Wednesday, October 17, 2012

On the QT

Staying in a brand new hotels can be interesting. Sandy and I once stayed at a newly-opened hotel in London where the lifts were not working (cue a 4-story hike up the stairs with our suitcases) and the aircon was on the fritz, set permanently to about 35 degrees. I can still remember the night we spent lying naked on top of the sheets with the window open, letting in the 2-degree outside air while inside we gently fan-baked. (We checked out the next day and headed for the safe haven of the Westbury.)

The QT hotel is Sydney's newest, and when I stayed it had only been open a matter of weeks. Indeed, some parts are still under construction. On accidentally pressing the button for the wrong floor one day, the elevator doors opened on what I can only describe as a building site.

Still, that doesn't stop it from being pretty cool. It's sandwiched between/across two famous historic buildings in central Sydney - the State Theatre and the Gowings building - and the design is madly, colourfully Now. It looks and feels like you've wandered into a spread from World of Interiors showcasing the hip Barcelona pad of some impossibly cool couple - maybe a fashion stylist and a movie stuntman, or a theatre set designer and a glass artist. It's all here: velvet sofas, multimedia light installations, vintage apothecary cabinets, displays of old suitcases and decorated dressmaker's mannequins. It's crazy and colourful and extremely well done; in the wrong hands this kind of design could be a disaster. Some serious money has been spent, and it shows.

So here's what I liked:

The staff. In a place like this, you'd almost expect the staff to be too cool for school. Yet despite being uniformly young and gorgeous, all the staff I encountered from the door to the restaurant, were without fail pleasant, helpful and warm. There are lots of them, they've clearly been well trained and have the kind of approach to service you'd expect at a bigger, slicker operation.

The quirks. For example, when you step into the elevators, music starts to play, based on your number. So, if you're alone, you get 'alone' songs - Are you Lonesome Tonight, etc. When there's two of you, you get Just the Two of Us, and when there are more, you get party music. I liked this, even after hearing All By Myself for the thirtieth time. Only once did I succeed in fooling the system into thinking I was two people, by walking briskly around inside the lift.

The room design. The room I stayed in (in the Gowings side) was gorgeous to look at with its jewel-toned cabinet filled with art glass, mosaic rug, sheepskin throw, dark slate bathroom and freestanding tub. There are lots of cute little touches: artisan glassware, quirky ceramic decorations, creative lighting, a Nespresso machine and cocktail shakers and glasses in the room, along with a cocktail recipe should you feel like whipping up your own. It's a sexy space; you can imagine hunkering in here with your favourite person and not leaving for a whole weekend.

The restaurant and bar. Newly-opened and already super popular. The design in here is a little more restrained, but still colourful, warm and very hip. I'd happily move in here. The kitchen is open, as seems to be the trend, which I also happen to love. It's fantastic being able to see all the backstage work that goes into your food. There is some serious food going on here, too. Creative Food Director is Robert Marchetti, the brains behind Icebergs, North Bondi Italian and a selection of other succesful operations. 

I particularly liked the breakfast menu, which includes some different offerings from the usual, including fish tacos, huevos rancheros and congee. I was also thrilled to see my personal favourite breakfast, boiled eggs and soldiers. (More on dinner here in a future post).

The location. You can't really get better in central Sydney. If you don’t have a view of the harbour, you might as well be just steps from Pitt St and Westfield Sydney, and have private elevator access to the craziness that is Topshop, just opened in the bottom of the building.

A couple of teeny things I didn't like - quibbles really, which I have passed on:

The bathroom lighting and mirrors. I get the feeling a man who does not wear makeup was responsible for this. Smoky mirrors are brilliant for regarding oneself naked, but not so great for applying makeup. Couple that with dim overhead lighting and you end up sitting on the floor, propping up a hand mirror on the ottoman and hoping you don't emerge into the outside world looking like a drag queen. Likewise, a clear, full-length mirror somewhere would really help a girl decide if her outfit is going to work for the day's Sydney activities.

Toilet paper. I'm usually not one to even notice toilet paper - I am incapable of even remembering what brand we use at home. Sandy has much more of an opinion on it, and he would not have been a fan of the two-ply stuff on offer here. The toilet paper did not match the quality of everything else, which was really odd. See, I said these were minor quibbles!

Overall I think the QT is a great addition to the Sydney hotel scene, and offers somewhere really different and fun to stay. If you're looking for a non-generic design and experience with additional inspiration for your home interiors, this is the place for you. 

For more go to

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Super duper peeler...

I have had a few emails from people wanting to know what the brand is of the 'super duper peeler' I mentioned in my latest column in the Sunday Star-Times.

The gadget in question doesn't have a brand on it, but it did come with a photocopied sheetwhich I dug out of the drawer, so here is the info:

The peeler is the "Prep Chef" and it looks like they have a website here where you can order:

I paid $10 for mine (they had 2 for $20) so I'm not sure what the deal is with pricing here, but I suggest you send them an email (you can tell them I sent you if you like). :) 

It really does work better than it looks. This thing doesn't just peel, it shreds and juliennes, and I have found it really easy and fun to use. From a left hander who finds some regular peelers a bit of a pain (literally) that is saying something. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

The proof is in the soup

Marco Pierre White leaned towards me, looked into my eyes and made me a promise. 
"This will be", he said softly, "the best pumpkin soup you will ever taste". He gestured towards the recipe he had just scrawled in my notebook and nodded meaningfully. 

Truth be told, it wasn't quite as romantic as it sounds. We were in a romantic setting - the top floor lounge of the Shangri La Hotel in Sydney - but there were at least four other people present, including another writer, the lovely Catherine Smith from the NZ Herald's Weekend Life magazine. Marco had in fact just shared his recipe with the two of us, and I think it's fair to say we were both a wee bit in his thrall at that moment. The Marco charisma had come to the fore. It was the end of a brief interview, but things were just getting interesting, because Marco had just started to get excited as he talked about cooking. Specifically, about cooking with Continental Stock Pot, a product he says he has used throughout his whole cooking career, including in his Michelin-starred restaurants. 

It's interesting the products famous chefs choose to endorse. I have to admire Marco, not promoting fancy cookware or special-occasion crockery, but something quite prosaic; an everyday ingredient used by many a home cook and, it must be said, sometimes sniffed at by hardcore foodies and food writers. Marco swears very earnestly by this product, and has no shortage of ideas about how to use it, including this soup. 

It turns out this wasn't actually a special recipe just for us - my idea that I had inspired him to share a secret was pretty quickly squashed when I found out it's a recipe he often cooks for demonstrations and has been quite profligate in giving to other media - but still. When a world famous and Michelin-feted  chef makes that kind of promise, you can't not cook the soup, right? It was all I could do to wait until Saturday to give it a go. 

The recipe itself is extremely simple (5 ingredients) and quite unusual. It demonstrates Marco's point about the Stockpot product quite cleverly and beautifully; the idea that it can be used as seasoning as well as straight stock. Because it's a gel concentrate, it can be diluted with liquids other than water, opening up an interesting range of flavour combinations. Marco spoke of pork simmered with a combination of orange and tomato juice (plus Stock Pot) and pot-raosted lamb with a porcini, Madeira, water and Stock Pot sauce. 

So here we have a soup with no water, no onion or garlic, no salt or pepper. We start with diced pumpkin, cooked gently in olive oil until soft. Then fresh carrot juice and one Stock Pot gel (I used chicken) are added, and the mixture simmered for 8 minutes. I wouldn't have thought to put carrot juice into pumpkin soup, but the flavours are really quite complementary and the carrots add a stunning intense colour. I made a half batch of Marco's recipe, which was all I could have made really, considering it took me a whole 1.5kg bag of carrots to get 650ml carrot juice. Marco specified 'big carrots' because, he said, their flavour was better. He also specified big pumpkins; I used one of the large grey Crown pumpkins which seemed to work well. The only flavourings apart from the Stock Pot in the soup are a little bit of Parmesan and a little cream. The whole thing took about half an hour to make, including chopping and juicing (although not counting cleaning the juicer, a job which always reminds me why I don't use the juicer very often). 

So how was it? I'll admit I had my doubts, despite that intense gaze and all those Michelin stars. I thought I'd be able to taste the stock in that unpleasant way that powdered stock flavour sometimes comes through if you use it in soups. I also thought the soup could be too salty. In fact, neither of those things happened. The stock was undetectable, and the seasoning was perfect. The carrot wasn't really discernible, except as a mellow, background sweetness. And the whole thing had a lovely smooth and velvety texture. Sandy pronounced it "absolutely delicious" and although he is not a fan, in general, of pumpkin soup, he said it was the best one he'd ever tasted. I am inclined to agree. This has to be my new default recipe, and now I want to try the method with other combinations of vegetables, not to mention giving some of those other ideas a go. As I write I have a leg of lamb slowly simmering away with red wine, rosemary, garlic and (you guessed it) a bit of Stock Pot. The very good news is that there is now a salt-reduced version of the product too, which fits HFG's criteria for stock (which not many products do). So count this as a new staple in my pantry. And a new culinary crush on my list. 

Monday, April 16, 2012


This time yesterday I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by quinces. And pears. Fruit in general. While I like eating fruit, preserving it isn't really something I get excited about. Not ideal for someone with an orchard at her house, really. Anyway, I had a big pile of pears, blown off the tree in the recent weather bomb, and another pile of fragrant but time-consuming quinces. I still had a stash of quince paste from last year, and I didn't want to launch into anything that takes hours of faffing (as things involving quinces often do). So I put it out to Facebook, where I know lots of my friends are far more domestic-goddess-ish than I in the area of preserving. Et voila - the idea of chutney popped up.

Chutney's something I do actually eat (as opposed to jam, which I'm not big on). So I hunted around online, read a few recipes, got an idea in my head and then consulted Stephanie (Alexander, that is). She doesn't have a quince chutney in The Cook's Companion, but she has a peach one which was enough to give me proportions. That's what I've based this on. I think it turned out very well indeed. It should be noted that if I cost out the chutney including buying the jars, the sugar and vinegar and my time, it's probably a lot more expensive than the good old supermarket chutney which I am quite happy to eat usually. But this does have that very special ingredient, yes, you guessed it (insert groan here): luuurve. Awww.

Pear and quince chutney

2 cups brown sugar
2 cups white sugar
3 cups apple cider vinegar
2 onions, finely chopped
3 large quinces (approx 1.3kg), peeled, cored and chopped
4-5 pears (approx 780g), peeled, cored and chopped into 2cm chunks
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup crystalised ginger, chopped
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
3 cups apple cider vinegar

the most time-consuming hands-on part of this recipe is chopping everything up. Quinces are pain to peel and chop, but you can be rough - it won't matter in the finished product. I like to leave some larger chunks of quince because I like to be able to see and taste them in the chutney. If you like a more homogenous texture, cut them into small pieces. Chop and measure everything out, then you're ready to go.

Put sugars, vinegar and onion into a large, heavy saucepan and bring to a simmer, dissolving the sugar. Add all the other ingredients and bring back to the boil, then boil quite vigorously for about 1-11/2 hours, stirring occasionally, until it's reached a chutney-like texture.

Pack into sterilised jars (wash and dry in the dishwasher, then put into a 120C oven for 20 minutes) and seal. I think it should mellow with keeping. Really nice with cheese!

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Thursday, March 8, 2012


We had a bit of smoked fish in the fridge and I didn't want to waste it. It was Monday night and I was low on cooking inspiration. But wait - we had eggs, we had rice - we had kedgeree! I remembered a recipe I'd seen in Jamie Oliver's book of English recipes. Upon inspection, it looked delicious, but (and Jamie does this a bit, like many other chefs) there were no veges. Unless you count a few sprigs of coriander. So in the interests of vegivore-ism, I felt it necessary to re-work the recipe. And here you have it - I'm not calling it a kedgeree, since I have learned the hard way that there are always purists who get very upset when you call something by a specific name and then mess around with the original. I am still scarred by an incident to do with the South African dish, Bobotie, and an incident in my newspaper column to do with the meaning of Cobb Salad. Anyway - this is pretty tasty, simpler than Jamie's  version and healthier, too. Let's call it a pilaf and be done with it. You know what I mean. 

Vege and smoked fish pilaf
I've used lots of ginger, just because I love it - but you could use a bit less if you prefer. 

serves 2

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped or grated ginger
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 cup basmati rice
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup water
2 eggs
1 courgette, diced
1 cup broccoli florets
1/2 cup green beans, trimmed
1 cup smoked fish, roughly flaked
1 cup rocket leaves
zest of 1 lemon

lemon wedges and chilli (fresh or flakes) to garnish

Step 1 Heat olive oil in a large saucepan. Add shallot, garlic and ginger and cook gently for 2-3 minutes. Add curry powder and cumin and stir, cook until softened. Add rice and stir to coat with spices. Add stock and water, bring to the boil, then reduce heat to very low and simmer, lid on, for 10 minutes.

Step 2 Meanwhile, boil eggs for 6 minutes. Cool, peel and quarter. Set aside.

Step 3 Steam beans, broccoli and courgette for 2 minutes. Add to rice mixture with smoked fish and mix well. Turn heat off and leave lid on for another 3 minutes. Add rocket and lemon zest and stir through.

Divide between plates, add egg and serve with lemon wedges. Season with black pepper and  sprinkle with chilli if desired.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

More eggplant adventures

I can’t help myself… I can't keep away from the eggplant. So here’s two recipes in a row. 

First, here’s my healthy(ish) eggplant parmigiana – what a lovely thing with a bit of grilled chicken or fish. And not overly cheesy greasy at all. Second, a fabulous Japanese way with eggplant that is simply divine. I’d consider buying eggplant out of season just to make this. Try it and tell me you don’t agree.

Eggplant parmigiana with spinach
This recipe ditches the frying that can be a part of this recipe, and adds another serve of veges. Win-win!
Serves 2-3 as a side dish.

Fresh tomato sauce
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
4 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons red wine
1 teaspoon sugar
Water as needed
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to season

2 medium eggplants, sliced in 1cm slices
Olive oil spray
2 cups spinach leaves, roughly chopped
¼ cup grated fresh parmesan
¼ cup cottage cheese
¼ cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

First, make the sauce. Heat the olive oil over a medium heat in a pot, then gently cook the garlic and shallots for a couple of minutes. Add all other ingredients except water and seasoning. Bring to a simmer and cook gently for 8-10 minutes, adding water if you need it. Taste and season. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Spray the eggplant slices with oil, and arrange them on an oven tray. Bake for about 5-6 minutes (keep an eye on them) then turn over. Cook for another 5-6 minutes, until golden and soft. Remove and set aside. Leave the oven on.

Cook spinach leaves in the microwave or a steamer for 1-2 minutes, until wilted.

Spoon 1/3 of the sauce into the bottom of a baking dish. Cover with eggplant slices. Sprinkle with parmesan. Add a layer of spinach leaves. Repeat the layering, ending with a thin layer of sauce. Dollop spoonfuls of cottage cheese at random over the top. (This is optional, really, but it does add a little something creamy and nice to the whole thing). Sprinkle over breadcrumbs, parsley and any remaining parmesan. Spray the top with oil.

Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, until it is bubbling and cheese is golden on the top. Remove from the oven and let it sit for a few minutes before serving.

Miso Glazed Eggplant (nasu dengaku)
I first had this in Sydney at a very cool Japanese restaurant named Toko. Turns out it is a pretty common treatment for eggplant in Japanese cooking, and totally delicious. Different people seem to have different ways of doing the glaze; I’ve seen recipes using egg yolk which I assume would thicken it, but what I’ve done seems to give a result pretty similar to the Toko version. Please try it; and tell me how you like it!

Serves 2-4 as a side dish or part of a shared meal.

1 large or 2 small eggplants, cut in half lenthwise
1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons miso paste
3 tablespoons sugar
A little water

Preheat the oven to 200C. Bake the eggplant for 30 minutes or so, until soft and just starting to collapse a little (this would be even better done on the barbecue with the lid down, for a smoky flavour).
it'll look a bit like this...

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Combine mirin, rice vinegar, miso and sugar with about ¼ cup water. Bring to a simmer, stirring. Gently simmer for 2 minutes. Add water if needed to make a gravy-like texture. Spread sauce over eggplant halves.

Turn oven to grill and return eggplant to the oven, cooking for about 2 minutes (keep an eye on it) until the glaze is golden, set and caramelised. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds if you like.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Learning to love liver (not really)

I like to think I am a total omnivore. As a food writer I think it is important that I am not squeamish about any food, and that I don't have any food prejudices. That I'm willing to give any food a go. 

And that's something I pretty much stick to. Weird exotic meat - no problem. Peacock? Done it. Sheep testicles? Yep. Baby Bambi? Bring it on. Insects? No problem. I would, I believe, give anything a try at least once. But offal. As much as I have tried, I have found it impossible to enjoy kidneys and livers. 

I know I'm not alone here. I love the idea of them - high in iron and vitamin A, rich and meaty, usually cooked in a delicious combo of butter and wine. But something about the texture, paired with that very strong, iron-y, intense animal flavour... I just can't do it.

Except I can eat pate and terrine. Liver, when it's not quite so liver-ish, and when combined with other ingredients, I find I can handle and actually, enjoy. This is good news for my omnivore reputation. 

Here I present my favorite summer terrine; the basis of many a weekend summer lunch, and a lovely thing to nibble on with a glass of wine pre-dinner. Terrine is really just a flash French meatloaf, and it is completely delicious. I am using sausages here instead of mincing my own meats, just because it's easier. Obviously the better your sausages, the better the flavour of the finished terrine. Italian ones with fennel seeds, or Toulouse sausages, make good choices. If you have any brandy you could add a splash of that, too. Next up, pate (a complete revelation!)

Niki's chicken and pork terrine 

450g chicken mince 
400g (about 4) pork sausages (I used Branco's continental pork) 
1 clove garlic, finely chopped 
1 spring onion, finely chopped 
1 rasher shoulder bacon, chopped in small pieces 
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped 
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped 
2 tablespoons shelled pistachio nuts 
1/4 cup white wine 
180g chicken livers 
salt and freshly ground white pepper 

Preheat the oven to 160C. Squeeze the insides out of the sausages into a large bowl. Add all the other ingredients, except chicken livers. Mix together well with your hands (easiest) or a fork if you are feeling squeamish. 

Put the chicken livers into a blender or processor and whiz into a smooth slurry. (This is the grossest bit, but worth it for the flavour it adds). Add this into the meat mixture, season and mix it all together well. 

Put the mixture into a loaf tin and smooth the top. Put inside a roasting dish and fill the roasting dish with water so it comes about halfway up the sides of the loaf tin. 

Cook in the oven for 1 1/4 hours. Check it by inserting a knife or skewer; it's cooked when the juices run clear. It may need another 15 minutes or so. 

Cool the terrine in the loaf tin, then cover with a layer of plastic wrap and a layer of foil. Put something heavy on top of the terrine (I use another loaf tin loaded with cans of food) and leave it in the fridge overnight. This presses it down and gives it that lovely terrine-ish texture. Serve sliced, with a tasty relish, crusty bread and a salad. A glass of wine goes well, too. 

This terrine keeps for several days in the fridge, and freezes well too. Slice it up or freeze it whole. 

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pasta mia - how to make your own pasta

Still feeling Italian.... really, it was only a matter of time before I got my fingers in some pasta dough.

I haven't made much pasta in the past few months, mostly because I've been cutting right back on the wheat. But it's the holidays, and I've been pretty much off the FODMAPs wagon, and I truly hate the thought of never having pasta. So it seemed like a good time.

Every time I make fresh pasta I go into raptures about how good it is, and why don't I make all my own pasta, etc etc. Of course on a lazy holiday day, making your own pasta seems like the easiest thing in the world. Try me again on a busy work night.

It is pretty magical, though, in the same way cake, or cheese, or quince paste are magical: you start with something quite unpromising and end up with something that's completely changed in nature and quite delicious.

For those of you who've never made your own pasta, here's a step-by step. You start with a pile of flour, a bit of salt and some eggs. I used about 1 1/2 cups plain flour here, and 2 smallish eggs.

You mix it up a bit (carefully, to avoid rivers of egg breaking over the flour banks and running all over the bench). There's nothing stopping you doing this bit in a large bowl, if you want to. Gradually incorporate the flour and egg together into a bit of a dough.

It will look a bit gnarly for a while, and you will think "Oh my god, this is not working, what a waste of egg, I'd better add some water," or things like that. But trust me, it works out in the end. Before you know it, you'll have a shaggy-looking dough. Now it's time to knead. Just do what comes naturally, turning and pushing the dough, and it will gradually become smooth and springy and lovely. (This was about as much of a workout as I've had all holidays. I wonder if it was negated by the wine I was also drinking at the time?) Before long you will have a ball of something that springs back when you press it, and you can imagine rolling out into a thin sheet.

This is the stage at which proper Italian mamas with large biceps would roll the dough out by hand, using long thin wooden rolling pins, until they have the world's most gorgeous silky pasta. Then they use their army of grandchildren to make individual pieces of fusilli or orichiette or whatever. This is the stage where I bust out the pasta machine.

This still requires some manual labour (turning the handle) and it takes a wee bit of time as you feed the bits of dough (cut up your ball into manageable pieces) through, gradually setting the rollers closer together and making the pasta thinner and thinner. This is the stage when you start to feel like a complete domestic goddess and start exclaiming in loud, faux Italian to your husband while he's trying to watch the cricket.

I'm always amazed with how much pasta I end up with. This dough really ended up making enough tagliatelle (or is it fettucine? I'm never quite sure) for four comfortably. I often make pappardelle, which I cut up by hand since my machine only has two cutting settings.

I usually scatter the pasta over a board and spread it out so it can dry a little bit and doesn't stick together. Proper Italian cooks hang their pasta on racks. If anyone has a suggestion for what I could use as an impromptu pasta-hanging rack, I'm all ears. Apart from the clothes-drying rack (which trust me, I have thought about).

You can dry this pasta out a bit and keep it for a few days in the fridge. Or you can cook it straight away. Fresh pasta only takes a couple of minutes to cook, so do everything else for your dish first and have a pot of water boiling and ready to go about three minutes before you want to eat. Give it lots of room to move around and a bit of salt.

It's a terrible shame to overcook it when you've gone to all this effort, so give it two minutes, test a bit and be ready to whip it off the heat and drain straight away.

I could eat fresh pasta with olive oil, salt and pepper. But in the interests of marital relations I went to a tiny bit more effort with this pasta. I tossed a little garlic and chilli in a pan, then added some lovely little cherry tomatoes and a few prawns. Toss, toss toss, get the prawns colored, add a couple of handfuls of rocket. Chuck the pasta in, gently toss it all together, add olive oil, salt and pepper and basil leaves and eat, pronto!

Then eat the leftover pasta the next day with a chopped tomato, a chopped chilli, a bunch of basil and a bit (maybe a lot) of grated parmesan. Mmmmmmmolto bene.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Beach House Cookbook.... it's back!

The first recipe book I ever did was something called the Beach House Cook Book. It was pretty successful, in the context of recipe books in NZ (not Alison Holst territory, but pretty respectable). Beach houses, plus recipes... what's not to like? It sold out everywhere, but was never reprinted. 

Until now..... 

The publisher, Chanel, have re-worked Beach House into a new version. It's essentially all the recipes from Beach House, minus the houses. It's called Bach & Beach House

I have a limited number (50 copies) available for sale, so if you're one of the people who's emailed me in the past few years asking where you can get this book, here's your chance. It's yours for the bargain price of just $20... OR if you want an extra-special deal, buy Beach House plus Eating In for just $35. 

Click here to buy, and enjoy! 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Rock and (eggplant) roll

I've come over all Italian in the last few days. I think it started when we saw the movie "The Salt of Life" at Matakana cinema. It didn't really have anything to do with food, except for one small scene in which the characters ate Melazane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmigiana) and for the next few days my mind was fermenting thoughts of eggplant. As luck would have it they are right in season, and cost just $1.50 each at Nosh at the moment. So it's been eggplant central here.

I did make a parmigiana and it certainly was delicious, but to be honest I found it a teeny bit of a cheese overload. So I need to have a think about that and work on it - I think maybe some spinach and other vegetable goodies might tone it down a bit.

In the meantime I've been having fun with eggplant rolls (involtini, if you want to be Italian about it) and these I really do love. These ones below are not really strictly Italian at all, being stuffed with feta, cream cheese and parmesan spiked with lemon and chilli. That just happened to be what I had in the fridge. In Puglia, according to Claudia Roden's The Food of Italy, they simply grill the slices of eggplant and roll them around a bit of mozarella and a basil leaf, then bake until the cheese melts. This sounds divine, so next time I make mozzarella I am going to be all over that.

I don't really have a recipe for these.... it is the holidays, after all. I may write one if anyone really thinks they need it (post a comment and let me know). Just mix the cheeses with a fork until you're happy with the combo, add chilli and lemon zest at will and away you go. I've baked the slices of eggplant in the oven, keeping an eye on them because it doesn't take long to go from deliciously brown to hopelessly charred. Roll away and top with a quick fresh tomato sauce (shallots, garlic, chopped ripe tomatoes, red wine, sugar, salt). Scatter over some basil leaves if you like. A platter of these with a lovely green vege salad and some crusty bread makes a fab lunch, which is exactly what I did with my friend Gertrud on Wednesday. These are also quite delicious served cold, as a starter, which is how we had the leftovers last night.

Thoughts, people? Let me know if you try these and what you think!

PS - can I just say how much I am loving my new wireless keyboard for the iPad! Thank you, Sandy McNeur! xxx

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