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Tag Archives: lazy meals

From courtyard to table – basil pesto

I grew up with a “harvester”. Some people enjoy gardening; my mum isn’t a “gardener”, but she loves picking things from the garden and serving them that night. Grandpa was a farmer, and even though he left the farm before I was born, a vegi-garden prolific enough to feed family, friends, and anyone going through hard times is wired into our DNA.

I rent. And a vegetable garden requires more permanence (and soil) than I possess. It’s taken me years to make peace with paying for lemons, lettuce and potatoes. It’s taken longer to accept that fresh raspberries are an indulgence, not a food group. But here, in my lovely new oasis, my herb garden has finally flourished. And I have discovered that tomatoes can be grown in pots! When the season ends, I plan to experiment with rhubarb.


For the first time I have more basil then I know what to do with. I turned to my Maggie Beer for guidance. Maggie’s Harvest is a treasure trove. Structured by season, then by ingredient, I find it invaluable when I notice beautiful produce at the markets I’m unsure what to do with, or for reminding myself what’s actually in season in my privileged world of airfreight and refrigeration. I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever cooked a recipe from it… But while Maggie’s palate is a sharp contrast to my own, her knowledge is vast and her writing as enjoyable to sink into as the master of cookbook

The logical solution to a basil glut is pesto.


Basil Pesto

100gm pine nuts

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 large or 2 medium cloves garlic

1 cup firmly packed basil leaves

50gm freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

50gm freshly grated perino

Salt and pepper to taste

Squeeze of lemon juice


Dry roast the pine nuts in a frying pan over medium-high heat until golden, tossing to prevent burning.

Put ¼ cup olive oil, ½ the pine nuts and the remaining ingredients in a food processor and blend to a paste. Don’t be tempted to add more garlic. When cooking I lean on the generous side with my flavourings; the first time I made pesto, I has a large clove of garlic and a medium clove and I used them both. It was a mistake. Basil and parmesan aren’t delicate flavours per se, but they will both be quickly overwhelmed by garlic. Remember, while you will be combining the pesto with hot things and that will take the edge off the garlic, the garlic is still raw, so much more over powering than in most sauces.


Also, if you don’t have the access or the budget for fancy expensive cheeses, 100gm of parmesan will do the job just as well.

Add the remaining pine nuts and pulse the food processor for a few seconds, so that the pine nuts remain in chunks.

Stir in the remaining oil. It is worth stirring in a small amount at a time, as depending on the basil you’re using and your own preferences, you may not need that much.


If you have a lot of basil, you can combine the basil, pine nuts and oil. Place in small plastic tubs and freeze. When ready to use, defrost the tubs in hot water, and add the garlic and grated cheese.


Pesto is a versatile ingredient, acting like a condiment in minestrone or tossed with greens, or combined with pasta for a great convenience food.  My first housemate frequently pan-fried sliced chicken breast and mushrooms, combining with penne pasta, pesto and a little cream and serving with steamed greens. I’m sure you have your own favourite use.

I personally am a huge fan of Spaghetti Genovese, which was one of the staples of my teen vegetarian years.


Spaghetti Genovese

– serves 1, but easily multiplied

1 baby potato, skin on, sliced.

75gm spaghetti


75gm green bean, ends off, sliced into 2cm lengths.

1 large spoonful pesto.


Half fill a saucepan with water. Salt. Bring to boil.

Add the spaghetti and potato, cook till almost tender.

Add the beans for a few minutes.

Drain, reserving some of the starchy water.

Combine the pasta, vegetables, starchy water and pesto.



What’s your favourite use for pesto?

Do you have any tips for courtyard produce that won’t upset the landlord?

I want to know.


Welcome back!

So it’s been awhile; quite a while. Life happened. Ect.

But it’s a new year, and I feel inspired to try to blog again. I’ve missed you. I’ve also stopped being as much of a health nut, and am consequently eating yummy food again. I felt hypocritical talking about cake when I didn’t eat it (the craziness of the months when I did not eat cake need never be mentioned again).

Part of the above mentioned “life” was moving house. I now live in a tiny apartment without room for a table inside, but I think you will all agree dining alfresco has its advantages.


I think this is the best dining room/larder I’ve ever had.

Stay tuned for Stephanie Alexander inspired kitchen garden posts shortly.

The dinner pictured is simple, but it was bliss. Australia is riding a heat wave that’s left me reluctant to use the stovetop or oven. The evening in question saw a cool breeze blow through.  I sat with a lovely Shiraz, a lovely dinner, and watched the world walk by.


I’ve raved about my love for Lamb backstrap before. I will again. I generally find Lamb just too fatty to enjoy. I have a lean palate. Yes, this means I’ll never be a real “foodie”. Yes, this means the current passion for game meats has left me with limited choice in restaurants.  But I’m a postmodernist. This means I reject cultural hierarchies and ideas of some things possessing “value” while others do not based on genre or classification. This means I watch the Vampire Diaries without shame, defend the presence of Bridget Jones’s Diary next to Mrs Dalloway on my bookshelf, and I’m not going to pretend to prefer the “dark” “interesting’ thigh meat to “bland” breast when I don’t.

Not that I think anyone is going to suggest an obsession with backstrap is low class.

I took the meatout of the fridge a half hour before cooking; dressing with olive oil, some smashed cloves of garlic, oregano and lemon thyme from the garden, pepper and a little salt in the butchers bag. After it marinated a little I heated my griddle pan to high heat, cooking four minutes on each side (I lean toward medium well when at home, so three and a half minutes is probably more respectful to the beautiful cut of meat). Then I removed from heat and rested while I got on with the salads.


This lovely evening saw my first attempt at vinaigrette (I know, I’m not sure why I think I have any business writing a food blog either). I took one part extra virgin olive oil, one part grapeseed oil, one part lime juice, one part white wine vinegar, one clove crushed garlic, and salt and pepper. It’s not exactly complicated, or ground breaking, but it was very pleasant.

It was a beginning.

I dressed some salad leaves, tossed with cucumber, celery and capsicum.

I also whipped up a Caprese salad. I have fallen in love with the baby tomato medley available from my greengrocer, different shapes, flavours and colours makes dinner pop and an abundance of basil in my garden have made this a staple this summer.


Then I platted and enjoyed.

Like I said, a simple meal, but when combined with setting, it was wonderful.

What’s your favourite salad dressing recipe? I’m eager to learn.

Holly’s Happy-making Default Dinner

One of the things I love about Nigella Lawson’s books is that she tells you the stories behind the recipes. And often the story is of someone else’s recipe: a family tradition; a friend’s speciality; the best of a respected, if obscure, tome. They are recipes with history; the outcome of generations of experimentation and perfection. I find it incredibly comforting to be reminded that the bounty of lovely, varied, reliable recipes captured in the pages of the cookbook have a providence and did not spring, perfect and whole from the mind of the writer. Cookbook author as collator rather than creator fits with the romance and nostalgia narrative I weave around cooking. This is Holly’s recipe.

Those of you who have been following this blog might have seen a bit of Holly already. She normally comments on a post pretty quickly, usually to say I’ve made her hungry. Sadly I don’t get to feed her as much as a best-friend should and she has to make do with occasionally express posted baked goods on the rare occasions I get my act together.

Shortly before I headed from the valley chill of Hobart to the freezing frost of Canberra Ms Holly had me over for a day of vitally important Buffy viewing. To mark the occasion Holly decreed that our traditional lunch of black pepper and lime chips, basil and cashew dip and Blue Costello cheese would not do, and proceeded to (gasp!) cook me something. I am grateful she did.

This is the meal Holly’s mum makes her when she is sick and in my first year of fending for myself it proved invaluable. When I can’t bear to plan, to prepare; when I’ve been at the gym till well past 7 and I just need to eat and fall into bed. I make Holly’s wonderful meal. Maybe this meal is so familiar to you that you can’t understand why I adore it so. But the simple meals of a family can prove a revelation when they’re different to the simple meals of you own.

So here it is: Garlic mushrooms; baby spinach; cous cous.

That’s it. Super easy, basically healthy, calling on modern pantry classics, and unbelievably tasty. I adore it.

Make the cous cous according to the packet instructions. Sauté mushrooms in butter and crushed garlic.

Put the cous cous in a bowl, cover with fresh baby spinach on top, then put the mushrooms on top.


This in itself is awesome, fantastic , filling, yum. But I’m a big fan of it with lamb backstrap. I just put the backstrap in some oil with garlic and lemon thyme from my garden, and let it sit for about thirty minutes while it comes to room temperature, then cook it in a medium hot frypan. Slice and put with the mushroom cous cous. Brilliant.

Also a big fan of it with chicken breast sprinkled with Moroccan seasoning and lemon juice in an oven bag and a moderate oven for 30 minutes.

Really just a big fan of it.