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.

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.

The Best Spaghetti Carbonara

Serves: 6

Where does one start?

Spaghetti Carbonara is that dish that divides more than any spaghetti dish. Cream or no cream?

Or mine is the best or that is the best?

This is the traditional or this one is even more traditional?

Or that Italians don’t even do Spaghetti Carbonara and it is an invention of the Americans: Italians don’t do pasta like this.

I don’t mind a cream-based Spaghetti Carbonara and how couldn’t you? Anything with pasta and cream – at its best – is amazing.

Though it isn’t traditional in the sense that I cannot find any pasta Italian cookbook of mine that asks for even a touch of cream.

Equally though, I can’t find a Carbonara in any of these books.

Which I think means that Carbonara definitely shouldn’t have cream though it probably isn’t an Italian invention either.

Which leaves us here: what is the best ‘traditional’ Carbonara recipe.

For 8 years straight until he was 18, for his birthday, my middle brother Adrian asked nothing else of me than that I cooked this pasta for his birthday.

This recipe was something my mother would do after a day on our boat and as kids, and it simply never failed to wow us.

After years and years of telling Nat this Carbonara was the best she would ever have, she finally let me make it.

And Nat – and the boys – agreed, this is simply the finest Carbonara that exists.

This truly is the best Spaghetti Carbonara you will ever cook.

And this is from someone that makes a point of ordering every time it is available.

THE BEST.

Ingredients

9 slices bacon, trimmed and julienne
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
5 tbsp butter
½ cup julienned ham (or prosciutto)
12 tbsp grated parmesan
6 eggs, beaten
Salt and freshly cracked pepper
Spaghetti

Method

  1. Brown the bacon and pour off any fat.
  2. Cook the spaghetti.
  3. Add the olive oil, butter and ham and saute for 5 minutes without browning.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan and beaten eggs, Place over the heat only to sufficiently to firm up the sauce.
  5. Season with salt and pepper and pour over the spaghetti.
  6. Serve with more grated Parmesan.

Penne Pasta in Creamy Vodka Tomato Sauce with Mushroom (Pink Sauce)

Serves: 4

We live in Cammeray in Sydney and there has been this hole-in-the-wall pizza joint here since I was a kid catching the school-bus past many, many years ago.

Brick facade, large pizza-oven style window out the front, dark inside.

Until we moved to Cammeray, I had never been into the pizza place though I had always wanted to. Old-school pizza places are the best.

Our first meal there was memorable and for all the right reasons.

And it turns out that the place has been there since I was a kid, run by this Italian who cooked pizzas every night for 40 years or something.

Sadly, he passed away a year ago, though he left the restaurant to his nephew, who, when we arrived, was still finding his feet: cash only, several items on the menu not available, the poor guy cooking and serving and cleaning up.

But wow, his pizza and homemade pasta was just awesome.

And $50 with no corkage.

A real win.

Half-a-dozen visits since and he has found his feet, though the important elements remain. A dark, cosy, pizza restaurant with locals handing over cash for excellent pizzas. There is a second guy in the kitchen and a young girl taking orders and delivering the pasta.

We have mixed it up every time we have been there and last time we had a pasta similar to this one; mushroom spaghetti in a pink sauce: essentially half cream, half tomato.

I didn’t ask for the recipe though I found this one online and it is pretty much on the money.

Ensure you cook the alcohol off and you are left with a really wonderful dinner: pretty much what you would expect from a local, 40-year-old pizza joint that only cooks 6 pizzas and a rotation of the same number of pastas.

Do this some Saturday night and put your feet up.

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
½ medium onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 can tomatoes (400gm)
¾ cup vodka
½ tsp chilli flakes
Handful fresh basil, torn
½ tsp dried oregano
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 cup cream
¾ tsp salt
500gm penne (we used spaghetti)
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated to serve

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, and then add the onion and garlic and slowly saute until the onion softens. Add the tomatoes, vodka, chilli flakes, basil and oregano. Break up the tomatoes if necessary.
  2. Bring the mixture to a medium-heat and then reduce to a simmer and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the mushrooms and simmer for another 10 minutes.
  3. Add the cream and salt and continue to simmer ensuring that the alcohol is cooked out. Season.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta, drain and add to the sauce. Mix through and season again if necessary.
  5. Serve with plenty of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Basic baked Mac and Cheese with Crispy Breadcrumbs

Serves: 6

We had dinner at a great friend’s place a few week’s back, both as a long overdue catch-up and as a test of his new kitchen.

Matt undersells himself in the kitchen though I secretly think he knows he is pretty good. And he is.

Which is all sort of funny.

He is the most true-blue Aussie I know, being a member of the Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club, able to crush tinnies on his head and definitely driving a bogan, 1999 Commodore. Not much to see there and definitely not what should be a food guy.

On the other hand, he owns and lives in an extraordinary mansion in Newtown, his beautiful wife Hannah is super beautiful, sophisticated and cosmopolitan and Matt loves his food and fine wine. Cooking, eating and drinking it.

This is a wine tour guy if ever you met one.

Genuinely, there are few people I enjoy a meal more than with Matt and a highlight was when Nat and I had lunch with Matt and Hannah (and her parents) at the Ledbury in London a few years back, one of the world’s best restaurants.

So, here we are for dinner and Matt – as usual – delivers.

Though it wasn’t the chicken-pot-pies (with homemade pastry) that blew our socks off.

It was this Mac and Cheese.

Ask anyone that knows me and Mac and Cheese would be my last meal.

And it could seriously be this one.

Lordy.

We love you Matt and Hannah. You guys are brilliant and this Mac and Cheese keeps me smiling.

This is his recipe and you should cook it.

Ingredients

3 cups whole milk
½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
250gm dried elbow pasta
1 ½ cups grated cheddar cheese
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
½ cup panko

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c.
  2. Cook the pasta in boiling water until al dente. Drain and rinse the pasta in cold water.
  3. Heat the milk over a medium heat until it starts to bubble but not boiling for 3 – 4 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  4. Heat the butter over a medium heat in a separate pot. When the butter has melted add the flour and whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown; around 3 minutes. Remove from the the heat.
  5. Slowly pour the warm milk – about 1 cup at a time – into the butter-flour mixture, whisking constantly. (It will get very thick when you first add the milk and get thinner as you add milk.)
  6. Once all the milk has been added, set the pot over a medium-high heat and continue to whisk for 2 – 3 minutes until the sauce becomes silky and thick. (If the sauce sticks to the back of the spoon, you’re done.) Add the salt.
  7. Add the sauce and both the cheeses to a pan and cook over a medium heat until the cheese is barely melted; around 3 minutes. Add the cooked pasta and continue cooking whilst stirring continuously until the pasta is hot and steaming; another 5 minutes.
  8. Place the breadcrumbs on a baking sheet and put in the oven for 5 minutes or until they are lightly brown, toasted colour.
  9. Fill your baking dish or ramekins with pasta mixture. Sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.

Slow braised Shoulder of Lamb Ragù with Gnocchi

Slow braised Shoulder of Lamb Ragù with Gnocchi

Serves: 6 – 8

A few weeks back, we slow cooked a wonderful lamb shoulder for lamb, cumin mayonnaise, braised onion and rocket rolls.

As with pretty much any slow-cooked meat – stuffed in a baguette – it was a pretty amazing treat.

Though – as happens with a 2kg piece of lamb shoulder – there was plenty of shredded lamb left over.

So we borrowed from this recipe by James Martin, a talented British chef I’ve followed, to make this equally amazing ragù.

Two points to be made.

Firstly, in the lamb shoulder we cooked for the lamb rolls, we used currants, orange rind and verjuice whereas this recipe calls for a much more traditional thyme, rosemary, red wine sort of combo. After all is said and done, you’ll be left with a rich, soft lamb either way. Yes, there will be nuances depending on how you cook your lamb though they’re nuances you’ll soon get over.

Do it either way or then some.

Secondly, we used some frozen gnocchi we had left over, using the amazing Anne Burrell gnocchi I have previously typed up. I have typed up James Martin’s gnocchi because it is quite a cool approach and no doubt it is very good knowing him, though if you get a chance, try Anne Burrell’s go at it. It is sublime.

This is rich, screw-you Sunday cooking at its best.

Ingredients

Slow-braised shoulder of lamb

1 tbsp olive oil
1 x 2kg shoulder of lamb
1 bulb garlic, skin left on, cloves separated
4 sprigs thyme, leaves only
4 sprigs rosemary, chopped
200ml red wine
200ml lamb or beef stock

Ragù

200gm pancetta, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
400ml can Italian tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato puree
175ml red wine
500ml lamb stock (we used chicken stock)
6 tbsp fresh basil, torn

Gnocchi

4 medium potatoes
200 – 300gm salt
75gm plain flour plus extra for dusting
50gm grated Parmesan
1 egg yolk, beaten
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

150gm Parmesan, freshly grated to serve

Method

For the lamb

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c.
  2. Rub the oil into the lamb shoulder and season with salt and pepper. Place the lamb in a deep baking tray and surround it with the garlic, herbs, red wine and stock and roast in the oven for 30 – 40 minutes.
  3. Reduce the heat the 120c, cover the lamb with the aluminium foil and continue to cook for 4 ½ hour. Remove and leave to cool. Once cool enough to handle, shred the meat.

For the ragù

  1. Heat a large casserole pan until hot, add the pancetta and fry for 3 – 4 minutes or until the pancetta softens and the fat begins to melt. Add the olive oil and then the garlic and onion and fry gently for 1 – 2 minutes until softened. Add the carrots and celery and cook for another minute or two.
  2. Stir in the shredded meat and then add the tomatoes and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, breaking apart the tomatoes.
  3. Stir in the tomato puree and cook for a further minute. Add the red wine and simmer until the volume of the liquid has reduced by one quarter. (At this stage I also had a red wine and reduced it by one quarter.)
  4. Add the stock and return the ragù to the boil. Season, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 – 40 minutes or until the ragù has thickened. Finish with the fresh basil.

For the gnocchi

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c.
  2. Lightly score or prick the potatoes. Spread out the salt on a baking tray to make a bed of salt and sit the potatoes on top. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour or until tender.
  3. Allow the potatoes to cool until comfortable to handle. Cut in half and spoon the cooked potatoes out of the skins. Finely mash the potatoes or put through a potato ricer. Add the flour, Parmesan and egg yolk. Season with salt and pepper and mix well. Keep mixing until the potato forms a dough.
  4. Working on a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into four. Roll each quarter into a sausage shape around 20cm long and cut into 2cm pieces. Shake off any excess flour.
  5. Heat a large saucepan of boiling salted water and add the gnocchi; cook for 1 – 3 minutes or until they start floating on the top of the water; drain and drizzle with a little olive oil.

To serve, stir the ragù through the gnocchi and serve with freshly grated Parmesan on top.