Tuna with caponata

Serves: 4

We love a piece freshly cooked tuna or swordfish, dressed with diced tomato, olives, some balsamic and olive oil. Super simple, super quick, foolproof.

Which means that caponata and fresh tuna – with, let’s say, three-times the effort of the abovementioned – really is where you need to be for that special, healthy, weeknight dinner.

It’s worth the extra effort.

Add some steam greens or a green salad – and definitely a bottle of white wine – and this is an awesome meal for you and friends.

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
4 tuna steaks
Extra-virgin olive oil to serve
Lemon wedges to serve
Steam beans or a green salad to serve

Caponata

1/4 cup olive oil
1 small red onion, cut into 2cm pieces
1 large eggplant, cut into 2cm pieces
200gm grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
12 black olives, pitted and halved
1 1/2 tbsp capers in vinegar, rinsed
1 birdseye chilli, thinly sliced

Method

  1. For the caponata, heat half the oil in a large frying pan over a high heat. Add onion and stir until golden and softened (5 minutes). Remove from pan.
  2. Add the eggplant and remaining oil to the pan and stir to coat; add 1/4 cup of water and then cover with a lid and steam until tender (5 minutes). Remove the lid and cook, stirring occasionally until golden (5 minutes).
  3. Return onions to the pan, add remaining ingredients and cook, stirring occasionally until tomatoes soften.
  4. Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Season tuna and add to the pan and sear, turning once until cooked medium rare (2-3 minutes each side).
  5. Cut steaks in half and serve with caponata, lemon wedges, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil… steamed beans or a salad and definitely that bottle of white!

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.

Greek Fisherman’s Stew

Serves: 6

Wow, this is a gorgeous stew and on every level.

It tastes amazing, it is simple to prep and it’s healthy enough. Mopped up with some crusty bread, we loved every bit of it.

I’d go as far as to say this could become one of your favourites.

There is literally nothing not to like. Just make sure you season well.

Surprise yourself with this 10/10.

Ingredients

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 small head fennel, diced
½ tsp red chilli flakes
2 large ripe, truss tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
1 tsp sea salt (plus extra to season at the end)
Freshly cracked pepper
1 cup dry white wine
250gm potatoes, peeled and diced
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 kg firm white fish, cut into 3cm pieces (we used Pink Ling)
12 basil leaves, torn
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp harissa paste (or hot sauce)
Crusty bread to serve

Method

  1. Warm the oil in a heavy saucepan over a medium heat and saute the onion and garlic until soft though not brown. Add the fennel and cook for a few minutes until softened. Stir in the chilli flakes and then add the tomatoes and salt and cook on medium for about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the wine and 2 ½ cups boiling water, bring to the simmer and cook for another 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Check the seasoning and add the lemon juice.
  3. Add the fish pieces and simmer on low until the fish is just cooked through; another 5 or so minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, combine the mayonnaise with the harissa paste (or hot sauce).
  5. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the basil to wilt it.
  6. Serve with a good dollop of the spiced mayonnaise and some crusty bread. And a good glass of cold vino of course.

Moroccan kofte with spicy tomato sauce

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Seriously?!

Serves: 4

Oh wow this is awesome.

Admittedly, I made them after a rather reasonable lunch remit with a few wines. Though the flavour definitely wasn’t the wines talking, though I have been known to find cornflour pretty tasty late into a big night.

Though who hasn’t?

Lamb mince. Tick. Spice. Tick. Tomato. Tick. Yogurt, harissa and pine nuts. Tick.

It’s easy to prepare, easy to cook and healthy. It’s no revelation and instead, it’s the comfort, warmth and familiarity of it all.

Go out and have a big lunch, stumble home, pour another glass and knock this up. You could do a whole lot worse.

Ingredients

Lamb

500gm lamb mince
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tbsp chopped mint

Sauce

1 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 x 400g cans chopped tomato
2 tsp harissa
1 tsp sugar
200gm tub Greek yogurt
2 tbsp toasted pine nuts
Coriander, pittas and couscous to serve

Method

  1. If using wooden skewers, soak for at least 20 minutes to stop burning. Heat the grill.
  2. Using your hands, mix the meat in a bowl with the onion, coriander, mint and plenty of seasoning. Shape into 8 sausages, about 10cm long and then threat a bamboo skewer through the center of each.
  3. To make the sauce, heat the oil in a pan, add the garlic and briefly fry. Add tomatoes, harissa, sugar and seasoning. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 – 20 minutes until sauce has thickened.
  4. Grill the kofte for 6 – 8 minutes, turning until they are nice browned. Spoon the sauce over a warm platter, drizzle with yogurt and put the kofte on top. Scatter with the pine nuts and serve with coriander, pittas and couscous.
  5. And more wine.

Prawn Saganaki

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The original… as supplied to me.

Serves: 4

This is a signature Ashes family recipe and it is right on the money. It tastes amazing, it’s warm and it’s filling.

Whether you use saganaki cheese or feta comes down to whether your name is Rob Ashes or Debbie Ashes. When I asked Rob about using saganaki, he said ‘nah, shit doesn’t melt’.

Deb feels the opposite and generally sneaks saganaki into the dish mid-oven. So perhaps this is a compromise and you should use a bit of both.

The other point to make is that if you can find packets of uncooked garlic prawns (the John West variety), get these and eliminate the garlic from the dish.

Otherwise, enjoy what is a fabulous dish and one I have thankfully enjoyed many times at the Ashes dinner table.

Ingredients

1kg medium prawns, shelled
3 ripe tomatoes, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic
250gm feta cheese, sliced
250gm saganaki (or feta), sliced
2 tsp sugar
1 bay leaf
½ c olives
Good handful of coriander, chopped
Slices of sourdough
Salt and pepper

Method

  1. In a saucepan, saute the onions win the olive oil. Add the diced tomato, garlic (if using), bay leaf, sugar, olives and salt and pepper and enough water to keep moist and cook on a medium-low heat for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Heat the oven to 180c.
  3. Add the prawns and cook for a few minutes.
  4. Remote the saucepan from the heat and transfer the mixture to a casserole. Sprinkle the coriander over and then spread thin slices of the feta cheese on top. Top with sourdough bread and top with saganaki slices (or feta).
  5. Cook in the oven until the saganaki cheese has melted (or should have melted). 10 to 15 minutes.

My Arrabiata

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So hot. So good.

Serves: 4 – 6

This dish has real significance for me.

It was the first meal I cooked when I moved out of home, a recipe I adapted from Neil Perry and adapt every time depending on what is in the pantry and the fridge. Try it with torn basil, a pinch of sugar, freshly chopped chilli, whatever you want.

The key is in the length of cooking. The longer you can sweat the onions and the more slowly you can reduce the sauce, the better and better it will be. Forget that stuff from the local pizza shop, add lots of chilli and two hours over the stove and this takes on a new dimension.

Add this recipe to your repertoire and know it like the back of your hand. It will make clear to your lady friend that you can turn a pack of bacon and a few things from the cupboard into an amazing, hot and smoky pasta: it worked for me!

Ingredients

Extra virgin olive oil
2 red onions, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 good pinches chilli flakes
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
8 cherry tomatoes, halved (half a punnet)
1 can tomatoes
1 tbsp capers, drained
2 tbsp black olives, pitted and roughly chopped
Good handful of ham, roughly chopped
10 rashers of bacon cut into lardons
Salt and pepper
Penne, spaghetti, whatever
Ground parmesan
Chopped Italian parsley

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a pan over a low heat and add the onions, garlic, chilli flakes and good pinch of salt and sweat as slowly as you can without letting stick to the bottom of the pan; around 20 – 30 minutes.
  2. Separately, cook the bacon in a pan until golden. Drain and set aside.
  3. Add the tomatoes, ham, capers and olives, combine with the onion mixture and cook for a minute. Add the bacon and can of tomatoes as well as a can of water.
  4. Bring to the boil and then drop to a low simmer.
  5. Cook for an hour to an hour and a half and longer if you can. The key is to removing as much liquid from the sauce as slowly as you can.
  6. Check the seasoning and chilli and adjust as necessary.
  7. Cook the pasta, drain and combine with the sauce.
  8. Serve with plenty of grated parmesan and parsley.
  9. Enjoy your reward.

BBQ Thai Basil and Ginger Pork Chops (with Tomato Salad)

Serves: 4

There is this wonderful website (well, Instagram) I follow called What to Cook.

It is by a father/daughter team where he cooks really simple, fresh and fun food and she takes great photos of the food. They look like they have so much doing it and they are obviously eating well.

I have only cooked one of their recipes (this one) though I have a bunch more lined up. Its modern, bistro-quality food and during the week, that’s just fine.

I let this marinate for two nights before BBQing and together with the salad, a bottle of white we opened and my favourite travelling companion Nat, we had a perfect weeknight in.

Ingredients

4 large pork chops,
1 Thai chilli, finely diced
1 tbsp fresh ginger, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
½ c fresh thai basil leaves
Pinch of salt
Juice of 1 lime

Tomato salad

1 bunch butter lettuce, leaves torn
2 vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced
1 oxheart tomato, sliced
2 baby cucumbers, sliced
½ cup bean sprouts
¼ cup fresh mint leaves

Salad dressing

3 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp palm sugar, grated

Method

  1. Place the chops in a dish, then add the chilli, ginger, garlic, salt Thai basil, lime juice, cover and marinate in the fridge for 2 hours (or as long as you want).
  2. Preheat your BBQ over a high heat. Once preheated, BBQ the chops until cooked and then cover with foil and rest for 5 miutes.
  3. To serve; assemble the salad on the plates and drizzle with the dressing. Add the chops and (in their words) “enjoy”!