Fig Jam

Serve this jam, which is made with dried figs, on a cheese board. It goes well with most cheeses. It also pairs well with pâté, ham and chicken. Serve it in sandwiches or in this easy chicken recipe, instead of marmalade. A jar also makes a nice gift, if you can bear to part with any.

Serve a dollop on Greek yoghurt, or as a topping for baked brie. It also makes an unusual filling for scones, with or without whipped cream.

Last time we were holidaying in France I bought a few cans of pâté de foie gras. I served some recently as a starter, with a mini onion quiche and some brioche toast fingers.

500g dried figs, stems removed
2 cups sugar
3 cups water
¾ cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs lemon juice

Cut each fig into quarters and place in a large saucepan with a heavy bottom. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Use a stick blender to puree the jam. Or tip it into a blender or food processor and process using the pulse butter. You want a chunky not smooth finish. Tip the jam back into the saucepan. If you used a stick blender you can do that in the pan. Continue to simmer the jam for 5-10 minutes or until thickened. It will thicken more when it cools. If it gets too thick, add a little water.

Meanwhile wash and dry several small jam jars. Place them in a microwave (without the lids) and zap them for 2-3 minutes on high. When the jam is ready, tip it into the hot jars, then screw the lids on and store them in a dark cupboard.

Note: while balsamic vinegar gives a nice flavour, if you don’t have any substitute another vinegar such as sherry, red wine or cider.





Salmorejo with Seafood Medley & Goat Cheese Mousse

Salmorejo is a Spanish soup, made from tomatoes, bread, olive oil and garlic. It’s served cold and is best described as a smooth Gazpacho. My son-in-law, who is a fabulous cook, served it when we were visiting earlier this year. I had never tried it before and thought it was delicious, so he sent me his recipe.

Having decided to use it as a base for a medley of seafood, I was concerned that when I heated it up in the microwave the Salmorejo might split, but it didn’t. It behaved perfectly.

Salmorejo relies on good quality tomatoes, so if it’s the middle of winter and the tomatoes in the supermarket are looking pale and unloved, use a couple of tins of good quality Italian tomatoes. As you can see from the photo, I didn’t do a very good job of making the goat cheese mousse into a beautiful shape with two spoons. The pressure was on to get the plates on the table for our guests before it got cold, so I ended up just putting rustic blobs. It still tasted good though.

600g ripe tomatoes
1 baguette
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 Tbs sherry vinegar (or red/white wine vinegar)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
1 small piece of skinless white fish per person (I used Ling)
1 small piece of skinless salmon per person
1 large scallop per person
1 large green (raw) prawn per person
50g butter, melted
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper, to taste
Basil oil:
½ cup fresh basil leaves
Olive oil
Goat Cheese Mousse:
1 cup whipping cream
100g soft goat cheese

Skin tomatoes, remove cores and place the rest in a blender. Remove the “guts” from the baguette. You should have 2-3 cups. Keep the outer crusts for another use.

Add 2 cups of the bread, vinegar and garlic to the blender. Blend until smooth, adding the olive oil through the chute with the motor running. Add salt to taste. Add more bread if necessary, to achieve desired consistency. Refrigerate till serving time.

Remove shells from prawns, leaving the heads and tips of the tails intact. Melt the butter with the garlic and  season to taste. Use it to brush all the seafood on both sides. Can be prepared ahead to this point and kept in the fridge.

Make basil oil by blending the basil with enough oil in a blender or food processor to make a thick sauce. For the goat cheese mousse, whip cream with electric beaters until thick then add the goat cheese and continue to whip until combined. Keep in the fridge.

At serving time, grill or pan fry the seafood. I cooked the prawns and scallops in the air fryer and the fish on a paper-lined tray in a hot oven. They took about 10 minutes max.

To serve, heat the Salmorejo in a microwave, ladle into 8 serving bowls and top with the seafood. Place a blob of goat cheese mousse in the centre and drizzle some basil oil around the edge. Serve with crusty bread and follow with a green salad – we had fresh rocket from the garden with toasted pine nuts.

Serves 8

Frozen Chocolate Mousse with Coffee Ice Cream

We were served this dessert in a restaurant in the north of Spain. I can’t remember the name of the restaurant and I didn’t come away with the recipe, just the name and the memory of the delicious flavours and textures.

It’s been in the back of my mind to replicate it, so here is my version. The recipe is easy to halve to serve 6-8.

250g dark chocolate, broken into squares
250g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
8 eggs, separated
2 Tbs Cointreau or Grand Marnier
Pinch of salt
4 Tbs sugar
1 tub of good quality vanilla ice cream (half a litre)
3 Tbs instant coffee
3 Tbs boiling water
To serve:
A few berries, fresh or frozen
Pouring cream

Melt chocolate and butter in a microwave or in a bowl over boiling water. Cool a bit then mix in the egg yolks and the orange liqueur.

Beat egg whites and salt with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and continue to beat until you have a glossy thick meringue. Add half to the melted chocolate and fold in gently with a rubber spatula. Add the rest and do the same. When thoroughly mixed, pour into small dishes and freeze for several hours or overnight.

Coffee Ice cream: Take the vanilla ice cream out of the freezer for about 15 minutes, so it softens a bit, then scrape it into a bowl. Mix the instant coffee and boiling water until smooth, then mix it into the ice cream. When thoroughly mixed, scrape back into the ice cream container and put it back in the freezer. Recipe can be prepared ahead to this point.

Serve each mousse with a scoop of coffee ice cream and, if liked, a few berries and pouring cream. Mine were frozen home-grown boysenberries, which is why they look frosted in the photo.

Makes 12-16 little mousses, depending on the size of your moulds

Chocolate Pancake Cake

This recipe looks more complicated than it is. The only time consuming part is making the pancakes, which takes about half an hour. You can do this the day before, and indeed, assemble the whole cake the day before serving.

Feel free to vary the dried fruit and nuts or to leave them out altogether.

Pancake mixture:
4 eggs
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 rounded Tbs sugar
2 heaped Tbs cocoa powder, sifted
150 g plain flour, sifted
300ml milk
100ml boiling water
2 Tbs melted butter, or oil
100g prunes, pitted and diced
2-3 Tbs rum or brandy (optional)
100g cream cheese at room temp
75g dulce de leche (manjar) (see note)
To serve:
100g dark chocolate
75ml cream
3-4 Tbs flaked almonds, or granulated peanuts, lightly toasted
Extra cream to serve, optional

Place all pancake ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Stop halfway to scrape down the sides with a spatula. Use mixture to make large pancakes in a nonstick frying pan. Use about 1/3 cup mixture for each and swirl the pan to cover the bottom evenly. Spray the pan lightly with oil between pancakes. Cook each one for a minute or two and when firm turn over and cook the other side. Place the pancakes in a pile, one on top of the other. My mixture made 11, but I only used eight in the cake as I didn’t have enough filling to use any more.

Soak the diced prunes in the rum or brandy or if preferred soak them in hot water. Mix the cream cheese and dulce de leche until smooth.

On a piece of aluminium foil, arrange the pancakes in a line, overlapping each one onto half of the previous one and spreading each one all over with the cream cheese mixture. See photo. Drain prunes and scatter them over the pancakes. Turn in about 2 cm on the long sides, just to make them neater. Roll up the cake on the short side, as tightly as you can, into a sausage shape. Wrap tightly in the foil and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Unwrap the cake and place it on a rack over a plate or tray to catch any drips. Heat the chocolate and cream until melted. If using granulated peanuts, mix them in then spread all over the cake. If using flaked almonds, ice the cake first with the chocolate mixture then sprinkle with the lightly toasted flaked almonds and leave to set.

Serve slices of the cake with whipped or pouring cream.

Serves 8

Variations: use seedless raisins instead of prunes; chopped roasted peanuts or macadamias instead of almonds.
Note: you can use Nestle Top and Fill Caramel instead of Dulce de Leche.



Mediterranean Baked Fish with Feta

When we were posted to Israel we had a cleaning lady who was also called Linda. My Hebrew was pretty basic, but she spoke Italian and I speak Spanish so we communicated in a weird combination of all three. A certain amount was lost in translation, but we managed.

When Linda’s son had his Bar Mitzvah she invited us to the celebration. We got terribly lost on the way and as we pulled up at the address we had been given – a huge building in the centre of town – we were feeling somewhat frazzled. The sound of a big party was wafting down the stairs so we ran up to find a room packed with over 200 guests seated at tables for 10. Linda was nowhere to be seen, so not wanting to make a point of having arrived late we spotted a couple of empty seats in the far corner and sat down. We were onto our second glass of wine and having a jolly time when suddenly the band started to play, everyone stood up and in walked the bride and groom. “Holy Dooley” said Matthew, “wrong party.”

It was impossible to leave without shaking hands with the happy couple as they were blocking the only exit. We left them looking somewhat bemused and no doubt thinking, “Who invited them?”  We eventually found our party at the other end of the building.

Linda gave me this easy recipe for a Mediterranean all-in-one fish dish. If you have more mouths to feed, the onions and potatoes “pad it out”, as my mother used to say, but I often leave one or both of them out. If preferred, serve potatoes, rice or Israeli couscous as a side dish.

This recipe makes a quick midweek family dinner and is easy to halve or double. More people to feed? Bigger dish. It’s also great for casual entertaining and looks very colourful when you bring it to the table. I don’t usually measure the ingredients, just do it by eye.

1.5 kg firm white fish fillets
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
200-300g feta cheese
200-300g olives, stoned (black or green)
12-15 baby onions or 1 large onion cut into 8.
12-15 peeled baby potatoes (optional)
200-250g cherry tomatoes, or sun-dried tomatoes, thickly sliced
½ cup olive oil
½ cup white wine or dry sherry
To serve:
3-4 Tbs chopped parsley, preferably flat-leafed
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (optional)

Preheat oven to 200°C . Cut fish into 2-3 cm chunks, mix with salt, pepper and crushed garlic and spread over a greased shallow baking dish. If using, cook baby onions and potatoes separately in boiling water for about 10 minutes, or until almost cooked then drain. If using a whole onion cut into 8, fry it for a few minutes in a little olive oil, or until softened.

Cut feta into cubes and evenly distribute, tucking them in between the fish to make a pretty picture. Add the olives, tomatoes, onions and, if using, the potatoes. Drizzle with the wine or sherry and then the oil. Recipe can be made ahead to this stage and kept refrigerated for up to a few hours.

Bake for 30 minutes or until fish is cooked. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and drizzle with a little more oil (optional). Serve with a crusty baguette to mop up the juices and a big green salad or some steamed green beans.

Serves 6-8

Three-Cheese Semolina Gnocchi with Gremolata

This recipe originally appeared on Donna Hay’s website, but it’s not there any more. The original version serves 10-12 so I halved it to serve six as a starter. The recipe uses an Italian cheese called Taleggio in the gnocchi mix, but you could also use something stronger such as Gruyere or Cheddar.

750 ml milk
1 cup semolina
3 egg yolks
100g grated Taleggio cheese (or substitute Gruyere or strong cheddar)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A few sprigs of fresh marjoram
½ cup grated mozzarella
½ cup grated parmesan
1 Tbs finely chopped parsley
2 tsp finely chopped fresh marjoram
2 Tbs olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp lemon rind (removed with veg peeler then shredded finely)
1 small clove garlic crushed

Place milk in a non-stick saucepan and bring to the boil. Gradually mix in the semolina, using a wooden spatula. Cook for 2-3 mins or until thickened then remove from the heat. Mix in the egg yolks, the cheese and season to taste. Scrape into a lightly greased square or rectangular dish. Mine is 20 cm square. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours or until firm.

Meanwhile make the gremolata by mixing all ingredients together in a bowl or a jar with a lid.

When ready to serve, turn on the grill. Cut the gnocchi into six evenly sized rectangles and place on an oven tray lined with baking paper, leaving some space between each one. Sprinkle with the marjoram, the mozzarella and the parmesan. Grill for 2-3 mins or until cheese is golden and melted. Arrange on 6 serving plates and top with the gremolata. Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil around the gnocchi.

Serves 6 as a starter

Variations: instead of taleggio you could use goat’s cheese. Instead of fresh marjoram you could use oregano or thyme

Cumquat and Almond Cake

When a dessert comes into fashion you see it everywhere – in food magazines, on restaurant menus and served up by friends who entertain. A few years ago chocolate fondants – those tricky little puddings which are all about timing – were very much in vogue. A pool of delectable melted chocolate pours out when you stick your spoon into the middle – well that’s the theory. If you’ve managed to over-cook them, as I’ve done on more than one occasion, they’re still delicious. One of my all-time favourite desserts.

Turn the clock back even further to the 1970s and 80s and everyone was making Orange and Almond cake, where you boil two whole oranges until soft, whizz them to a purée, then add them to the cake mixture. I believe this cake made its debut in Australia in Claudia Roden’s Book of Middle Eastern Food, but recipes were soon popping up everywhere. Some versions don’t use any flour, making them good for celiacs.

Once again we have a huge crop of cumquats, so I decided to make this cake using cumquats instead of oranges and it was a great success. If preferred use two oranges or even mandarins.

Cumquat and Almond Cake

About 300g cumquats (or 2 oranges)
2 cups ground almonds (or grind your own from whole or slivered blanched almonds)
125g butter at room temperature
1 cup caster sugar
5 eggs
½ cup self-raising flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
2 Tbs cumquat juice (or orange juice)
½ cup caster sugar
½ cup water
2 Tbs whisky (optional)
To serve:
Icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180ºC and line the base of a 22cm cake pan with baking paper and grease the sides. Place cumquats in a pan and cover with water. Simmer for 10 mins or until soft then cool. If using oranges they will take 20-30 mins. Cut in half and remove seeds.

If you need to grind the almonds, do them first in the food processor, then add remaining ingredients for cake, including the cooked cumquats, skin and all. Mix until smooth, stopping once to scrape down mixture from the sides. Tip mixture into cake pan and bake for an hour or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Ovens vary so start checking after 45 mins.

Meanwhile make the syrup – place all ingredients in a small pan and simmer for 5 mins. Make holes over the top of the cake with a metal skewer and spoon the warm syrup over as soon as it comes out of the oven. The syrup will be absorbed.

Serve dusted with icing sugar, either warm or at room temperature, with a dollop of thick cream.

Serves 8-10

Variations: use macadamia nuts or pine nuts instead of almonds

Note: to make a flourless version suitable for anyone who is gluten intolerant, replace the flour with an extra half cup of ground almonds

Lamb with Fennel and Salsa Verde

This delicious and quick recipe is adapted from one which appeared in a recent Australian Gourmet Traveller.

My supermarket didn’t have any lamb backstraps or fillets last week, so I bought boneless leg steaks. I didn’t have any pistachio nuts, so I used pine nuts instead. If you don’t have any preserved lemons, just add more herbs, some grated lemon rind and maybe a few pine nuts to the salsa.

The recipe serves 4 but it’s easily halved.

2 lamb backstraps or fillets (or 4 lamb leg steaks trimmed of any fat)
1 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 small to medium bulb of fennel
2 spring onions
1 cup Greek yoghurt
¼ cup pistachio nuts or pine nuts
1 tsp sumac (optional)
Salsa Verde:
¼ cup each firmly packed fresh mint and parsley leaves
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 long green chillies, cut into 3 or 4 pieces
1 Tbs cider or white wine vinegar
½ a preserved lemon, pith and seeds discarded
¼ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (approximately)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Season the lamb on both sides then cook in a frying pan in the 1 Tbs of oil for 4 minutes each side, over moderate heat, or until cooked to your taste. Leave to rest while you prepare the other ingredients, then slice thinly downwards.

While meat is cooking, thinly slice the fennel with a mandoline, reserving a few fronds to garnish. Thinly slice the spring onions on the diagonal – all the white and a bit of the green part.

Place all ingredients for salsa in food processor except the oil and seasoning. Process, scraping down the sides, until chopped evenly, then add the oil through the chute with the motor running. When you have a thick salsa, season to taste then scrape into a small dish. Lightly toast the nuts in a dry pan over moderate heat.

To serve, divide the yoghurt between 4 serving plates and spread out into a circle. Arrange the fennel and spring onions on top, then the meat. Drizzle with some of the salsa verde, sprinkle a few nuts on top and garnish with a fennel frond. Sprinkle a little sumac (if using) around the edge of the plate.

Serves 4

Crispy Pork with Sweet Potato Mash, Broccolini & Cumquat Relish

When we were travelling in Italy before Covid we had a similar dish to this at Francescetta 58 in Modena. Chef Massimo Bottura served the pork with pumpkin puree and wilted spinach.

Today’s version is served with sweet potato mash and broccolini. As we have lots of cumquats on our huge tree in the garden, I made a tangy relish and served it with the pork, to cut through the fattiness. This combination of flavours really works and, if you have an Air Fryer, getting the crackling to be crisp and crunchy is a breeze.

The relish also goes well with ham, turkey and chicken.

1 kg pork belly
Oil and salt
750g-1kg sweet potatoes
50g butter
Salt and Pepper to taste
3-4 bunches of broccolini
Chilli flakes
Olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled & thinly sliced
Cumquat Relish:
1 kg cumquats
500g sugar
1½ cups cider vinegar
1 rounded Tbs grated ginger
1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
8 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks

Make the relish: Halve cumquats, remove seeds, then place in a large heavy-bottomed pan. Add water to just cover, then simmer 3-5 minutes or until softened. Drain, discarding the water, then put back in the pan with remaining ingredients. Simmer for 50-60 minutes or until liquid has reduced and cumquats are very tender. Cool then blitz using the pulse button in a food processor until you have a chunky relish. Heat a few small jars in the microwave (without lids) for 2 minutes then bottle the relish and seal while hot. It will keep for several months. Refrigerate after opening.

Score the skin on the pork in two directions with a very sharp knife, to make a diamond pattern. Cut through the skin but not the fat. Rub pork all over with a little oil and salt. Cook in an Air Fryer for 25 minutes at 200°C then a further 30 minutes at 160°C. Alternatively cook in the oven using this method.

Peel and cut sweet potatoes into large chunks. Cook in boiling, salted water until tender then drain and mash with the butter until very smooth. If preferred do it in the food processor. If liked add a bit of cream. Season to taste.

Cut broccolini into 8-10cm lengths, keeping the ends for making soup. Steam broccolini until al dente. Heat a little olive oil in a large frying pan with the garlic slices. Add the broccolini, season and turn to coat with the garlicky oil. Sprinkle with a few chilli flakes to serve.

Cut pork into 6-8 squares or rectangles and serve on the sweet potato mash, topped with some cumquat relish and garnished with the broccolini on the side.

Serves 6-8

Crisp-skinned Fish with Warm Potato Salad & Salsa Verde

This recipe was inspired by a photo of a dish served at The Retreat on the Row restaurant, located in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, UK. It’s very quick to whip up for a midweek family dinner, but smart enough to serve to friends. The herb mix is very versatile. You can even use a few rocket leaves if that’s all you have.

Choose a waxy potato which will hold its shape in a salad and any firm-fleshed fish fillets which haven’t been skinned.

Two portions of firm-fleshed fish, skin on (I used barramundi)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tbs olive oil
250g small waxy potatoes
Basic Salad Dressing
Snipped chives
A quarter to half a red onion, very thinly sliced
Something green to garnish – I used a pea shoot from the garden
Salsa Verde:
2 big handfuls fresh herbs – mint, coriander, basil, parsley, whatever you can find in the garden
Juice of half a lemon
2 tsp capers
Small clove garlic, crushed
2 small gherkins
½ tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

Scrub the potatoes and cut them into quarters. Cook in boiling salted water for 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain, then mix with some basic salad dressing, a few snipped chives and the red onion.

Salsa verde: place all ingredients in food processor except the oil and process for a minute or until chunky. Drizzle olive oil through the feed chute with the motor running, until you have a thick chunky green sauce.

Season fish then place skin side down in a cold non-stick frying pan smeared with the tablespoon of olive oil. Turn on the heat and cook over medium heat until skin is golden and crispy. Turn fish over and cook for another couple of minutes, or until cooked through.

Spoon some Salsa Verde on two serving plates. Top with the potato salad, then the fish and garnish with a pea shoot.

Serves 2