Match made in heaven

Strong flavours in unlikely harmony steal the show in Donna Hay's latest cookbook. Fellow 'Sydneysider' Neale Whitaker meets the star of Australian cuisine
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Indy Lifestyle Online

This has been quite a year for Donna Hay. The Australian food writer turned 30, published two books, relinquished her role as food editor of Australian Marie Claire (the magazine which launched her career) and paid off her apartment. This year, too, London specialist bookseller Books for Cooks included Hay's The New Cook in its round-up of the century's most influential cookbooks, placing her alongside Elizabeth David, Julia Child and Jane Grigson. And by dint of selling more than half a million books worldwide, Donna Hay became that most Australian of things, a tall poppy.

This has been quite a year for Donna Hay. The Australian food writer turned 30, published two books, relinquished her role as food editor of Australian Marie Claire (the magazine which launched her career) and paid off her apartment. This year, too, London specialist bookseller Books for Cooks included Hay's The New Cook in its round-up of the century's most influential cookbooks, placing her alongside Elizabeth David, Julia Child and Jane Grigson. And by dint of selling more than half a million books worldwide, Donna Hay became that most Australian of things, a tall poppy.

Tall poppy syndrome - with occasional very public deadheadings - is often the price of success in Australia. Hay is waiting for the knocks. Her massively influential cookbooks - The New Cook, New Entertaining, Food Fast, the new Flavours and Cool Kids Cook, her first children's cookbook - are bestsellers in 12 countries. Publishers flutter round Hay like moths, and Sydney is always abuzz with rumours about what she'll do next. But if it's any consolation to her, deadheading seems unlikely. The world, it seems, can't get enough of her fast-assembly, modish, but undeniably delicious recipes.

Hay's are those affordable, big, sexy paperbacks, oozing irresistible things like ginger-grilled beef with sweet potato salad and spaghetti with lime and rocket. The photography, by fellow Sydneysider Petrina Tinslay, is equally seductive. Although it doesn't scream Australia (mindful of her international audience, there are few indigenous ingredients) her recipes are definitive modern Australian food.

The Sydney-born writer is matter of fact. "Ten years ago, food in Australia was so bad. So much has improved so quickly. Modern Australian food is about stretching traditional boundaries and not being afraid to experiment with flavours and cuisines." She searches for an example. "Coriander-seared tuna on chilli linguini. It's not fusion overkill, it's just things that genuinely mix well."

She attributes her own success to "being in the right place at the right time - and lots of damned hard work". That Hay works hard is not in dispute. In the five years since joining Australian Marie Claire as food editor, she has worked almost daily, producing five cookbooks in rapid succession, endless features for both Australian and overseas magazines, not to mention cooking demonstrations, frequent pan-Australian roadshows, and consultancy to commercial clients. Ask her how she relaxes and she answers, without irony, "I cook." She admits that she's driven. "I'm a perfectionist. I always feel like I could have done better. Sometimes I think I have too many ideas."

Hay cites fellow Australian food legend Stephanie Alexander as an influence on her career. "Stephanie's book [The Cook's Companion] is the one I'd take to a desert island." She also remembers being inspired by Nigel Slater's original Marie Claire Cookbook, itself a groundbreaking book. "I was so excited by the boldness of the photographs," she says. Hay denies that she'd like to be Australia's Martha Stewart ("she creates an unrealistic image of life that leaves you feeling totally inadequate") but is vague about her future plans. "Another children's book maybe. I've also been thinking about revolutionising food packaging." Just simple everyday stuff. "Sometimes I wonder what I'll be doing in 10 years' time. Packing - no make that styling - the kids' lunchboxes for school." Those kids would be the tallest poppies in their class.

Donna Hay's 'Flavours' is published by Merehurst, priced 14.99.

Note: In the following recipes, a "cup" is a measure of volume equivalent to 8fl oz.

Salmon with crisp chilli salad

Serves 4

4 x 200g pieces salmon fillet

2tbsp lime juice

 

For the crisp chilli salad

2-3tbsp peanut oil

4 large green chillies, seeded and shredded

4 large red chillies, seeded and shredded

3tbsp shredded ginger

Half cup fresh Thai basil

Half cup fresh mint

Half /2cup fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves

2 kaffir lime leaves, shredded

To make the crisp chilli salad, heat the oil in a large frying pan over a high heat. Add the green and red chillies and the ginger, and cook for 5-7 minutes or until the ingredients are crisp. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper. Set aside. To cook the salmon fillets, use the same frying pan and oil that the chillies and ginger were cooked in. Reduce the heat to medium, add the salmon to the pan, and cook for two minutes on each side or until cooked to your liking.

To serve, toss the chillies and ginger with the basil, mint, coriander and shredded lime leaves. Place the salmon on plates, top with the chilli salad and drizzle over the lime juice.

Spaghetti with lime and rocket

Serves 4

450g spaghetti

2tbsp fruity extra-virgin olive oil

1tbsp shredded lime rind

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 red chilli, seeded and chopped

2tbsp salted capers, rinsed

8 slices prosciutto, chopped

150g rocket (arugula), shredded

3tbsp lime juice

150g soft marinated feta in oil

Cook the spaghetti in a large saucepan of rapidly boiling water until al dente. Drain. While the spaghetti is cooking, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the lime rind, garlic, chilli and capers, and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the prosciutto and cook, stirring for 2 minutes or until the prosciutto is crisp. Add the spaghetti to the pan, toss to coat, and heat through. To serve, toss the rocket and lime juice through the pasta and pile into serving bowls. Top with the marinated feta, a little of its oil, and cracked black pepper. Note: if prosciutto is not available, substitute with bacon rashers. Remove the rinds before chopping.

Ginger-grilled beef with sweet potato salad

Serves 4

8 thin beef steaks, 80g each

2tbsp finely grated ginger

2tbsp olive oil

cracked black pepper

200g baby spinach leaves

sweet potato salad

750g orange sweet potatoes (kumera), peeled

2tbsp olive oil

sea salt and extra cracked black pepper

1/3cup sweet chilli sauce

2tsp grated ginger, extra

2tbsp lemon juice

1tbsp olive oil, extra

Trim the steaks and place in a shallow dish. Combine the ginger, oil and pepper, and pour over the steaks. Allow to marinate for 30 minutes, turning once.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. To make the sweet potato salad, cut the sweet potatoes into large pieces and place in a baking dish. Add the oil, salt and pepper to the dish and toss to coat. Bake for 30 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are golden and soft. Cook the marinated steaks on a hot, preheated grill or barbecue for 1-2 minutes each side or until cooked to your liking.

To serve, place the spinach leaves on serving plates and top them with the roasted sweet potato and the steak slices. Combine the sweet chilli sauce, extra ginger, lemon juice and extra oil, and pour over the salad.

Garlic roast pork with mash

Serves 4

6-rib rack of pork loin

2 unpeeled heads garlic

4 extra cloves garlic

olive oil and sea salt, for rubbing

 

For the garlic mash

5 whole, unpeeled potatoes

60g butter

half cup milk or cream

sea salt

Preheat oven to 230°C/450°F/gas mark 8. Make slits between the pork flesh and the bones, and place the rack of meat, skin-side up, in a baking dish with the heads of garlic. Cut the extra cloves of garlic into pieces and place them into the slits in the pork. Rub oil and sea salt into the pork skin and place in the oven. Bake for 25 minutes or until the skin is crisp and golden. Remove garlic heads, reserving them for the mash, and reduce oven to 180°C/ 350°F/gas mark 4. Cook the pork for 25-35 minutes longer, or until cooked to your liking.

To make the garlic mash, place the potatoes in a saucepan of boiling water. Cook for 12 minutes or until soft. Drain and slip the skins from the potatoes. Place potatoes back into saucepan and return to the warm stove-top. Squeeze the garlic from skins and mash together with the potatoes, adding butter and milk or cream to form a smooth mash. Add salt and cover to keep warm. To serve, slice the pork into thick pieces. Place garlic mash on to plates and top with the pork. Serve with buttered, steamed greens and fried apple slices.

Simple chocolate pound cake with chocolate glaze

Serves 8

250g unsalted butter, softened

1cup caster (superfine) sugar

6 large eggs

Half cups plain flour

Half teaspoon baking powder

Half cup cocoa powder

For the chocolate glaze

185g dark chocolate, chopped

Half cup cream

Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 350°F/gas mark 4. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until light and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well. Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa over the mixture and stir to combine. Pour into a 20cm square cake tin that has been lined with non-stick baking paper. Bake for 40 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Cool on a wire rack.

For the glaze, place chocolate and cream in a saucepan and stir until melted and smooth. Set aside to cool. To finish, place the cake in the refrigerator and chill for 30 minutes. Pour the cooled glaze over the cake and then refrigerate to set.

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