Adding parmesan to roast potatoes is nothing new, but every time I’ve made roast potatoes with cheese I’ve been too stingy, so the result makes me question out loud where the cheese went. Turns out the solution is to go totally overboard, to the point where you get a nice tailcoat of properly, noisily crunchy cheese layer that clings to each chunk of potato, promising pure rapturous joy with every bite. These do require some patience, so I’d suggest a pretty simple, light salad to help offset the crazy richness.
Frico roast potatoes
a guide to make as many as will fit roomily on your largest baking tray
You start off with good fluffy roasting potatoes*. Wash and cut them into nice large chunks about 4-5cm (that’s over an inch). Pop them into a saucepan and cover the bottom 3cmish (about an inch) with water. Pop the lid on (a nice fitting one to maximise steam). Preheat oven to 200C (400F), with a rack arranged at the top. If you’re baking two trays you’ll need to swap them around half way through.
Bring potatoes to a rapid boil from cold on max heat, then reduce head to low to let simmer for about 10-15 minutes or until a knife slides in to a piece of potato easy.
While the potatoes simmer, finely grate more parmesan than you think you’ll reasonably need (enough to completely coat each piece of potato remember). Prepare a few cubes of butter or ghee too. Drain completely, pop back into the dry pot, sprinkle over the cheese, a nice few grinds of black pepper or pinch or herbs, and the butter cubes (I also added salt but felt this was probably overkill with all the cheese). Cover and shake the pan almost like a cocktail (so, holding on the lid for dear life), but circular-ly so the bottom potatoes get some cheesy action. Tip the potatoes onto your baking tray and arrange them as spread out as possible – the potatoes must be on a single layer and have around 1cm between pieces or they won’t crisp.
Bake for 30-40 mins until golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes to let the cheese fully crispen and to avoid sad burnage.
*My favourite in Sydney so far are the blue moon/royal blue potatoes. They have an amplified potato flavour, and even the crappy supermarket version turn out beautifully every time. Plus they’re definitely sort of floury but not mealy, and form a nice crisp layer when boiled first, with or without copious amounts of cheese.
Sometimes the simplest cakes, made with careful love and attention to detail, work best. The base for this cake was adapted from Will’s Gran’s beloved coffee cake recipe, which I’ve used several times now and am just in love with. It’s fluffy and soft, but deeply fragrant of buttery richness, with the fruit keeping it moist for a few days after. I used plums and blueberries, but pears in winter would be lovely for example, or apples in autumn. Admittedly blueberry season has passed, but I had 2 kilos (yes, you read that correctly) carefully squirreled in my freezer after a gorgeous morning of blueberry picking.
I’m even more keen on buttery cakes like this now that I’ve figured out a few sneaky ways around the “room temperature” ingredients rule, without butter splattering your microwave. I basically pop some chopped butter in the oven for 5-7 minutes while it’s preheating, so it’s half melted. Then I beat in the sugar and the cold eggs from the fridge one at a time, which kind of brings the butter back to a slightly firmer temperature, to help incorporate plenty of air. Then I don’t have to worry about melting the butter entirely either. Voila!
Simple seasonal bounty cake
makes one 9″ cake
- 2 handfuls of fruit, chopped to bite size
- 120g butter, cut into cubes (if using unsalted, add a pinch salt)
- 120g caster sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 145g plain flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
Chop fruit and set aside. Preheat oven to 175C (350F), arranging a rack in the middle of your oven. Grease your baking tin with plenty of butter (I brush some of the melted butter into the tin), then dust it with flour.
If you have fridge-temp butter and eggs, leave your mixing bowl with the butter in the oven for the first 5-7 minutes until it’s half melted (don’t panic if you end up going too far). Beat (on high speed) in the sugar and one cold egg (or room temperature egg if your butter is softened butter) until fully incorporated and paled. Beat in second egg and vanilla. Sift over flour and baking powder and fold through (low speed) until just barely incorporated – if there is a fleck or two of flour, that’s fine. Scrape into cake pan, pop fruit on top (scattering is fine – no need to carefully place because it all sinks in anyway), and bake for about 25 minutes. Reduce temperature to 150C (300F) and continue baking until centre also takes on a golden brown colour and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean (around another 15 -20 mins).
Cool to room temperature before inverting onto a plate. Super yummy with 100% natural yogurt, diluted with a little milk if it’s the super tart stuff.
If storing, bring back to warm room temperature before serving for maximum deliciousness.
Bottled passata is my go-to base for just about any tomato-y sauce, soup, or stew, mostly because it’s so versatile. However I’d never really appreciated how much work it takes just to get to the bottle. Last year, I joined the Youth Food Movement Sydney crew to cook, de-skin and de-peel countless local tomatoes to turn into one of my favourite pantry staples. This year you can either host your own passata day, or if you’re in Sydney, crank out some of your own and join other foodies for hand made pasta with the very passata you make on the day! Can’t get much fresher than that!
So when would you use passata instead of any other tomato goop? Well personally I reach for it when I don’t want the distractions of the seed and skins, or I only want to add a background tomato richness to something like a stew or a mushroomy sauce. If I want it chunkier because the tomato is the central element, sometimes I’ll go for a mixture of passata and some chopped tomato, so the sauce both covers and has body. I also use passata instead of tomato paste on pizzas, as I find it dries out less when you’re going for the minimalist approach on a good homemade base. Speaking of minimalist, passata is usually just made of tomatoes and salt, so you don’t have to search for questionable ingredients in a long list (you choose the sweetness too, not the manufacturer). The other reason I like to choose passata is that it never takes on the taste of the can (usually because it’s in glass bottles), and you can quickly see the thickness and quality by tilting the bottle and seeing how liquidy it is. Plus ya know, Sydney doesn’t appear to have very plentiful access to these san marzano tomatoes that every reputable food blog seems to wax lyrical about!
Have you ever tried making your own tomato goop of some kind, and what kind do you generally use the most and why?
Making copious amounts of amazing homemade dip for the holidays seems to be turning into a very handy habit, despite my fickleness with food. Every now and then I get this niggly feeling like I should be overthinking my next meal just like everyone else seems to around this time of year…but then I remember I have a zillion dips in the fridge.
With a few homemade dips in the fridge, you’re just a loaf of bread, bottle of passata, or bowl of potatoes/pasta away from a delicious, effortless lunch or dinner, that seems like you’ve slaved away, when actually you practically just mixed some stuff in a bowl. As a bonus for those of us enjoying summer Christmasses, you’ve also always got options in the fridge for an impromptu picnic. Then there is the very awesome feeling you get when several people at a potluck dinner ask who made this dip, and you get to shyly put your hand up (ok who am I kidding, I totally owned that shizz).
Here are two of my favourites, which also happened to elicit a lot of the aforementioned hand-raising at a recent potluck. On top, a creamy, herbacious roasted cauliflower dip; below that, a caramelised mushroom, onion, garlic and thyme dip, which really needs no selling at all. Bonus: they’re both incredibly fun to make. The oven does the work for you, and then you get to do the fun bit of putting things in a bowl and blitzing, tasting and adjusting seasonings as you go while reliving all your childhood
reenactments fantasies of being one of those people on TV who cook all day long and get to say “and here’s one I prepared earlier.”
If you’re planning to serve these up for New Years, you can give this super quick cheat’s ciabatta a roll too, using other racks in the oven for dip components while it bakes (note you want a warmish kitchen for that bread). This way everything can be done in advance so when your friends arrive you can be ready to mingle while everyone asks what the amazing aroma in the air is. Of course you could also do some crackers or something (salt and vinegar kettle chips/crisps are pretty outrageously amazing with these dips, as I discovered).
Creamy roast cauliflower dip
makes 2-3 cups, and you can do more florets than specified below and reserve some for pasta or to mix into a salad.
measures very approximate – let your taste buds guide you!
- 2 large handfuls cauliflower florets (walnut sized)
- cooking oil
- 200g tub sour cream
- 2 T finely chopped dill (tarragon or basil could be nice too)
- 2 T sliced spring onions/scallions (some white and some green parts)
- 1 Tbs capers (with their brine or salt), or cornichons would be yummy too
- 1 Tbs dijon mustard
- freshly ground black pepper, salt to taste
- optional: few drops sherry vinegar, or lemon zest & juice
Brush florets with plenty of oil, sprinkle with salt, and roast at 200C (400F) on a single layer until plenty of brown splotches appear and the cauliflower is easily pierced with a fork (about 20 minutes in a preheated oven, but you can start these from a cold oven). Blitz with everything else in a blender, food processor or with an immersion/stick blender. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
Caramelised mushroom, onion, and garlic dip
makes just under 2 cups
measures very approximate – let your tastebuds guide you!
- around 500g brown button mushrooms (portobellos are the next best thing, but I don’t think they’d be as nice), halved/quartered so they’re all roughly the same size
- 1 large onion, chopped into 2cm dice
- 6-7 large garlic cloves, crushed (peel them after they come out of the oven, much easier)
- optional: sprigs of thyme or rosemary or both
- cooking oil and (optional) butter
- salt and pepper to taste
- optional extra virgin olive oil at the end
Brush mushrooms, onion, and garlic with oil, and arrange on a baking tray, not too spaced apart – you don’t want them to dry out too much in the oven. In fact I even washed my mushrooms in water (yeah, this is technically a no no in the culinary world, but in this case it resulted in a moister end product). Dot with small slices of butter, and season with salt and pepper. Bake at 200C (400F) until the mushrooms are golden brown, the onions are soft, and there’s some juicy stuff lingering about. Pop your herbs in and mix things up on your tray to coat everything in the juices. Lightly cover with tinfoil (or in my case, I just folded over my reusable nonstick sheet a bit to partially cover the mushies), and turn off the oven, but leave the mushrooms in for the next hour.
Remove garlic skins, and herbs, and blitz in a blender, food processor or with an immersion/stick blender. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
Scallion pancakes (that’s spring onion for the non-Americans)
It’s not even Christmas yet, but all I want is some salad and water. Actually, that’s something I overhead at my work Christmas party from the suspiciously blonde girls looking at their champagne as though it was a form of slow torture. I’m secretly reveling in all the deep fried nibbly things that inevitably get passed around at this time of year. But then at some point, I do start craving veges – nothing so airy as salad though. No, I’m talking about dense vegetable maximisation. A plate consisting of nothing but vegetables, that you dig in to with gusto.
Essentially, the roasted veges lie in a creamy, smoky, herbaceous smattering of aubergine dip, that resembles a lighter version of baba ganoush. A light dusting of sumac, some fresh herb leaves and a drizzle of olive oil make things look a little less spartan, but to be honest, this is wonderfully vegetably comfort food that doesn’t need to be pretty past the first bite. Thankfully, because would you check out the colour of that dip? It does have many virtues – deliciousness, versatility, relative simplicity – but prettiness is probably not one of them. When you use veges as your dip delivery mechanism, you can eat as much as you like without wishing for “some salad and a water,” while still feeling like you’ve indulged in many of life’s greatest pleasures. Also, you can have cake for breakfast (tick) and still easily get in your five plus a day. If you do go the veges dipped in veges route, I’d highly recommend getting really fresh veges, or things are going to taste pretty mellow. There is a noticeable difference between real basil and wispy supermarket basil especially. Lastly, of course feel free to use other herbs and spices. Oregano, coriander/cilantro if you’re a fan ,and tarragon would all be lovely. I just happen to love the way dill and basil turn roast veges into something summery.
Wondering what to serve this with, other than veges? It’s phenomenal with toast, eggs, crunchy raw veges, lightly crushed lentils or beans, and seafood. A little crumbled feta wouldn’t hurt, especially the creamy stuff. It can be served warm or cold, but I prefer room temperature. This makes it fairly versatile, to say the least. I’m wishing I made more to be honest!
Silky aubergine dip
Thanks to Simon Said for the inspiration The first time I tried some of his dip at the farmers market I bought two containers and they were gone in two days.
Makes about a cup and a half. Measurements very much approximate, so taste and adjust as you go!
- 4 fist sized aubergines, destemmed
- about 1/3c very finely chopped fresh dill, tender stalk bits only (the bits near the tip)
- around 10 basil leaves
- juice and zest of half a regular sized lemon
- optional: a few drops of sherry vinegar (or just more lemon)
- optional: smoked paprika or liquid smoke if you don’t have a gas burner/bbq
- optional: sumac for finishing
- optional: tiny splash of cream, or just go bananas on the olive oil at the end to keep this vegan friendly
- salt to taste
- cooking oil for baking and extra virgin olive oil for finishing
Preheat oven to 200C (400F).
Over a naked flame with a fork, blister the skins of each of your aubergines. If you don’t have a gas burner, you might be able to do this under a grill, or over a BBQ, or just proceed to the next step.
Cut each aubergine into 2 inch chunks, and place on an oiled baking tray. Brush generously with oil and sprinkle with salt, and cook for 20-25 minutes until golden brown splodges appear and a fork goes through with no resistance (the insides should be mostly translucent. Let cool slightly to help unstick the pieces better, then blitz with a stick blender with all the other ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings until you’re satisfied.
With Christmas coming up, most of us will be preparing for some serious feasting. Unfortunately it’s also when we collectively generate the most waste. The surprisingly huge environmental consequences of food waste are hard to brush aside. Around one third of the world’s agricultural land is used to produce food that is subsequently not eaten. This land is often “created” by displacing forests, the animals that live in those forests, and the valuable ecosystem services they provide. Furthermore, growing, processing and distributing food racks up a lot of emissions. In Australia, the food supply chain is the next highest generator of greenhouse emissions, after power stations. After all that, 222 million tonnes of food is then thrown out each year in wealthy nations (in Australia, it’s 4.5 tonnes).
Fortunately, there are plenty of rewards you get from reducing your food waste, beyond a healthier budget and clearer conscience. As it turns out, a lot of the food we throw out is actually really good for us and our tastebuds, if only we’d give them a look in. Here are three discoveries I’ve found really helpful…
1 Get adventurous – try the whole vegetable
While “nose to tail” animal eating has become a pretty well established concept, most of us still readily depart with our broccoli stalks, potato peels and carrot tops, unnecessarily binning perfectly delicious ingredients in their own right. If you don’t believe me, check out Root to Stalk Cooking by award winning food writer Tara Duggan, or this New York Times article from 2011. If you grow your own veges, you get even more bonus ingredients that most foodies would pay through the nose for (or not even be able to buy at all!). Younger broccoli leaves for example are basically like kale, and snow pea shoots are already enjoyed in many Asian dishes. If you’re ever unsure, a quick Google will often give you some ideas and fresh takes on your usual favourite dishes.
2 Friend your freezer
If you come home from your leisurely trip to the farmers market only to realise you’re never going to get through those three bulky items that need to be eaten super fresh – don’t panic just yet. Spring onions (scallions/”shallots” in Australia) are a classic for going wilty and slimy in the bottom of the fridge. Ensure they never die a slow death ever again – slice up the green parts when you get home and pop them in a freezable container. They separate easily even when frozen and are super handy to throw in when you’ve got them pre-cut. Spinach and many other cooking greens can be pre-cooked and frozen in ziplock bags too, making your meals down the track that much quicker too. Those pricier artisan style breads can be sliced and frozen too for easy breakfasts (simply toast your slices to bring them back to their original glory).
3 Get real when meal planning & be flexible
At first when I followed the conventional advice to “plan my meals” and “shop with a list” too stringently, I found myself spending more, not less. I was missing out on specials, and often resorting to take-out when the meal that day just wasn’t what I felt like eating. It was also incredibly boring. If you also suffer from these setbacks, I’ve found it really helpful to learn roughly how many “bags” you’ll eat in a week and bring that many bags with you when shopping. Then fill only the bags you’ve brought with appealing, seasonal, “on special” items. Aim to get less than 2-3 items that can’t be frozen and will go sad in less than 2-3 days (eg. lettuce). When you get home, pop all fresh ingredients into a spreadsheet (I use Drive so everything is on my phone and sharable), and then roughly plan a “menu” for the week. You can then pick what you want the most that day or is realistic to cook if you get home late. With the available ingredients in a list beside your menu items, it’s easy to re-configure a menu item. It can sometimes be handy to leave one day free that week for surprise social outings, or for using whatever you have left over in a bit of a lucky dip stir fry, salad, soup or stew. I’ve enjoyed a lot of surprisingly delicious new combos this way! Of course this approach might not work for everyone – so keep adapting until you find a sweet spot.
Some great tips from commenters in my last post about food waste:
Use your food scraps to create compost for your garden (or someone else’s). I’ll add that if you’re in an apartment, try a worm farm.
Skip and swap ingredients in a recipe based on what you already have and save time shopping too!
Buy only what you need. I’ll also add here that I try and impose a “1 treat limit” per weekly shop since I’m only human – but this way I get the thing that I really want, rather than something I just bought on impulse.
Resources to help you rethink waste more generally this Christmas:
- Planet Ark’s 12 Do’s of Christmas offers simple advice, including some food waste tips
- 1 Million Women have heaps of ideas to help you celebrate a no-waste Christmas
- “Fill hearts not landfill” with Karma Currency for charitable gifts
What have you found works well to reduce your food waste?
This spaghetti was born on a “why-isn’t-it-Friday” Monday, inspired by our hands down favourite Samoan food, palusami (ok, maybe a close tie with the pina coladas with freshly made coconut cream). Our friends’ Lonely Planet guide described palusami as “calorie bombs” of coconut cream and we knew we had to try them. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to enjoy these creamy parcels made the Samoan way – wrapped in fresh taro leaves, then banana and breadfruit leaves, and placed atop some taro root that roasted in red hot stones covered with a motherload of banana leaves (all part of an umu). You should have seen the four of us descend upon the deliciously ugly, curdled, almost cheese-like palusami, with hunks of roasted taro. We cleaned up every last drop within minutes, after a somewhat hesitant start.
Since taro leaves and fresh coconut cream is a little hard to come by in Australia, and an umu is definitely not a weeknight sort of a meal for the average 9-5er living in an apartment, I was keen to make something with similar flavours. Lazily. All you do is finely dice a large onion (or 2 small), pour over a 400ml can of coconut cream, add salt to your taste, bring to a boil then simmer to thicken slightly. Crush the onions slightly with a masher to
soothe your impatience release more of their flavour.
Interestingly the sauce doesn’t curdle like it did with fresh coconut cream, but for presentation purposes, I consider this to be a bit of a bonus, even if the result doesn’t taste quite so transcendental.
What could you possibly use this amazing sauce on? Aside from drowning some spaghetti and spinach in it you mean? Well, we had the leftover salty oniony coconut cream cooked and drizzled over our fish while we were in Samoa (highly recommended), so chicken or tofu would love it too (or Quorn, which I’m growing worryingly addicted to on this damned low nickel diet). You could easily replace spaghetti with rice noodles or baby spinach with large punchy basil leaves. Or tip it over rice and veges. If you find yourself with a pool of it on your plate and aren’t a licker, deploy some crusty bread for mopping it up.
It’s time for a confession about pasta too: I like mine slightly overcooked. There, I said it. Not canned spaghetti mush levels of overcooked, but definitely a leap hop and minute past al dente. Judge away, but I have a real aversion to al dente, unless it’s fancy pasta or fresh pasta, which is definitely no longer a Monday evening endeavour.
Spaghetti with salty coconut sauce & spinach
Serves 3-4, remembering it is quite rich, even though it doesn’t look that way
- 250-300g spaghetti (half a standard 500g packet if you’re in NZ or Australia)
- 2 handfuls baby spinach
- coconut sauce (see text in bold above)
- optional: freshly ground black and/or white pepper to serve
Cook pasta* to your preferred firmness, drain in a colander, set aside.
Make coconut sauce (in the same pasta saucepan is fine). Once it’s been simmering for a few minutes, or until the onion is softened, add the pasta back to the pan, along with the spinach. Stir everything to coat the pasta and just wilt the spinach, then taste and salt further if necessary before serving. I realised after I took this photo it’s better to serve this in shallow bowls. Take note!
Enjoy with a few cracks from your pepper grinder if you like, otherwise, enjoy! If you feel there’s too much sauce, you can drain some off, and refrigerate for another meal. I kinda like it borderline soupy though.
*Confession number 2: I almost never use bucketloads of water to cook my pasta, and once I put the pasta in, turn the heat down to low and simmer the pasta, covered, just stirring every now and then. I feel like this saves energy and works perfectly fine in this particular dish. Feel free to keep tsking.