Everything's going to be okay

Orecchiette with fava beans, guanciale, and walnuts

I know this probably makes me a bad person, but I hate you. Well not all of you, just those of you from the Northern Hemisphere. I don't hate you anymore, it was just for the last 3 months. And hate may be too strong a word — I envy you. You with your bright, gloabally-warmed summers, frolicking fancy-free under the same sun that has shunned me and my upside-down kin. Well well well, haven't the tables turned? Sure it might be raining outside here while you ease into a mild Autumn, but it's spring now and ain't no one gonna take that away from me.

Daylight savings has started, and thankfully no one told the spring produce about the dreary weather. This means two things. First, it means that more often than not I'll be eating dinner (and hence photographing dinner) while it's still light, making for brighter, more natural pictures. Secondly, not only will the photos be brighter, but the food itself will be brighter. Juicy tomatoes, mangoes, fresh basil, outdoor grilling, that kind of thing. It's going to be great.

All throughout winter I look forward to cooking broad beans in spring. It's silly because I'm actually rather indifferent towards fresh favas, but my affinity for them is symbolic. These days you can get tomatoes in June and strawberries year-round, but fresh broad beans are never available out of season — once they start appearing in the markets, I know warm weather is close behind and everything's going to be okay.

This dish has fava beans declaring spring has sprung, with walnuts, guanciale and a touch of cream providing shades of the colder weather that's lingering after winter. It's perfect for this time of year, and might I add quite a handsome-looking dish to boot.

One tip that I've found useful when serving and photographing this kind of pasta sauce is to cook off the larger ingredients separately and set them aside while you make the sauce. When ready eat, toss the pasta and sauce together with some of the reserved ingredients, then plate up and scatter with what remains. The ingredients don't become limp and waterlogged from simmering in the sauce (unless that's the idea) and they'll taste great and look pristine for your blog.

Orecchiette with fava beans, guanciale, & walnuts

Ingredients (makes 1 serve):

  • 80g of orecchiette
  • 1/2 cup of fava beans/broad beans, double-peeled1 and blanched
  • 2 quarter-inch thick slices of guanciale, cut into pieces
  • 1/4 cup of walnuts, quartered and roasted2
  • 1/2 a clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup of cream
  • 1 tbsp of finely chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup of finely grated pecorio
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

1. Cook the orecchiette in salted, boiling water according to the instructions on the packet. Meanwhile make the sauce.
2. Pu the guanciale in a cold pan and place the pan over a medium heat. Saute until it starts to become crispy around the outside, then remove to a bowl, leaving the rendered fat behind.
3. Add the garlic to the fat and cook over a medium heat for 2 minutes, then add the cream, parsley, and seasoning. Simmer for 2 minutes until it starts to thicken.
4. When ready to serve, toss together the sauce & pasta with most of the guanciale, broad beans, and walnuts over a medium heat until the sauce thickens and just coats the pasta.
5. Scatter over the remaining pecorino, guanciale, broad beans, and walnuts, and serve.

(1) Those who have cooked with anything but the youngest fresh fava beans will know what I mean. Broad beans grow inside a pod, but the individual beans are themselves inside a second skin that can be fibrous and unpalatable. To double-peel broad beans, first remove from their pods, blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds, and cool under running cold water. They should now slip easily out of their skins.
(2) You can roast these in a dry pan, in a hot oven, or as I do under the oven grill (broiler), tossing every 30 seconds until they're done (about 2 minutes).

The nostalgia party continues

Tuna mornay

Seven consecutive 12-hour night shifts. Gastroenteritis. Swine flu. What a fortnight!

With that hellish experience behind me I was understandably keen to seek out a little comfort, so a bowl of tuna mornay was in order. Now I know that I've been writing a lot about comfort food and childhood memories lately, but there's no way I can neglect to mention it here. This recipe is almost unchanged from my Mum's recipe, and eating it takes me right back to being a kid. Mum always serves it with white rice, and double-starch be damned, it's the only way to eat it. It's pretty retro, but undeniably awesome (like the bass solo from "Call Me Al").

The difference between the best and worst quality canned tuna is vast, so be sure to use something decent. Fresh corn is great if you've got it, but canned corn will do.

Tuna mornay


  • 425g can of tuna in oil, drained
  • 150g dried macaroni
  • 1/4 cup of corn kernels
  • 1/4 cup of bread crumbs
  • 3/4 cup of grated cheddar
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 500 ml milk
  • Juice of 1 small lemon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt & black pepper, to taste

1. Cook the macaroni to al dente, and preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF.
2. Melt the butter with the flour and bay leaf over a medium heat, and cook stirring for 3 minutes. Start adding the milk gradually — add a little at a time and stir or whisk well until it is taken up, then continue until the milk as finished. Add the lemon juice, then bring to a low simmer and cook for 5 minutes. The béchamel should have the consistency of pouring cream — if not add a little more milk.
4. To the béchamel add the drained tuna, the cooked macaroni, the corn kernels, and 1/2 a cup of the cheese. Stir to combine, and season with salt and black pepper.
5. Pour everything into a casserole dish. Mix together the bread crumb with the remaining cheese and some black pepper, and sprinkle this over the casserole. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden on top.

Our hungry eyes

Braised chicken pasta

When I was a kid, Dad would buy a roast chicken from the chip shop around the corner most Saturdays. He'd spread two pieces of bread generously with butter, then shred the meat from the chicken carcass and pile it between the buttered slices while we stood patiently next to him in the kitchen. With a flat palm he'd press down on the sandwich, then hand it to us with the faint impression of the base of his fingers still barely visible on the warm white bread. Other days my brother, my sister and I would sit on stools behind the kitchen counter where Mum served bowls of Campbell's tomato soup. She'd then take a plate of grilled cheese on toast from the oven and our hungry eyes would follow it to the placemat in front of us. We'd takes slices to dip, always emptying the plate before we'd finish our soup.

I have a lot of memories of the food I ate growing up, but above are the only ones I have of lunchtime. Roll them together with a big bowl of pasta and you can understand why this spiralli with tomato-braised chicken is pure nostalgia. The sauce is intentionally left a little soupy so that once you've finished the pasta and chicken you can pick up the bowl and slurp the buttery leftovers or (if you're not afraid of nostalgia overload) mop them up with garlic bread.

Pasta with tomato-braised chicken


  • 200g dried pasta, cooked in lightly salted water
  • 2 chicken legs
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 carrot, peeled and halved
  • 1 celery stick, halved
  • 1 shallot, halved
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup passata (pureed tomatoes)
  • 2 tsp sour cream
  • Grated parmesan
  • 3 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • Salt, to taste

1. Place the carrot, celery & shallot in a saucepan with the butter, chicken stock, passata, and a cup of water. Bring to a boil & simmer until the carrot is very tender and the liquid reduced by about a third. Salt to taste.
2. Add the chicken legs to the pan and simmer until cooked through, then remove and separate the chicken meat from the bones & skin (discard the skin & bones). Remove the whole vegetables from the sauce and add back the chicken meat.
3. Remove from the heat and stir through the sour cream and cooked pasta. Serve in bowls being sure to spoon over some of the juices, then scatter with grated parmesan and thyme leaves.



Continuing the Greek theme, I give you pastitsio, the ultimate in Greek comfort food. Much like lasagna, baked ziti, and other baked pasta dishes this is one of those meals that you find yourself sneaking back to a few hours after dinner. When I made this particular batch, if it weren't for my competing desire to leave some for the following day's lunch I'm quite convinced I would have eaten the whole thing in one sitting.

Simplistically, pastitsio is a later of pasta (ziti or macaroni, fastitiously arranged in rows if you can be bothered), topped with an aromatic bolognese, a thick layer of béchamel, some grated cheese, and baked. All of these layers are important and delicious, but the element that really makes a pastitsio sing is the bolognese. Unlike an Italian bolognese this is flavoured with cloves, cinnamon, Greek oregano and bay, which should be used in large amounts to impart a noticable flavour. The recipe for this bolognese is below, but for the rest I'm simply describing the process since the exact amounts will vary depending on the size of your dish.

For the pasta, as well as being tossed with parmesan (or any hard cheese) the pasta is mixed with egg — not so much for flavour but rather to glue the pasta together for easy and attractive servings. The béchamel is your basic white sauce: butter, flour, milk, salt, white pepper, and a grating of nutmeg. Once it's all assembled, grate some cheese on top and bake at 180ºC until golden on top (about 50 minutes).

Pastitsio bolognese sauce


  • 600g beef mince
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 12 cloves
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 400g canned tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp red wine
  • 1 tsp dried Greek oregano
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 anchovy
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste

1. Heat a heavy pan until very hot, then add the olive oil, beef mince, and some salt. Cook, stirring and breaking up occasionally until the meat is very well browned, then remove and set aside.
2. In the oil left behind in the pan, add the onion, garlic, and cloves and turn the heat down to low. Cook until the onion is translucent.
3. Add the remaining ingredients, the reserved beef, and 1/2 cup of water, then cover and cook on a low heat for 2 hours.

Spaghetti with garlic and olive oil

Spaghetti with garlic & olive oil

Many of the best pasta sauces can be made in the time it takes to cook the pasta, so to be able to prep, cook, and wash up by the time it reaches al dente is something extra special. Spaghetti with garlic and olive oil is exactly what it sounds like, but this incredibly simple dish is more than the sum of its parts.

Still, that's no reason to skimp on the parts. When you're cooking with so few ingredients every individual component counts. The pasta should be a good quality dried durum wheat flour variety, and as for size I prefer the slightly thinner size (not spaghettini though — this would be fine, but I like the heartier texture of spaghetti). It always helps to salt your pasta cooking water, and this is a particularly important example. The final taste of this dish is as much the pasta itself as it is the sauce, so give your pasta all the help it can get.

The garlic and parsley should both be fresh, but beyond that most farmer's market garlic/parsley is much of a muchness. Slicing it thinly and cooking it slowly will take much of the edge off the garlic, giving you the tasty flavour but hardly any garlic breath.

Although I finish with the best quality extra virgin olive oil I can afford, to cook the garlic initially I simply use a good quality regular olive oil. Correct me if I'm wrong, but since I'm heating away many of the subtleties, I don't really see the point in using expensive oil for what is basically heat transfer. On that note, don't use too much oil. Sometimes when this (extremely margin-friendly) dish is served in restaurants you're left with a pool of oil at the bottom of the bowl. The oil should coat the pasta and nothing more, leaving the bowl more or less dry once you're finished.

Spaghetti with garlic & olive oil

Ingredients (serves 1, scales easily):

  • 90g dried spaghetti
  • 1 garlic clove, sliced very thinly
  • 1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 an anchovy fillet
  • 1 tbsp good quality olive oil
  • 2 tsp best quality extra virgin olive oil
  • Cracked white pepper

1. Boil the pasta until just al dente in salted water while you cook the sauce.
2. Combine the garlic and regular olive oil in a pan and cook over a low heat for 3 minutes. Add the parsley about half-way through and continue to cook slowly for 3 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn't brown. Turn off the heat and add the anchovy, mashing with the back of a fork to dissolve it.
3. Once cooked, drain the pasta and toss in the pan with the sauce, extra-virgin olive oil, plenty of cracked pepper, and 1-2 tbsp of reserved pasta cooking water. Serve immediately.

Bacon-infused macaroni cheese

Bacon-infused macaroni cheese

See the strand of melted cheese over the edge of the bowl? If you make this recipe you get to eat that

Oh shit, I have a website. Huh, I totally forgot about that. Sorry!

I've been busy lately. In addition to all of the usual holiday shenanigans (turning up and eating a lot), I graduated from university and joined the world of full-time work. Good fun. Unfortunately the long hours have made cooking new things difficult — the biggest hurdle is my lack of availability when the fresh produce markets are open — but I've taken that opportunity to cook with what I have around the house, which has led me to revisit a few of my old recipes.

While some of the recipes on this site are old favourites (and some aren't even mine), a reasonable proportion of them are written up after my first or second time making them. A brief, slapdash audit of the site has seen many of the recipes stand up to review, but if I could ask for a do-over it would be for the macaroni cheese.

The original recipe I posted tasted good, but it was a little too thick and there was too much sauce for the amount of pasta. Also, while I'm still a fan of the double-crust (cheddar topped with parmesan then grilled, giving a crunchy top with melting cheddar underneath), when I remade it I couldn't be bothered. Oh yeah, I also used bacon stock.

You see, since discovering bacon stock a few weeks ago it is now used in place of all other liquids. Carbonated it makes a refreshing but hearty cool drink, and if you don't mind being followed around all day by stray dogs it is perfectly fine to take a bath in the stuff. By boiling macaroni in bacon stock you infuse the pasta with bacony deliciousess and can satisfy the holy trinity of comfort food (cheese + bacon + starch) without pesky bacon bits getting in the way of the fun.

Something else you might notice in comparing this entry to the first macaroni one is the difference in photo quality. I've been trying to work on my photography skills, and thanks to a better understanding of lighting and a little colour correction I think I've definitely made some progress. Go me!

Bacon-y macaroni cheese

Ingredients (makes 1 big serving):

  • 16g butter
  • 1 heaped tbsp
  • 3/4 cup cold whole milk
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp hot english mustard
  • 130g cheddar cheese, grated (set one handful of this aside)
  • 100g macaroni, cooked in bacon stock
  • 1 tbsp reserved bacon-flavoured pasta water

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan with the flour. Cook this paste for 1 minute. Add the mustards and first quarter cup of milk and stir to combine. It will be lumpy at first but should thicken up with stirring.
2. Pour in the second quarter cup of milk and stir until it is smooth, then repeat with the final quarter cup of milk.
3. Preheat the oven grill/broiler. Add the cheese (minus 1 handful), pasta, and bacon-flavoured pasta water to the sauce and stir through until the cheese is mostly melted.
4. Pour this all into an oven-safe bowl or small casserole dish, scatter the top with the reserved cheese, and broil until the top is golden brown.

Bacon you can drink through a straw

Prawn & bacon risotto

As someone who never thought he would utter the sentence "I really don't like bacon in x" this is difficult for me to admit. I don't like bacon in risotto.

Let me clarify. Bacon: amazing. Risotto: delicious. Together: no thanks. There's something about the clash of textures, too harsh, too chewy, that I can't get behind. It's a shame, really, because the flavour of bacon is perfect for risotto. Salty, meaty, and slightly smoky? How can that not work with starch, cheese, and butter?

Referring back to my original risotto guide, the solution came from first principles: risotto being stock, rice, and the-rest-of-it. There's no real bacon-flavoured rice — If exists it likely comes from a packet and tastes horrible — and I've already complained about making bacon the-rest-of-it, so what we need is bacon stock. Hey guess what? I have bacon stock!

Bacon stock

Ingredients (makes about 1L):

  • 350 g bacon, diced quite small
  • 1 tsp tomato paste

1. Cook the bacon slowly in a large heavy-bottomed pot until it is deeply caramelised. Expect this to take a while. Pour off any fat and return to a medium heat.
2. Add the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute, then top up with 1.5-2 L (6-8 cups) of water and bring to a medium simmer. Simmer for 2 hours, then pour through a fine mesh strainer.

A few notes: Dicing the bacon before cooking means that there will be more delciously caramelised surface area to infuse into your stock. Don't add any salt to it either (you shouldn't be adding salt to your base stock anyway) as the bacon and tomato paste are already pretty salty. Finally, bacon can be very fatty, so you will want defat it. Either cool it in the fridge overnight and strain out the solidified fat, or use this handy trick.

With your bacon stock made, bacon-flavoured risotto is easy as pie. I used my basic risotto recipe, with some minor modifications. Because I failed to follow my own advice (salted the bacon out of habit, and didn't defat out of impatience) my stock was both salty and fatty. As a result the risotto didn't need extra butter or cheese. The bacon fat emulsified with starch from the rice to make a creamy risotto, and sans cheese it went perfectly with butter-poached prawns (screw you, heart disease). A pinch of cayenne pepper perked it up, and I was set.

Baked ziti

Baked ziti

Lately I've been on a bit of an American food bender. Perhaps recent events have given me another reason to admire you freedom-loving crazies, as pulled pork, BBQ ribs, and the Rueben sandwich have all graced my table at some point over the last month. That will all get written up in due course, but today I wanted to show you my baked ziti. What other dish combines pasta, bolognese sauce, and mozzarella cheese, and still manages to remain a wholly American invention?

I can feel myself reaching the limit of what 6 seasons of The Sopranos taught me about baked ziti, so to avoid looking like a fool I will stop right there. The recipe below is for an individual serving baked in a bowl — which is convenient when you're cooking for one (cue the violins) — but it could just as easily be scaled up to fill a whole casserole dish. And just to be parochial, it uses the warm weather bolognese I wrote about the other day.

Now I'm no Italian-American, so I would love for someone who knows what they're talking about to tell me how I've butchered their classic*. Who knows, maybe one day I can make a batch that even Livia wouldn't criticise.

Baked ziti

Ingredients (makes one serving):

  • 110g ziti/rigatoni, cooked to al dente
  • 3/4 cup warm weather bolognese
  • 2 tbsp cream
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Grated mozzarella cheese

1. Preheat an oven to 180ºC/350ªF. Combine all of the ingredients except the cheese, and adjust seasoning. Transfer this to an oven safe bowl, scatter generously with grated mozzarella, and bake until golden on top.
2. Pat yourself on the back for freezing batches of bolognese sauce.

* It just occurred to me that my so-called baked ziti contains no ziti.

'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.