Chocolate answers political puzzle

Cooking up something serious Canberra's Liberal supporters would outlay serious money for

It's a little-known fact that I have never voted for a successful political party in any election, ever. This doesn't mean I never voted or have only done so for the Greens, Democrats or the Party, Party, Party, which won 979 votes back in '89 and about which I thought long and hard.

So what could you draw from this? First, I'm not averse to voting for people who could be seen as being slightly crazy - Mark Latham, for example. And the current leader of the opposition, who's crazy enough that he might well get my poisoned chalice as well. Second, I clearly have problems making my mind up. I blame my parents who passionately hated the other's choice and basically cancelled out each other's vote.

Given my success, I could be just as useful as an octopus in Germany and a lot easier to look after.

I probably wouldn't be the best choice to help with a fund-raiser for the ACT Legislative Assembly elections in October. But there you have it. I was asked to cook at a dinner to help a candidate raise cash for the war chest. When I agreed, I thought this would be dead easy - a sausage sizzle at a shopping centre, I've had lots of practice with these for my son's premier-league basketball.

Hang on, I'm getting a Jon Stewart-like message in my earpiece. ''Hello? So it's not a sausage sizzle? It's for the Liberal Party and they don't do sausage sizzles. Five hundred bucks a plate? … No, no, no problem, my mistake.''

I've got myself knee-deep in cooking up something serious, a nosh-up that some of Canberra's Liberal supporters would outlay some serious folding stuff for. So I stand over the bin with my $4 a kilo links and put some thought into it.


Bugger. If only it was for the local Greens - cabbage, wild lettuces, some tofu. But a Liberal fund-raiser - wow, who'd a thought? I knew not voting for Bob Hawke in my first election would come back to bite me. Dad would be so proud. Sorry, Mum.

I hit the books, tune in the telly and follow Twitter with a vengeance. After some to and froing, here's the menu I came up with, with thanks to the likes of Tetsuya, Mark Best, the ever-present Blumenthal and even a little Shannon Bennett:

- tartare of tuna with goat's curd and olives

- little beetroot tarts with onion jam and labne

- slow-roasted kingfish with buckwheat vinaigrette and blood orange salad

- grilled duck with dashi poached eggplant, braised cos heart and pear

- best end of lamb, ice filtered lamb jelly, potato and oyster hot pot, braised onion and fluid gel

- Callebaut chocolate ganache cake

For me, the little beetroot tarts are a joy, and I make a mental note to make them again as a stand-alone dish. The ganache cake is intense and easy to make; the recipe is at right.

The food is matched with a neat range of wines by the host Tim Kirk (of Clonakilla), and the evening seems to go splendidly. But given my track record, I'd hesitate at this point to give my support to the local candidate.

Bryan Martin is a winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla, www.bryanmartin.com.au

Beetroot tarts with onion and maple labne

duck fat or oil

6 medium-sized beetroots

1kg brown onions, sliced very thinly

puff pastry - handmade preferably, but commercial OK

100g labne

1 tbsp pure maple syrup

3 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked off and blanched in boiling water, dried off

Oil six squares of foil. Place a trimmed beetroot in the centre of each and draw up into neat bundles. Bake at 180C until tender, about an hour. Cool, peel and slice into very thin discs - use a mandolin if you have one. Trim each stack into a circle using a pastry cutter.

Arrange overlapping concentric circles of beetroot discs on greased silicon paper. You are looking at making four tarts, each 10 centimetres in diameter. Cover with another greased sheet until needed.

Melt some duck fat or oil (depends how vego you are) and cook the onions over a moderate heat until collapsed. Then lower the heat to super low and cook gently until they are super soft and sweet smelling - at least an hour. Cool before use.

Cut the puff pastry into four 10-centimetre discs, brush with fat and lay on a flat baking sheet. Place some stacks, each with two 50 cent pieces around the tray - at least one stack in the middle and one on each corner - to make a spacer, then cover with a sheet of silicon paper and then another flat baking tray (which rests on your coin stacks). Put a weight on top of the tray. The aim is to let the pastry puff up a bit between the trays but not fully. Bake for 15 minutes at 160C. The pastry should be cooked but not burnt. Cool.

Whip the labne with maple syrup, season with salt.

To finish, spread the onion on the bases evenly, sprinkle with blanched thyme. Carefully invert the beetroot circles to cover the onion, and season with salt and pepper. Warm through in a 160C oven - you don't want to actually bake the tarts; they're cooked already. Serve with a dollop of labne in the middle and a little salad.