Socca with Parsley Salad

Socca with Parsley Salad

On a late-summer evening many years ago, I followed my Lonely Planet guidebook down a tiny street in Nice, France to find somewhere to eat socca, a traditional chickpea pizza served on the shores of the Mediterranean. The street was lit by the warm light of a restaurant that vibrated with the happy noises of people enjoying excellent food. I joined them, and was promptly served a chilled glass of rosé and a large plate holding a pancake-like base topped with glossy tomatoes and olives.

It was my first taste of the earthy, peppery socca, and it was not my last. I returned to that restaurant the next night and on other trips and have since started making socca at home. I can’t replicate the soft mediterranean sun or the atmosphere of the old town, but this recipe is almost fool-proof and definitely brings a little bit of Nice into my kitchen. Continue reading

How To Put Together a Charcuterie Plate

How To Put Together a Charcuterie Plate

The deli counter is my favourite part of a market. The pungent smell of cured meats and cheeses lures me in so that my eyes, and inevitably my belly, can feast on the array of briny, salty treats behind the glass. The thick cured sausages hanging overhead next to strings of menacing looking chillies beckon to me, inviting me to order more than I need as I reach for a taste of cheese on the counter. Tins of things dressed in bright Italian labels line the shelves next to more types of mustard than I thought possible. Buying a large wheel of parmesan or a whole leg of prosciutto seems like a perfectly reasonable option as I stand there, trying to decide what cured goodness I will take home with me.

Whatever I bring home doesn’t last long. As those parcels are unwrapped their contents usually go straight on a board, surrounded by jars of pickled things, fruits and whatever takes my fancy from the pantry. It’s Saturday lunch. The best kind. It’s the sort of lunch that encourages lingering, flicking through the weekend papers and drinking a cheeky glass of cold beer. There are no rules to a Saturday lunch, but a good charcuterie plate does have some variation. So here’s a rough guide to a well-balanced plate of meat that is also a simple, no-fuss dinner party appetiser.

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Chickpea, Feta and Parsley Salad

Chickpea, Feta and Parsley Salad

A well worn cookbook is a map of taste. Flip through the pages and you’ll find the spine naturally giving way at favourite dishes, the recipes marked with notes or greasy fingers. It reveals the cooking history of it’s owner and holds memories in those oil splattered pages of shared meals and good times.

One of my most worn cookbooks is Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros. It is a rich and colourful memoir that traverses the globe from Finland to South Africa via the Mediterranean to capture Kiros’ family recipes. If you let the pages of my copy fall open, they will land at Greece, and you’ll find the recipe for a chickpea salad.

This is a most satisfying salad. The chickpeas make it almost a meal in itself and the feta coats everything to make a salty, creamy dressing that comes to life with the citrus and herbs.

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Summer Pasta From the Pantry

Summer Pasta From The Pantry

The key to simple, quick and delicious meals is a well-stocked pantry. If you’ve got the basics of a meal already in the cupboard, you can spend less time running up and down the supermarket aisles and more time picking the best of the fresh ingredients on offer.

Many of my favourite cookbooks start with a chapter on what to store in the larder. Mark Bittman advises that “cooking at home becomes exponentially easier, faster, and more spontaneous when you have basic foods at arm’s reach.”

However there’s a fine balance between stocking up on essentials and hoarding little bits in bags. I try to keep my pantry stocked with my most used ingredients, though a jar of exotic spice or a specialist Asian sauce has been known to sneak in.

Nigel Slater has a cramped London kitchen (I empathise) and notes that “cupboard space is at a premium. My store cupboard is lean and restricted to essentials rather than groaning with all manner of ‘things that may just come in useful’.”

Nigel notes that if he had to whittle down his pantry to three ingredients to take on a desert island, he’d choose lemons, olive oil and Parmesan cheese. If he and I wash up on the same island, he’d have my dried pasta, capers and parsley and we’d be able to make a version of this dish (with the tuna we catch from the sea).

Many of the ingredients required for this recipe are already in your pantry, or they should be.

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Spicy Pepitas

Spiced Pepitas

Sitting on a train, listening to music and watching your point of origin morph into your destination out the window is a lovely way to travel. But if you’re not into dry, sparse sandwiches packed in too much plastic, or greasy, limp offerings from the neon shopfronts at the station, then eating on a train can be disappointing. In preparation for a 3-hour trip on the Long Island Rail Road this week, I packed myself a little snack.

I generally choose salty over sweet; a bag of potato chips will not last long in my presence. Though if sweet combines with salty, well, that is an elevated snack.

Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, are a solid performing bite to eat on their own. When they’re roasted with a spicy-sweet combination of flavours, these seeds develop their naturally chewy, subtly sweet nuttiness into a richer, crunchier and altogether more satisfying treat.

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Three-Ingredient Asparagus Tart

Three-Ingredient Asparagus Tart

A cold bottle of Riesling, a sunny afternoon and a few friends should be the three ingredients required for this tart, because that’s how I prefer  to eat it. But before you open the wine, you’ll just need to pick up some asparagus, puff pastry and cheese. For this is the most accommodating of tarts. It requires very little to turn simple ingredients into a dish that looks like you trained in a French patisserie to make.

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Simplest Store Cupboard Tomato Sauce

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As you may gather, I like simple recipes. I especially like simple recipes that take pantry ingredients and transform them into a rich, luscious meal that is worthy of note. This one does that using canned tomatoes, the stalwart of the store cupboard.

It’s entirely likely that even if I don’t think I have any tomatoes in the pantry, I can reach in behind the half empty bag of nuts and that wild rice I bought but never used and find a tin or two. I prefer tomatoes that are canned whole rather than crushed or diced. I think this retains the integrity of the tomato and it means I can go wild with my kitchen scissors after I’ve poured them into the pot (extremely satisfying way to chop).

Whenever I am at an Italian grocer, like Eataly in NYC or Mediterranean Wholesalers in Melbourne, I’ll stock up on cans of organic tomatoes ready for recipes just like this one. It’s worth spending a little more on the quality of the tomatoes, as the recipe is so simple, you want the flavour of your tomatoes to be as full as possible.

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Get Well Soon Food

Being in hospital is no fun. But coming home can also be a (literal) pain. Especially when you’re away from family. My friend and fellow ex-pat is coming home from hospital tomorrow and I’m the Responsible Adult picking her up. I take this role very seriously, and have prepared a little care package for her first night back home. Unexpected food gifts are always received with delight, which makes cooking them even more special.

The key ingredients for a spectacular (or at least comfortable) recovery are:

  • Chicken soup – Chicken soup for a sick person? I know – not revolutionary, but it’s warm, full of protein, easy to digest and makes you feel like your mum is around even if she isn’t.
  • Bread – CARBS! Close friends will attest to my craving for KFC chips when I’m sick (the shame!). But a fresh mini baguette will also provide the carb comfort required and help mop up the last of the soup.
  • Chocolate – The very definition of comfort. Especially Australian chocolate for this homesick Sydney-sider.
  • Magazines – A good supply of glossies keeps the mind focussed on beautiful things, and provides an alternative should the end of the Netflix queue ever be reached.

This chicken soup recipe is a good one. It’s really chickeny, naturally, but it also has a warmth and depth of flavour thanks to the cumin, coriander seed and cinnamon. The chickpeas stand in for the more traditional noodles, and give a very satisfying bite to the soup.

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Middle Eastern Comfort Food

Two things conspired for me to find this video today.

One: I’m convalescing after my appendix rudely interrupted a planned trip to San Francisco, so I have some time on my hands.

Two: my intense love for Middle Eastern food.

I was recently asked what my favourite food was and the answer is clear. I find the flavours and experience of Middle Eastern food so comforting and exotic. I like the warmth (rather than blow-your-head-off heat) of the spices. The mix of textures keeps things interesting, from the delicacy of the pastries to the sturdiness of the lamb and grains. And the communal approach to a meal is how I love to eat – a big table spread with plates of this and that, and a bunch of hands indecisively hovering then exchanging dishes to share, just feels like a big hug to me.

Today I needed a recipe that was wholesome, comforting and inspiring. And this video lead me to one.

Bethany Kehd’s blog Dirty Kitchen Secrets is an amazing source of inspiration for Middle Eastern dishes. Bethany was born in America, raised in Lebanon, where she lived on a farm with her family and learned the ways of Lebanese food, and she now lives in the UK.

Bethany’s Red Lentil Soup has just shot to the top of my comfort food list.