Correction

Just a quick correction regarding the recent entry for garlic naan. The recipe as I wrote it originally called for 2 3/4 cups of flour. That should have been 1 3/4 cups. The weight I wrote — 230 g — was correct. It's an embarrassing mistake given that entry is by far my most visited, but if you were planning on making them (and do, they're delicious) make sure to use the corrected measurements.

On that note, when baking it's always good practice to go by weight rather than volume measurements. As with most matters of baking, Susan has the full story. Was my erroneous volume measurement an innocent typo or an act of militant pro-weighing insurgency? You decide.

Canned tomatoes and a basic tomato sauce

Spaghetti with a basic tomato sauce

I have both everything and nothing to say about my basic tomato sauce. I could write for pages and still have more to say about how it epitomizes everything I love about rustic Italian cooking. It is warm, comforting, and transcends the sum of its most basic parts. At the same time it is beyond simple, the kind of sauce that can be made while the pasta cooks and is so straightforward that a recipe is hardly necessary.

There is really only one thing to remember: Use the best quality canned tomatoes. This doesn't necessarily mean the most expensive, by the way. On the contrary, the brand I buy ("D'oro") are the cheapest I've seen, and even cheaper when I buy them a slab at a time. If you don't already have a brand you're happy with, buy a can each of a few different brands and taste the difference. Tomatoes from Italy are a good place to start but this isn't a guarantee of quality. Mediocre canned tomatoes can be semi-disguised with heat and salt, but the best tomatoes will taste good straight from the can. Not quite 'eat by the spoonful' good (to my taste at least), but slightly sweet and free from any metallic or bitter tastes.

This recipe makes enough sauce for one serving of pasta (90g uncooked weight), but scales up very easily to make as much as you need.

Basic tomato sauce

Ingredients (serves 1):

  • 1 tbsp of finely diced onion (about 1/8 of a medium-sized onion)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup of good quality canned tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp of fresh basil, chopped
  • Cracked pepper

1. Gently sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil with a pinch of salt for 10 minutes over a low heat. They should begin to go translucent, and not colour.
2. Add the tomatoes, and turn the heat up to medium-high. Cook for 2 minutes or until the tomatoes begin to break down and thicken.
3. Add the fresh herbs, cracked pepper to taste, and cook for 1 minute. Although best eaten fresh, at this point the sauce can be refrigerated or frozen. To serve, add the almost al dente pasta and about 1/4 cup of pasta water and toss over heat until the sauce coats the pasta (about 1 minute). Top with grated parmesan and serve.

Basictomatosauce

Turn your oven up to 11: Garlic naan

Garlic naan

Continuing the Indian food theme, last night I made dal makhani and garlic naan. First things first: dal makhani. You might have heard of murgh makhani, better known as butter chicken. Dal makhani shares flavour elements with murgh makhani — particularly in the liberal use of butter and cream — but it is a distinct dish and by no means a 'vegetarian' butter chicken. This creamy, aromatic stew of pulses could take your butter chicken any day of the week. I used a recipe from A Life (Time) of Cooking, and in my opinion the recipe is flawless.

But I digress. This post is about naan, the second most delicious of Indian yeast breads (well-made Battura tops the list). This was the first time I've made naan — I could never be bothered making a yeast bread from scratch, measuring and mixing and kneading and rising and rolling and rising, just to serve as a side dish. I'm here to tell you that it's not a hassle. And if it were a hassle, it would be well worth it. Indian curries will often require you to wait for lentils to soften or meat to tenderise, and that's the perfect time to make naan. You could even make the dough in this recipe and freeze it for quick, fresh naan later on.

This recipe was adapted from Stef's at the Cupcake Project. I've made some minor modifications: these are flavoured with garlic, it's a half recipe with measurements by weight, and mine are cooked in an oven. Naan are traditionally cooked against the scorching walls of a tandoor oven, an appliance most Western homes don't have. However, by turning my oven to its hottest setting and preheating it with a cast iron pan inside, I managed to create a furnace that was off the scale of my oven thermometer and cooked these babies in less than 3 minutes. Next time I plan to turn the grill (broiler) on at the same time to boost the heat even further.

Oh yeah, the recipe...

Paneer parathas

Paneer parathas

I remember the first time I made parathas. It was a few years ago when I was starting to become interested in cooking. An indian friend heard about this, and suggested I make aloo parathas.

"They're so easy, just make a simple dough from flour and water, wrap it around some spiced mashed potato, roll it flat with a rolling pin, and cook it on both sides like a pancake."

In her defense, that is pretty much what you do. Although her instructions assumed a fair degree of prior cooking knowledge, she was so confident that I couldn't let her down by admitting confusion. The resulting parathas were a spectacular failure, suitable for little other than homemade grout in DIY bathroom renovations.

Fast-forward four years. I can now successfully boil water, toast bread, microwave beans, and if I may say so myself, cook a pretty decent paratha. This recipe would be nothing without Manjula of Manjula's Kitchen. While my paratha dough recipe is slightly different, I learnt the technique from her videos and my parathas feature Manjula's (extremely easy) paneer as a starring ingredient. I've used paneer (an indian cheese) here, but you can fill parathas with anything including potato, spinach, lentils, or minced meat.

Paneer Parathas

Ingredients (makes 4 parathas):

  • 70 g (1/2 cup) wholemeal flour
  • 70 g (1/2 cup) plain flour + 35 g (1/4 cup) for dusting
  • 2 g (1/2 tsp) of salt
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 15 g (1 tbsp) of ghee
  • 120 g paneer, crumbled
  • 1 tsp of grated ginger
  • 1/4 tsp of ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp of toasted cumin seeds, ground
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp of natural yoghurt
  • 1 handful of coriander (aka cilantro) leaves
  • Salt to taste

1. Combine the flours, water, and salt in a bowl. Once mixed, turn out onto a bench dusted with flour and knead for 5-10 minutes. Then, work the ghee into the dough. Set aside and rest for 10 minutes to 1 hour.
2. While the dough is resting, make the filling: mix together the paneer, ginger, turmeric, cumin, yoghurt, coriander, and salt.
3. Divide the rested dough into 4 pieces. Dust your bench with flour, and roll each piece of dough out to a ~10 cm circle. Put 1/4 cup of the paneer mixture in the middle, and bring the edges of the dough up around the filling, like sealing a dumpling. The technique is best illustrated in this video. Rest each dumpling for 10 minutes.
4. Once rested, dust with flour and roll out to ~0.5 cm thickness (again, see the video). In a heavy pan preheated to medium-hot, cook the parathas until browned on both sides (no oil required). Brush with ghee and serve.

Hahndorf Hill 2004 Shiraz

Hahndorf Hill is one of the jewels of the Adelaide Hills. This is something you make a ring out of, something you put in a crown. You want to show it off. There are other wineries I prefer, but they're the kind that are scruffy pets you know and love, or dog-eared books you return to fondly. Hahndorf Hill is a jewel, rare and precious.

It's a gorgeous cellar door set on a second story balcony overlooking the vineyards. It's officially a 'micro-boutique winery', which means it only makes a tiny amount of wine. The air is rich with oak and art, jazz and joy. The cellar hand says I remind her of her father, and I like that she recognises me now. It's owned by a couple, two lovely down to earth guys who quite humbly go about their business. Their wines are organic, or carbon neutral, or biodynamic, or some combination of the three.

I had their shiraz two weeks ago. It was a sunny winter's day in Adelaide, and my parents and I had lunch outside under the bare vines. Crusty bread from the Italian bakery down the road, mustard, ham, tomato and avocado. There isn't really a need for anything else.

Now, if you recall, shiraz from the Barossa is usually big and full of spice and life. Unlike the Barossa's warmth, however, the Adelaide Hills are a cool climate region. This means that the grapes are slower to ripen, so there is more acid and less sugar in the grapes. Acid in wine is like blue blood- the more there is, the more refined and elegant the wine will be. Sugar, on the other hand, is more like drinking while pregnant- the more you have, the more likely it is that your baby will be an alcoholic. Thus, the warmer climate Barossa (grapes ripen early, hence less acid and more sugar) has big, unrestrained flavours and fairly high (~14%) alcohol content. Unlike offspring, this isn't a problem at all; it's just a very different flavour. The Hahndorf Hill shiraz, on the other hand, proudly displays its cool-climate pedigree. It has a soft, silky mouth feel ('mouth feel' is one of those complicated wine terms that roughly translates to 'how it feels in your mouth'). It doesn't bombard you with flavour at first, but slowly reveals layers of chocolate smokiness that continue to develop even after you've swallowed. It's a very seductive, sophisticated wine. If a Barossa shiraz is a firey old grandad with war stories and battle-scars, this is more along the lines of your classy aunt who always carries herself with grace.

Yum.

Macaroni cheese, and footnotes

Macaroni cheese

My earliest memory of food is me sitting on the sofa while Mum was in the kitchen making her macaroni cheese. I say 'her' macaroni cheese because as far as I know it was no one else's. When I tell friends about it they look at me in disgust, as though I was describing a bolognese sauce made from ketchup and spam. Her macaroni cheese had shades of semi-homemade, this can't be denied, but between the ages of 5 and 14 it was my favourite thing to eat.

The recipe was simple: boiled macaroni, and kraft cheese spread. Had I understood as a kid how easy it was to make I would have used this to campaign for macaroni more often, but I doubt my body would have tolerated such a move. When asked how much I wanted I would say, "Make bulk!" I didn't know what 'bulk' meant but I knew it was what I wanted. Sitting at the dinner table I'd take one piece of macaroni at a time, eat the sauce first, then eat the piece of pasta. This drove my younger brother and sister crazy, who had to wait for me to finish before they could have seconds.

If you gave me a bowl of Mum's macaroni cheese today it would be gone in a second. I love it, but it's just not the same unless Mum makes it. These days I still eat macaroni cheese, but the kind that wouldn't cause Martha Stewart to punch me in the face. It's a typical pasta + mornay sauce recipe, where a mornay sauce is a béchamel sauce with cheese added.

Macaroni cheese

Ingredients (serves 2, or 1 if you're invulnerable to heart disease):

  • 90 g of macaroni
  • 1 tbsp of butter
  • 1 tbsp of flour
  • 3/4 cup of cold milk
  • 1.5 tsp of dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp hot english mustard
  • 110 g of cheddar, grated1
  • 1/4 cup of parmesan, grated finely

1. Cook the macaroni in lightly-salted water. When done, reserve 1/2 a cup of pasta water then drain and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, combine the butter and flour in a saucepan over a medium heat2. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring to avoid coloring or burning the mixture.
3. Add 1/4 cup of the milk and stir with a wooden spoon3 to incorporate. Once incorporated, add some more milk, stir to incorporate, then repeat until you've added all the milk. Stir in the mustards, then cook over a low heat for 5 minutes to get rid of any raw flour taste.
4. Add the cooked pasta and all but one handful of the cheddar, and stir to combine. If it's too thick and sticky, stir in some pasta water. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
5. Remove to a baking dish/oven-proof bowl and toss the remaining cheddar over the top. Sprinkle the grated parmesan over this and grill (aka broil) until the top is golden brown4.

DIY degustation, part 2: Brunch, and an easy (real) hollandaise sauce

Scrambled eggs

Gentle reader, you thought that was all? You thought that an an afternoon of wine tasting followed by a 5-hour, 8-course, wine-paired degustation was enough? Fools!

The next morning those of us that stayed the night woke up in dribs and drabs and came out to the kitchen. It was after 10am before we were all up, perfect timing for Sunday morning brunch. There was scrambled eggs, mushrooms, tomato, hash browns, bacon, and my favourite: eggs benedict. Of course this hedonistic festival of food wouldn't be complete without brunch dessert, either, but we'll get to that.

Eggs benedict

Most people reserve eggs benedict for eating out, with the two major barriers to cooking it at home being the poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. No more. Poaching eggs is simple; read Matt's tutorial for the last word. If you're serving a lot and want them to all be ready at once, poach your eggs ahead for slightly less time than normal, then remove to a deep dish of cold water. When you're read to serve, heat the dish with the eggs and water for 2 minutes in the microwave to bring them back up to temperature (if you abhor microwaves, you can rewarm the eggs in simmering water for 30 seconds). Undercooking them first will ensure a perfect yolk when reheated.

But what about the most important part, the hollandaise sauce?

DIY degustation

Degustation

DIY Degustation

Ingredients (serves eight):

  • Seven friends and yourself
  • Eight dishes
  • Eight bottles of wine
  • Gorgeous house on a farm in the hills

Combine.

Last Saturday saw my first ever degustation. It saw it, then gaped, then drooled, then ate more than it could stand and still wanted more. It's a fairly simple plan, really. Each person brings along a dish and a matching bottle of wine, and someone clever arranges it all into a course by course degustation.

Two soups: cauliflower, scallops & truffle; Pea, mint, bacon & tomato confit

We licked off with Tim's divine duo of soups: truffled cauliflower and scallop, then pea soup with mint, bacon and tomato confit. You'll have to wait for him to post the recipe here, but be quick- the second he does, I'm memorising it then destroying the entire internet so no one else can make it. Truffle is still a slightly peculiar taste for me- quite pungent on the nose and almost rotten with richness in the mouth- but I'm liking it more and more. It was a fantastic addition to the cauliflower, as were the scallops hiding at the bottom. The pea, mint and bacon was a brilliant (if unexpected) combination- the mint added a welcome spark to the peas, and the slightly crispy bacon did wonders for the sheer physical pleasure of eating. Tim matched this with a chardonnay from the Clare Valley, which worked wonderfully: the buttery roundness of the wine complemented the soups without overpowering them.

Salmon, prawns, tomato, avocado, dill

After Tim having set the bar so high, I was certainly glad I wasn't the second act. To her credit though, Sophie's Spectacular Seafood Stack superceded 'spectations. (I'm sorry. I promise I wont do any more alliteration at all, alright?). This was smoked salmon, prawn, avocado and tomato salsa wedged into a teacup and upended to form an Eyeful Tower of Tastiness, which was then drizzled with a chive and dill dressing. This elicited a chorus of NOM NOM NOMs around the table and though we were worried how we'd finish the rest of the six courses, no one could bring themselves to leave any of this uneaten. The matching wine was a big Barossa shiraz, and purists may say that this is a poor choice for seafood. Well, phooey to the purists. The dish was delicious, and the wine was divine. 'Nuff said.

Perfect peppers, tasty tarts, rabbit ragouts, mighty meats and chompy chocolates await after the jump. There may even be some recipes!

The pasta water gospel, book 1

Gnocchi with tuna & lemon

Pasta water, amazing stuff. Used correctly it can boost the flavour and texture of your dish and improve the marriage of pasta and sauce. By now most people know that pasta water is a good thing, but I still wonder how many use it unless a recipe specifically tells them to. (For those unacquainted, pasta water is the water left in the pot after pasta is cooked, that is usually poured down the drain)

Getting the most out of pasta water:

  1. Salt your water well when it comes to the boil. It's a myth that salt stops pasta sticking and its effect on boiling point is negligible; rather the salt is, as always, for flavour. Some say "as salty as the sea", others have specific ratios. For me one medium-sized handful is enough — the water won't be unbearably salty to taste but you can tell it's salted. Remember this when you're making the sauce — your dish will get a boost of seasoning at the end from the evaporated pasta water.
  2. Catch excess water rather than reserving it. It's a hassle and more washing up to reserve a cup of pasta water. The easiest thing to do is to tip your pasta into a colander and immediately place the colander back on top of the pot. This method should catch enough water as the pasta drips.
  3. Finish the pasta in the sauce. I cook my pasta until almost al dente, then dump it with some pasta water into the sauté pan with the sauce (or a new pan with a portion of sauce if you cooked a lot of sauce). Cooking this over heat until the water has nearly all evaporated will finish the pasta and help bring pasta and sauce together. The italian word for this is pastasaucefinishtogethero.
  4. Shake your pan to emulsify the last bit of pasta water with the oil of the sauce. This will ensure that your pasta is neither too oily or watery.
  5. Don't obsess over amounts; if it tastes good do it. This isn't baking, taste as you cook and add as much as you think you need. Pasta water does have salt so err on the side of adding too little at first. You can always add more later.

In this dish an emulsion of pasta water, olive oil, and lemon juice coats the pasta and makes the recipe a great one to practice with (it also tastes really good).

Gnocchi with tuna & lemon

Ingredients (makes 1 main course serving):

  • 90 g of gnocchi1
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil plus more for drizzling
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 60 g of can of good quality tuna (about 1/3 a 185 g can)
  • 1/4 cup of loosely-packed flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tbsp of lemon zest
  • 2 tsp of lemon juice
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese

1. Cook the pasta until almost al dente in well-salted water.
2. Meanwhile, slowly sauté the garlic for 5 minutes until it softens. Turn up the heat, add the tuna and parsley and cook for 2 minutes. Add the lemon zest and juice and turn off the heat.
3. Once the pasta is ready, drain it reserving 1/2 a cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the pan with 1/4 cup of the saved water and a generous helping of pepper. Toss over high heat until the pasta water has almost evaporated, tasting for seasoning.
4. If the pasta is tasting too acidic, drizzle some more olive oil and toss to emulsify the oil. Serve with grated parmesan cheese.

(1) This isn't gnocchi as in potato dumplings, it's a type of dried wheat pasta. It's a larger version of the more common gnocchetti. Use whatever shape you have on hand.