January's the perfect month to reassess many things. The start of a new year, a new me, it's time to make changes and live my best life. Yada, yada, yada. All that enthusiasm lasts until February if you're lucky and once you're back at work and the kids are back at school life seems to just get in the way again.
I have made some resolutions but I'm keeping them to myself for the best part this year. You don't know how pathetic I feel reading back over past columns written in January realising that I have not achieved many of the things I told myself I would do. I still weigh too much, I still drink too much, I'm still buying too many books which I spend too little time actually reading or cooking from.
On that, those cookbooks might come in handy this year for one resolution I am willing to share is the idea that this year I will eat more vegetables. And eat them in more interesting ways. I'm of a generation where vegetables were simply boiled, sometimes beyond recognition, and served alongside the main event of meat. As we started to cook for ourselves we experimented with stir fries and pasta dishes which incorporated vegetables done in a different way. Perhaps our children become vegetarians, perhaps we have friends who espouse the vegan lifestyle, perhaps we're starting to think about the environment in a different way.
But I like meat and will continue to eat it, sourcing it ethically and sustainably. I like the idea of turning the idea of a plant-based diet on its head a little, defining it as a diet which puts the vegetables on centre stage. That's the direction I'm headed this year.
But I don't want it to be complicated. I don't want it to feel like I am denying myself anything. I want to eat well. I want to eat delicious food.
So I hit up that shelf of cookbooks and dug out my favourite ones to get me started.
More: more recipes with more joy for more veg, by Matt Preston (Plum, 2019, $39.99)
Preston's not one to wag a finger at meat eaters. This super book will cater for your whole family with suggestions on how to incorporate meat into the mainly vegetarian recipes.
Three Veg and Meat: Flip the balance on your plate, by Olivia Andrews (Murdoch Books, 2019, $39.99)
Still want to eat all your favourites, such as burgers, schnitzel and pasta? Then this is the book for you. With super tips to keep everyone happy.
Veg: Easy and delicious meals for everyone, by Jamie Oliver (Michael Joseph, 2019, $49.99 )
A familiar face to lead you on your journey. Full of recipes for curries, pastas, soups and stews. Simple ideas to make some big changes.
Everyday Fresh: Meals in Minutes, by Donna Hay (Fourth Estate, 2020, $45)
Hay is all about balance and while there are plenty of recipes in this book for meat eaters, there are plenty where you won't even notice there is no meat.
River Cottage Veg Every Day and River Cottage Much More Veg, by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall (Bloomsbury, 2011, 2017, $45)
These books are the ones that guided me through the transition when my teenage daughter declared she was becoming a vegetarian. Simple, delicious meals served up in Fearnley Whittingstall's no-nonsense style. The North African squash and chickpea stew is our go-to vego meal.
In Praise of Veg: A modern kitchen companion, by Alice Zaslavsky (Murdoch Books, 2020, $60)
One of Australia's best-selling cookbooks in 2020, Zaslavsky champions all kinds of vegetables with tips on how to prepare, store and what flavours work with what.
Donna Hay's free-form lasagne with minted spinach
6 fresh lasagne sheets, blanched
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan, plus extra to serve
Cauliflower cheese sauce:
1kg cauliflower, cut into florets
2 cups milk
3/4 cup finely grated parmesan
sea salt and cracked black pepper
500g baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
1/4 cup finely chopped chives
sea salt and cracked black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 220C.
2. To make the cauliflower cheese sauce, place the cauliflower and milk in a large saucepan over low heat and bring to a simmer. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer gently for eight to 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is soft. Allow to cool slightly. Using a hand-held stick blender, blend until smooth. Add parmesan, salt and pepper and stir through.
3. To make the minted spinach, place the spinach into a bowl and pour over boiling water. Set aside for 30 seconds, then drain. Press the spinach between paper towel to remove any excess liquid. Shred the spinach and place into a bowl with the mint, chives, salt and pepper. Mix to combine.
4. To assemble lasagnes, place one lasagne sheet into the bases of two lightly greased 16-18cm ovenproof dishes or frying pans. Top each sheet with 3/4-cupful of cauliflower cheese sauce, then 1/4 of the minted spinach. Repeat layering with remaining lasagne sheets, cauliflower cheese sauce and minted spinach, finishing with the remaining cauliflower cheese sauce. Top with the parmesan and place dishes on a baking tray. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden and bubbling. Serve sprinkled with the extra parmesan.
Matt Preston's mac 'n' cheese with chunky garlic bread topping
Who doesn't love garlic bread with their pasta? So why not combine these two favourites into one dish? That's the sort of thinking that should see a certain prize committee in Oslo sitting up and taking notice. Failing that I'll settle for the World Food Prize for 2019 ... Sure, last year's winners Dr Lawrence Haddad and Dr David Nabarro's complementary global leadership in elevating maternal and child undernutrition within food security issues was most laudable, but it was no mac 'n' cheese with a garlic bread topping!
2 golden shallots, finely chopped (yes, you could use that 1/2 red onion sitting forlornly in the fridge instead)
1 1/2 tbsp plain flour
100g coarsely grated vintage cheddar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
200g baby roma or grape tomatoes
180g cherry bocconcini, drained well
100g soy and linseed sourdough bread, cut into 1cm pieces
1/4 cup very finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 garlic cloves, crushed
60g butter, melted
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan-forced.
2. Cook the macaroni in a saucepan of boiling salted water for two minutes less than it says on the packet or until just al dente. Drain and return to the pan.
3. While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring, for three minutes or until soft. Stir in the flour for one minute or until the mixture bubbles. Remove the pan from the heat and gradually whisk in the milk until smooth. Return to medium heat and simmer, stirring, for two minutes or until the mixture boils and thickens. Stir in the cheddar until melted and combined, then season with salt and pepper.
4. Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss together.
5. Cut six of the tomatoes in half and set aside. Add the remaining whole tomatoes to the pasta mixture and stir to combine. Spoon into a medium baking dish. Arrange the reserved halved tomatoes on top, cut-side down. Scatter over the cherry bocconcini and gently press them down.
6. To make the garlic breadcrumbs, combine all the ingredients in a bowl.
7. Scatter the breadcrumbs over the macaroni mixture, allowing some of the tomatoes and bocconcini to show through. Bake for 30 minutes or until the top is golden and crisp.
Tip: I'm warming to the idea of a pasta bake with a garlic bread crust. Layer slices of bread on top, overlapping like potatoes on a Lancashire hotpot, then brush with garlic butter as it cooks.
Meaty addition: Toss six (about 150g) chopped rashers crispy bacon to the creamy pasta prior to baking.
Olivia Andrews' new sausage roll
It's hard to go past a freshly baked sausage roll, with its luscious layers of buttery crisp puff pastry. But here's a much healthier version you can indulge in more often - and even I was surprised at how tasty these are! A commercially made sausage roll typically has more than six times the saturated fat, double the calories, and more than double the carbohydrates as these ones ... so tuck in.
1 red onion, finely grated
2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
400g tin butter beans or borlotti beans, drained well
2 small or 1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely grated
2 small or 1 large zucchini, coarsely grated
2 tbsp finely chopped sage
11/2 tsp ground fennel or toasted fennel seeds
1 cup instant oats
300g minced pork
1 egg, beaten, plus 1 egg yolk
11/2 tsp fine sea salt
15 sheets filo pastry (from a 375g packet)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
poppy seeds for sprinkling
1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a large baking tray with baking paper.
2. Place the onion, garlic and butter beans in a large bowl. Using a stick blender or masher, work the mixture into a coarse paste.
3. Using your hands, squeeze out and discard as much excess liquid as possible from the grated carrot and zucchini, then add them to the butterbean mixture with the sage, fennel, oats, pork, beaten egg and salt. Season with freshly ground black pepper and mix with your hands for about one minute, working the mixture until very well combined.
4. Remove the filo pastry from the packet and keep covered with a damp tea towel. Stack five sheets of pastry on top of each other on a clean work surface, spraying well or lightly brushing with oil in between each layer. Divide the filling mixture into thirds. Starting at the longest side closest to you, shape one portion of the filling along all the way out to the two shorter edges. Roll up to enclose the filling, then carefully cut into four sausage rolls. Repeat with the remaining pastry and filling.
5. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk with the two tablespoons oil. Lightly and evenly brush the mixture all over the sausage rolls. Lightly sprinkle poppy seeds or sesame salt along the centre of each.
6. Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden and cooked through. Enjoy warm.
Alice Zaslavsky's swede spiral tian with balsamic glaze
This is such a visually arresting dish, and frankly, such a fabulous way of making use of a veg that is so often seen as a bit drab. You can also get creative with what else you layer up into a tian - from ratatouille combos of zucchini (courgette), eggplant (aubergine), tomato and summer squash, to borschy tian with beetroot, carrot and turnip. A mandoline will come in handy, but some of the fancier food processors will do the job, too.
1.2 kg swedes or turnips, thinly sliced with a mandoline
3/4 cup olive oil
11/2 tsp salt flakes
11/2 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
100ml vegetable stock
Caramelised balsamic, to serve
1. Preheat the oven to 190C.
2. Put the swede slices in a bowl. Drizzle with a few tablespoons of the olive oil, then sprinkle with the salt, sugar and pepper and toss until well coated.
3. Arrange the swede slices in a round baking dish in a spiral pattern, starting from the outside and working your way in.
4. Drizzle with a little more olive oil, then pour the stock into the bottom of the pan. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes, or until the swede is knife-tender.
5. Remove the foil from the dish. Glaze the swede.
6. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and bake for another 30-35 minutes, or until burnished on top.
7. Drizzle with the caramelised balsamic and serve to gasps at the table.