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Who wants to play fig roulette?

Is there anyone else who dislikes leftovers?

When you are self-catering, as I am on this break, you are much more acutely aware of what is in the fridge and cupboard than when you are at home. At home, I have store cupboard and freezer staples that allow me to rustle up something Caribbean, Indian, Malaysian, Thai, French or Italian without having to buy anywhere near a recipe’s worth of ingredients. Knowing that there are lots of ingredients that do not have to be used quickly makes you used to always having food available and reduces any sense of urgency to use them.

In this apartment, when I open the fridge, I see lots of white space and I feel guilty if I don’t have a plan for using up what I can see.

I had already made a salad using some of the ingredients I bought at Rialto market. Now, all I needed to do to assuage my guilt was to come up with something else.

I wanted something a little playful – I am on holiday, after all. It also had to be fresh, easy, satisfying and tasty because that is what I am all about.

I came up with figs with mozzarella, wrapped in prosciutto, and a little cherry tomato and rocket salad. Why fig roulette? Because you never know if you are going to have a black or white fig until you bite into it or cut it open!

These were great. What made them perfect for a hot day was an Aperol spritz to sip.

Who wouldn’t love self-catering in Venice?

I am loving this trip to Venice. Day by day, the temperature has been rising from 29C to around 33C. It is perfect weather for trips along the canals, frequent stops for an Aperol spritz and wandering around shaded markets.

I took a trip out to the Rialto Market in Venice to see what was on offer.

I like coming home and just cooking without a set plan, just whatever is in the fridge or cupboard, so that’s what I decided to do here. Having decided to stay in an apartment and not a hotel, meant I had the freedom to cook or eat out. With such great produce, having a kitchen sitting unused seemed such a waste.

I took a quick look around as I stepped into the market to see what caught my eye. I was instantly drawn to white figs. I’m familiar with black figs but white ones were new to me. Almost next to them were beautiful peaches. Within about 30 seconds, I had a dish in my head.

Fig peach salad ingredients

I wanted to make some small plates with whatever produce I found. Cicchetti are small plates, typical in Venice. It can be something on crostini or it can be as simple as a cooked vegetable, such as sliced carrots, or something more elaborate like an octopus salad.

What I ended up with was almost exactly what I set out to put on a plate: a white fig and grilled peach salad with buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto di San Daniele and basil. With a chilled glass of Prosecco, this was just about the perfect lunch, especially in this weather.

 

Join me at my first pop-up event

I’m really excited to announce that I will be cooking at my first pop-up event at the end of July.

I will be serving food that means a lot to me and that people have been asking me to cook for them since seeing me on MasterChef. It will all happen at Little Water, a great burger restaurant and vodka house in the heart of Covent Garden on 26 July at 12pm. I held drinks with family and friends to mark my first MasterChef heat appearance at Little Water and all the staff have been hugely supportive ever since.

I have devised a three-course menu for £25. Each of the courses is paired with an optional infused vodka, a speciality of Little Water. If I were not in the kitchen, I could think of few better ways to spend a Sunday lunchtime.

Full details and menu, including vegetarian option are on the event page.

Britain + sunshine = BBQ

I think it was comedian Paul Merton who said that beautiful people are solar powered because they seem to come out en masse when the sun shines.

The same could probably be said for barbecues. Sunshine and barbecues just go well together. The merest hint of good weather has us heading out for barbecue staples.

Walking around our neighbourhood after six o’clock but while there is still natural sunlight, you can take in the heady aroma of smoke, of meat being grilled and sense the change in people’s mood that sunshine brings.
I’m all for the more Australian way of looking at barbecues. It is a method of cooking that can be enjoyed whenever the mood takes you. When I was in Australia, I had great breakfasts grilled on a barbie as well as lunches and dinners.

So now, I always have at least one disposable barbecue so that I can be up and running whenever the mood takes me. I have been known to be crouched outside over a disposable as storm clouds threatened, just because I had a craving for smoky meat and chargrilled vegetables that no oven could satisfy.

Thankfully, we have been blessed with sun and high temperatures, so being outside had no downside. But I was torn. I wanted a juicy steak but I also wanted a salad to help cope with the hot weather.

It was then that I realised it had been while since I had done anything remotely Thai and I have loved a good Thai beef salad ever since I first visited the Blue Elephant over 20 years ago.

The Blue Elephant transports you to the tropics, complete with forest setting and streams with fish darting around. Even when I moved to Brussels, I used to visit them in their Brussels outpost for an occasional fix. So, that was where I turned for inspiration.

All I bought for this dish was the steak. Everything else was already in the cupboard or fridge, waiting for me to show it some love.

What came off the grill was beautiful beef. Strips of steak crowned a salad of fresh spinach, spring onions, grilled strips of courgette and cucumber, slightly charred on the barbecue to give you a flavour hit that was smoky yet refreshing at the same time. Cherry tomatoes helped cool the fiery heat of the sauce which had several bird’s eye chillies, fish sauce, palm sugar, lemon juice and garlic.

Not bad for what was almost entirely a store cupboard dinner.

It’s Eurovision, and that can only mean one thing …

… sweepstakes!

I’ve been to several Eurovision parties over the years. There is always a drinking game, a sweepstakes or even a combination of the two.

This year, I decided to take a less passive approach. Apart from hosting a party, I decided to cook a dish that represented one of the countries I had drawn.

Once I had drawn Italy, it could only really be meatballs and pasta, something quintessentially Italian  and always a great crowd pleaser.

Even though my fridge is covered with the flags of competing countries (and Australia), my heart and mind are firmly in Italy as I roll out the pasta in a continuous loop.

Rolling out pasta

Most people I know who make pasta use the formula of one egg to 100g of 00 flour. However, I have been using a recipe by Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Bouchon. I love it because it uses lots of egg yolks for a great colour and richness, it is easy to work with and gives great results every time, whether I am making linguine, tagliatelle or ravioli.

How I make meatballs has changed over the years. I used to be all about the beef and didn’t really want anything else detracting from the flavour. I thought an egg bound the beef and a little seasoning together well.

What a difference time and changing taste buds makes.

Now, I’m willing to give up on a little beefy taste in exchange for a little mouthful of heaven that melts in the mouth every time. A 50/50 mix of pork and beef mince is, to me, a great combination but it too needs a little help.

The egg? Gone! It did what I wanted it to do, that is bind everything together so the meatballs did not fall apart in the pan. But it did it a little too well, resulting in meatballs that were too tough. Breadcrumbs, soaked in milk and gently squeezed of excess liquid before adding to the meat do the job just fine. They are the perfect wingman for my meat – they help you get the result you want without ever needing to make their presence felt or hog the limelight.

While all this is going on, my tomato sauce is very gently cooking, the surface broken only by the occasional bubble. I have an Italian friend who lives near Bologna which is known as la grassa (the fat one) because of the high standard of food and the sheer number of word-famous produce from the region, such as Parma ham, Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar to name a few. She is adamant that a good tomato sauce or ragu needs at least a couple of hours so that any trace of rawness is cooked out.

The dish may take a couple of hours on and off, but anything involving fresh pasta becomes a labour of love. And, let’s face it – after a couple of hours, you haven’t really missed that much of Eurovision, have you?

Meatballs and linguine