Monthly Archives: January 2015

Burns’ supper – a contemporary twist

January 25 is Burns’ Night (the date of Burns’ birth) and tributary suppers are held not just in Scotland but all around the world – wherever there are Scots.  Burns’ Supper was originally started by a group of his friends and acquaintances a few years after his death, to honour his memory.

The menu is iconically traditional with a haggis as the centrepiece.  Burns referred to it as the  ‘great chieftan o’ the puddin’-race’. The  accompaniments to the haggis are neeps and tatties  – turnip and potatoes – served  mashed. Traditionally the haggis is piped in and then addressed – the recitation of a Burns poem called ‘Address to a Haggis’ (go figure).
If there is a large gathering there is an ‘Address to the Lasses’ – which commemorates Burns’ fondness for them.  If a small supper then its usually just the ‘Selkirk Grace’. Essentially its a celebration of plain country food and plan country folk of whom Burns was a champion.

Plain country food in Australia, haggis is not.  Cooking your own haggis is out of the question.  There are a number of butchers scattered around Sydney who make haggis but usually you have to order these in advance or else travel to the ends of the earth (St Mary’s).  Fortunately we found a supplier (Farmer Giles) selling these and other Scottish fare at the Bondi markets.
Hot, hot, hot on Saturday so husband and daughter sent off early to the markets to purchase produce, leaving me to sleep.  Daughter is learning to drive so this was a good opportunity for her to get in some much needed practice hours (otherwise I doubt she would have chosen to embark on that journey).  Unbeknownst to me, having obtained all things necessary at the markets they then went off to the beach for a swim.  I meanwhile sat sweltering in a lounge chair outside reading the digital news.

Haggis is something I absolutely adore.  When we’re in Scotland I take every opportunity to eat it.  Its generally not served at home other than for a Burns’ Supper but many pubs serve it.  I was always on the look out for a pub that had it on its menu.  And while the neeps and tatties might be served in alternative ways, canonically you got a plate with a pile of mashed potatoes, a pile of mashed turnips and a pile of haggis. Not the prettiest looking dish and I constantly wondered why no-one ever did anything different.  But I don’t think the Scots are generally known for their creativity – rather, the word conservative comes to mind.  But I do have to admit that the combination is a very successful one.  However, this being Australia, and me a foodie, I wanted to do something a bit more contemporary and aesthetically pleasing – especially when serving this rather confronting dish to people who had not tried it before (I’m always amazed at people’s reaction to haggis: generally its’yuck!!!!’ with looks of horror and distaste.)

So we searched and found a nice form of presenting this dish:  in a stack with a layer of haggis, a layer of mashed potatoes with spring onion folded thought and then a layer of mashed swedes (nice orange colour) brushed with egg yolk and cooked in the oven and then topped with asparagus tips wrapped in crisp pancetta and served with a whisky cream sauce.

I had one vegetarian guest so I decided that given this dinner centred around a haggis I would have to make a vegetarian haggis for her rather than something entirely different.  I also thought I’d better make a few extra just in case anyone was truly put off by haggis.  The vegetarian version had split peas, barley, chopped onion, garlic, carrot, steel cut oats (which are tiny and coarse) and lots of pepper and freshly ground and toasted allspice.  I was pleased with the end result – it had the same texture and flavour as the haggis (well, almost).  I was also pleased at how much people enjoyed the real thing.  Truly delicious – you just have to not think about what it consists of, but then again, if you don’t mind offal – pate anyone? – then you probably won’t object to haggis.

To start I had champagne and smoked salmon with horseradish and creme fraiche. For entree I made a dish of seared scallops on black pudding discs with a pea and mint puree, drizzled with chilli oil. And for desert, another classical Burns’ supper dish – Cranachan, which is like a trifle with layers of whisky cream, freshly pureed raspberries, toasted oats and flaked almonds and topped with fresh raspberries. Whisky is of course the canonical accompaniament to haggis – it doesn’t go too badly with the desert either – but of course a good red wine is also in order.

So my husband having said grace (see below) and then the address we ate and drank good plain Scottish food and gave Burns not another thought.


Burns’ Selkirk Grace
Some hae meat and cannae eat,
And some can eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit

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Variations on a theme of pasta: asian style

One of my favourite pasta dishes is a Thai flavoured version of spaghetti marinara.  I  have a fabulous fishmonger who always has beautiful fresh seafood in his marina mix – o extenders, just really good fresh produce, a mixture of scallops, prawns, octopus, calamari, salmon and white fish.  Its always so fresh you could eat it raw (but dressed).

I finely chop lemongrass, ginger, garlic and chili and saute in a pan.  Once its fragrant I add some passata and fish sauce, a touch of sugar and lime juice.  Then I throw in the seafood and cook for about 5 mins.  Then finish it off with finely chopped lime leaves and serve with chopped coriander and an extra dash of fish sauce and lime juice.

I cook the pasta at the same time as the marinara sauce so that they’re ready within minutes of each other. Cooking time (all up)? 15 minutes. Jamie Oliver’s not the only one able to make great meals in less than half an hour.
This is a truly delicious fragrant and light way to have a marinara.  An asian twist on an old time favourite, but please, can we not call it fusion?

Bon apetite.


What happened to Barilla pasta?

For a long time, Barilla pasta has been my pasta of choice.  I have a number of favourites: penne lisce, penne rigatone, bugatoni any my all-time favourite – bavette.  Barilla had a pasta for every kind of dish, from a range of spaghettinis and capellini to thick bugatonis and even thicker tubular spaghetti just perfect for a rich ragu.

Penne lisce is great for a simple pasta with tinned tuna, chopped rocket, grated lemon rind, some chilli (or instead use Sirena chilli tuna), capers and of course, garlic.  You just mix all this together in a bowl including the oil the tuna comes in, and add some lemon juice and then fold through the penne.   Easy and delicious.

Penne rigatone is more suitable for a tomato-based sauce and goes very well with a rich ragu.  I sometimes make a very plain tomato sauce putting a bit of oil into a saucepan and adding a couple of cloves of smashed garlic, a couple of small red chillis just split in half to the stem and some basil and let it all infuse.  Then I add a tin or two of tomatoes, some chopped anchovies and a beef stock cube and voila.  5 mins and its ready to eat.  All you need to do is extract the basil, garlic and chili and then mash up the tomatoes with either a fork or a potato masher.  Sometimes I add chunks of egglplant that I’ve sauteed and for an even richer sauce, pork and fennel sausages, either cut into small slices or just extracted in little chunks from the casing.  The sausages get cooked in the tomato sauce and again, this only takes a matter of minutes.  Remember to mash the tomatoes before adding the eggplant and sausages.  I don’t like to use passata because I think the tinned tomatoes have more flavour and give a better consistency.  I always look for tinned tomatoes that don’t have any additives or sugar or salt –  just tomatoes and water.  Bavette is another great pasta to have with this sauce.  Its somewhere in between linguine and fettucine and is my favourite.

Spaghetti bolognese calls for something thicker that you can slurp up with the sauce. Bucatini is my pasta of choice for this dish.  Thicker than spaghetti and just perfect for a quick and easy bolognese. I make a spaghetti bolognese that’s very fast: garlic and chilli and basil and anchovies in some oil and then I add a tin of tomato paste and 2 tins of tomatoes and then throw in the beef mince and let it cook quickly so it doesn’t get all dry and overcooked, in this mixture.  My secret ingredient for this dish is bacon cubes – you’ll be surprised what a difference the flavour makes, it becomes rich and delicious withot having to cook for hours.  Its also relatively fat free.  Fresh ground pepper, grated parmesan and basil to serve.

For a dish such as spaghetti pangrattata, made with fresh breadcrumbs, garlic, olive oil and anchovies and chilli, I like a very fine pasta  but not quite angel hair – capellini – which I find too fine for the pangrattata (but perfect for a crab pasta). Barilla used to have a great range of pasta and their packaging was clever because there was a plastic window on each box which showed you what the pasta was. Now the packaging has a small dot and line to indicate is thickness.  But I can’t tell the difference and I can never remember which way the sizes go: is No 3 finer than No 7 or is it the other way around?

Used to be that Barilla was availabe in all good Italian delicatessens and grocers and in most supermarkets.  Now I can’t seem to find it so readily and when I do there are very few varieties.  What happened?  Why is this brand no longer being stocked?  I dislike the other supermarket pastas and I particulalry dislike the “organic” ones – they just don’t have the same texture.

So what’s happened to Barilla?  Why is it so unavailable?  I stopped eating a lot of wheat products and carbs – bread, pasta and rice –  in an effort to get healthy so I very rarely now cook pasta but when I do I’m always disappointed that I can’t find the pasta I want.  So many pastas, so few choices.

classici-bavette-formato