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.



Post Christmas grazing

What happens when Christmas is over and you’ve had the post Christmas Boxing Day veg out – late start to the day (or it’s already afternoon) and you lie about reading, watching movies a and grazing on leftovers: smoked salmon and ham. Lots of ham. So sandwiches and rolls with homemade habanera mustard. What do you eat/cook next?

This time of year – between Christmas and New Year  – always feels like quintessential holiday time. It’s hot and there’s absolutley nothing to do. So it should follow that meals will be simple and easy and quick. I cooked for and hosted two Christmas functions this year: Christmas Eve dinner – for friends of my daughter and my folks – and Christmas Day. I cooked a lot. Which means I planned and shopped and prepared a lot. On Christmas Eve we had:

  • seared tuna wrapped in nori with a lemon soy dressing and wasabi mayonnaise
  • pork loin (marinated in soy sauce, fish sauce, mirin, ginger, garlic and chilli) with freshly pickled cucumber and a watermelon, coriander and fried shallot salad
  • basil pannacotta with raspberry jelly and fresh raspberries and blueberries.

On Christmas Day it was a long, languid event with many breaks in between:

  • champagne jelly with white peaches and raspberries
  • oysters with a red shallot reduction
  • smoked salmon with tahini soy dressing
  • seared scallops on black pudding with a minty pea puree
  • bloody mary prawn rolls
  • baked ham with a waldorf(ish) salad
  • pork and green mango salad
  • sticky Orange Christmas pudding with whisky

Turned out we’d all had enough after the ham so the pork salad was left to another day.
Boxing Day however got the better of me and we opted for leftovers. So the pork was the next night’s meal. Simple and quick. So far so good. We’ve made do with everything on hand and there was no need to leave the house, except for a movie on Saturday and another on Sunday, which inevitably led my mind to thoughts of food: what to eat/cook next?

Try as I might, I cannot go for very long without thinking about food and what to make next. It isn’t just the eating, its actually about the making of food and the anticipation of flavours and textures. Cooking is not a chore for me, its a pleasure.  It is something that I genuinely take enjoyment in. And its a great thing to do to clear my mind; while I’m cooking I’m totally focussed.  That’s not say I don’t enjoy a conversation and a glass of wine when I cook: yes I cook with wine and sometimes I even put it in the food! (apologies, I couldn’t resist) Just don’t get me distracted – it never ends well.

And so to New Year’s Eve with a special friend who comes visit this time of year to indulge in all things Sydney.  What to cook?  Drunken prawns with wood ear mushrooms and mung bean noodles; duck salad with pomelo and lychees; tomato and lemon salad (courtesy of Ottolenghi) and seared tuna; oysters; freshly smoked trout and black russian baby tomatoes that are growing in our garden, and burrata. For a picnic: schnitzel and coleslaw and dill pickles in fresh bread rolls.  Mmmm…  food, glorious food.

Bon appetite and Happy New Year.

Chooks and geese and ducks and things

Duck breasts with figs and pickled walnuts

Duck breasts with figs and pickled walnuts

Duck breasts are one of my favourite foods though I eat them rarely – they’re so rich and it always feels like a great indulgence – which it is. Cooking duck breasts is tricky – don’t cook them long enough to render the fat and they’re impossibly tough. Cook them too long and you’ve lost that wonderful ‘melt-in-your-mouth’ texture, flavour and succulence. Plus they go grey – never an appealing colour to have on your plate.

My favourite duck breast dish is one accompanied with cabbage and roasted pears. Doesn’t sound very enticing but it is a perfect accompaniment to the richness of the duck. Finely shred cabbage and mix with half a finely sliced red onion. Briefly saute in some of the leftover duck fat – the cabbage should just be wilted but still have a crunch and a gloss to it. Season with salt and pepper and a splash of verjuice or white wine. I put the pears (beurre bosc or corella), peeled and halved in a small baking tray, cut-side down with a drizzle of oil and a good splash (ok, a generous pour) of white wine to cook for around 20 mins. The duck only takes 10 minutes in the oven so timing is key: I first pan fry the duck then put them in the baking tray with the pears. By the time the duck has rested (sigh) the pears should be cooked. I sauté the cabbage at the last minute so it doesn’t wilt further.

Recently I’ve been trying other recipes. One was a Maggie Beer recipe for cabernet jelly glazed duck breasts with a salad of baby beetroot leaves, pickled figs and walnuts. Seriously. It looked good and I assumed that the Maggie Beer cabernet paste and  pickled figs would be readily available from places like the Essential Ingredient. I found the cabernet paste but no-one had heard of pickled figs. Oh well, time to get creative. Beetroot leaves ditto. I did however find walnuts!!!
This recipe just didn’t work:

  • Place duck breasts, skin side down, into a pan over medium heat and leave to render the duck fat.
  • When crisp on skin side, turn breasts quickly over and seal the underside for 1 minute.
  • Pour out fat and brush skin side with cabernet jelly and turn.

You have to repeat this process every 2 minutes, turning and brushing the duck with the cabernet jelly until its cooked to medium rare – approx 10-12 minutes. Problem is, the jelly burns and then the duck skin burns. Maybe it would have worked on a gas stove but on my electric one I couldn’t really control the temperature. Admitedly the flavour was lovely but it seemed like too much of a process.

Having an extra packet of duck breats in the fridge I decided to try this recipe again –  but with a variation. Nowhere could I find pickled figs but I did manage to find a jar of pickled walnuts and some lovely fresh figs.  I cooked the duck in the usual way and made a salad with the following:

  • Rocket
  • fresh figs, halved and grilled
  • lightly roasted walnuts
  • pickled walnuts (sliced)
  • pomegranate seeds (just because I had them)
  • dressed with some vino cotto and olive oil. Delish.

Unfortunately I was on the phone while cooking the duck breasts and lost track of time.  At first thinking I hadn’t cooked the underside long enough I left them in the oven a little bit too long.  Damn.  Although the duck was tender it was a bit over cooked for my liking (I like them to be pink).  Fortunately I could hide their greyness amongst the green rocket leaves and the bright red jewels of the pomegranate.  And for those who are wondering what pickled walnuts look and taste like:  the walnuts are pickled whole in their shell and are very soft to slice through – they really no longer resemble walnuts – and they taste much like caper berries.  Nice amongst things (and perfect in a pigeon terrine) but not something you would eat on their own.

My endeavor to master the perfectly cooked duck breast continues.

Jellies for adults

Today I went and packed up my office.  Having just been made redundant at work – effective immediately – I had no opportunity to think about ‘what’s next’ or about what I would do with all the things I had accumulated in my office , my personal space for the last 5+ years.   It was where I spent the majority of my time.  Full of paintings, books, reference material, a pinboard with postcards I had collected on my travels and from colleauges from theirs as well as momentos from exhibitions and celebrations.  The usual stuff.  And my Bose stereo system. A quick half hour and a station wagon loaded and I was gone.  So much for 5+ years work.

The thought of just going back home to unpack was unappealing.  I needed to do something nice – a drink and nibble somewhere.  We headed to 4Fourteen (or is that Four 14?) in Bourke st – Colin Fassnidge’s place where at first opening it was difficult to get a seat. A few years on and its just walk in and not a fashionista in sight.  Pretty empty by the time we got there at 2.30 but kitchen staff all working hard.  Its an open kitchen so you can see everything.  The place is large and bright and beautifully set up – the banquettes at the back are gorgeous tan leather, they serve wine in proper glasses and the place has the feel of a NewYork loft.  But its the food that really makes this place worth coming to.

We just wanted a drink and something light: seared bonito with ginger ale jelly and apples accompanied by a glass of Duval Leroy champagne. It was a perfect match – more so because my husband had ordered the champagne before we had considered what to eat – champagne being the  drink for all occasions, and in this instance, to toast the end of one phase of my life and the start of something new.  What that new is, I don’t yet know.  But the dish was certainly one that suggested good things to come. When did jellies become so adult?  The flavours and textures just sang in my mouth.  It was so playful – beautifully cooked slices of just just cooked bonito scattered with the jelly and grated green apples in a dressing I couldn’t really figure out, but absolutely perfect. It was joyous.  How do people think of these dishes?  Its what makes the difference between just good food and really exciting food. Food worth celebrating and food for celebrating.

Our other dish was a chargrilled lamb tongue – and I’ll bet if this was presented to you without knowing what it was you’d just think it was perfectly cooked meat that your knife sliced through like butter – tender and succulent. Accompanied by a glass of Spanish red, again a perfect match and a perfect way to farewell 5 years of dedication and welcome my unkown future.

Occasions are worth celebrating, no matter what the event.  This quick meal did that for me.  Good food, good wine, good company.  Life’s OK.

Seared beef with watermelon and roast shallot & chilli dressing

Seared beef with watermelonDinners at our house are a source of great contemplation. I generally start the day wondering what to cook for dinner. On week nights it needs to be something simple and quick; generally something prepared within 30 minutes after we get back from yoga. These days I tend to plan ahead so that I have everything on hand. Weekends provide greater opportunity for indulgence – both in terms of produce and preparation.

We try and steer clear of too many carbs and fatty rich foods and eat clean – lots of fresh salads and vegetables.

On Friday I made a seared kingfish salad with a roast shallot and chilli dressing. The salad has thin triangles of watermelon, coriander, mint, spring onion and julienned chilli. Fresh and delicious. I had enough dressing left over to use in another meal so adapted this receipe for seared beef.

You need to marinate the beef (I used a small eye fillet)  – preferrably for 2 hours but I only decided what to do an hour before hand and it was still extremely flavoursome.

Marinade: finely chop 1 lemongrass, 2 red shallots, 2 garlic cloves and pound to a paste in a mortar and pestle with 2 tablespoons fish sauce. Rub this over the beef and then cover and refrigerate.

For Roast Shallot & Chilli Dressing:

  • 4 red shallots, unpeeled
  • 100ml vegetable oil
  • 3 long dried red chillies, seeds removed
  • 50gm caster sugar
  • 100 ml lime juice

Preheat oven to 180c. Place shallots in a roasting pan and roast until very tender (15-20mins). Cool and peel.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat and add chillies turning occaisionaly until crisp (1-2 mins). Drain on absorbent paper and cool.

Pound chilli, sugar and 1/2 tspn salt to a fine powder in a mortar nad pestle. Add half the shallots (reserve the remainder for salad). Pound to a fine paste then add lime juice.

For salad:

  • 2 cups loosely packed coriander and mint
  • 3 spring onions thinly sliced lengthways
  • 1 long red chilli, seeds removed and sliced into thin juliene
  • 60g watermelon cut into thin triangles.

Mix coriander, mint, spring onion and chilli in a bowl.  Dress at the last moment or the salad will get very soggy.

Sear the beef (cook to your liking – I like mine rare), rest and cut into thin slices.

To plate: place watermelon triangles and beef on plate then add dressed salad and top and sprinkle with fried garlic (available from Asian grocery).

This dish is so versatile you can use any nice firm fleshed fish – tuna would be good – or pork or duck.  Allows for limitless variations.

The recipe serves 4 which is why I had enough dressing to make another dish 🙂

Easter indulgences

Easter is an opportunity to wind down, relax, reflect, be. There’s nothing to do. Gone are the days when we would go away on holidays, camping or otherwise with kids. Now its just the two of us and there’s something very indulgenet about being able to do nothing for 4 days. There are no expectations – everyone is away or with their families, shops are closed – well for 2 days – on the other days its like armageddon is about to strike and everyone heads for the supermarkets and grocery stores and specialty stores for their supplies of food and chocolates and buns and breads.

So for us its just a matter of what shall we do and cook/eat. Our plan was simple enough: on Friday there was a lunch time yoga class (12.15) which we could easily get to after a lie-in and late breakfast for which we bought a baguette, some chevre, tomato and fresh figs. After yoga, back home for a small picnic in the local park. This wasn’t planned but it was such a beautiful day and our apartment is dark and cold. There’s something special about April – the sky is blue, the weather is warm and sunny and there’s a sense of quiet and stillness.

So some leftover baguette, tomato, white anchovies, chevre, ham, a couple of plums, a bottle of verdhello and off we went. A short walk, a picnic rug, kindles and wine and food and glorious sunshine. Then back home to prepare dinner.

I had decided that a whole poached salmon would be nice – and simple. I had hoped that my daugther and her boyfriend would join us for lunch but they had other plans. Who could blame them. I sent my husband off to the shops on Thursday to get provisions and instructed him to go to the fishmarket for salmon. There’s a very good fish shop in our local shopping centre but I didn’t think they would have whole salmon and if they did, they would only have huge ones. Hence the instruction to go to the fishmarket. We only needed a smallish salmon.

My husband went to the local fish shop and was impressed with the two huge salmons they had and decided he would save himself a trip and so he bought one of the two salmons: 3.3kg. That’s a huge slamon. It was more than 60cm long. I don’t have poaching equipment for such a huge fish. I don’t even have an oven that’s big enough to hold such a big fish. Hell, I don’t have the ability to lift one of those into a pan. What to do? He helpfully suggested I could cut it in half. But the whole idea was to poach a whole salmon. So I cut the salmon in half. I removed the fins and then I left the half with the head for poaching and went about attempting to fillet the tail end to gravalax it. Honestly, If I had known I would have suggested he just buy fillets. Some rather bad knife skills later I had 2 half fillets of salmon ready for gravalax. Orange rind, lemon rind and a bit of lime, chopped dill, salt, sugar and vodka. Salmon now ready to be cured.

As for the poached salmon, I made a court bouilion and brought it to the boil then turned it right down and immersed the slamon and slowly poached it. Still there was enough fish to feed a family. I sauteed some leeks, blanched fresh green beans and chopped some heirloom baby tomators and then made a hollandaise sauce. The fish was delicious. But we have enough fish for dinner tonight (I’m steaming some baby potatoes and making a cos, cucumber and dill salad to accompany). There’ll be plenty fish left for another day. Tomorrow I’m cooking pork ribs with a Balinese spice rub and some long beans in a traditional Indonesian sauce (belacan). I’m hoping that my daughter will turn up for lunch (it was going to be dinner) otherwise, there’ll be leftover ribs to eat another night.

I’ve also made some traditional Russian easter breads and coloured some eggs. Its for Sunday lunch. Esater is a time of celebrating, traditions mainly. I like the festivities this festive season affords. Even though we celebrate alone, I still enjoy the sense of occasion. And with only the two of us, it really doesn’t matter when or how we eat. What matters is that we enjoy.

Happy Easter.image

Winter indulgences

I haven’t bogged for ages about food – I think I lost my way a bit.  It all became about eating well and fitting food around activities – yoga/gym/work etc.  Lots of advanced planning and quick meals – what to cook when you’re only home at 7.30pm? All fairly pedestrian.

This weekend has afforded me the luxury of indulging in winter foods.  I suddenly thought “beef cheeks” with red wine – lots of it both in the cooking and in the cook.  I have a fabulous recipe for a Spanish beef cheek dish that uses annatto seeds/oil, manzanilla fina sherry  and green olives and is served with tomato bread and a parsley and anchovy salad (delicious); and another one that I think is gorgeous but very decadent because it calls for both red wine and gorgonzola.  Delicious, but ….hmm …

So I went looking for recipes and came across one from Frank Camorra of Movida.  No blue cheese, instead:  red wine adn Pedro Ximinez sherry.  How decadent is that?  500m good quality shiraz (well, there goes a bottle – just a bit leftover for a glass for the cook), 500ml sherry and 500ml water (plus thyme, bay leaves, onion, garlic and carrots).  And a long slow cook. Its served with a cauliflower puree and the cauliflower is cooked in cream and butter !  Did I mention “decadent”? For those who know me, you’ll have thought I’ve gone troppo – I don’t use butter and avoid dairy and fats and carbs, etc, etc,…. yawn.  So this is definitely a aberration.

But winter weather (not that we’re having much of it here in sunny Sydney) calls for comfort food – big rich meaty dishes that can sustain us.  Full of flavour and readily accompanied by equally big flavoursome reds. And given its a long weekend, why not indulge?

I thought I may as well make extra so that we could have another meal of it during the week and then decided that perhaps we needed something lighter in between.  Some lovely looking chicken thighs at AC Butchery caught my eye and I marinaded them in a mixture of lime leaves (the only herb still growing in my garden), lemongrass, galangal, chilli, palm sugar, fish sauce and lime juice and then pan fried them before finishing them off in the oven.  They might sound rich but I served them with a salad of rice stick noodles, chopped cucumber, chilli  and asian herbs with the usual Vietnamese dressing.  Bliss. I just love the way these flavours dance in your mouth – each one complementing the other. It was a dish to savour and then sit back and sigh over.  Perfect.

Today some beautiful bright red rhubarb stalks captured my imagination.  I chopped  and cooked them in orange juice with sultantas (you need to add a few drops of water or the rhubarb will stick to the bottom of the pan) and am looking forward to having them over my oats in the morning (and possibly with the leftover cream for desert – would that be too much?).

I also quickly made some more preserved lemons – these are a staple of mine and I love that you can just make a jar or two and have them in the pantry for use. I also gift these to people – after all, who doesn’t use them?

So now its finally time to indulge in my Modiva-braised beef cheeks and cauliflower puree.

Tomorrow I go to the gym.

Beef Cheeks with Ximenez sherry