The Meals That Make Us
by Laura Taylor
In Norah Ephron’s book, Heartburn, she writes about the magical powers of her mashed potato. In her (wonderful) memoir, Dolly Alderton describes the spiritual connection she has to her scrambled eggs - and my friend Tess says making cacio e pepe is the first step towards healing a heart. In the same way that songs can capture periods of our life, there are some dishes intrinsically linked to experience, that simply sum up who we are. So below are four recipes I adore and the pieces of my heart they are tied to. Go break some bread (and biscuits) xx
Tomato & Aubergine Ratatouille
Pair it with: Many glasses of red wine and Daily Mix 2.
This is my ‘I accidentally invited 17 people over for dinner’ meal. Which, I mean, if its a monthly occurrence is it reaaally an accident. As long as I can remember, I wanted a space I could fill to the brim with people and feed them lovely food. At high school, when my family would go away I would move all the furniture out and throw multi-room dinner & gig parties. So as soon as I went flatting, whether it’s for weekly MAFS viewing, a birthday dinner or a last-of-the-summer-light meal on the deck, I’ll find any excuse to have people come round. Now, whenever I cook this dish I’m thrown back to basil-scented memories of hurricaning through the door of my flat after work to slice up eggplants and boil buckets of water in my commercial-size stock pot.
1x eggplant, diced / 2x tins chopped tomatoes / 1x onion, chopped / 3x cloves of garlic, chopped / 1x jar of capers / fresh basil / chilli flakes / brown sugar (1 tblsp) / splash of red wine / dried oregano & basil / olive oill (1 tblsp) / grated parmesan / 1x packet of penne pasta
Heat up the oil in a large saucepan, and brown off your garlic and onions. Add the diced eggplant in batches, until it starts to get some colour, and stir through the chili flakes, oregano and basil. Finely dice your capers (or blend them if you’re adult enough to own a food processor) and add along with the tinned tomatoes, red wine and brown sugar. Let this simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, and add some more red wine, salt and pepper to taste. Once the sauce is nice and rich, bring some salted water to the boil and cook your penne. Pop it into bowls and serve alongside some fresh basil, parmesan and chili flakes to chuck on top.
Spinach and Feta Filo Pie
Pair it with: An acidic green salad and the Gypsy Kings.
I was talking to someone recently about what traits our parents have that we could slowly see manifesting in our lives, which is a whole other terrifying conversation. But above all else, my parents have ingrained in me a deep, affectionate love for food. Growing up in my house, nothing was too weird (loves a tomato juice) and all family celebrations were planned solely around the intention of what would be eaten, and in what order. In saying this, my family has very few traditions, so this filo pie recipe is the closest thing I have to an heirloom. It’s the first meal I ever made for a group of friends, the dinner I requested my mum make for countless birthdays, the only thing I would take to potlucks for years. It is less cooking, more assembling (a common theme), but its such a winner and has charmed even the most dedicated meat-eaters.
2x packets of baby spinach / 1x block of feta / 1x packet of filo pastry / 2x eggs / 1x onion / 2x garlic cloves / ¼ cup vegetable oil / chilli flakes / dried basil & oregano / salt and peppy.
Pre-heat oven to 180 fan-bake. In a large bowl, crack the eggs and add the oil, herbs and chilli. Mix well, and combine with the chopped onions and garlic. Slowly add your spinach in batches, trying to coat all the leaves in the mixture. Crumble in the feta and stir through, adding salt and pepper as you go. Grease your dish, and lay about 5 sheets of filo, brushing each layer with oil as you go. Tip in your filling, crumble some extra feta over the top if you have it going! Layer again with filo, oil brushing in-between and bake for about 45 minutes until it’s goldeny-brown.
Pair it with: A strong cup of tea and back to back episodes of Downton Abbey.
Despite her insatiable love of food, my mum lacks any and all ability to bake, so our house was very light on the baked-goods front. So continuing the assembling theme, this recipe (generous title) was an absolute staple throughout my life. Nothing says special occasion like the combination of banana, fresh cream and a sparsely crumbled Cadbury flake. Best of all, it can be banged together in all of 5 minutes if you happen to have a tin of condensed-milk caramel hanging around, blasphemous I know. Over the years as I have matured, so has my method for crushing the biscuits; teenage-me bashed the shit out of them with a rolling pin, young-adult me would crush them inside the sealed packet and I’m sure late-twenties me will eventually invest in a food processor, but we aren’t quite there yet.
*Hot tip, make sure to check early on whether you have a cream-whipping appliance. I have, on more than one occasion, had a flatmate at the last minute attempt to shake the cream into submission before giving up and running to the garage to buy canned whipped-cream, sad.
4x bananas / 1x bottle of cream / 1x tin of condensed caramel / 1x packet of digestive biscuits / 4 tbsp butter / 1x cadbury flake (v important)
First and foremost decide on your biscuit-crushing method, no judgement. Personally I keep the biscuit packet intact, and set about deliberately breaking each biscuit inside the packet, then tip into a bowl to finely crumb with my fingers. Melt the butter in a bowl, mix in to your biscuits and use your fingers to press the crumb into your desired dish to create a base. Spread your tinned caramel across the base, and top with sliced banana. Whip up your cream, chuck him on top and crumble a flake (or grated choc if you’re feeling fancy) over the surface.
Red Wine Lentils and Honey Baked Ricotta
Pair it with: G&T’s and loooots of Paul Simon.
I recently wrote this piece on committing to my own life, and excuse the hyperbole but Anna Jones (and this lentil recipe) have single-handedly saved me. I have always been a cook-by-feeling person, rarely using recipes for fear of screwing it up, but her book The Modern Cooks Year is now one of my most treasured possessions. Firstly, the entire thing is vegetable based (yes!) and focuses on cooking seasonally & simply, plus she uses the word ‘gentle’ so often - I am soothed just by reading it. I adore the process of cooking, but never saw the value in doing it for myself, hence the 17-strong dinner parties. But thanks to her (and a stern word re self-care from Kim), I now have a vege-garden, incl tomato plants which I see as an extension of myself, and have gone from running on empty and eating a BK salad burger at 11pm to lovingly picking fresh kale and therapeutically chopping garlic for myself. If filo pie was my past, these lentils are my future and I’m not mad about it. Also, cooking with honey is an absolute game-changer and this baked ricotta is what I envisage heaven to taste like.
*I would like to pre-cursor this by saying nobody hated lentils more than me, so it took a lot to push through my mental block and give them a go but my goodness red wine deserves more credit in this world.
2x tins of brown lentils / 2x diced carrots / 3x celery stalks, diced / 1x onion, chopped / 3x garlic cloves, diced / salad leaves (kale, silverbeet, cavolo nero) / 1 cup cheap red wine / 2 tbsp honey / fresh basil, thyme & rosemary / chilli flakes / 1 tbsp olive oil / 1 tbsp red wine vinegar / 1x tub of ricotta / LOTS of fresh rosemary / salt and peppy / fresh sourdough & olive oil
Heat the olive oil in a big saucepan, and brown off the garlic and onions with the rosemary and chili flakes. Add the carrots, and when they start to soften chuck in the celery too. Season with some S&P and after a couple of minutes add in the two tins of lentils along with the red wine, fresh herbs and chopped green leaves. Let this simmer away for about 10 minutes, then add the red wine vinegar and honey. Continue to let it simmer, adding more honey, vinegar and chili until you reach the perfect salty/sweet/spicy balance. Serve hot w chunks of sourdough.
For the ricotta: Empty all of the above into a small cast-iron pot, mix together and bake on 180 for 15mins until bubbly and golden. Top with more rosemary and serve with oil-drizzled sourdough.