Claudia Roden’s Sweet and Sour Minty Grilled Courgettes

Serves: 4

One of my favourite BBQ tricks is to toss sliced zucchini with oil, chilli and garlic and to grill alongside the chicken, pork, whatever.

It dials things up and shows a bit of effort.

This dish goes further and the addition of the ricotta is wonderful.

Nat absolutely loved the sweet and sour of the sauce and of course, it can all be prepared in advance.

Ingredients

3 courgettes (zucchini), cut lengthways into 1cm-thick slices
Olive or sunflower oil
100ml white wine vinegar
50gm sugar
1 tbsp dried mint
Salt and black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil, to serve

Whipped ricotta

250gm smooth ricotta
1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Grated zest of 1/2 small lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste

Method

  1. For the ricotta, whip the ricotta with the oil, lemon zest and season.
  2. Preheat a grill to high. Brush the courgettes with oil on both sides and sprinkle with salt. Grill on the BBQ or on a griddle pan for about 10 minutes until tender and lightly browned in places.
  3. Heat the vinegar and sugar with the dried mint and some pepper in a small pan over a medium heat, stirring until the sugar melts, then simmer for 2 minutes to reduce it a little. Arrange the courgette slices side by side on a serving plates pour the vinegar dressing over them and add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with the whipped ricotta.

Claudia Roden’s Tagliolini with Lemon

Serves: 2 – 4

Nat and I had this Sicilian dish as the starter of a slow lunch and what a way to start.

It hero’s lemon and it is just “incredibly delicious” as Claudia puts it in her book Med. Absolute lemon simplicity, especially with a fresh pasta as we did.

And completely elegant.

P.S. Nat wasn’t entirely sure this dish was type-up-worthy. She very much liked it, though found it very much on the lemon side. Nat suggested adding some fresh chilli to cut through.

I absolutely love lemon so this was a home-run for me, though we both agreed, as a starter only.

Ingredients

200gm tagliolini
Salt
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
6 tbsp double cream
Salt and black pepper
Grated Parmesan to serve

Method

  1. Cook the tagliolini in boiling, salted water until al dente.
  2. In a serving bowl, mix the lemon zest and juice with the cream and add salt, to taste.
  3. When the pasta is cooked, drain and mix with the sauce.
  4. Serve with plenty of Parmesan and a few good cracks of pepper.

Gordon Ramsay’s Home-made Gnocchi with Peas

Serves: 4

Nat cooked this one for a simple lunch a little while back and the gnocchi is probably the best I have had.

Entirely incomparable to something you would get in a pack, dry or otherwise. We have previously used Anne Burrell’s gnocchi recipe as our go to, though the addition of ricotta here means that when pan fried, the creaminess against the golden, crunchy exterior is just melt-good mad.

The pea sauce is subtle and just a lovely pairing.

A few years ago, this is the sort of thing a hatted restaurant might put up. A real nod to simplicity.

Open a bottle of white, serve with a salad (we served it with this Gordon Ramsay salad) and you have a home lunch you’ll be grinning at.

Ingredients

2 large floury potatoes
50gm ricotta cheese
90gm plain flour
1 large egg, beaten
1 thyme sprig, leaves only
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese to serve

For the sauce

Olive oil, for frying
Freshly ground black pepper
150gm peas, podded if fresh, defrosted if frozen
Butter
1 thyme sprig, leaves only
Zest of 1 lemon

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200c. Bake the potatoes in their skins for 1 – 1 1/4 hours until tender the whole way through. Remove the flesh from the skins (while still warm) and mash until spoon – use a potato ricer if you can. Mix in the ricotta, a pinch of salt and white pepper and the flour. Make a well in the middle, add the beaten egg and begin to combine the mixture with floured hands. Work in the thyme leaves and continue until a smooth dough has formed. (Be careful not to overwork the dough or it will end up too dense and won’t expand when it goes into the water.)
  2. Cut the dough in half and shape each piece into a long cigar shape about 1.5cm thick. Using the back of a floured table knife, cut each length into 2cm pieces to make ‘pillows’ of individual gnocchi. Gently press each one in the centre using your floured finger. The dent will hold more sauce and allow the gnocchi to take on more flavour.
  3. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the gnocchi, tilting the pan from side to side briefly to stop them sticking together, then simmer for 1 1/2 – 2 minutes until they start to float. Drain the gnocchi and leave them to steam-dry for 1 – 2 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, start to make the sauce. Heat a frying over a medium-high heat and add a little olive oil. Add the gnocchi to the hot pan with a pinch of salt and black pepper and sauté for 1 – 2 minutes on each side until nicely coloured.
  5. Add the peas to the pan with a knob of butter and the thyme leaves. Toss to heat through, then add the lemon zest. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce

Serves: 4

There was furious debate after I served this sauce and pasta in a pasta cook off with Nat.

Nat served the wonderful spinach ravioli and certainly, taking into account effort, presentation and overall yum factors, it nailed the brief and took out the day.

Except that it was a reluctant and technical tie.

Because the absolutely classic Marcella Hazan tomato sauce is simply so simple and classic, it is pretty much impossible not to give it the nod for doing so much more with so much less.

With a sprinkling of Parmesan. What on earth is not to love. It’s just not fair.

P.S. I did give the nod to Nat because hey, it’s 2022 and not 1962. Though Marcela sauce is no lemon at a knife fight.

Ingredients

2 cans of tomatoes and their juices
5 tbsp butter*
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
Salt
Pasta and Parmesan to serve

Method

  1. Combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter and the onion halves in a saucepan. Add a pinch or two of salt.
  2. Place over the medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with a spoon. Add salt as needed.
  3. Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with the pasta. Toasts through 500gm of cooked pasta and serve with Parmesan.

* Use a great butter like CopperTree Farms.

The most delicious healthy (cheats) seafood bouillabaisse

Serves: 6-8

This recipe is a no-brainer. It doesn’t take long and doesn’t involve making your own fish stock but you wouldn’t even know.

It’s healthy, hearty, warm, and delicious. A provincial stable from humble beginnings; the undisputed king of fish stews just got a whole lot easier.

Ingredients

For the stock

6 c fish stock
1tsp aniseed
2 bay leaves
1tsp saffron threads

For the base

8 tomatoes cut into small cubes
6 cloves of garlic minced
2 onions thinly diced
2 salmon fillets (no skin) cubed
2 white fish fillets (no skin) cubed
handful of raw and peeled prawns
1 large bunch parsley chopped

Method

  1. Add the fish stock ingredients to a pan and bring to a boil.
  2. On medium heat, paint olive oil on the bottom of a heavy-based pot and put in tomatoes, garlic and onions.
  3. Lay the seafood on top of the tomatoes, garlic, and onions and leave for about 3 mins (enough to heat up the pot).
  4. Ladle the boiling fish stock into the pot and cover the seafood.
  5. Sprinkle half the parsley on top and cover. Bring to a soft boil for about 10 mins until seafood is cooked.
  6. Sprinkle the remaining parsley on top and serve with warm crusty bread.

Yotem Ottolenghi’s Aubergine Dumplings Alla Parmigiana

Serves: 4

This really is a dish that tells you that vegetables really are better than meat.

Line it up against a chicken parmigiana and hands down the eggplant wins. Even without the shallow fried-breadcrumb.

The basil. The ricotta. The Parmesan. The toasted breadcrumbs.

Brilliant.

I don’t often cook a dish twice in quick succession, though this is now in the repertoire. Make the sauce a few days ahead, the aubergine mixture in the afternoon and bam, with a salad of greens, you’ll have just a marvellous dinner on your hands.

Another Ottolenghi home-run.

Ingredients

90gm fresh breadcrumbs (preferably sourdough)
4 aubergines (eggplants) roughly cut into 2 1/2cm cubes (1kg)
150ml olive oil, plus extra for shaping
100gm ricotta
75gm Parmesan, finely grated, plus extra to serve
10gm parsley, finely chopped
1 egg, plus 1 yolk
1 1/2 tbsp plain flour
6 garlic cloves, crushed
15gm basil leaves, roughly chopped
1 1/2 x 400gm tins of peeled plum tomatoes, blitzed until smooth (600gm)
1 1/2 tsp tomato paste
1 1/2 tsp caster sugar
1/4 tsp chilli flakes
3/4 tsp paprika
2 tsp fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
45gm pitted Kalamata olives, roughly torn in half
Salt and black pepper

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 160c. Spread the breadcrumbs on a baking tray and bake for 12 minutes, until lightly browned and dried out. Set aside to cool and turn the oven temperature up to 220c.
  2. On a large, parchment-lined tray, toss the aubergines with 75ml of oil, 1/2 tsp of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Spread out as much as possible and bake for 30 minutes, tossing halfway through, until golden brown.
  3. Roughly chop the aubergines not a chunky mash, then transfer to a large bowl and refrigerate for 20 minutes, or until cool. Once cool, add the ricotta, Parmesan, parsley, egg, yolk, flour, breadcrumbs, a third of the garlic, 10gm of the basil, 1/4 tsp of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Mix well, then with lightly oiled hands, shape the mixture into 16 golf-ball-sized dumplings, about 55gm each, compressing them as you go so they hold together.
  4. Put 2 tbsp of oil into a large non-stick frying pan on a medium-high heat. In two batches, fry the dumplings for 3-4 minutes, turning them until golden-brown all over. Adjust the heat if they’re browning too much. Add another 1 tbsp of oil and fry the remaining dumplings in the same way. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
  5. Preheat the oven to 180c. Put the remaining 2 tbsp of oil into a large sauté pan on a medium-high heat. Add the remaining garlic and cook for 1 minute until fragrant, then add the tinned tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, chilli flakes, paprika, oregano, 1 tsp of salt and a good grind of black pepper and cook for 8 minutes or until thickened slightly, stirring occasionally. Pour 400ml of water, bring to a simmer, then lower the heat to medium and simmer for another 10 minutes.
  6. Pour the sauce into a medium baking dish, top with the dumplings and bake for 20 minutes, until bubbling. Remove from the oven, scatter over the olives, the remaining basil and a grating of Parmesan, and serve.

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.

David Tanis’ Braised Chicken with Lemon and Olives

Serves: 4 – 6

I love a simple recipe that comes good and this one simply delivers.

It’s a bake (✅), it’s reasonably healthy (✅) and it’s easy (✅).

Though it’s the richness of wonderful Mediterranean flavour that truly gets it over the line. (✅).

It is better than the seeming sum of its parts and bravo for it.

The richness of the reserved stock, the break apart chicken… and those olives.

This is a mid-week meal that will set the clock forward to Friday when the cooking can commence. It’s just that good, that fun and that successful.

Paired with a salad of greens, red onion, tomato, maybe some cucumber and plenty of oregano and a good vinaigrette: I reckon only a bottle of chilled red along-side could better it.

Lock next Wednesday evening in and the road to the weekend just got much easier.

And chill that red.

Ingredients

8 chicken thighs (ideally skin-on and bone in)
Salt and freshly cracked pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp crushed fennel seeds
1 tbsp roughly chopped rosemary
1 tbsp olive oil
2 lemons, cut into 8 wedges each
1 c olives, black and green pitted
1 c chicken stock
3 tbsp chopped parsley to serve

Method

  1. Pat chicken thighs dry with paper towels. Season well with salt and pepper and place in a baking dish one layer, (skin) side up. Sprinkle with red pepper, garlic, fennel and rosemary and drizzle with olive oil. Rub seasoning on all sides. Tuck lemon wedges here and there, marinating for 15 minutes. Heat the oven to 190c.
  2. Put the baking dish in the oven for 20 minutes uncovered (or until the skin, if you have it, starts to brown). Scatter olives over evenly and then pour over the stock. Cover tightly and bake for 1 hour.
  3. Remove thighs and lemon wedges and arrange on a platter and keep warm. Pour pan juices into a saucepan and quickly skim fat from the surface. Over high heat, simmer rapidly until reduced by half. Spoon juices over the chicken, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Grace Parisi’s Pappardelle with Veal Ragù

Serves: 8

The most viewed recipe on my blog is consistently Gordon Ramsay’s Slow Braised Beef Ragù with Pappardelle.

An amazing dish as I wrote up 6 years ago.

Recently we have cooked this Ragù twice and it is just as wonderful.

Simple like Ragù is, though just as rich as an amazing Ragù is and should be.

For me, a long Italian lunch in the sun – one white pasta, one red pasta – is the absolute definition of heaven.

I commend this Ragù to your next such session.

Have a medium-bodied Chianti Classico ready to go and it is bliss.

Ingredients

2kg boneless veal shoulder, cut into large chunks*
Salt and freshly ground pepper
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
1 large white onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp ground fennel
1 1/2 c dry red wine
4 c chicken or veal stock
1 1/2 tbsp minced rosemary
1kg fresh pappardelle
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to serve
Chopped, fresh Italian Parsley to serve

Method

  1. Season the veal with salt and pepper and dust with flour, tapping off the excess. In a large, heavy casserole, heat 1/4 of the olive oil. Add the veal and cook over a moderately high heat until browned all over. Transfer the veal to a plate and do in batches if need be.
  2. Turn the heat down to low, add the remaining 1/4 c oil to the casserole. Stir in the onion, garlic, coriander and fennel and cook for 5 minutes until softened. Add the wine and boil until reduced to 1/3 c. Add the tomatoes and cook over a moderately high heat for 5 minutes. Add the stock and rosemary and bring to a boil. Add the veal, cover partially and cook over a low heat until falling apart and thickened. 3 – 5 hours.
  3. Cook the Pappardelle in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain, add the Ragù and toss over a low heat until the pasta is coated. Serve with the cheese and parsley.

* I’ve found it increasingly hard to source veal, which could be in-line with questions about the ethics of its consumption. I persevered and got there in the end. One butcher told me the issue is that he wouldn’t sell veal if he couldn’t verify it. Not sure what the answer is. We used veal chuck which broke down beautifully after 5 hours, twice.