort of cookies you know not to eat except for special occasions like a wedding.

Firstly, there is something quite sophisticated about them. They look the part.

Secondly, technique is clearly involved in their manufacture. In the same way none of us know how chocolate-covered ice creams are made, how does one get the peanut butter mixture inside the cookie? (I believe it has something to do with freezing the peanut butter mixture prior to baking so that the peanut butter doesn’t melt…)

Thirdly, is the taste. Substantial to hold – sort of like a dessert itself – this cookie is awesome. Think Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups meet cookie!

I ate three and I would have eaten more if I could have found them.

Ingredients

For the filling

1 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup icing sugar

For the cookies

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup caster sugar plus more for rolling
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c and line two baking trays with baking paper.
  1. Make the filling: in a medium bowl, combine peanut butter and icing sugar and mix until smooth. Scoop into small balls (about 3.5cm) and freeze until ready to use.
  1. Make the cookies: in a large bowl, combine the peanut butter, butter and sugars and beat with a hand mixer on medium until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and mix until thoroughly combined, then add flour, baking soda and salt and mix until just combined.
  1. Scoop a heaping tablespoon of the cookie dough and flatten into a pancake-like circle. Place the frozen peanut butter ball on top. Bring the edges of the dough around the peanut butter ball and pinch the edge together to seal, adding more dough if necessary to cover the frozen peanut butter completely.
  2. Roll stuffed cookie dough ball in sugar and place on baking sheet. Repeat until all the dough is used, spacing the cookies about 5cm apart.
  3. Bake until the cookies are golden on the bottom; 12 – 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Neil Perry’s Roast Duck with Cherries

Serves: 4

We don’t cook duck enough. None of us do.

Because every time we cook it. And eat it. We tell each other just how much we love it.

And how far too little we cook it.

We then promise to cook it much more.

And then we don’t.

And the cycle repeats.

In this Neil Perry recipe, I have omitted how to roast the duck; Neil’s recipe asks for two whole ducks, though you can just as easily get duck marylands – even duck confit – from good supermarkets.

The trick is to shred the duck, removing any fat and skin.

This recipe – we called ‘Duck and Cherries’ – was course #3 of #6 we served at our Long Lunch/Short Wedding and many guests said it was the standout:

The cherry sauce can be made beforehand and reheated with the duck. Serve with a salad of baby leaves and a garnish of finely chopped parsley and this would be a wonderful starter or main at any dinner party.

No question, it is a quacker cracker.

Ingredients

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp butter
500gm cherries, pitted (fresh or frozen, which we used)
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Balsamic vinegar
Baby leaves
Continental parsley, finely chopped

Method

  1. Place a pan over a medium heat and add the oil and butter and cook until foaming; add the cherries, sugar and salt and cook for about 15 minutes until soft and fragrant. Remove from the heat and give a really good grind of pepper.
  2. Places heap of the shredded duck meat onto each plate. Spoon over the cherry sauce, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and add another grind of pepper. Garnish with the parsley.
  3. Serve with baby leaves at the side.

Casarecce with Pork Sausage, Cavolo Nero and Chilli

Serves: 4 – 6

It has been a busy couple of months for us.

Moving house, overseas, work, kids, weddings, kids and more kids.

We’ve also been super calorie focused, with no meal exceeding 300 calories. No kidding!

But now we’re done.

And with a new courtyard, a new kitchen and Spring finally feeling like Spring, we’re back into cooking wonderful weekend lunches.

Like this one, which is as good as you would get in a restaurant.

It is surprisingly light, with the garlic, chilli and fennel creating a really sophisticated base. The casarecce is a great pasta (found at Harris Farm) and the cavolo nero (kale) fills the whole thing out in a really clever way.

This is definitely a pasta you should try and one that we would cook again.

9 out of 10.

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil
6 thick pork and fennel sausages, skins removed, broken into bite-sized pieces
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary
1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
4 cups (firmly packed) roughly torn cavolo nero (1 bunch)
500gm dried casarecce (or penne or rigatoni)
50gm finely grated Parmesan plus extra to serve
1/4 cup coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley

Method

  1. Heat olive oil in a large casserole over a high heat, add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally until well browned. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  2. Add the garlic, rosemary and spices to the pan, season to taste and stir for a minute or two until fragrant. Deglaze with the wine and reduce until almost evaporated, then return the sausage to the pan together with the stock and cavolo nero. Cover with a lid and cook until the the cavolo nero is just wilted.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente. Toss with with the sausage sauce, Parmesan and parsley, season to taste and serve, topped with extra Parmesan.
  4. And wine.

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.