Spring 2011

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SOUP of the day!

dishing up soup to tableHello folks

Spring has sprung, but the weather is still a bit chilly.  So here are some ideas for hearty meals that you can make easily.  And, best of all, they don’t cost much.  Pasta, bread and soup … these are the foods that sustain us all.  Why buy them at supermarkets when they are so easy and cheap to make.

Take soup, for example.  Spend a few dollars buying three or four chicken frames (or carcases if you wish) and you have the basic ingredient for about 12 serves of the tastiest soup.

Soup stock – chicken, meat, fish or vegetable – is more than the basis of good soup; it can also be used in sauces and casseroles.

Home-made chicken stock added to arborio rice from Italy makes a substantial and very economical risotto.  Just add mushrooms, parmesan cheese, freshly ground pepper and sprinkle parsley on top.  How cheap is that to make and how good it tastes.  Yum!

You can of course buy soup stocks from supermarkets.  They can save you time, especially if you are using meat or chicken stocks which, if you make them yourself, you’ll need to chill in the fridge so you can scoop off unwanted and unhealthy fat before transforming them into the best soups.  And, believe me, the best soups do come from home-made stock.

Meat and chicken stocks are not herbed up.  Just add a few onions and vegies, and perhaps a bay leaf or two, when you make the stock.  When you come to making soup from the stock you have prepared, that’s when you add extra vegies and herbs.  Chop the vegies into small pieces; in that way they will cook more quickly and you lose less of the soup as steam.

To adjust the flavour, add pepper and

salt before serving.

Inside, I’ll give you some more info on making your own stock plus great soup recipes, including my favourite – pistou, a vegie soup with attitude.   At my last restaurant, soup of the day was always pistou!

Also inside, you will see how to make pasta and how to make bread.  What more could you want in spring!

Oh, and on the back page my mate

Tony will tell you how to grow vegies in pots – grow ’em and make soup ... perhaps even pistou!

Swallow that!

I have done a check using my very reliable kitchen scales.

This week I cooked up six trimmed lamb shanks and cooled them in the fridge overnight, so I could scoop off the fat before reheating and serving. The solidified fat weighed 102 grams! 

If I hadn’t removed it, each person eating a shank would have consumed 17 grams of fat. 

That’s a lot of artery-clogging stuff that’s better in the bin than in your body!

STOCK up for great soup making

Even in spring, we’ll have some chilly days, and especially nights, and there’s nothing better to warm us up than home-made soup, bread and pasta


To create good soups with maximum flavour, I make my own basic stocks, which is not a great effort.  The stocks can also be used as a base to make fine sauces.

Tasting the soup

Chicken stock

3-4 chicken carcases or about 2 kilos chicken wings or necks
4 litres cold water
3 sticks celery roughly chopped
2 leeks rinsed and roughly chopped
2 onions roughly chopped
2 large carrots roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic (unpeeled)
1 large sprig of thyme

Put the chicken carcases into a stock pot or large boiler. Pour in the water and bring to the boil. With a slotted spoon, skim off any scum. Add the chopped vegetables, garlic and thyme.

Return to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 3 hours, skimming scum off occasionally if necessary.

Strain the stock through a sieve (one with a fine mesh or if it has a coarse mesh line it with dampened muslin) into a large bowl. Discard the debris from the stock.

If you want a stronger stock, return the liquid to the pan and reduce the amount by half. When it cools down, place it in the fridge.  When chilled, the fat will rise to the surface.  Skim this off.  Use the stock within 3 days or freeze in 500 ml quantities for later use.

For meat stock: Replace the chicken with beef, veal or lamb bones, or ham hocks.

Vegetable stock
3 onions chopped
1 leek rinsed and chopped
2 sticks celery chopped
6 carrots chopped
6 cloves of garlic
1 lemon chopped
½ teaspoon white peppercorns
1 small bay leaf
4 pieces star anise
1 sprig each of tarragon, basil, and coriander, thyme and parsley tied together in a bundle OR substitute fresh herbs with dried herbs
2 litres cold water
200 ml dry white wine

Apart from the herbs and wine, put everything into a stock pot with the water and bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, drop in the bundle of herbs and stir in the wine. Cool and let the vegetables infuse with the liquid.

When cool, pour into a container and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.

Then remove and strain.

Fish stock
1.5 kilos white fish bones and heads
1 leek rinsed and chopped
1 onion chopped
1 celery stick chopped
½ bulb fennel chopped
2 cloves garlic unpeeled
100 ml olive oil
300 ml dry white wine
2 litres water
½ lemon sliced
½ teaspoon cracked white peppercorns
2 sprigs of dill
1 clove
1 bay leaf

Prepare the bones and heads. If using large fish heads, remove the eyes and gills, then chop the head in half. Avoid using the skin if possible. Rinse any blood from backbones under cold running water, as this may give the stock a bitter taste. Roughly chop the bones, so they will fit in the pot.

Put the vegetables into the stockpot with the oil and heat until they start to sizzle. Cover with a lid and sweat gently over low heat for about 15 minutes, shaking occasionally.

Stir in the fish bones and heads and white wine and cook until the wine has almost evaporated.  Add the water and bring back to the boil.  Add the clove, dill, bay leaf, lemon and peppercorns, reduce by cooking on medium high heat. As white scum forms, skim it off, otherwise the stock will be cloudy.

Turn the heat down and simmer uncovered for no longer than 20 minutes, otherwise the stock will turn bitter. Turn off the heat and let it settle for 10 minutes undisturbed.

Strain it and use it as per chicken stock.

SOUP au pistou

(This vegetable soup from France is my favourite, folks!)

1½ litres vegetable stock or water
2 potatoes cut in cubes
3 sticks celery (with leaves) cut in cubes
2 carrots cubed
150 g green beans chopped
400 g can chopped tomatoes
1 large capsicum deseeded and cubed
1 can baked beans
150 g pasta – orecchiette (shaped like small ears) or broken spaghetti
Salt and pepper as needed
Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Heat the vegetable stock or water to boiling then add all the ingredients, except for the baked beans and pasta. When boiling again, reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes.  Season to taste then add pasta and baked beans and simmer for another 30 minutes.

In the meantime make a rouille (sauce):

2 egg yolks
6 cloves garlic pressed
1½ teaspoons fresh chilli or sambal oelek (chilli paste)
1 level tablespoon dried basil
2 tablespoons of liquid from the soup
300 ml peanut oil

Put all the ingredients, except for the oil, in a blender and make a smooth liquid paste, then slowly drizzle the oil until you have the consistency of mayonnaise. Serve separate to the soup along with some grated parmesan.  Put a good helping of grated parmesan in a soup bowl, pour the soup over and add a tablespoon of the rouille and stir well. With crusty bread, this is a delicious meal on a cool day.

Vegetable soup

1 tablespoon oil or butter
2-3 carrots chopped
1 leek rinsed and chopped
1-2 potatoes cubed
1 chopped onion
2 sticks celery chopped
1 litre water or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
1-2 tomatoes cubed or 400 ml can chopped tomatoes
1 bunch parsley finely chopped

You can modify the vegetables you use, but they should be in season and in total weigh 400 g (tomatoes add another 400 g).

Heat oil or butter, add the vegetables, apart from tomatoes and parsley, and steam until the vegetables have an intense colour and are limp. Add the liquid and bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes. Season to taste, put chopped parsley and chopped tomato (fresh or canned) in soup terrine and pour the hot soup over them, stir and serve.

Fish soup

1 litre fish stock
800 g firm white fish, such as ling, monk fish, blue eye
8 slices of toasted french sticks
1 bunch parsley
1 carrot cubed
1 stick celery cubed
1 large potato cubed
Portion of aioli (see below)

Add the vegetables to the boiling stock, reduce to simmer for 30 minutes, add fish pieces and simmer for another 10 minutes, season soup to taste.

In each soup bowl put a piece of toast with a teaspoon of aioli, a piece of fish, then pour the soup on top and garnish with chopped parsley.

You could also keep some of the aioli and serve separately with crusty bread.


300 g mayonnaise
1-2 tablespoons of cool fish soup
6-8 cloves garlic crushed

Mix the ingredients together and season with salt and pepper

Green bean soup

1 tablespoon oil or butter 
1 rasher of bacon
1 onion chopped finely
2 cloves garlic chopped
250 g green beans cut in 1-2cm pieces
1 small can chopped tomatoes
1 litre water or vegie or chicken stock
3 tablespoons of rice
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in pot, add bacon and fry, add onion, garlic and beans.  Put on the lid and steam until the beans are dark green. Add tomatoes and steam for a short period, then add the stock or water and bring to the boil.  Sprinkle in the rice and simmer with the lid on for 40 minutes.

Season and serve hot with crusty homemade bread.

Oxtail soup

Make a day ahead; this improves the flavour and allows you to remove the fat.

750 g oxtails
3 tablespoons plain flour
1 tablespoon oil
1 large onion cubed
1-2 carrots cubed
150 g celery cubed
70 g beetroot cubed
1 bunch parsley
1 large potato cubed
200 ml red wine
1½ litres water or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper

Roast the flour in a dry pan until nut brown and keep for later.

In hot oil fry portion by portion of the oxtail until brown, then place aside. 

In the same pan fry all the vegetables (use plastic gloves when cubing the beetroot to prevent staining your hands).  Put the oxtail back in the pan, add the roasted flour and mix well, pour in the red wine and reduce by one-third. Pour in the stock or water, season with some salt and pepper, reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours with the lid on.

Pour the soup through a sieve.

Put the meat aside to cool, puree the vegetables, then add to the soup. When cool, refrigerate until the next day. Remove the solidified fat, take the meat off the bones, chop in cubes and add to soup. Reheat soup, taste and season to your liking and serve.

Barley soup

1 small can baked beans
1 pork hock
1 tablespoon oil
1 onion chopped
120 g barley
3 litres water or chicken stock
Bacon rashers (optional)
4 carrots cubed
1 swede cubed
2 sticks celery cubed with the leaves
2 leeks cubed
Parsley chopped for garnish
Salt and pepper

Cut the meat from the hock and cube. Heat oil in a pot, add bacon rashers and meat and fry, but don’t let it brown, add the barley and water or stock, add the bone from the hock and bring to the boil.   Simmer with the lid off for 1½ hours, then add all the other ingredients and simmer for another 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, remove bones and any bacon rind, garnish with parsley and serve.

Green potato soup

1 tablespoon oil or butter
1 onion finely chopped
1 clove garlic chopped
1 bunch of parsley finely chopped
1 leek, use only the green part finely chopped and rinsed
100 g spinach finely chopped
200 g potato peeled and cut in pieces
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 litre water or vegetable or chicken stock
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
50 ml cream optional

Heat the oil in a pot, add onion, garlic and parsley and sweat in the pot.  Then add leek and spinach, put on the lid and steam until the spinach goes limp. Add potato and steam for a short while.  Sprinkle flour over the lot and mix well with the vegetables. Add the stock or water and bring to the boil. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and boil for about 30 minutes. Mix all the ingredients with an electric mixer.

Add the cream and heat up before serving.


Make your own PASTA

Bread and pasta give us the energy to sustain us in whatever we do. But too much of a good thing is in fact not so good – so a big feed of carbs should be balanced with fruit and vegies, proteins (meat, nuts, eggs etc).  And don’t forget cow juice products – milk, cheeses, yoghurt.

Basic pasta dough

300 g plain flour
3 eggs (place on scales; each should weigh 180 g)
1 teaspoon olive oil

Sift flour into a bowl and add the whisked eggs and olive oil.

Create an elastic dough and let it rest for 1 hour in the covered bowl.

Roll out very thin sheets of dough, roll them up (as you would with sheets of paper) and with a sharp knife cut into narrow strips for fettuccine or wider strips for pappardelle.

Bolognese sauce

3 tablespoons olive oil
300 g lean beef mince
1 onion chopped
1 clove garlic chopped
100 g mushrooms sliced
200 g celery with leaves, chopped
1 carrot chopped
1 bunch parsley chopped
2 teaspoons Italian herbs mixed (i.e., rosemary, basil and oregano)
2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
¼ teaspoon paprika
200 ml stock (chicken, beef, veal or vegetable)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil, add mince and fry, stirring constantly so that it stays loose. Add onion, garlic and mushrooms and fry for a short time.

Now add all the rest except for the tomato paste and seasoning and fry until the carrot and celery are limp. Add tomato paste and seasoning and mix, then add the stock and bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.

Season to taste, then pour over your hot pasta and serve.

Arrabbiata sauce

(The Italian word translates to angry – because it’s hot!)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 capsicum, deseeded and sliced into fine strips
1-2 teaspoons finely chopped chilli (go easy if you don’t want it too hot)
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 bunch parsley chopped
Oregano chopped (or dried if you don’t have the fresh version)
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan to taste

Heat oil in a pan, add onion and garlic and fry. Add capsicum and keep frying until soft, then add tomatoes, chilli, oregano and simmer for about 20 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper and mix with your cooked pasta. 

Add parmesan and serve.

More pasta sauces


Aubergine sauce

2 tablespoons oil
1 onion chopped
2 cloves garlic mashed
2 aubergines (eggplants) – approx 400 g cut in small cubes
400 g can chopped tomato
10 leaves of basil torn in strips
4-5 anchovies chopped
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
Grated parmesan

Heat oil in a pan, add onion, garlic and fry, several minutes later add aubergine and fry, then the tomatoes and cook for 20-30 minutes.

Increase the heat to reduce the liquid.

Mix in basil and anchovies, season to taste and mix with the hot pasta. Serve the grated parmesan separate.

Gorgonzola sauce

150 ml cream
150 ml milk
150 g gorgonzola cheese
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
Ground pepper and touch of salt
Pinch of nutmeg

Heat cream and milk in a saucepan, add gorgonzola and cook until creamy.  Then add parmesan and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Add cooked pasta, mix well and serve.

Carbonara sauce

1 tablespoon butter
150 g bacon or pancetta, chopped
1 onion chopped finely
3 eggs
200 ml cream
100 g parmesan
1 pinch nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat butter, add onion and bacon and fry until the onion is soft, then mix the freshly cooked pasta with the bacon and onion.

In a separate pre-warmed dish mix the eggs, cream, parmesan and nutmeg.  Add the pasta mix to your egg mix and combine well – using two forks will help.  Add more parmesan to taste.

Salmon sauce

150 g smoked salmon cut in strips
400 ml cream
2 tablespoons dry vermouth
1 lemon, zest only
1 can of artichokes
½ teaspoon fresh or dried dill
2-3 tablespoons grated parmesan
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch of white ground pepper

In a pan heat the cream, vermouth and lemon zest on low heat for 10 minutes.

Cut artichoke in cubes and add, then the dill and parmesan and season to taste. Mix sauce with the hot pasta, then garnish with the smoked salmon.


To store fresh pasta


3-4 days                            

Dry pasta sprinkled lightly with flour, cover with a dry towel and store in a cool place.

3-4 months         

Dry pasta sprinkled with flour, put it loosely in a container and freeze. Cook it while still frozen, but shake off the flour before placing it in a large pot with boiling water. You’ll know it’s ready to serve when it’s al dente – the pasta still offers slight resistance when you bite it.

Make your own BREAD



500 g wholemeal flour
1 level teaspoon salt
10 g dry yeast
300-350 ml lukewarm water (28C)

Mix flour and salt in a bowl. Add the yeast and water and mix by hand/in a machine until the dough is elastic and soft.  Let the dough rest (we chefs use the term ‘prove’) in a covered bowl until it doubles in volume.

Push the dough flat on a bench and shape to your required form.

Place the loaf on a tray covered with baking paper and again let it prove until it doubles in size.  Meanwhile heat your oven to 220C, place the tray on a low rack and bake for about 40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Sunday bread

1 kilo white plain flour
1 level teaspoon salt
30 g dry yeast
125 g softened butter
600-700 ml milk
1 egg yolk for brushing

Mix flour and salt in a bowl, add the yeast, butter and milk and mix by hand/in a machine until the dough is elastic and soft. Let the dough rest in a covered bowl until it proves (doubles in size).  Cut into four equal parts and roll each one into long rolls (about 60 cm long).

Plait two rolls together, so you have two lots of plaited bread for the oven. Place the two loaves on a tray covered with baking paper and let prove again to double in size.  Heat the oven to 200C, and just before putting them into the oven, paint with the egg yolk and bake for 45-55 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

The old bread makes yummy toast.


Last week I bought some unseasonal shiny green beans, plastic-wrapped on a small tray. A sticker stated the price: $2.55. There was no cost-per-kilo, and the sticker didn’t even state the weight or give a use by date. It came from a retail outlet which I won’t identify, but not from either of the big two supermarket chains.

The beans looked substantial enough for the evening meal for me and Geraldine (she who’s in charge).  Then I weighed them: 184 grams. That worked out at $13.85 a kilo.  I was ripped off! Then I trimmed the ends and removed several nasty soggy beans, and cut some bad bits from others.  I weighed what was left for cooking: 114 grams. Barely enough for two people. Which proves to me that frozen beans, peas etc are much better value and quality than buying so-called fresh vegies when they are definitely out of season and freighted from far away.

My experience also shows that it’s essential to check pre-packed vegies and fruit carefully, especially the cost-per-kilo and use by date.  If the product for sale doesn’t carry that info, then it’s buyer beware!

Pots of goodness

Red-chard-700Like to grow your own vegies and herbs but frustrated by concrete-like, compacted soil and weeds?  Or maybe you’re just not the digging type?  Way too much hard work, you reckon.

In the words of that song: don’t worry, be happy.   You can become a lazy vegie gardener: just garden in pots. Lots of gardeners do it and it’s really not that hard.

The beauty of growing vegies and herbs in pots is that weeds are not such a big problem, you don’t need much space, watering and fertilising are more direct, and you can move your garden around at will.

Some effort is still needed. But most of it comes at the start, in setting up your pots. And don’t think it needs to be just pots. Many other containers can be used, from polystyrene boxes and old troughs to packing containers and those plastic planter boxes that nurseries sell. Even an old wheelbarrow will do the job.

Importantly, whatever you use needs to have drainage holes in the bottom to allow excess water to escape. Other must-haves include a good potting mix (seek out one with an Australian Standards Mark on the bag for the best quality), sunlight (about five to six hours a day), and a watering system, watering can or nearby hose.

Most potting mixes now contain wetting agent (it helps moisture to move through the mix) and water-storing granules but it often pays to add a little more.  And adding a scoop of granulated fertiliser will get things off to a quick start.

Be aware too that, because of regular watering, nutrients will be quickly leached out – so frequent feeding with a liquid fertiliser is needed. And using a mulch, such as old decayed autumn leaves or lucerne hay, will help conserve moisture.  Also, bigger pots generally retain water better.

There are few vegetables that can’t be grown in pots or containers – but some are better than others. And growing from seed (where possible) will always be cheaper than growing from seedlings. Follow the directions on seed packets.

A good trick with seedlings is to apply one of the seaweed root stimulants after planting. These reduce the shock to the seedlings on being moved and also promote root growth.

Tomato-tower-400Here are some of the best pot crops to get you going this spring.

Tomatoes: Sow seeds now in a warm, protected spot (maybe in a tray on a windowsill) and transplant into a container later, or plant seedlings in

early November in a container when conditions are warmer.  Make sure to stake plants that will grow tall.

Container depth needed: 22cm (for dwarf-type ones) to 50cm (for tall-growing ones)

Peas: Whether traditional peas for shelling or snow peas, both grow well in pots. Sow seeds in rows about 5cm apart. Rig up some trellis or wire netting for them to climb on.

Container depth needed: 25cm

Beans: Both bush and climbing beans are right for containers (provide trellis or wire netting for the latter), although bush ones are a little easier. Sow seeds every few weeks for extended harvest, and pick regularly when young and tender.

Container depth needed: 26cm

Carrots: Sow seed just below surface and 4-7cm apart. Sow every few weeks up to December to extend harvest. Lift when small and tender.

Container depth needed:  30cm

Leafy greens: Grow your favourites, whether kale, spinach or some of the Asian ones such as bok choy and pak choy.

Container depth needed: 30cm

Lettuce: Grow from seed or seedlings

for quicker results, with a mixed batch including oak leaf, cos and mignonettes. Stagger plantings for longer harvest. Water and liquid fertilise regularly. For ease of watering, a self-watering pot is a smart option. Pick leaf by leaf as needed, and you can plant a few lettuces in empty spots in containers where other produce is growing.

Container depth needed:  20-25cm

Other possibles: Broccoli, chard, cucumbers, eggplants, capsicums, miniature beetroot, onions, radish and squash. Even spreading plants such as zucchinis are right for pots and containers. And include some herbs,

such as parsley, sage and basil, for turning ordinary dishes into gourmet delights. Most herbs adapt well to container growing.

Pot tip: Try to avoid terracotta ones because they dry out quicker. Glazed pots retain moisture better. If using terracotta, paint insides with a non-toxic pot sealant (available from hardware stores or bigger nurseries).