I have always loved ceramics, way before I became a food stylist and for years I had thought about having a go at pottery. Finally about 2 years ago I joined a small class of potters in a local community centre in Sydney and began what has now become a passion. Throwing on the wheel is my chance to take time out of my busy work life, it’s my meditation if you like and I get totally lost in it – anyone who knows me will agree, it’s perhaps the only time I really get to sit still (although not quite still, but at least in one spot).
Of course, it is really useful for my work as well. If I can’t find exactly what I want in the shops I have a go at making something instead – to varying levels of success as I am certainly just a beginner. Sometimes I end up with a bowl or plate I actually like!
Having now taken the plunge and invested in a wheel, I am determined to improve and even if I never become a commercially successful potter, I hope to enjoy this simple creative process for years to come. Here are a few of my recent pieces (apologies to those who have already seen these, there are more coming soon).
Paella may well be Spain’s national dish, but it most certainly isn’t the only rice dish loved by the Spanish. My latest book Paella and other Spanish rice dishes published by Ryland Peters & Small explores just that and includes more than 30 delicious rice dishes. From the obvious paella to rice soups, creamy rice dishes (which resemble Italian risotto) to baked rice dishes which includes a couple of rice desserts. Beautifully photographed by Ian Wallace this is a great little book packed with recipes for all occasions.
What I love about writing recipes for a new project is what you get to learn on the journey. It isn’t just new recipes, flavours and dishes but all the history of food and culture. I knew a little about Spanish rice, but I sound found out that there is so much more. A flying trip to Valencia, one of Spain’s largest rice producing regions, included a trip to the Rice Museum (Museo de Arroz) to learn how rice used to be processed as well as a visit to the rice fields on the outskirts of the city along the shores of Lake Albufera to see rice growing today. Of course the trip also included eating as many different types of rice dishes I could manage over 3 days – not too much of hardship really!
Chicken and seafood paella (paella con pollo y marisco) shown above
This is the paella that most people know as Spanish paella, and it can be found in restaurants all over Spain, not always (in fact rarely) as the original Alicante version was intended. This adaptation is as close as I can get in a domestic kitchen. If you cannot find mussels or langoustine, use any other fresh seafood you can buy.
500 g/18 oz. mussels, cleaned
100 ml/1⁄3 cup dry white wine
8 large prawns/jumbo shrimp
8 langoustines (optional)
1⁄4 teaspoon saffron strands
6 tablespoons olive oil
4 skinless chicken thigh fillets, quartered
350 g/3⁄4 lb. prepared squid rings
4 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 red/bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
350 g/scant 2 cups bomba, Calasparra or arborio rice
200 g/11⁄ 3 cups fresh or frozen peas
salt and freshly ground black pepper
freshly chopped parsley, to garnish
Discard any mussels that do not close when tapped on the work surface. Place the mussels, still wet from cleaning, in a saucepan and place over a medium heat. Add the wine and cook the mussels, covered, for 4–5 minutes, until the shells have opened (discard any that remain closed). Strain and reserve the liquid. Set the mussels aside.
Remove the heads from the prawns/shrimp and langoustines and add the heads to the mussel liquid along with 1.25 litres/5 cups cold water. Bring to the boil, skimming the surface to remove any scum, and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Strain the stock through a fine sieve/strainer into a saucepan (you should have about 1 litre/generous 4 cups), stir in the saffron strands and keep warm.
Heat half the oil in a 35-cm/14-in. paella pan (or shallow flameproof casserole) and fry the chicken pieces for about 5 minutes, until browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Repeat with the prawns/shrimp, then the langoustines, if using, and finally the squid rings, frying for 2–3 minutes, until golden, removing each with a slotted spoon.
Reduce the heat, add the remaining oil to the pan and gently fry the garlic for 5 minutes until softened. Stir in the pepper, tomatoes and paprika, and cook for about 5 minutes, until the sauce is sticky. Stir in the rice and return the chicken to the pan. Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 10 minutes.
Stir in the prawns/shrimp, langoustines, mussels, squid and peas, and cook for a further 10 minutes, until the rice and seafood are cooked. Season to taste, then leave to rest for 10 minutes before serving, sprinkled with chopped parsley.
Rice with squid in ink (arroz negro)
Black, unctuous and quite unlike any other rice dish, the flavour of this crazy-looking rice is truly fabulous. You can use either squid or cuttlefish for this recipe, and ask your fishmonger for the small packets of prepared squid ink. You will need 2 small packs or 2 teaspoons. Double the quantities, as required, for more people.
350 g/3⁄4 lb. prepared small squid or cuttlefish (you can use pre-cleaned squid)
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 small red/bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 large tomato, seeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1⁄4 teaspoon saffron strands, ground
1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
2 teaspoons squid ink
500 ml/generous 2 cups hot fish or chicken stock *
150 g/generous 3⁄4 cup bomba, Calasparra or arborio rice
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Roughly chop the prepared squid. Heat the oil in a 25-cm/10-in. frying pan/skillet or shallow flameproof casserole, and quickly stir-fry the squid for 2–3 minutes, until lightly golden. Remove with a slotted spoon.
Add the garlic and red/bell pepper to the pan with a little salt, and fry gently for 10 minutes, until softened. Add the tomato, paprika, saffron and parsley, and cook for a further 5 minutes, until the mixture is quite dry.
Place the squid ink in a bowl and stir in a little of the hot stock. Add the rice to the casserole, stir well and then add the squid pieces, inky stock and the rest of the stock.
Stir once and then bring to the boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes, until the rice is al dente and the stock is creamy and quite sticky. Season to taste, and serve immediately with some crusty bread.
Tip: to make fish stock, place fish trimmings and prawn/shrimp shells, etc., into a pan with some chopped celery, leek, parsley, thyme and a little salt and pepper. Add 1.5 litres/generous 6 cups cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain.
Baked saffron rice pudding (arroz con leche y azafrán al horno)
There is something truly comforting about eating baked rice pudding. Perhaps it’s the fond memories of childhood puds, or the soft, creamy texture of the dish. This version offers an intriguing hint of saffron. If you want, you can add some dried raisins or currants before baking and serve topped with a drizzle of cream and whatever fresh fruits are in season.
125 g/scant 3⁄4 cup bomba, Calasparra or arborio rice
1 litre/generous 4 cups fullfat/ whole milk
75 g/6 tablespoons caster/ granulated sugar
1 vanilla pod/bean, split
a pinch of saffron strands
25 g/2 tablespoons butter, diced
cream and seasonal fruits, to serve (optional)
Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F) Gas 2 and grease a 1.5-litre/6-cup baking dish.
Wash the rice in a sieve/strainer, shake well and place in the prepared dish. Place the milk, sugar, vanilla pod/bean and saffron strands in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 15 minutes.
Discard the vanilla pod/bean, scraping the seeds into the milk, then pour the milk over the rice. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.Stir well, carefully dot the top with butter and bake for a further 1 hour, until the top of the pudding is golden brown. Lift a little of the skin with the point of a knife; the sauce should be thick and creamy. Cook for longer, if required. Rest for 10 minutes before serving with some cream and fresh fruits, if wished.
1.5 kg russet or other eating apples, peeled, quartered and cored
creme fraiche, to serve
Pre-heat the oven to 200 c/fan-forced 180 c. Make the caramel. Place the sugar and water in an oven-proof frying pan and heat gently over a low heat to dissolve the sugar, increase the heat and boil for 2-3 minutes until the sauce turns golden. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter until melted. Arrange the apples cut side up in the pan fitting them in snuggly. Return the pan to the heat and cook over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes until the apples are beginning to brown on the undersides. Check undersides by carefully lifting the apples with a palette knife.
Meanwhile, roll out the pastry to a circle just slightly larger than the pan. When the apples are ready, remove the pan from the heat and place the pastry over the apples, pressing down into the sides of the pan. Transfer to the oven and bake for 20 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes.Invert the pie onto a large plate and serve warm with some creme fraiche.
Strawberry and goat cheese tartlets
250 g sweet shortcrust pastry, thawed if frozen
1 egg yolk
35 g caster sugar
125 g firm ricotta cheese
125 g soft goat cheese strawberries
500 g strawberries, hulled and halved
75 g caster sugar vanilla pod, split
Preheat oven to 200°c/fan-forced 180c. Line a roasting tin with baking paper. Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured surface until 2 mm thick. Using a 12 cm pastry cutter, stamp out 6 rounds (rerolling as necessary). Use to line 6 x 10 cm fluted flan tins, trimming away the excess and prick the bases with a fork. Chill for 20 minutes. Line pastry cases with baking paper and baking beans and bake for 10 minutes or until edges are light golden. Remove the baking paper and beans and bake for a further 2-3 minutes or until golden and crisp. Set aside to cool.
Prepare the strawberries. Place the strawberries, sugar and vanilla pod in the prepared tin. Transfer to oven and bake for 15 minutes or until softened and juicy. Remove from the oven and leave to go cold. Make the filling. Place the egg yolk, sugar and ricotta in a food processor and blend until really smooth. Add the goat cheese and blend again briefly until smooth. Divide the mixture between the tart cases and serve topped with the roasted strawberries.
Pistachio honey and rosewater cake
125 g caster sugar
4 eggs, separated
125 ml Greek yogurt, plus extra to serve
50 g dried breadcrumbs
150 g ground pistachio nuts
100 ml clear honey
2 tbsp rosewater
Pre-heat the oven to 180c/fan-forced 160c. Grease and line a 20 cm round cake tin. Beat the sugar, egg yolks and the grated rind of 1 of the lemons together until pale and creamy. Stir in the yogurt and fold in the breadcrumbs and 125 g of the pistachio nuts, reserving the rest for decoration. Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff and fold into the cake mixture. Transfer to the prepared tin and bake for 30-35 minutes, until risen and springy to the touch. Remove from the oven, cool in the tin for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile make the syrup: peel the remaining lemons and cut the rind into very thin strips. Squeeze the juice into a small pan and add the honey. Bring to the boil, add shredded rind, and simmer for 1 minute. Cool slightly and stir in the rosewater. Place the warm cake on a serving plate, prick all over with a skewer, pour over the syrup and leave until cold. Sprinkle the cake with the reserved pistachio nuts and rose petals (if using) and serve with some extra yogurt.
Plum and almond tart
250 g sweet shortcrust pastry
2 tbsp raspberry jam
125 g unsalted butter, softened
125 g caster sugar
125 g ground almonds
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla essence
4 plums, halved, stoned and cut into thick slices
maple syrup ice cream
750ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, split
5 egg yolks
125 ml maple syrup icing sugar, to dust
Firstly make the ice cream. Heat the cream and vanilla pod in a small pan until it just reaches boiling point. Remove from the heat and set aside to infuse for 20 minutes. Remove the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into the cream. Whisk the egg yolks and maple syrup together and then beat in the cream. Heat gently, stirring until the cream thickens to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Allow to cool and then churn in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturers instructions until frozen*
Preheat the oven to 190c/fan-forced 170 c. Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured surface to form a 25 cm round and use to line a 23 cm fluted flan tin. Trim off excess pastry and prick the base. Chill for 20 minutes. Line the pastry with baking paper and baking beans and bake for 12 minutes. Remove paper and beans and bake for a further 5-6 minutes until the pastry is crisp and lightly golden. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Using electric beaters, beat the butter, sugar, and ground almonds in a bowl until smooth. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until combined. Spread the pastry case with the jam and top with the almond mixture. Gently press the plum slices into the almond mixture and bake for 30-35 minutes until the filling is golden and firm. Remove from oven and leave to cool. Dust with icing sugar and serve in wedges with the ice cream.
Walnut cake with honey cream
The cake can be made up to a day ahead. Store in an airtight container. Make the honey cream just before serving.
6 eggs, separated
225 g caster sugar
4 tbsp clear honey
250 g walnuts, ground
300 ml thickened cream
4 fresh figs, quartered
icing sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 180 c/fan-forced 160c c. Grease and line a 23 cm round spring form cake tin. Put the egg yolks in a large bowl, add 150 g of the sugar and 2 tablespoons of the honey and whisk together until pale. Stir in the walnuts. Whisk the egg whites separately in a clean bowl until soft peaks form and then gradually whisk in the remaining sugar. Stir a large spoonful into the cake mix to loosen, fold in the rest until evenly incorporated and spoon into the prepared tin. Bake for 30-35 minutes until risen and springy to the touch.
Cool in the tin for 5 minutes then run a palette knife around the edge of the cake to loosen from the sides and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Whisk the cream and remaining honey together until thickened. Cut the cake into wedges, dust with icing sugar and serve with the honey cream and figs.