Minestrone

This traditional Italian soup is perfect for lunch or a light dinner in the cooler months of the year. Make a big pot at the weekend and serve it for lunch or dinner a couple of times through the week, or take some to work to reheat in the microwave.

There are as many recipes for minestrone as there are for bolognese sauce, so to a certain extent you can just use what you have on hand. Onion, garlic, carrot, tomato and celery are the basic essentials, while the other vegetables are mostly optional. If you have it in the fridge add it, but don’t make a special trip to the shops just to buy one zucchini or one potato.

In the minestrone I made for the photo I didn’t add any potato, zucchini, leek or spinach/cabbage. I did add frozen peas and the kernels from a cob of fresh corn which needed using up. The spiral pasta is bigger than the size I usually use in minestrone, but it’s what I had in the pantry. Vegetarians can just leave out the bacon.

Served topped with grated Parmesan and some crusty bread or toast, it’s guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart, as my Irish grandmother used to say. In other words, it will give you a warm fuzzy feeling.

2 Tbs olive oil
1-2 onions, peeled and diced
1 leek, trimmed and diced (optional)
3-4 carrots, peeled and diced
2-3 celery stalks, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2-3 rashers bacon, diced (optional)
Kernels from 1 cob corn, or one zucchini, diced
2 cups frozen peas
2 cups shredded spinach or cabbage
1 large potato, peeled and diced (optional)
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried thyme
1 can cannellini beans, drained (or another bean)
2 x 400g cans tomatoes, whizzed in food processor
1 Tbs tomato paste
2 Tbs sherry (optional)
2 litres chicken or vegetable stock (or water + 2 stock cubes)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2-3 tsp sugar
200-250g small pasta
To serve:
Grated Parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh parsley

Heat olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan, then add bacon and the diced vegetables, but not the frozen peas and spinach/cabbage. Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until vegetables are al dente.

Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to the boil, then simmer until the pasta is cooked. Add more water as required and check for seasoning.

Serve the soup topped with grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley, with fresh bread or toast.

Keeps in the fridge for 4-5 days and improves in flavour. Add water as necessary on reheating, if the soup appears to be too thick.

About 8 servings

Ham and Pea Bruschetta with Mint

A perfect weekend lunch which can be made in a jiffy with ingredients you probably have on hand.

1 cup frozen peas
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 Tbs smooth ricotta or creamy goat’s cheese
A handful of mint leaves
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil + extra to serve
4 slices sourdough bread
150g smoked ham, thinly sliced
50g feta cheese, crumbled (or use goat’s cheese)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place peas and garlic in a small saucepan. Cover with water then simmer for 3 minutes. Drain and place in food processor with the ricotta, about a tablespoonful of mint leaves and 1 Tbs of the oil. Process until almost smooth then season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile heat a chargrill pan over medium-high heat, brush both sides of the bread with olive oil then cook for 2 minutes each side, or until golden and slightly charred.

To serve, place one slice of the toasted bread on each of 4 plates. Top with the pea mixture, some ham, crumbled feta and a few mint leaves. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, drizzle with extra olive oil and serve.

Serves 4

Variations: use smoked trout or smoked salmon instead of ham.

 

Potato Cakes with Smoked Salmon

Our potato crop has just started so I put these delicious potato cakes on the menu for a light lunch last weekend. They originate in Scandinavia and when we were living in Copenhagen we ordered them quite often in restaurants.

They don’t contain any flour making them gluten free, which is good news for readers who avoid eating wheat and other grains.

500g potatoes
1 small onion, grated (optional)
1 egg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive or vegetable oil to fry
To serve:
Smoked Salmon or Trout
Sour Cream
Snipped chives

Peel potatoes and coarsely grate by hand or using a 0.5cm attachment on your food processor, transferring to a large bowl of cold water as grated. Soak potatoes for a couple of minutes then drain well in a colander. Spread potatoes on a tea towel and roll up. Twist towel tightly over the sink, to remove as much liquid as possible.

Transfer grated potato to a bowl and mix in the grated onion (if using), egg, salt and pepper. Heat ¼ cup oil in a large nonstick frying pan over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches of four, spoon 2 tablespoons potato mixture per potato cake into frying pan, spreading into 3-inch rounds with a fork. Reduce heat to moderate and cook for 4-5 minutes, until undersides are browned. Turn over and cook for 4-5 minutes more. Transfer to paper towels to drain and season lightly with salt. Add more oil to pan as needed. Keep potato cakes warm on a wire rack over a shallow baking pan in a low oven. Leftovers can be reheated in a low oven.

Serve potato cakes with smoked salmon or trout, sour cream and chives and cracked pepper.

Makes 6-8 cakes serving 3-4

Asparagus with Smoked Salmon, Poached Egg and Quick Hollandaise

Asparagus goes very well with smoked fish and with eggs. This recipe uses both and ties all the ingredients together with a delicious herby hollandaise sauce, which takes no time at all to make.

It’s best to be cautious on timing the first time you make the sauce. Microwave ovens vary and it may only need 10 or 12 seconds on High in yours.

10-12 spears asparagus
4 slices smoked salmon
2 large eggs
Quick Hollandaise Sauce:
2 egg yolks
3-4 tsp lemon juice
pinch of salt and cayenne pepper
60g butter, melted
1 Tbs chopped fresh tarragon (optional)
To garnish:
Pink peppercorns (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil

Trim and wash asparagus and place in a frying pan. Add cold water to cover, then turn on the heat, bring to the boil and cook for 3 minutes or until al dente. Drain on paper towels then arrange on two heated serving plates. Meanwhile poach the eggs and make the sauce.

Arrange a poached egg and two slices of smoked salmon on each serving of asparagus. Garnish with the sauce, a few pink peppercorns, if using and a drizzle of olive oil.

Quick Hollandaise Sauce: place egg yolks, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a heatproof bowl and whisk with a balloon whisk to combine. Whisk in the hot melted butter, then zap in the microwave for 14-15 seconds on High (no more or the egg yolks will scramble). Whisk vigorously to combine, add the tarragon and serve.

Serves 2

Three-Cheese Semolina Gnocchi with Gremolata

My friend Meg served this delicious starter over a year ago and at my request sent me the recipe. It’s taken me ages to get around to making it, as I always have a long list of recipes I want to try.

It 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
Gremolata:
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

Pumpkin and Leek Frittata

Frittata is a quiche without the pastry. Delicious straight out of the oven and leftovers make a tasty lunch the following day.

1 kg butternut pumpkin, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
2-3 leeks depending on size, white part only, sliced
6-8 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbs fresh chopped thyme
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 eggs
1½ cups cream
½ cup grated parmesan
1 cup ricotta or cream cheese (optional)
Chopped parsley to garnish

Preheat oven to 220°C. Place pumpkin, leeks, garlic, thyme, oil, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well. Spread out on a shallow baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 25-30 mins or until cooked and starting to brown. Meanwhile whisk eggs, cream and parmesan in a bowl and season.

Tip vegetable mixture into a non-stick frying pan with an oven-proof handle. Choose one measuring about 28cm in diameter. Pour the egg and cream mixture evenly over the vegetables, then if using put blobs of ricotta or cream cheese all over.

Bake for 25 minutes or until puffed and golden. Garnish with parsley.

Serves 4-6

Chorizo Stuffed Chicken Roll with White Bean Salad

A boned and stuffed whole chicken makes a great centrepiece for a buffet table. I’ve done it once, or maybe twice. But it’s not a five minute job. This quick and easy recipe from Spanish-born Australian chef Miguel Maestre achieves the same flavour profile with far less effort.

5 large chicken thighs, skinless and boneless
2 chorizo sausages
About 8 thin slices of jamon serrano or prosciutto
Salad:
1 can butter beans, drained and rinsed
1 small red chilli, seeds removed and finely diced (optional)
1 French shallot, finely diced
3 Tbs finely chopped chives
2 Tbs finely chopped black olives
3 Tbs roughly chopped coriander
2 Tbs mayonnaise
1 Tbs olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Extra herbs for garnish
Balsamic glaze

Preheat oven to 200°C. Remove skin from chorizo and chop very finely in food processor.  On a shallow baking tray lined with baking paper, arrange the jamon, slightly overlapping, in a rectangle about 30cm wide and the height of the slices. Trim chicken pieces and gently hammer out any which are a bit too thick, so they are more even. Lay chicken on top of the jamon, leaving no gaps, like a jigsaw puzzle.

Place the pureed chorizo down the middle of the chicken. Using the baking paper to assist, roll the chicken over itself and form into a tight cylinder. Place the baking paper back down on the tray and arrange the chicken roll on top with the seam underneath. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until juices run clear when pierced with a skewer.

In a bowl place all the ingredients for the salad. Mix and season to taste.

Serve the chicken warm or at room temperature, thickly sliced, surrounded by the salad and garnished with the extra herbs. If serving cold, garnish with some balsamic glaze.

Serves 6-8

Chargrilled Zucchini with Avocado Hummus

I recently spent a few days in hospital. As I ate the unimaginative, tasteless hospital food I watched the SBS food channel and made notes. This is one of the delicious recipes I wrote down which we had for lunch today. Why can’t hospitals do better?

6 zucchini (about 1kg) halved lengthwise
1 clove garlic, crushed
Finely grated zest and juice 1 lemon
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
3 Tbs dukkah
Lemon wedges, chopped parsley and olive oil, to serve
Avocado Hummus:
2 ripe avocados
½ cup tahini
1 clove garlic, crushed
Finely grated zest and juice 1 lemon
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the Hummus, place all ingredients in food processor and process until smooth and creamy, stopping halfway to scrape down the sides. Heat a large chargrill until hot and cook the zucchini halves, without oil, for 3 minutes each side, or until charred and cooked through.

While zucchini is cooking mix garlic, lemon zest and juice, oil and seasoning in a large bowl. Add the cooked zucchini halves and toss gently. Pile onto a serving platter and scatter with the parsley. Finish with dollops of avocado hummus, a sprinkling of dukkah, a drizzle of olive oil and the lemon wedges. If liked make half the recipe which serves 2.

Serves 4

Mushroom and Mustard Soup

This soup is one of our favourites. If you have wild mushrooms growing where you live and you know they are edible, then this is a perfect way to use them. If not just buy some mushrooms, preferably the larger ones which are dark underneath and have more flavour.

500g mushrooms
100g butter
600 ml chicken or vegetable stock
4 Tbs dry sherry
2 Tbs Dijon mustard
300 ml thick cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Do not wash or peel mushrooms, just wipe and chop roughly. Melt butter in heavy pan and allow to brown. Add mushrooms and cook for a few minutes, stirring. Add stock and sherry. Bring to the boil and add mustard.

When cool enough to handle, blend the soup in a blender or food processor. Add cream and adjust seasoning. Can be made ahead to this point. Reheat the soup and serve with a swirl of cream on top.

Serves 8

Roast Cauliflower with Cashew Hummus and Harissa Sauce

This recipe was inspired by a recent Master Chef programme. The contestant, Courtney Roulston, used cauliflower steaks or thick slices and the method was quite long. I’ve adapted it to use cauliflower florets and taken a few short cuts with the method. Despite these adjustments it’s still a somewhat long-winded recipe, compared with the ones I usually put on this blog. But it’s worth it and most of the elements can be made ahead of time.

Courtney called the sauce Cashew Tarator, but it’s really just Hummus made with cashew nuts and a slice of bread, instead of chickpeas. She used raw cashews. I only had salted ones, but the salt washes off when you soak them.

The chickpeas were rolled in flour, deep fried until crunchy and used a garnish. Mine didn’t go crunchy, so when I made the recipe a second time I roasted them with the cauliflower.

To speed things up you could use bought Hummus instead of the Cashew Hummus, a bought sun dried tomato dip instead of the Harissa sauce (add some chilli sauce to perk it up a bit) and Dukkah instead of the Spiced Seeds.

Any leftover cashew hummus and harissa sauce make a delicious dip, either separately or together. Just dollop them into a bowl and swirl them together a bit. Serve with corn chips, pita bread or veggie sticks.

Cauliflower:
1 large cauliflower, cut into 3cm florets
2-3 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp cumin powder
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1-2 tsp salt
2 Tbs lemon juice
Cashew Hummus:
1 cup cashew nuts
1 slice sourdough bread, crusts removed
1 heaped Tbs Tahini
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 tsp maple syrup
1 clove garlic
½ tsp cumin powder
1/3 cup cold water
Salt to taste
Harissa Sauce: 
1 large red capsicum
1 large or 2 medium tomatoes
3 long red chillies, seeded and chopped
¼ cup olive oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp caraway seeds (I substituted fennel)
1 Tbs tomato paste
2 tsp maple syrup
2 tsp vinegar
Salt to taste
Spiced seeds:
2 tsp pistachios
2 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp sunflower kernels
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp sumac
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Garnish:
Pomegranate seeds (optional)

Cauliflower: Preheat oven to 200°C. Line a shallow baking sheet with baking paper. Place cauliflower in a bowl with remaining ingredients except lemon juice. Mix well then spread out on the tray in a single layer. Roast for 20-30 mins, turning halfway through, or until cauliflower is cooked and slightly browned. Remove from the oven, arrange on 4 serving plates (or one large one) and drizzle with the lemon juice.

Hummus: cover cashew nuts with warm water in a small bowl and bread with cold water in another bowl. Leave the bread for about 10 mins, then squeeze out water. Leave the nuts for 20-30 mins then drain. Place nuts and bread in food processor with remaining ingredients and mix till smooth. Add a touch more water if it’s too stiff. Can be made ahead and kept refrigerated for 3-4 days.

Harissa Sauce: Roast the capsicum over a gas flame or BBQ until blackened, then place in a plastic bag and leave until cool when it should be easy to peel, remove seeds and chop. Cover tomato with boiling water, drain after a minute, run under cold water and peel. Place cumin and caraway or fennel seeds in a frying pan and stir over medium heat for a minute or two, until fragrant. Add oil, capsicum, tomato and chillies. Cook, stirring, for 3-5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, cook for a couple of minutes, then cool a bit before pureeing in food processor. Can be made ahead and kept refrigerated for 3-4 days.

Spiced Seeds: place pistachios and seeds in a small frying pan over moderate heat and toast, stirring for 2-3 minutes or until the sesame seeds start to colour. Place in a mortar and pestle, add sumac, salt and pepper and grind a bit, leaving the pistachios quite chunky. Can be made ahead and kept refrigerated for a week or two.

Place a dollop of Cashew Hummus on top of each serving of cauliflower, dollop some of the Harissa Sauce around, sprinkle with Spiced Seeds and pomegranate kernels, if using. Drizzle with a little Extra Virgin olive oil.

Serves 4 as a light meal or 6-8 as a starter