Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Asparagus & ricotta tart with miso & black garlic

December 24, 2019

I decided to whip up a Christmas Eve feast for Cindy and I to enjoy - three Ottolenghi dishes and a sunny evening make for a pretty great way to mark the start of our holidays. I went for cumin-spiced beet salad with yoghurt and preserved lemon, roast butternut with lentils and gorgonzola (both from Simple) and this asparagus and ricotta tart with miso and black garlic from his Guardian column.

It was a spectacular meal - easily worth all the effort that went into it. The tart was the pick of the bunch, with a delightfully savoury miso/ricotta base and the sweet, vinegary punch of blended up black garlic on top. We took leftovers of this to a Christmas potluck and it was a smash!

Asparagus & ricotta tart with miso & black garlic
(from Yotam Ottolenghi's Guardian column)

150g ricotta
2 egg yolks
25g parmesan, grated
1 tablespoon white miso
salt and pepper
5 cloves black garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 sheet puff pastry
250g baby asparagus stalks
sprinkle of chilli flakes

Pre-heat the oven to 190°C.

Stir together the ricotta, the egg yolks, parmesan, miso and seasoning in a small bowl.

Blitz the black garlic in a small food processor with the balsamic and the olive oil - it should be a thickish paste.

Lay the puff pastry out on a greased baking tray and poke it with a fork a few times.

Spread the ricotta mix across the pastry, leaving a border of about 1cm or so around the edge. Lay the asparagus across the top, all facing the same way.

Bake the tart for 25 minutes or so, until the pastry is golden brown. Spoon over the black garlic mix and sprinkle with the chilli flakes. Slice into squares and serve. 

Saturday, February 15, 2020


December 20, 2019

On our first visit to Theodore's, we really put them to the test - we were a big group booking, toting a teeny baby and all its accoutrements, with a mix of dietary requirements, and it was still 40 degrees at 6pm. They vastly exceeded our expectations under these temper-fraying conditions.

I arrived first, took a moment to wash up in the bathroom, and then sat down to a house-made soda ($5). The flavour of the day was orange, it was perfectly juicy and icy, and I ordered one or two more before our dinner was done.

The menu is a short, single page of fresh and slightly fancy plates that evolve with the seasons. There weren't any dietary markers, but the key ingredients were clear and the staff confidently guided us through where the dairy and gluten would be. As a group, we agreed to try everything that was vegetarian.

Our waiter offered us a glimpse into their daytime menu, mentioning that they had just two of that morning's baked pretzels left ($10 each). It was a pleasure to clear their stock.

The salad of heirloom tomatoes, peaches, ricotta and shiso ($16) confirmed me as a first-visit fan of this restaurant. It was exactly what I wanted to eat in this unyielding heat. (They were also kind enough to separate the ricotta on the side of the plate closest to our dairy-free diner.)

A table-wide favourite was the North African spiced cous cous ($13) a complex bowl with broccoli, tea-soaked raisins, pepitas, and thoughtfully separated dressing of sumac tahini yoghurt.

There were chips ($9). Chips are great in just about any setting and weather.

This plate of white bean dip, crudites and crackers was a special, off-menu, gluten-free option. It was just as special as the dishes they'd planned ahead.

Asparagus is another summer night classic and they served it here with more effort and flavour than I often see, adding radicchio, tamarind, chilli and almond ($18).

Our final shared plate was one of nicola potatoes ($16), served with miso roasted onion and brown butter. While they were very good, arriving at the tail-end of a mid-summer dinner wasn't their best setting.

Theodore's had me at house-made soda and tomato-peach salad, yet their best feature proved to be their staff. We received exceptionally friendly and informative service throughout our visit, including checks on what the baby and his parents might need, and tips on other restaurants and bars they like in the neighbourhood. Instead of pushing their own dessert menu on us, they cheerfully recommended a gelato shop with dairy-free options a few blocks away. This approach established a welcoming, neighbourhood feel that we'll be drawn back to.


Theodore's has received positive coverage on messy veggiesmamma knows north, and Gastrology.

4 Saxon St, Brunswick
9380 2446
food, drinks

Accessibility: There's a shallow ramp on entry. Most tables are densely packed booths, but there's a bit of room for a pram around the free-standing tables, and the staff are very welcoming of children (our group had a newborn among us). We ordered at the table and paid at a high bar. We can't remember the toilets, although we think they're individual cubicles.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Insider tips for prettier pulla

December 15, 2019

We had a lot of fun last autumn baking Finnish pulla, but of course our first attempt wasn't nearly as pretty as our friend Heini's! Heini lives back in Finland now, but she kindly offered to come over for for a pulla-making workshop at our place with fellow pulla-fan Tash, when everyone was briefly reunited in Melbourne. Here are a few extra tips I picked up on the day.

First, Heini takes her time with the dough to mix it thoroughly. She adds the flour gradually, patiently stirring it to make a smooth, completely lump-free batter before the next round of flour goes in. She kneads in the butter with the same determination, scrunching it in with her hands and working the dough until it's got some stretch. You've really gotta get in there and get sticky!

When the dough's ready to roll, it's rolled thinly: it's worth persisting, even as it bounces back, until its around 4mm thick. A big, thin rectangle of dough makes for lots of spiral layers in the finished pulla. We already had the right technique for slicing the cinnamon dough roll into triangles (pictured above right), but our shaping needed a little finesse. The technique is to hold a dough triangle so that its longest side is on the bench and its shortest side is pointing upwards; press firmly on that top tip with both thumbs to flatten the roll. It's almost impossible to apply too much pressure; making a dent in the centre is usually a good thing (see photo above left).

Our kitchen's second batch of pulla were beautiful and bountiful: enough for snacking on the spot, sharing with friends and relatives, and freezing for more fun later. The overarching lesson was: there's no fear of overworking here! A firm and patient hand is the best way through every stage of the pulla  process.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Pan de yuca

December 15, 2019

In the couple dozen times I've flicked through my Lab Farewell Cookbook, I've often noticed this recipe for pan de yuca (i.e. cassava bread) and wondered what the best occasion might be for making it. The neatly handwritten recipe didn't explain whether I should be serving these as snacks or as part of a main meal, or if there might be a classic condiment to spread on them. (The source website has a bunch of fun variations - I'm most taken by the ones stuffed with guava paste!)

My second reservation was the texture: these breads are completely gluten-free, based primarily on tapioca starch and cheese. Most of us love a bit of melted cheese, but I worried that the high dose of tapioca would form something gummy or gluey. Nevertheless, I took a chance on them as a snack to share with a few friends visiting our house, and the entire batch was eaten by the time they left! 

These little breads have a bouncy, lightly chewy texture that's a touch like sourdough bread, but mostly not like wheat-based bread at all. My combination of half mozzarella and half sharp cheddar lent them a little elasticity and a lot of flavour. Even though we didn't give them the chance, I get the impression that these breads get stale and tough fast. I shared them just one plateful at a time, leaving the extras in the still-warm oven to extend their freshness. The recipe gave other strategies for storage that allow you to freshly bake just the quantity you want to eat on the spot: refrigerating the dough whole, freezing individual dough balls, and simply microwaving leftovers.

Now that I know how easy they are to make and eat, I won't hesitate to make this unusual dough again.

Pan de yuca
(a recipe shared by Dave in the Lab Farewell Cookbook,
where it's credited to laylita.com)

2 1/2 cups tapioca starch
4 cups grated cheese (use a mixture! mozzarella, queso fresco, parmesan, etc)
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
115g butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
2-4 tablespoons of water or milk

In a large bowl, stir together the tapioca starch, cheeses, baking powder and salt. Melt the butter in a microwave or small saucepan over a stove and pour it into the bowl, stirring just to spread any heat around. Crack in the eggs, and then stir everything together thoroughly to form a dough. Add a little water or milk if you need it, to reach a dough consistency. (You can store the dough in the fridge for a couple of days if you like.)

Line a baking tray or two with paper. Roll tablespoons of the dough into balls and place them on the tray(s). (You can freeze the dough balls at this stage for weeks if you like.) Refrigerate the balls for 30 minutes (I skipped this, with no ill effects). 

Preheat an oven to 250°C. Bake the breads for 7-13 minutes, until golden brown on top. Serve warm.