Food and family are so intertwined. While cooking for a family is, of course, to satisfy hunger, it is so much more. "Family food" is generous and unfussy and demonstrates love and care - it is perfectly imperfect. It's about making rituals and creating special moments.
- A Year of Simple Family Food, by Julia Busuttil Nishimura. Plum. $39.99.
Blackberry and apple pudding
I took this to a picnic in early autumn when the warmth of the sun was noticeable and sitting outside to eat dinner was still pleasant. The pudding was still warm from the oven and was perfect with double cream. Almost like a crumble, but with a spongy cake on top instead, it is really comforting and would see you well into winter by using frozen berries.
3 granny smith apples (about 650g in total) peeled, cored and cut into 5 mm thick slices
finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp vanilla extract
150g raw sugar
250g fresh or frozen and thawed blackberries
100g unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tbsp full-cream milk
150g self-raising our, sifted
double cream, to serve
Cinnamon sugar topping:
1 tbsp raw sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp melted unsalted butter
1. Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease a 28cm round baking dish with butter. Combine the apple in a large bowl with the lemon juice, half the vanilla and 50g of the sugar. Toss so that everything is well coated. Gently stir through the blackberries, then tumble the fruit into the prepared baking dish.
2. Cream the butter with the remaining sugar in a large bowl until pale and fluffy. Add the remaining vanilla and the eggs, mixing well until everything is well incorporated. Stir in the milk. It may look curdled at this stage, but it will come together. Finally, add the lemon zest and our and gently mix until the batter is smooth. Spread the batter over the top of the fruit, smoothing the top with a spatula. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top springs back when touched.
3. Meanwhile, for the topping, combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Brush the hot pudding with melted butter and scatter over the cinnamon sugar. Serve warm with double cream.
Silverbeet and ricotta pie
Known as torta pasqualina, this pie is so substantial and satisfying both to make and to eat. The pastry is rather unusual and requires you to make several thin sheets of dough, which are layered to create an almost lo-type pastry. Once the filling has been spooned into the base, deep holes are made where eggs are nestled. Once cooked, the eggs are dramatic and visually very beautiful next to the green filling. If you don't want to make the pastry (but I urge you to try) store-bought lo would work well, as would shortcrust. This pie is best served hot from the oven.
400g tipo 00 flour, plus extra for dusting
pinch of fine sea salt
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
200ml iced water
Silverbeet and ricotta filling:
300g fresh full-fat ricotta
50g parmesan, grated
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
3 garlic cloves, nely chopped
800g silverbeet leaves, washed and finely chopped
iced water, for refreshing
800g English spinach leaves, washed and finely chopped
2 tsp oregano or marjoram leaves, finely chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a 23cm round springform tin with olive oil.
2. Combine the our and salt in a large bowl. Pour in the olive oil and water and mix with your hands until the mixture forms a ball. Tip the dough onto a floured work surface and knead for five minutes or until smooth. Divide the dough into six balls and cover with a clean tea towel.
3. For the filling, combine the ricotta, parmesan, nutmeg and lemon zest in a bowl. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a low-medium heat and gently fry the onion with a pinch of salt for 10 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and cook for a minute longer. Set aside to cool. Blanch the silverbeet in a large saucepan of salted boiling water until wilted, refresh in iced water and drain, squeezing out as much liquid as possible. Repeat this process with the spinach and add both greens to the ricotta along with the cooled onion mixture and the oregano or marjoram. Add the egg and gently stir until well combined.
4. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one of the balls of dough to a very thin circle, as thin as you can roll it, stretching with your hands to help it along. Drape the pastry into the prepared tin and brush with olive oil. Roll out the next two balls of dough, repeating the draping and brushing. There should be about 4cm of dough overhanging the tin.
5. Spoon the filling into the tin and spread to level the mixture. Using the back of a spoon, make four deep indentations in the mixture and crack an egg into each of them. Repeat the rolling, draping and brushing with the three remaining balls of dough to make a top for your pie. Trim the overhanging pastry to just 2cm, then fold in the dough edge, crimping as you go, to seal the pie. Whisk 1 teaspoon of water into the remaining egg to make a wash and brush the top of the pie and the crimped edge. Using a small sharp knife, poke a few steam holes in the middle of the pie.
6. Bake for 45-50 minutes until the pastry is golden and the pie is piping hot in the middle. Check by inserting a metal skewer into the pie; it should come out very hot to the touch. Allow to cool briefly, then remove the pie from the tin and transfer to a serving plate or board. Serve hot.
Borlotti bean, tomato and rocket pasta
When fresh beans are abundant and tomatoes are still around and very sweet, a quick pasta like this is perfect. It's one of my favourite combinations and is simple enough to throw together during the week without much forethought. Although canned or dried beans can be substituted here, it is well worth using fresh ones if they are available. Podding the beans is actually rather pleasant and meditative. The fresh beans are beautifully flecked, looking almost as if they have been painted. Even though this colouring disappears once cooked, it is lovely to appreciate their eating beauty.
300g podded fresh borlotti beans (about 500g unpodded; see note)
4 garlic cloves, 1 peeled and left whole, 3 roughly chopped
1 fresh bay leaf
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
250g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp pitted small black olives (I use taggiasche)
320g dried short pasta, such as penne, rigatoni or farfalle
large handful of rocket, roughly chopped
handful of basil leaves
40g parmesan, grated
1. Place the beans, whole garlic clove and bay leaf in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and and simmer for 30-40 minutes until very tender. Drain, discarding the garlic and bay leaf.
2. Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a large frying pan over a low heat and gently sauté the chopped garlic, just for 30 seconds until aromatic. Add the cherry tomatoes along with a pinch of salt and cook until the tomatoes are beginning to soften and create a sauce. Add the cooked beans and the olives and stir to combine.
3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large saucepan of salted boiling water for a few minutes less than directed on the packet instructions. Drain, reserving 250ml of the cooking water. Tip the pasta into the sauce, along with the rocket and basil. Increase the heat to medium and add most of the cooking water. Stir so that everything is well coated and simmer for one to two minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and the pasta is al dente. If the sauce begins to look dry, add the remaining cooking water. Stir through the parmesan and serve with an extra drizzle of olive oil.
Note: If you can't find fresh borlotti beans, use 100g dried beans, soaked overnight and drained, or 400g canned cooked borlotti beans, drained and rinsed. Boil the soaked dried beans as you would the fresh ones, but if you are using canned beans, drain and rinse them before adding to the sauce in the second step.
By about the beginning of May, I tend to accept that we are well and truly marching towards winter. Mornings are decidedly colder and knobbly pumpkins of all different sizes and colours begin to show up at the market. While I make risotto most of the year, this pumpkin one is a favourite. It's rich and creamy, and so vibrant - which makes a nice contrast to the gloomier weather. There are several important stages to making a good risotto: the gentle frying of il soffritto (the vegetables); the toasting of the rice, called la tostatura; and finally, la mantecatura, the final step - once the rice is al dente, take it off the heat and vigorously stir in some butter and parmesan until glossy. A good risotto should be all'onda, which translates to wavy and refers to how loose and fluid it should be. Of course, in between there is the adding of the wine and stock, which plays a crucial role, too. I prefer to use carnaroli rice here, but any risotto rice will do - just buy the best quality you can afford.
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
70g unsalted butter
1 onion, nely chopped
400g pumpkin, cut into 2cm pieces
350g carnaroli or other risotto rice
125ml dry white wine or white vermouth
1.5 litres vegetable or light chicken stock (see note)
50g grated parmesan, plus extra to serve
mascarpone, to serve
1. Warm the olive oil and 20g of the butter in a large heavy-based saucepan over a low heat and gently fry the onion for around five minutes until beginning to soften but not colour. Increase the heat to medium and add the pumpkin, cooking for around 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly coloured. Scatter the rice into the pan and cook for two minutes, stirring constantly, to toast the grains. Pour in the wine or vermouth and allow it to absorb into the rice. Once the liquid has almost disappeared, begin to add the stock, a ladle at a time, stirring constantly and waiting for the rice to absorb almost all of the liquid before adding another. Begin checking the rice for doneness at the 15-minute mark. Once the rice is al dente and not absorbing liquid as easily, add one more ladleful of stock along with the parmesan and remaining butter. Stir with some vigour, really working the butter and parmesan into the risotto, until it is all combined and glossy - it should be quite loose and not sticky at all. Season to taste, then ladle onto plates and top with a spoonful of mascarpone, a last drizzle of olive oil and a little extra grated parmesan.
Note: I make a really quick and simple stock for my risotto. I place a halved onion, a few celery stalks, a carrot, a few peppercorns and a bay leaf into a stockpot, cover with cold water and let it simmer for just 30-40 minutes, then season with a little salt to taste.