I was talking with my sister yesterday on FaceTime. It is a great way for us to communicate and for me to engage with my new little nephew who has just turned 8.5 months. He is the cutest little guy. Tarsh lives in Alice Springs, Outback Australia and right about now suffering a hideous heat of about 40 degrees. When it’s morning here, they are heading into the evening so often I get to watch Tarsh cook for her family and perhaps offer a few cooking tips along the way. The pork they had for dinner the other night was cooked perfectly, wasn’t it Tarsh?

Anyway one of our conversations was about meatballs (when your mum’s a chef and your sister’s a chef, you kind of get a lot of advice about food!). I mentioned that I had made some the other night and she also told me she too had whipped up a batch. This got me thinking and I asked her if she does hers in the oven? ‘No,’ was her reply; and then, ‘how do you do that?’ This then got me thinking: maybe others out there are also interested in a new, faster way of making meatballs, without compromising the deep, rich flavour… 

I have taken photos of the steps so it is easier to show you; and you will also note that I am talking about a method that you can apply to pretty much any sort of meatball, be it beef, pork and veal, chicken, turkey, pork and liver…etc. I change my meatball flavours all the time and usually serve them with pasta. However, it was wet and cold here the day I made these so I decided to go with a soft polenta and added green peas at the end because I can’t serve a meal to the boys without any vegetables!


Ok, so starting off I got some delicious beef mince from the butcher and added finely diced shallots, pepper, paprika, whole cumin seeds, an egg, fresh parsley and oregano. Because I was using beef I wanted to keep the flavour light so I didn’t cook off my shallots beforehand — I like to have that slight bite once the meatballs are cooked. When the ingredients were all blended I got my hands in there and gave the mixture a good squeeze to meld the flavours and then grabbed a baking dish, pre-heated the oven to 180, lightly oiled the bottom of the baking dish and rolled out little balls, placing them in the dish until all the mixture was gone.

When the oven is ready, pop them in and cook until they brown, aprox. 8 minutes but note you do not want them to cook through at this stage, you only want them to firm up and seal so they don’t break in your sauce.


Beef meatballs with herbs, I love how the parsley shines through at this stage

Once they are done, pull them out of the oven and let them rest while you are finishing off your sauce. At this stage you will notice the juice in the bottom of the pan: DO NOT THROW IT AWAY. 

Ok, so while your meatballs are cooking you start making your tomato sauce. Sauté onions on a low heat in olive oil until they are transparent then add about three cloves of thinly sliced garlic and a dollop of tomato paste. At the same time, I also add in a good chunk of speck or pancetta to enrich the sauce. I let this sauté until the oil turns red and the aroma is intense and making me hungry. At this point, I add a tin of whole tomatoes or a tin of whole cherry tomatoes, a slosh of white/red wine vinegar and a piece of parmesan rind and then bring it to a boil.


Adding the tomatoes, parmesan rind and vinegar

Once it has come to a boil, turn the heat down to medium and let the sauce simmer for about ten minutes with the lid on. Somewhere around this stage, you will have pulled the meatballs out of the oven and so they should be resting on the counter. What you need to do now is tip in the juices from your meatballs into the tomato sauce mixture and continue simmering your sauce for a further 15 minutes (go and have a glass of wine because dinner is only about 15 minutes away from being ready!).


Tomato sauce with added meat juices

After you have cooked down the tomato and meat juices you then add your meatballs and bring your sauce back up to a light boil. At this stage you can simmer for another 5 minutes or you can turn them off and cool the mixture down and throw it in the fridge/freezer for another night or cook whatever starch you are going to serve with your meatballs and have dinner almost ready.


Tomato and meatball sauce

It is also at this stage that I add in green vegetables for a family meal. The kids don’t even care at this point, all they see is meatballs!

Just before you are about to serve, pull out the parmesan rind and pancetta, bring it up to a boil and then serve.


Beef and herb meatballs with soft polenta and peas

For those of you who have never tried making meatballs this way I urge you to give it a go, the flavour is rich, delicious and the washing up is a lot less! Now that I have come to the end of the pictures I’m starting to wish that I hadn’t given Alex the leftovers for lunch yesterday!


Seafood pasta


Clam, prawn and local white fish poached in a prawn velouté and served with spaghetti

I am a massive seafood fan. Living in Sydney for the past 5 years, going down the fish markets has always been a favourite shopping trip of mine. Having seafood so fresh and so close to where I lived also turned me into a bit of a seafood snob. If it isn’t fresh then I’m not eating it.

On the 24th of December we were walking the streets of Turin looking for a fish monger so we could join the rest of Italy and eat seafood on the eve of Christmas….it wasn’t looking good. I couldn’t find a fish shop anywhere. I even looked at the frozen boxes of fish/shellfish in the ‘Express’ market wondering if it was possible for me to buy a box of frozen fish fillets (it wasn’t). We had all but given up finding some fish and decided on a vegetarian meal when we headed out that afternoon for a walk, however, we turned right instead of left for a change of direction and what was hidden behind a big old church under construction? A mobile fish monger!!! We couldn’t believe our luck, it was getting dark (around 4pm) and he was eager to go home and start his celebrations so we rushed over to him and told him we would take his last bag of clams and maybe a few prawns too. I am not to sure who was more excited, in the end he threw in the rest of his stock for free, wished us a Merry Christmas then hightailed out of there faster than a wild boar in hunting season. The walk was ditched and we took our bags home to look at our loot. I had more seafood than I knew what to do with…where were our friends when we needed them?


Very happy looking through our bags of seafood and peeling prawns

I was giddy with excitement, not just because we bought some super-fresh seafood but I also had a supremely well-stocked kitchen to cook in! As I started peeling the prawns, I knew exactly what I was going to make: a massive bowl of seafood pasta and I was going to make a prawn velouté to poach the clams, fish and prawn meat in- Yippee!!


Our seafood collection

Now I have to confess, I haven’t made a velouté sauce since my commis-chef days when I was working on the Sheraton Hotel scene. I remember I used to be pretty good at sauces way back then, so I was counting on my added experience and hoping for the best.

The prawns looked so good and very juicy that I peeled them all (we ended up getting about double the amount I actually needed which was great because the more shells and heads the better for the stock). I started by making a roux with equal parts of butter and flour then putting it to one side while I started on the stock. After wiping out the pot I sauteed some shallots and garlic on a medium-low heat to soften the shallots before adding the prawn heads and shells. If the prawns are super fresh I don’t wash them off, I throw them straight into the pot, turn up the heat to medium and brown them off for 3-4 minutes. They smell absolutely fantastic at this stage. 


Prawn stock

Once I had a good rich colour going on with the heads I deglazed the pot with a spot of scotch (don’t tell Nic!) Your probably thinking, what??! Well it was Christmas eve and I usually would of thrown in a little brandy but scotch was the only liquor I had on offer (FYI: it worked a treat!). With the pot deglazed I then added enough cold water to just cover the shells and heads, brought it up to a boil and then turned it back and simmered for about 20 min, skimming the top to get rid of the scum and impurities that head straight into the foam (remember DO NOT stir or touch the stock at this stage; once the water is in, let it be).

After 20 minutes, I strained off all the heads and shells then put the stock back on the heat to reduce further (increasing flavour). It reduced by half again and was ready to be turned into a volute. For this you need a whisk, something I found out I didn’t actually have (arghh!!!). However, I managed to find a kind of whisk attachment for a mini blender that helped me out.

With the stock bubbling away on a medium-high heat I crumbled the roux into the stock whisking continually until the sauce thickened and I got the consistency I was after. I added some sea salt to bring all the flavours together and was tickled pink when I finally tasted the velouté; it was rich and punching with flavour, I couldn’t have asked for more.


Prawn velouté – check out that colour!

The hard part was over, now all I had to do was wait for dinner time so I could cook some pasta, add the fresh seafood to the velouté and hey presto our seafood pasta feast would be ready. Because the sauce was hot and boiling it didn’t take long for the pieces of seafood to poach and the clams to open (approx. 4 minutes).


Ready for the saucing

I would have loved to have some fresh parsley to finish the dish with, however, I didn’t even think I was going to be eating seafood  so I can’t be too disappointed. I will say, if you are going to try this method (you really should as it is dead simple) then make your velouté thicker than you think it should be. The fresh seafood will thin the sauce as it cooks and the beautiful salty water enhances the dish even more.


Buon Appetito 




Don’t be afraid of the fat

I’ve been wanting to post about these sausages for a while but I thought I had better try them out a few different ways to make sure they are as good as I first thought they were.

I love a good sausage, and I also know there are many of you out there who despise them and think they are only scrapings from the floor put into casings; but let me tell you, when you come across ones with fantastic flavour and texture they are pretty hard to beat. Sausages thrown on the barbie, totally fine and smokey; put them with mash on a cool night, completely satisfying, or doing as I do with these Toscana sausages and taking them out of their casings and cook them up with veggies is an absolute favourite with the whole family!


These bad boys are full of flavour and also full of fat, I mean just check out that photo!!

However, don’t be afraid of the fat, I mean you don’t have to eat it all but you do want some of it to add maximum flavour to your meal. As I said before, I usually take them out of their casing and brown the sausage in pieces then add onions and vegetables and a tin of tomatoes and a splash of red wine vinegar. Turn the temperature down low and let all the flavours meld together. When doing it this way you have ample opportunity to drain off quite a lot of fat and still be rewarded with the flavour. For the sausage and zucchini dish below I drained off about 1/4 cup of fat. As much as I love sausages I don’t like the feeling of oily lips when you have eaten something swimming in the stuff so draining off the oil before you add your vegetables is the perfect way to eat them.


Another reason why Tuscan sausages rock is the speed in which it takes to knock them into a really tasty dinner. They are perfect for busy families and also a great way to get more vegetables into the families diet. As you can see I didn’t hide the zucchini (because they taste so good all soaked up in the juices), however, the boys HATE zucchini but LOVE sausages. It’s a part of life in this family that you need to eat your veggies and instead of serving it all separately (so the boys can pick out what they want to eat) I make a great big saucy dish so some of those terrible, disgusting zucchini work their way into the mouths of the young! You can say that is a horrible thing to do (can’t possibly think why you would?) but I did the same thing with peas, beans and tomato and guess what? beans and tomato are now loved by all while peas are still the most awful things Max can think of…. along with brussel sprouts of course!

For the dish above I added lemon juice instead of red wine vinegar; it was a hot summers night and I thought the zing of lemon cutting through the pork and tomato would work really well which it did and it also blended beautifully with the chilli flakes Nic and I sprinkled on top of ours. The dish below, however, was cooked in the exact same method but I did use the red wine vinegar and reduced the sauce further for a yummy, deeper flavour (I think it was a little cooler…like 31 degrees!). Nic makes rocking good mash potato so he kindly whipped those up and there you have it, another dinner cooked exactly the same way but tweaking a few ingredients and changing the side of carb to make it a totally different meal (mash also helps the zucchini go down so I’m told!)


Ok so for my last Tuscan sausage dish I decided to cook it a little differently just for an experiment and to use up the left over veggies. I absolutely LOVE cavallo nero and it is young, fresh and in season here right now so I am wanting to eat it with everything.

The boys on the other hand really do not like it, I think it has something to do with the bitterness which is one of the reasons I do really like it. I served it one night and cooked it the way I usually do with ginger, garlic, tomatoes and lemon and served it with lots of couscous but it really wasn’t well received which is fine but I still had a few bits left and I thought if I sauteed it with the sausages whole then they would be coated in all that yummy flavour…or was that fat??


Let me just warn you, this smells sooo good when you are frying it all together, sausages and onions are just made for each other! The greens, like collard greens and silver beet love to be cooked and can take a lot of heat and that is why I decided to put them in first. Once they were coloured and smelling delicious I threw in mushrooms and capsicum and then let it saute down for a good 15-18 minutes on medium to low heat, tossing occasionally.


After about 15 minutes everything was getting a beautiful caramilized coating and looking really delicious but I did get a bit concerned about all that fat as I didn’t drain any off. In fact it got to the point when I couldn’t leave it so I drained off the excess (which was about 3 tablespoons).

Before serving it over a bed of couscous and rocket, I cut the sausage into slices and threw in a tablespoon left of the pesto (it really was a throw together dinner)I had in the fridge just to give it a lovely parmesan, basil finish.


The end result I have to say was really, really tasty and the boys loved it which also makes me think maybe I will stick to my original method of cooking sausages so I can drain off more fat before adding the veggies, as there was very little complaint about their most hated vegetable thrown into the mix…….plus I’d feel better about eating my gelato afterwards!

Note: If you can’t get Italian sausages where you are then beef or pork (esp. with fennel) will also work, just make sure they are a little better than the store brand variety as I can only wonder what they have in them.

Gnocchi Bake in 20 minutes


Nic and I were doing our regular shopping trip last Saturday, trolling through the aisles as you do looking for inspiration. I think I was sussing out the cool pencil cases they had in the ‘back to school aisle’ when he casually said,

‘Hey, I grabbed some gnocchi to try…it’s on special’

Doing a quick calculation in my head a) I have NEVER bought store-bought gnocchi in my life b) we ARE in Italy  and c) really, store-bought gnocchi? and without missing a beat and showing my doubt I mumbled, sure OK and moved on.

Yes I am a food snob, this is a fair judgement but I have decided I will open my mind to new things while living in Italy and I guess if the gnocchi is on special, it looks fresh (kinda) and Italians are buying it then it can’t be that bad?. On the positive side of buying gnocchi- I’ve just saved myself about 40 minutes of cooking prep time in my tiny kitchen with no bench space and that can only be a BIG positive!

OK so the day arrives (actually it was my anniversary dinner) when I tackle the store gnocchi.

‘How do I cook this?’ I say to Nic….did I forget to mention I just finished a delicious bottle of Prosecco?

‘Like normal gnocchi’ was his answer, but then I decided to turn it into a gnocchi bake after reading about one in Saveur…..or was it on someones food blog??? Anyway, I thought I’d make the sauce first and think about the technicalities later.

OK, dead easy tomato sauce, I won’t write the recipe here as I have it about 3 times on my old Family of Foodies blog, so feel free to check them out at your leisure. Once you have this yummy sauce ready to go simply boil water in a large stock pot with a good pinch of salt and I’m not talking 5 grains of salt! Bring to the boil and add your gnocchi. Let the gnocchi rise to the top (water will also go a little foamy) but don’t let it boil as it will break apart your gnocchi.

Once the gnocchi has been sitting on the surface for about 40 seconds, strain the gnocchi and toss in the tomato sauce. Brush the bottom and sides of a baking dish with olive oil or butter, pour in your saucy gnocchi and then for a really, really tasty and quick dinner get a really good quality pesto (of course if you have a homemade one lurking in fridge then awesome) but whatever you do, DON’T buy a jar of something that looks dark green, close to brown that is trying to pass itself off as pesto, or something that looks like it can keep for the next year and a half (it will ruin the dish). I bought some from the deli and it is pretty awesome (yep, another bonus living in Italy I know but we all know it exists in other countries too!)

Ok, so once your gnocchi is in the baking dish, add a few good teaspoons of pesto to the dish but don’t spread it around, just leave it whole. Add thick slices of fresh mozzarella then pop baking dish in a preheated oven (180 degree) for about 5 minutes; just to melt the cheese and warm the pesto. Serve ASAP.

As I am typing this, Alex walks by and sees the photo then lets out a

“Whaarr, I loved that one, when can we have it again?”

It seriously took about 10 minutes of prep time and 20 minutes all up of cooking; served with a yummy garden salad, it was a fabulous 20 minute meal all thanks to the store bought gnocchi which makes me think, maybe there are other things I need to take off my ‘no way’ food list?!


Potato/Patata….no-one can resist!


The other night I was thinking of what to have for dinner that didn’t consist of pasta. Nic and I tend to eat A LOT of pasta when living in Italy, it just feels right. Anyway, we must of over indulged in the early weeks because the comment was voiced rather loudly from the boys that perhaps we could have something OTHER than pasta? This is quite an amazing request seeing as it is on the boys ‘go to list’ when asked what their favourite food is.

And just on a side note, I hate it when people ask my kids that question because their instant reaction without even thinking is to blurt out- ‘pizza, pasta, burgers and hot dogs!’….that’s right, just because I’m a chef doesn’t mean my kids aren’t like millions of other kids who love the above list and will eat it at the drop of a hat if required on a day to day basis……they forget about the beef satays with peanut sauce that they can’t help but lick the plate or the roast veggie and lentil soup I make every winter that has them running to the table.

OK I’ll move on now.

Whenever I order potatoes in a European country (actually I have to exclude Amsterdam, I’ve always had great potatoes there!), they always are diced (big, medium or small), have been fried; be it shallow fried or deep fried and always, always pre-cooked a few hours before the restaurant doors are open and served reheated, lukewarm from the oven. Just once I would like to have the potatoes when they have been fried and served HOT from the kitchen within 5 minutes of them being cooked. 

It was this thought that came to mind as I was peering into my potato/onion and garlic drawer deciding how to start dinner.

Everyone seems to love potatoes cooked one way or another and the more I cook of this variety, the less I seem to eat (thanks to the little boys that fill their tummies first!) If your kitchen is limited like mine then these are the perfect accompaniment to just about any dish, I even cooked some up at the olive grove last visit and they were gone before the adults sat down for dinner.

Basically, you skin 4-5 potatoes, dice each potato into the size you like (just remember the larger you leave them, the longer they will take to cook), wipe the excess starch off the potato with paper towel then grab your largest frying pan, add a generous glug of good olive oil (NOT extra virgin) and place on a medium burner on medium to high heat. Once the oil starts to warm add your diced potatoes and begin shallow frying. I  also add a generous pinch of sea salt and cracked pepper at this point and give the potatoes a good toss.


After about 5 minutes I then add 2-3 garlic cloves, sliced (sometimes a thinly sliced shallot for flavour) and two sticks of rosemary. Keep on tossing your potatoes occasionally so they cook evenly and watch the temperature isn’t on full pelt otherwise you will have dark potatoes before they are soft and delicious on the inside, the whole process usually takes about 15- 20 minutes if your dice is small/medium.

I must warn you, smell travels fast and neighbours may pop in unexpectedly so it’s always best to make extra. These are great for a snack, or served with steak, chicken, veggies, pork…the list goes on.

I served ours with a zucchini and Tuscan sausage dish I came up with that could be cooked in one pot (again I have a very limited kitchen in the pots department and even more limits on bench space but more about that another time.