Easter is nearly upon us, daylight savings is over, and autumn has finally settled in Sydney. It’s that crossover time where tilting toward the comfort food of winter is delayed just a little longer (please) by the last flavours of a nearly forgotten summer.
So I’m cracking out the cheese. Light, heavy, hero or bit part, lunch, dinner, starter, side, it’s the great mainstay for all seasons. I’m sure by now you’re starting to figure out that there’s never been a dairy product I could say no to, and as I’m a savoury girl, this is where my style of cooking finds its heart, and I hardly need to say its particular expression in nearly every cuisine on the planet plays very close to a culture’s sense of home. Sinful or sustaining, heart clogging, or heartening... again it all comes down to how much, how often, and how it’s included in a meal... and so I say, just a taste, now, tomorrow, and always.
The ricotta gnocchi (with a nod to Italy) is a great starter for any dinner party from my favourite cookbook ever by Neil Perry (until his next one). The prawns also make it a great stand-alone lunch for guests on a warm day, or you can swap the prawns for roast pumpkin and serve it as a quiet dinner for two on a cold night.
Ricotta and Spinach Gnocchi with Burnt Butter and King Prawns
[from Neil Perry’s Good Food]
4 bunches (approx 1 kg) of English spinach, washed and trimmed
350g ricotta cheese
3 tbsp grated parmesan, plus extra to serve
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
Sea salt and ground pepper
Plain flour for dusting
100g unsalted butter
16 sage leaves
8 king prawns, shelled (but with tails left intact)
Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, and blanch the spinach until just wilted (less than a minute). Drain into a colander, and plunge quickly into ice water and then drain again. Squeeze out as much water as possible, then chop finely.
In a bowl put the spinach and add the ricotta, parmesan, egg yolks and season to taste. (Follow the quantities for the gnocchi exactly if you want them to bind properly.) Roll the mixture into 16 balls and stick in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a gentle boil, and remove the gnocchi from the fridge and lightly dust with flour. Add the gnocchi to the water a few at a time and once they rise to the surface remove with a slotted spoon. Dive the gnocchi among four plates and sprinkle with parmesan and ground pepper.
Meanwhile, put the butter in a small saucepan and heat slowly until the butter starts to turn brown. Then add the sage leaves and allow them to crisp up. Then take off the heat.
In a frying pan, quickly sauté the prawns in a tiny bit of butter. Place the prawns on top of the gnocchi and spoon the butter and sage mixture over the top. Serve immediately.
The haloumi (with its Cypriot soul) is a perfect lunch or even brunch on a Sunday, especially if you add the sourdough toast to the dish as the recipe suggests. And best of all, it tastes like summer.
Fried Haloumi with Cherry Tomato Salsa
[from delicious magazine, April 2011, issue 103]
1/3 cup olive oil
2 chorizo sausages, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 x 250g punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
Pinch chilli flakes
1 tsp caster sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley, plus extra to serve
250g haloumi, cut into 8 slices
Chargrilled sourdough bread, to serve
Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a pan over medium heat. Cook chorizo, turning over, for 6-8 minutes until browned. Add garlic, tomatoes, chilli flakes, sugar and 2 tbs of red wine vinegar. Cook, stirring occasionally for 3 minutes until the sauce thickens. Add parsley and remaining vinegar, then remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, heat a chargrill pan and sear haloumi until golden brown and melting. Serve with the chorizo salsa, extra parsley and if you like, sourdough.
And the cheese biscuits? A bit of nostalgia that is Very Sydney, circa 1978. They’re from a cookbook called Mud Pies for Mothers that’s been gathering dust in North Shore homes for the past three decades.
[from Mud Pies for Mothers]
60g butter, at room temperature
85g self raising flour
85g grated (soft) cheddar cheese
A pinch of salt and cayenne pepper
Heat the oven to 180C. Line a tray with baking paper.
Cream the cheese and butter in a food processor. Sift the flour, cayenne pepper and salt and add throw into food processor.
Take a teaspoon size of the mixture, and roll into a ball. Toss in coconut and then flatten with a fork (it should end up the size of a 10 cent piece).
Line up on baking paper and bake until golden – around 12-15 minutes.
Store in an airtight container.
I grew up handing these around at dinner parties for my mother. They’re incredibly simple to make with no fancy ingredients from a time when fancy just wasn’t available in the suburbs. If you have a food processor just throw in all the ingredients, and pummel it.
You can make them in advance, because the secret is they are so much better a day later. As the heat subsides, their richness emerges. Much like the slow pleasures and slow food days of autumn.
Have a lovely Easter...