This past week, the Sydney Writers’ Festival was taking place. Because I was working I didn’t see a lot of the events (an occupational hazard), but there were authors here that if you ever have the time, are worth reading if you haven’t already: novelists David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas) and Michael Cunningham (The Hours), and new literary star Tea Obreht (The Tiger's Wife). Food writers A.A. Gill and Anthony Bourdain were also here, though the term food writer hardly covers the scope of their commentary. Bourdain set the rock-and-roll world of chefdom on fire with Kitchen Confidential back in the year 2000. As for A.A. Gill, the food he writes of is almost secondary to his fatally funny perspective of world.
On a more serious foodie note, Quay (to your right) won the best designed book of the year at the Book Design Awards. Deservedly. I’m being patriotic, but not biased, in saying that Australia leads the rest of the world in cookbook publishing. If you want to argue with me, I suggest you buy this book first.
SWF was again down around the historic Rocks (convict destination of yore) and as there were a number of international visitors here, it renewed the spectacle of my hometown through their eyes.
Yes, this really was one step away from ‘work’.
It reminded me I often take for granted what’s right here on our doorstep. We do harbour and beaches well. But Sydney does food just as show-stoppingly.
Because we are so multicultural, the food culture has forgotten the need to play by the food rules of their forefathers. It’s fusion, revved up in a way I’ve never experienced in any other destination with a longer culinary tradition. Experimentation, access to incredible abundant fresh produce, and the exposure to European, Asian and American influences, results in a food story that still spins surprising new plots.
On the home cooking front, Sydney’s belief in their cooking prowess probably took off before I noticed, but the entry point for my generation was the congruent moment of having some cash to play with (finally) and the arrival of Cookbook mania, with Mr Sydney Food himself, Bill Granger releasing his first book, in the year 2000. An instant classic, Sydney Food brought the sunny simplicity of Granger’s food from his table to ours. His follow ups just gave us more, please.
Linguine with Clams and Tomatoes
from bills food
Serves 4 to 6
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
2 small red chillies, finely sliced,
or 1/2 tsp of dried chilli flakes
or 1/2 tsp of dried chilli flakes
1/2 cup white wine
500g cherry tomatoes, halved
3 tbsp parsley, chopped
freshly ground pepper
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to boil, and add linguine. Cook for 12-14 minutes until al dente.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large frying pan, and add the chilli, garlic and salt. Cook gently for one minute. Add the white wine, tomatoes and clams and combine. Cover the pan and cook for 3 minutes, or until the clams open. Remove from heat.
Drain the pasta, and with the parsley, add to the pan. Toss to combine, season, and serve immediately.
After a week of talking, drinking, and canape-ing, Bill’s cooking is a reminder of all that is elemental about this town. Sydney may sometimes seem to be high on its own glitz, but what we have, and do best, is local produce, fresh flavours, sun, ocean, salt air, and simplicity. The rest is just tricks.
And this random entry below? I couldn’t resist throwing in this dessert from a dinner party last week. It’s an old recipe, and I don’t know where it originates from, but if I have to guess, it seems at home in a dark cafe on a cold afternoon in the vicinity of Vienna? Verona? Geneva?
Hazelnut Meringue and Chocolate Torte
from Elle Cuisine (out of print)
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups of caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp cinnamon
200g (1 1/2 cups) roasted hazelnuts, finely chopped in a food processor
Dutch cocoa powder, to decorate
500g good quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
250ml (1 cup) thickened cream
30ml creme de cacao liqueur
Preheat the oven to 150 C. Line 2 baking trays with baking paper. Trace 3 20cm diameter circles onto each piece of baking paper.
Place the eggwhites into a mixing bowl and whisk until aerated and peaks form. Add the salt and gradually add the sugar continually whisking until stiff peaks form. Sift the cornflour and the cinnamon over the eggwhites. Add the hazelnuts and gently fold until the mixture is combined.
Divide and spread the meringue mixture between the 3 circles on the prepared baking trays. Run a knife around the edge of each meringue to form a 2.5cm high edge. Bake in a preheated oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until light golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and transfer to wire racks to cool.
Meanwhile to make the chocolate ganache, place the chocolate and cream into a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Melt the mixture, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is smooth and combined (don’t lose patience and push the heat up as the mixture might split). Add the liqueur and stir until combined. Set aside and cool in the fridge for 20 minutes or until the chocolate has slightly set and has a spreadable consistency.
To assemble the torte, remove the baking paper and discard. Place one of the meringue layers on a cake plate. Spread half of the ganache over the meringue disc. On top place another layer of meringue and repeat the procedure with the ganache. Then add the final meringue layer.
To decorate, evenly sift the Dutch cocoa powder over the assembled torte.
To serve, cut a small slice and dust with extra cocoa if desired.
*I found the meringue mixture was enough to make 4 layers, but it was a stretch to fit all 4 in the oven. So if you have the room knock yourself out, though you may want to make more of the ganache. I ate the 4th layer during the week with cream, as the meringue can last a couple of days in an airtight container. And on that note, you can make the meringue a couple of days in advance and save as above.
Yes people, I got back in the (meringue) saddle and cooked like there was no tomorrow for friends. This was the certifiable hit of the evening, resulting in not much left to photograph (I apologise), but I’m sure you get the drift as to how decadent this dessert is!
Until next time...