I’ve been in the kitchen pretty much all of the past week, and have listened to many a podcast during this time, but one line from one show in particular really stuck a chord – it was Ruth Reichl, food writer and editor of great repute, talking to the team from Burnt Toast, and she said ‘the secret to life is finding joy in ordinary things’. I know it sounds a bit trite, but it’s true. And recently, I’ve been a bit slack on taking notice and joy in the ordinary.
So this past week, as I’ve been cooking at Rydal for a group of students at the art classes my Mum Annie Herron teaches there – and goodness they were such a fantastic bunch of relaxed, genuine and talented people – I’ve really tried to stop, breathe deeply and think about the simple and ordinary moments. Things like – picnics by golden poplars and a running stream, walking through crunchy autumn leaves sucking in the smell of their deep, earthy compacted mass, peeling potatoes in the sunny kitchen while listening to Duran Duran (I’m having a moment with them, if you’ve forgotten how good they are, just listen to Ordinary Life and come back to the fold), frying eggplant and baking it in a deep dish covered in creamy parmesan and creme fraiche. And just taking five minutes to actually sit down and have a chocolate chip biscuit (without feeling an ounce of guilt), a cup of tea and chat. These are the things that make me happy and they are all dead simple, totally achievable and easy to take for granted.
Anyhoo…now I’ve got that off my chest. I’d also love to share some recipes and photos from our week at Rydal. Please find below; that eggplant bake (really really good), the biscuit recipe, a fresh pasta and a few other yummy things. And if ever you fancy a week in the country, painting, learning and sharing good food with good people you should check out Mum’s website, she is an amazing teacher and these weeks really are a bit special. A lot actually.
Wishing you all a really great week ahead and please try to keep that whole finding joy in ordinary things thing in mind – it really helps get a bit of perspective even when the bills are piling and other things are stressing me out.
Fresh pasta with genius tomato sauce
I really think, that if you are going to the effort of making pasta from scratch, then you don’t have to worry too much about the sauce. That silky, gorgeously tasty pasta is the star of the show, you just need to give her a sweet little gown to saunter out in. And the genius tomato sauce from Food 52 is just the right fit. So very simple, delicious and easy – this is the tomato sauce that just blips away on the stove, getting richer and more delicious with every passing minute. While making your pasta, get the sauce going, and to do this please jump over to Food 52 for the recipe.
For the pasta
400g plain flour (Typo 00 if you have it)
1/2 tsp sea salt
Grated parmesan and fresh basil.
Place the flour on a bowl and make a well in the centre. Break the eggs into the well, add the salt and bring together with a fork until just combined. Now, either by hand or in a machine with a dough hook, knead until you have a smooth dough, about five minutes. Wrap in plastic and leave to rest at room temperature for at least half an hour but a few is fine too.
When ready to roll out the pasta, divide the dough into four discs, take one and cover the rest back up in plastic. Flatten the first disc between your hands into an oval shape and feed thiIs through your pasta machine at the lowest setting. Don’t worry if it breaks, just smooth back into a disc and start again. Then feed the dough through the next setting up, fold in half and put back through the lower setting. Repeat this process four times – it’s the best way to work the dough and really helps create a nice smooth pasta sheet. You want to end up with silky sheet of pasta just a couple of millimetres thick.
Now it’s time to cut the pasta into ribbons. If you have a pasta machine with a cutting attachment, use this but if not….cut the sheets into 30cm long strips. Dust one with the semolina flour and gently roll into a long, loose sausage. Cut across into rounds about 1cm thick then shake out to free the noodles and set aside under a clean tea towel while you repeat this process with the rest of the noodles.
Hang the pasta on a coat-hanger or a broom propped up between two chairs while you make the rest. Get a big pot of water on to boil, salt it well and cook the pasta for a few minutes or until al dente. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid and return to the pan. Add a little of the cooking liquid to loosen things up and divide among bowls, top with the tomato sauce and plenty of grated parmesan. A basil leaf or two wouldn’t go astray either.
Note – if you don’t have a pasta machine, you can roll out sheets by hand. This process does take a little longer but will still work!
Bay and orange pound cake
This recipe is adapted from one by David Lebovitz in his book My Paris Kitchen which I love and read often. David lives in Paris and this book is such a wonderful sampler of that city’s incredible food and people. Oui, j’aime boucoup.
10 fresh bay leaves*
230g plain flour
200g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 cup Greek-style yogurt
Zest and juice of one orange
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
For the orange icing
140g icing sugar
1 tsp Cointreau (optional)
Mix ingredients together until you have a nice thick consistency.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan, remove from heat and place half of the bay leaves in with the butter to infuse for an hour. Preheat oven to 180C and grease and line a loaf tin with baking paper. Line the base of the loaf tin with remaining bay leaves. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In a jug, whisk together the butter (discard bay leaves), eggs, yogurt, juice and zest and vanilla until well combined.
Gently fold the wet and dry ingredients together then spoon batter into the prepared loaf tin taking cae not to disturb the bay leaves. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is beginning to pull away from the tin’s sides and it feels firm to touch on top. Let cool in the tin then turn out to a wire rack to cool completely, spoon over the orange icing letting it slowly drip down the sides of the cake.
* So this is controversial I know but I’m not entirely sure I think bay leaves alone really do pack that much of a flavour punch. Yes. I said it. Even though I dutifully chuck them in pretty much every braise or stew I make but honestly, what does bay taste of? Anyway, I include them here because I made this cake on Anzac day and loved the significance of the bay for victory in this deep, dense, sweet loaf.
Eggplant and tomato bake with creme fraiche
I absolutely love this dish; its rich and creamy yet full of zingy, punchy flavours and totally seasonal right now. Like. Totally. Delicious warm or at room temperature, you can make it way in advance then serve forth with a green salad as a main on it’s own merit or with grilled meats as a side dish.
2 eggplant, sliced into 1cm rounds
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 kg fresh tomatoes peeled and chopped or 2 x 400g cans diced tomatoes
1 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
300g creme fraiche Zest of one lemon
1/2 cup tarragon leaves, loosely packed then finely chopped
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (nice sourdough ones if possible)
A fair bit of olive oil
Place the eggplant in a big colander and sprinkle with sea salt. Set aside for one hour then rinse and pat dry with paper towel. Preheat oven to 180C. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and, working in batches, fry the eggplant until soft and golden on each side (top up with more oil if needed). Meanwhile for the tomato sauce; cook the onion in a little more olive oil, until translucent (about five minutes), add the garlic and cook for a minute more. Now tip in the tomatoes, reduce heat and cook until soft, about 20 minutes. Place a layer of eggplant in a baking dish (mine is oblong, about 30cm long) and top with a third of the tomato sauce. Sprinkle with a quarter of the parmesan and repeat so you have three layers of eggplant and tomato going on. To finish, whisk together the creme fraiche, lemon zest, tarragon and remaining 1/4 cup parmesan cheese. Spread this mixture over the top of your eggplant/tomato situation then sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and bake for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 6.
Halfway through the painting week we left the studio behind for a picnic and al fresco session. And it was, truly the loveliest Autumn day of the year. Our picnic spot was a friend’s farm on the banks of the Fish River that winds through the Tarana Valley, with a long line of magestic poplars running alongside. And the day’s menu included some of my favourite picnic fare – portable, tasty and easy to eat on your knee…
Fennel and goat’s curd tart
I’m mad about fennel but can’t stand liquorice – go figure. Anyway, while I do fancy it generally shaved raw into a simple salad, when cooked in boiling water till tender as per below, the fennel takes on a gorgeous almost sweet flavour that’s perfect in this tart. You could of course swap the fennel with tomatoes, caramelised onions, roasted pumpkin or any other vegetable you fancy. Serves 6-8.
For the Shortcrust pastry
400g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
200g butter, diced
1/3 cup iced water
Measure out the flour and salt into a large bowl. Add the diced butter and place in the freezer for half an hour. Then tip the lot into the bowl of a food processor, add the iced water and pulse until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Turn this out to a lightly floured bench and bring together with the heel of both hands until you have a smooth dough.
Shape into a disc and cover with plastic wrap then place in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes. After which time… on a lightly dusted work surface, roll your pastry until about 5mm thick and drape into a loose-bottomed tart tin (mine is a 24cm one with 2 cm sides). Return to the fridge for another half an hour before blind baking.
Preheat oven to 220C and line your chosen tin with the pastry as described above. Trim edges (allow for shrinkage), and then prick the base with the tines of a fork. Line the pastry tin with baking paper and fill the base with pastry weights, coins, uncooked rice or pulses (this stops the base rising during baking). Place in preheated oven for 10 minutes, remove the weights and baking paper and cook for another 5-10 minutes or until the pastry is just lightly golden. Meanwhile….prepare the tart filling!
For the tart filling
1 bulb fennel, trimmed and cut into eighths (reserve fronds for garnish)
1/2 cup cream 1 tsp thyme leaves
1/2 cup goat’s curd
Place fennel in a saucepan of cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes or until soft. Drain and set aside then whisk together the eggs, cream and thyme leaves. Pour the egg mixture into your blind-baked tart shell then top with the fennel pieces and dot with the goat’s curd. Bake for 20 minutes or until the filling is golden and just firm and the pastry golden too. Garnish with reserved fennel fronds and serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 6-8.
Pearl barley salad with beetroot and yogurt
A really yummy, healthy and easy salad this one – it’s great for picnics or a bit of a buffet lunch situation as it sits around happily for ages and tastes great at room temperature.
2 cups pearl barley
6 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
Juice and zest of one lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup sunflower kernels
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 bunch dill, finely chopped
3 medium beetroot, roasted until tender
1/2 cup natural Greek-style yogurt
Cook the pearl barley in plenty of cold water until tender. While this is happening, mix together the olive oil, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and zest and seasoning and toast the seeds and nuts. As soon as you drain the pearl barley, tip into a large bowl and mix through the dressing. Let cool for a few minutes then mix in the seeds, nuts and dill. Top with the roasted beetroot (even better if it’s still warm), spoon over the yogurt and season to taste.
These capsicum boats appear on antipasto plates all over Italy and are best when served at room temperature which makes them perfect for picnics. I pack them on a bed of salad leaves and by the time we’ve arrived wherever we’re picnic-ing, the capsicum’s juices have made a lovely dressing. Win win. They’re also a brilliant make-ahead side dish for summer barbecues. Any leftovers make a great pasta sauce when chopped finely and tossed about in a hot frying pan for five minutes. Serves 6-8.
4 red capsicums, halved and seeded
8 anchovy fillets, drained and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp capers, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Mixed salad leaves, handful of basil leaves, to serve
Preheat oven to 160C. Lightly oil a large baking dish, place capsicum halves, cut-side up and well-spaced, in prepared dish. score a cross at the base of each tomato and slip into a saucepan of boiling water for 30 seconds. Dip in iced water and peel skin. Cut tomatoes in half lengthways and place one half, cut-side down, inside each capsicum boat.
Combine anchovy, garlic and capers and scatter over tomato. Drizzle with oil and balsamic and bake for 1 1/2 hours, until capsicum and tomato are soft and tender. Place mixed salad leaves on a large serving platter and top with capsicums and all their beautiful juices.
Dark chocolate, ginger and almond clusters
These are so easy they’re hardly a recipe – but so delicious you really should give them a go. A great dessert for picnics (keep them in the esky though) and lunch or dinner parties when you can’t stand plating up another course and all that extra washing up! Just pop them on a plate with a little fresh fruit and maybe some nougat or Turkish delight and hand around. Honestly, I think that’s all people want after a big meal; something sweet to nibble on with their last glass of wine, or two. Makes about 15.
1 cup best quality dark chocolate
1 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup stem ginger, roughly chopped
Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, (or however you prefer to melt chocolate!) and line a tray with baking paper. Once melted, let the chocolate cool a little while then mix in the almonds and ginger.
Scoop a tablespoon of the mixture onto the prepared tray, keeping it in a nice round mound and repeat with remaining mixture. Pop in the fridge for at least an hour then serve. Yum scrum.
Variations – are endless! But here are a couple more more ideas…
Swap the almonds with hazlenuts and the ginger with dried figs.
Swap the almonds with pistachios and the ginger with chopped pieces of Turkish Delight
Sweet potato, peanut and coconut soup
An absolute cracker of a soup this one – it was inspired by a recipe given by Anna Jones in her wonderful book A Modern Way to Cook. Serves 4-6.
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 leeks, trimmed and roughly chopped 1kg sweet potatoes (about 3 biggies)
1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated
2 cups boiling vegetable stock or water 2 tbsp peanut butter (proper freshly made stuff if possible)
1 tsp maple syrup 1 tbsp tamari
Juice of one lime.
Heat the coconut oil in a big pan and cook the leeks down until soft, about five minutes. Adsd the sweet potato and ginger and cook, stirring for another minute. Pour in the stock, bring to the boil then simmer for 20 minutes or until the sweet potato is tender. Transfer to a blender, add the peanut butter, maple syrup and tamari and blitz until smooth. Squeeze in the lime juice and season to taste. Serves 4.
For the topping
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 small brown onion, finely diced 1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped 2 tbsp brown mustard seeds
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped Zest of two limes 1/2 cup dessicated coconut
Place the coconut oil in a frying pan over medium heat and add the onions. Cook for about five minutes then add the ginger and mustard seeds, stirring and cooking for a couple more minutes. Add in the peanuts, lime zest and coconut and stir until well combined. Set aside until ready to serve.
Serve the soup in warm bowls and top with the coconut peanut mixture
Josie’s hazelnut shortbreads
This is a recipe from my book but by local cook Josie Chapman who really do has a special gift for baking. Here is her ever-popular recipe for hazelnut shortbreads; they are wonderful with a strong coffee. Makes about 20
250g butter, softened
Seeds of one vanilla bean
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cups plain flour
Icing sugar, for dusting
Preheat oven to 180C and line a tray with baking paper. Toast the hazelnuts for about 10 minutes and let cool, then rub together in a tea towel to remove most of the skins. Then blitz to a fine meal in a food processor. Cream butter, vanilla and sugar together until light and fluffy. Mix in the nuts and flour, combine well, roll into little balls and bake for 10 minutes or until golden. Dust with icing sugar and let cool on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container.
These cookies were heaven; peanut butter and white chocolate with vanilla salt. I used this recipe from Seven Spoons and just added white chocolate to the mix and sprinkled them with vanilla salt before baking.