A farewell feast

Roast beef

If I'd known how much fun a farewell feast was, I'd have left years ago. In fact, my new goal in life may be to move somewhere, live there long enough to find friends who will attend a farewell dinner, then leave. My life will be a glorious adventure from one farewell feast to another, perhaps interspersed with an occassional welcome home feast when I return to Adelaide.

It's a pretty easy process too. The first step is to leave your hometown, leave all your friends, your family, your favourite places and faces. Easy, right? Next up, host a farewell dinner for yourself. Once that's done, you're free to dream up any kind of menu you desire.

Here's what I went for:

We started with a light sparkling pinot served with ricotta and chargrilled capsicum on something that I don't know the name for. It's a little bread square, buttered on both sides and crammed into a small muffin dish so when you put it under the grill the bread toasts into little cups. Let's call them toastinis, or crustettes, or something similarly naff.

Fortunately, I had my partner in crime Tim to attend to the entree. He made up a prawn stock by boiling up tomatoes, lemon zest and pulp, salt, prawn shells, parsley, and whole peppercorns. This was then magically turned into seafood risotto which was served with a prawn poached in butter, with a garnish of chilli oil. I'd have a photo and a recipe, but it was far too delicious to tear myself away from. This one went hand in hand with a NZ gewurtztraminer, which was a lovely and buttery supplement to the seafood.

The next dish was a purely experimental one. The official name was lime salmon with avocado and mango salsa on a bed of coconut rice. The coconut rice was simple enough (rice + water + coconut milk + rice cooker), as was the salsa (avocado + mango + coriander + lime juice). I panfried the salmon with a sprinkling of lime zest at the end, and constructed a mini food tower consisting of a rice and salsa foundation with a salmon ground floor and lime antenna. In retrospect, the hot salmon on cold salsa was an odd combination, despite the flavours working well together. An Adelaide Hills sav blanc provided the tasty wineyness for this one.

If you think that two tasty courses were enough to get me to leave, you're sadly mistaken. Main course, dessert, and a big breakfast cook-up are after the jump.

'Warm weather', Naples-style bolognese

Spaghetti bolognese

You may remember my version of ragu alla bolognese from a few months ago. It was quite a big deal, in all the papers. That was in the middle of winter, when a hearty, rich meat sauce over fresh pasta was the perfect comfort food. Now as I look down the barrel of an Australian summer, long slow braises, as good as they are, are making way for lighter, brighter foods.

This bolognese is more 'southern style' — by which I mean Naples rather than Louisiana (and by which I mean Naples, Italy, rather than Naples, Florida) — but once again I would not be so foolish as to claim authenticity. While my meat bolognese had depth of flavour with many different flavours melting together, this sauce has lots of clear individual tastes. Everything is left relatively chunky so you get individual bursts of flavour in eat bite, and the amount of tomatoes make it as much a tomato sauce as a meat one. Some chillies for kick and anchovies to round it out, and you're in business.

Unlike my other bolognese this works much better with dried pasta. I also make bulk and freeze it, so rather than putting fresh herbs into the sauce and dulling their flavour in the freezer I tend to instead toss them freshly-picked together with the pasta and sauce before serving.

Warm weather bolognese


  • 300g beef mince
  • 300g pork mince
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of dry white wine
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 2 carrots, in a medium dice
  • 1 stalk of celery, in a small dice
  • 6 cloves of garlic, finely-sliced
  • 3 dried birds-eye chillies, finely-sliced
  • 4 anchovies
  • 3 cans of tomatoes with their juices
  • A few gratings of nutmeg
  • Salt, to taste

1. In a wide pan, heat 3 tbsp of olive oil to a high heat and add the mince and some salt. Cook until the mince is well-browned, breaking up the mince so there are still some medium-sized chunks.
2. Add the wine and scrape the fond off the bottom of the pan while it sizzles. Turn the heat down to medium, ten add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic and put a lid on the pan to let the vegetables sweat.
3. Add the anchovies, chillies, and tomatoes and bring to a high simmer. Grate the nutmeg over the pan, then reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook this for about 35 minutes or until the vegetables are completely tender, then salt to taste.

Fresh pasta vs. dried pasta

Pappardelle with a tuna & tomato cream sauce

The other day I got into an argument with a friend's girlfriend about the merits of fresh versus dried pasta. Earlier in the week I'd sat in stunned silence as an acquaintance lectured me about how global warming was a conspiracy, but the topic of pasta is not one that I take flippantly. Her claim was that fresh pasta is always better than dried pasta, which is no more than a cheap, easy alternative used only out of convenience.

Bitch please.

Don't get me wrong, I love fresh pasta. I love making it, cooking with it, eating it, and although the opportunity has never arisen, were I to stumble across a bathtub full of it I would seriously consider putting on some Amy Winehouse and reclining. But it is by no means always better. Nor it is uniformly worse. Rather, fresh and dried are but two types of pasta, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and uses.

Fresh pasta is dainty, delicate, and hates to cause a scene. Around a domineering crowd it can be a bit of a pushover, but those who are willing to listen will find it really is excellent company. It pairs well with cream based sauces that won't overwhelmed the subtle egg flavour of the pasta, or as a discreet but solid delivery system for rich sauces with deep, warm, complex flavours like a meat ragu. Alfredo is the kind of sauce that fresh pasta does best: it's buttery and luxurious, so it's only fitting to serve alfredo sauce with a pasta that's equally easy and comforting to eat.

Dried pasta is a little more rough around the edges. It's tough, assertive and doesn't take any crap, but behind all of that it's loyal and has true character. You might be embarrassed to introduce it to your more 'proper' friends, but you know that if you were ever in a fight it'd have your back. Dried pasta will hold its own with sharply-flavoured sauces like a spicy, salty bucatini all'amatriciana, but its earthy flavour and al dente bite will shine just as much dressed simply with garlic and olive oil. No dish better illustrates the strengths of dried pasta than puttanesca — the pungency of the sauce would walk all over anything lesser.

Use this as a guide, not a rule book. That's another way of saying that if I break my own rules, don't harass me. I still can't decide whether I prefer carbonara with the more traditional dried pasta or with fresh — the two are completely different dishes and it depends on what mood strikes me. As always, all you can do is go by your own taste.

In return for reading my rant, I offer you this recipe. As far as the pasta-matching wankery is concerned, the sweet tomatoes & basil and touch of cream round out any strong saltiness from the tuna, making it an ideal sauce for the fresh pasta I've used here. Be sure to use the best quality olive oil-packed tuna, which really is night and day compared with the typical supermarket junk.

Pappardelle in a tuna & tomato cream sauce


  • 1 portion of pappardelle1
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small clove of garlic, sliced thinly
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 large ripe, juicy tomato, diced (or about 1/3 cup canned tomatoes)
  • 1.5 tbsp cream
  • 65 g good-quality canned tuna
  • Salt, to taste
  • A few basil leaves, torn

1. Sauté the garlic in olive oil over a medium-low heat until it softens (don't let it brown). Add the tomato and cayenne pepper and turn the heat up to medium-high, cooking until the tomatoes break down. Mash them to a pulp with the back of a fork.
2. Stir in the tuna and cream, salt to taste, and remove from the heat.
3. Meanwhile, boil the pappardelle. When it is done, drain and add it the pan with the sauce. Add the torn basil leaves and toss over heat to combine. Serve.

(1) I made 1 egg's worth of pasta from this recipe, cutting it into thick strips to make pappardelle rather than passing it through the pasta machine's fettucini cutter.

Cooking 2.0


How are you?

The funny thing about this whole web business is that my tapping words into a screen is fundamentally separate to your reading them, as is my reading of all the other various words floating around in the ether. I've decided that today, for this post, I've had enough with the first person navel gazing and that it's time for a bit of good old-fashioned second person correspondence.

So, to reiterate: hello. How are you?

And, now that we've got the pleasantries out of the way, let's get down to business: I need a favour.

I'm planning a dinner for next week and, as the winely minded person that I am, I have several bottles selected for what will surely be a delicious evening. What I do not yet have, however, is the food to go with them. That's where you come in. I'm opening up the virtual floor to suggestions for what to have with each wine, and any that suggestions that end up being made will be dutifully photographed and written up on this here piece of electronic parchment.

So, with no further ado, here's the plan:

further ado

Start with a bottle of Bird in Hand sparkling pinot. This is a delightfully fresh, vibrant, eclectic little sparkling. It has a hint of redness to it due to the juice being kept on the skins (it's the skin of grapes, not their juice, that gives the wine it's colour) for only 3 hours. It's a beautiful wine for summer- which, conveniently enough, is our season at the moment- and deserves a very casual, easy, simple nibbly thing to start with as we all mill about enjoying the evening's sunlight. What do you think I should serve?

Next up, I've got either a sauvignon blanc from the Adelaide Hills which is so full of fruit you could slice it, or a gewurtztraminer from New Zealand that's so smooth and buttery you could spread it on bread. The savvy would probably go hand in hand with anything light and airy, whereas the gewurtz would be beautiful with some slightly richer seafood (I'm thinking salmon with avocado-mango salsa and coconut rice). Any suggestions here?

This next dish didn't exist until a second ago, when I decided that having something here would require less volume (and therefore less money) for whatever tasty meat I buy for the next one. So, I've got a faaaaaantastic Adelaide Hills pinot (from Abbey Rock who, sadly, have closed down) and its regional sister, an Adelaide Hills merlot. The pinot doesn't mess around- it's a kick you in the teeth, stomp around the palate kind of wine, which is unusual in a pinot but very welcome. Still, true to its variety, even with this boldness it's not so strong that it would overpower a more gentle dish. The merlot, if memory serves, is perfectly balanced between soft cherry and berry fruits, and the slight touch of oaky warmth at the back. If you could think of any stewy, soupy, crock-potty, ragouty dish to make en masse and ladle out to fill people up on, I'm all ears. Well, except for all the non-ear parts of me.

The next dish (whatever it ends up being) is the whole reason for this dinner. A few months ago my grandfather gave me a bottle of Wynns 1986 John Riddoch Coonawarra Cab Sav. This is a wine that I couldn't dream of affording if this year's vintage was half price, let alone one one that's over 20 years old. It will be, if you can forgive the understatement, nice. It will be quite nice, in fact. So to complement this niceness, we'll need a meal sturdy enough to stand up to this mighty old bastard of a wine. Something with backbone. No delicate aromatics and subtle hints here, give me flavour and give it to me straight. My second pancake partner in crime, Tim, is thinking that a whole beef tenderloin with a blue cheese butter could do the trick. Can you outdo him? Go on, I dare you.

Finally, I've got a bottle of birthday port, so named because it was made the same year I was: 1985. If it's as well developed and mature as I am, then it'll be a disappointment. If (fingers crossed) it's spent it's time more productively than I and has actually made something of itself, then it will be a dark, rich, intoxicating drop that will hopefully taste like christmas pudding in a glass. This could probably be suited to some old ripe cheeses and quince paste but, once more, I'm open to suggestions.

So what say you, gentle readers? What should I make? It's for 10-15 people, so anything bulky will probably be easier, for practical purposes, but I was never one for being sensible anyway. Give me orders, and I'll do your bidding.

Chicken korma (I think)

Chicken korma

This may be the wrong thing to admit in the first sentence of a post about chicken korma, but I have a confession to make: I don't entirely know what proper chicken korma is. Although I've eaten it countless times, I've ever had the same korma twice. A quick flickr search suggests that I'm not alone, either — korma seems to come in all shapes, sizes, and colours.

I have a bit of an idea, though. When I think of korma I think of a rich, creamy gravy, warm, sweet spices, and nutty, mellow flavours. As the story goes korma was first made for rich North Indian merchants wanted their curries to be as luxurious as possible, so unsurprisingly korma is not dish done by halves. Cook this low and slow to ensure as tender chicken as possible, and for the best results cook it the day before you plan to eat it. This is good advice for all curries, but the subtle flavours in this curry benefit particularly well from a night in the fridge before serving.

Chicken korma

For the onion paste:

  • 1 onion, sliced thinly
  • Salt
  • Vegetable oil

1. Spread the sliced onions out on kitchen paper and salt well. Leave this for 20 minutes.
2. Heat enough vegetable oil to deep fry the onions until well-browned (but not burnt).
3. Puree the fried onions in a blender, adding just enough of the (cooled) frying oil to make a paste.

For the curry:

  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp ghee
  • 1 blade mace
  • 5 cloves
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 4cm piece of cinnamon
  • 1 small onion, blended to a paste
  • 2 tbsp garlic & ginger paste
  • 600g boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 tbsp roasted cashew nuts, ground
  • 1 tbsp blanched almonds, ground
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground garam masala
  • 1 quantity of fried onion paste (above)
  • 150 ml cream
  • 1/4 tsp saffron threads
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves

1. Add the mace, cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom to the vegetable oil and ghee, and bring to a medium heat. When the spices become fragrant, add the blended raw onion and cook until it just begins to go golden. Stir in the garlic & ginger paste and ground nuts and cook for another 2 minutes.
2. Add the chicken, chilli powder, ground coriander, and sugar and stir well to coat the chicken. Cook for 3 minutes, then pour over about 1/3 cup of water with the garam masala and fried onion paste (above). Bring this to a very gentle simmer, then cover and cook until the chicken is very tender.
3. Add the cream and bring to a low boil. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then stir in the saffron and fresh coriander and remove from the heat. Cover and let stand for at least 10 minutes before serving, or ideally refrigerate overnight and serve the next day with basmati rice or naan bread.

Fine times in McLaren Vale


Figure 1: Relationship of wine posts to thesis writing.

An independent study recently found a long-suspected negative correlation between the writing of a thesis and the writing of wine posts (figure 1). A thesis, these authors concluded, takes an inordinate amount of time and, as such, prevents the writing of other, more enjoyable things.

That being said, I have no idea why it's relevant here. Even, hypothetically, if I had just completed a thesis, why would I feel compelled to bring it up here? Surely I would put it behind myself as soon as possible and return to the fun task of reliving tasty wine times. I certainly wouldn't be so crude as to bring it up as some awkward excuse for my being so remiss in my duties to the second pancake. And, God forbid, if I did such a thing there's no chance at all that I would then spend a paragraph pretending that I didn't. I think we can all agree that we're above such unnecessary hand-wringing.

In other news, going wine tasting is a remarkable thing. Imagine if you could drive for half an hour and chat to the farmer who grew your tomatoes, and discuss the soil, the weather, the techniques he uses, and his suggestions for the best way to use them. And imagine that, down the road, the dairy farmer welcomes you to her house where she delights in showing you her best cheeses and the new batch of butter she has just freshly churned. Next door, an old Italian couple lead you through their herb garden where you can compare notes about the best way to make pesto or how soon to pick mint and the best time of year to plant sage. This couple then recommend that you visit their friends over the hill, who bake fresh bread every day with their own grain. Now imagine heading home with bulging bags and creating a meal with everything you'd picked up. A meal that is enjoyable for not just its taste, but it's history. You know the name of the person who grew these beans, you've shared a joke with the people who dug these potatoes, you've shared stories with the friend who collected these eggs.

This is the beauty of wine tasting. Not because you get to try a wonderful new range of wine each time (though this is wonderful), but because you get to meet the people behind the products that you love. On Friday I was in McLaren Vale, less than an hour south of Adelaide. I started at Geoff Merrill, who really ought to be charging double for every one of their bottles. As we left, our host insisted that we take a free corkscrew, just in case it was needed on the road. We motor on to Shottesbrooke, where a simple tasting extends into over an hour of easy and unaffected conversation that ranged from wine to university to travel to love to loss, and back to wine again.

I'm back home now, but I've brought them with me. When I open the Geoff Merrill 2000 cab sav (for $12.50! Unbelievable!), I'll remember the soft morning under the vines there. When the time comes for the divine Eliza Shiraz from Shottesbrooke to be liberated, it wont be without the memory of Mary's laugh on that wonderful afternoon in McLaren Vale. And it'll be all the better for it.

Lamb, olives, & potatoes, two ways

Roast leg of lamb

One of the troubles with cooking for one is keeping costs down whilst avoiding repetition. A leg of lamb is delicious and more economical than most other cuts, but once the initial roast dinner is over it's each to get sick of lamb sandwiches all week. As good as risotto and pasta are at incorporating last night's leftovers, it's hard to shake the fact that you're eating the same thing you ate last night tossed through a bowl of penne. This was the situation I found myself in last week, with an impulsively-purchased leg of lamb, a large batch of olive tapenade, and some mashed potato. The challenge was to create two distinct dishes from more or less the same ingredients, and at the risk of sounding too proud of myself I think I did pretty well.

Roast lamb, skordalia, and olive tapenade

Dinner number one was roast lamb with skordalia and a minted olive dressing. I regret not writing down the specifics, but I can offer a general outline. First the lamb: Make a marinade of greek yoghurt, honey, crushed garlic, dried oregano, chopped mint, and salt. Rub this over the a leg of lamb and roast in a 220ºC/425ºF oven for 20 minutes, before reducing the heat to 160ºC/320ºF and cooking until the internal temperature of the lamb reads 70ºC/160ºF. Meanwhile, boil some potatoes, then drain well and mash with crushed garlic, salt, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a liberal amount of olive oil. To make the dressing, combine equal parts olive tapenade and extra virgin olive oil with some finely chopped mint. To assemble, top portions of skordalia with slices of the rested roast lamb and drizzle with some dressing.

Potato gnocchi with lamb & olive ragu

For dinner number two I picked over the bones of the lamb roast to make potato gnocchi with a lamb & olive ragu. The gnocchi I've written about before, and the ragu recipe is below. It's meaty and very savory thanks to the olive tapenade, and goes well with grated parmigiano reggiano and finely shredded fresh mint. I used leftover roast lamb, but if you're making it from scratch, substitute lamb shoulder.

Lamb ragu


  • 250g lamb, diced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tbsp olive tapenade
  • Salt, to taste

1. Heat the olive oil to a high heat, then add the lamb and cook until it is well-browned. Remove and reduce the heat to low. Sauté the diced shallot and garlic with the bay and oregano until the onion is translucent.
2. Add the tomato paste, diced tomato, and cook until reduced to a pulp. Return the browned lamb and cover with water. Bring this to a boil then simmer, covered, for 1 hour or until the lamb is very tender.
3. Stir in the olive tapenade, season to taste, and serve.

Better late than never: Olive tapenade

Olive tapenade

In the background: Bucatini with olive tapenade and chickpeas.

Way back in June I posted a recipe for chickpea & olive bruschetta, in which I promised that an olive tapenade recipe would shortly follow. Regrettably my good intentions were thwarted by laziness, and it's taken four months for me to make it again.

There's no good reason for it to take so long — olive tapenade is quick to make, incredibly easy, and can be used in all sorts of ways. If you ask me, the simplest and still one of the best is to spread it on a thick piece of Italian country bread that's been drizzled with olive oil and grilled. It also goes terrifically with pasta (it is after all 2/3 of the way to puttanesca), and last night I thinned it out with extra virgin olive oil, stirred in a little fresh mint, and used it as a sauce for some roast lamb. Delicious.

Olive tapenade


  • 1.5 cups pitted kalamata olives
  • 2 small cloves of garlic
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tbsp salt-packed capers, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (use the best you have)

1. Blitz everything in a food processor until well blended. I told you it was easy.