I once suggested to Barbara we go out to a fancy restaurant in Sydney together. "Ouffff," she said (or something like that), "why eat out when you can eat better at home".
Barbara Small should be a household name. Like Stephanie Alexander or Julia Child.
She cooks food incredibly well, she is charismatic, writes superbly and has a delightfully sharp tongue. (When I showed her a photo I had taken of one of her recipes she wrote, "I suppose the sombre look is in vogue right now"). She was also part of the avantgarde of TV cooking, assisting on The Galloping Gourmet, one of the first cooking shows to hit the small screens and become widely popular in the 60s and 70s.
After studying at the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris and then many years of travelling and cooking in France and Italy, food writing for various publications and teaching cooking lessons at her home on Sydney's north shore (my mother was one of these people and I was a direct beneficiary. Even on a school night we could have olives gorghese or Barbara's osso bucco complete with gremolata ... Barbara I loved you even before I knew you), Barbara has recently put her Italian recipes together in book called Stirring the Senses which she decided to self-publish after failing to get a publishing house on board. Something that was no doubt disheartening for a woman who is an expert in her field with a lifetime of cooking knowledge and experience. "For god's sake even Ian Thorpe has a cookbook".
The only reason we don't all have a copy of her book open on our kitchen bench, grubby from high frequency usage, is because of unlucky timing, I am sure of it. Barbara was involved with the TV cooking world in its infancy, well before it became a national obsession with competitive kitchen benches set up in cavernous warehouses and grating suspense music inserted in the lead up before every ad break. And now she has written a book at a time when things like blogs and instagram make her head hurt. When you need to be either across these things or a swimming celebrity to get published.
So in a total Julie and Julia inspired move, I am going to cook my way through her cookbook because I adore her, because I believe her work should be more widely known (spread the word people) and because I am writing a food blog and a better qualified, more engaging person to share cooking tips and stories I cannot even imagine.
So first up on Eating better at Home is a parmigiana with fresh green pasta and the most incredible chocolate hazelnut crostata, from Barbara's Stirring the Senses, both of which have allowed me to dine like a queen in my humble home, even without the right ingredients.
PARMIGIANA WITH FRESH PASTA
200g plain flour
50g fine semolina
1 whole egg + 2 yolks
l tablespoon cooked and finely chopped spinach - about 50g of leaves without stalks cooked in salted boiling water for 5 minutes - then all moisture squeezed out
2 medium eggplants
about 120g fontina, taleggio or emmenthaler cheese
fresh tomato sauce made with lkg peeled and seeded egg tomatoes, 2 garlic cloves, a little olive oil and a few basil leaves
freshly grated parmesan cheese
about 4 tablespoons pesto (see recipe below)
PASTA: Mix the semolina and flour. Put 1/4 aside and make a well in the remainder. Break in the egg and egg yolks and add the finely chopped spinach. Mix with a fork gradually incorporating the flour. When the mixture is too stiff to stir, start kneading by hand, incorporating as much flour as is needed to make a soft dough. Cover and rest 20-30 minutes.
Roll out thinly and cut into lengths about 4cm longer than the ovenproof dish. Leave the pasta to dry. At this stage it can be stored wrapped in a linen tea towel.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Cook the pasta - 2-3 sheets at a time for 3 minutes. Put immediately into a bowl of cold water. When cool lay on sheets of paper towel to dry. The pasta sheets can be wrapped in layers in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator.
PREHEAT OVEN 180C
EGGPLANT: Cut the eggplant into medium slices. Line a baking sheet with cooking parchment. Put the eggplant slices on top. Season with salt and pepper and brush with olive oil. Cover with a sheet of baking parchment rinsed under water and squeezed out. This will prevent the eggplant from drying out. Bake for 12-15 minutes.
TO ASSEMBLE THE PARMIGIANA: Brush a large rectangular ovenproof dish with olive oil. Line with pasta leaving an overlap at each end. Spread with tomato sauce, cover with half the eggplant slices, half the cheese sliced thinly, some grated parmesan and half the pesto. Make another layer of pasta etc. (folding the sides over) finishing with a layer of pasta or cut the remaining pasta into circles and put on top leaving some tomato showing in the centre. Brush with butter or olive oil and cover with baking parchment.
Bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove the baking parchment and put some sliced fontina over the tomato. Grate parmesan over the pasta and bake for a further 10 minutes or until the surface is golden.
50g basil leaves
1 tablespoons pine nuts
1 rounded tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
1 small garlic clove finely chopped
4-5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil or as needed
salt, freshly ground black pepper
Process the basil leaves with pine nuts and garlic. Add the parmesan then add the olive oil gradually. Season to taste.
MARIA LOUISA’S HAZELNUT & CHOCOLATE CROSTATA
100g 00 plain flour
40g caster sugar
50g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
grated rind 1 orange or lemon
1 egg yolk
100g hazelnuts, toasted and finely chopped
120g amaretti biscuits, crushed fine in a food processor
140g caster sugar
40g French, Dutch or German cocoa
120g unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons Italian espresso coffee powder, very finely ground
4 x 60g eggs
120g amaretto liqueur or brandy
4 tablespoon of thick pure cream
25cm flan tin with loose base, buttered
PREHEAT OVEN 190C NORMAL
PASTRY: In an electric mixer mix process the flour with the sugar, butter and orange or lemon rind until well blended. Add the egg yolk and process only until the mixture starts to come together. Knead lightly and form into a disc. Wrap in plastic and rest in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Roll out dough on a floured board or between plastic wrap to fit the base and sides of the tin. Put in the refrigerator to rest for 15 minutes. (If any dough remains it may be cut into fine strips and used as a lattice over the crostata). If the recipe is doubled this will be no problem.
Butter the pastry tin and line with foil, shiny side down and weight with dried peas etc. Bake in a preheated 190C oven for 10 minutes. Remove the weights and foil and bake for a further 2 minutes. Cool the crust on a cake rack. Remove carefully from the tin and stand on a baking sheet.
FILLING: In a food processor mix the hazelnuts, crushed amaretti biscuits, sugar and cocoa. Add the butter and coffee and the eggs one at a time, followed by the alcohol and finally the cream.
REDUCE OVEN TO 165C. Spoon filling into the prepared pastry crust and bake for about 20 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out clean, although it should still be moist. Cool on a cake.
A thin coating of good quality chocolate melted with a nut of butter may be spread over the top, or just serve with a light dusting of icing sugar.
NOTE: This crostata is better the next day when the flavours have had a chance to ripen.
Tips from Barbara : To roast the hazelnuts put them in a 170C oven for 12-15 minutes. Your nose will tell you. Turn them out onto strong paper towel. While hot rub with another piece of paper towel and most of the skins should flake off. Useless to leave them to get cold. Use espresso grind coffee - not too bitter. When grinding nuts always use a little of the sugar which helps absorb the nut oils.
I had trouble finding amaretti biscuits in Tenterfield so much to my own horror, and Barbara's too I imagine, I used milk arrowroot biscuits instead. And I used Cointreau instead of amaretto liqueur for the same reason. Despite these alterations, the crostata was superb.