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February is a lazy month in Melbourne. It is a combination of the heat of the summer sun and children going back to school. It is also a fragrant heady month when sweet tomatoes are coming into their own and there is an abundance of ripe blood plums, ruby grapes, crisp green beans and new baby potatoes. To celebrate this burst of colour and heat, and as part of my mission to cook from all my cookbooks in 2018, I retrieved the three cookbooks written by Belinda Jeffrey that I own off my shelves. I first discovered Belinda in 2014 when I was at the Agrarian Kitchen for a two-day charcuterie workshop. Rodney the owner has a whole wall of cookbooks (a LOT more than what I have) and served almond and coconut cake for morning tea, a recipe from one of Belinda’s books. He spoke fondly of Belinda (who runs cooking classes and workshops in various places including in Tasmania at the Agrarian Kitchen) who indeed is a lovely soul (for those of you who follow her on Instagram, you will know how thoughtful and sweet she is in her words and photos).

I spent quite a bit of time looking at her book “Country Cooking” when I first received it, reading the journal entries and recipes for the months of November (the month when I received it). Then it went back on the shelf next to her other books “The Salad Book”, and “Utterly delicious simple food” and my dozens of other cookbooks. All three books were often in the kitchen as my husband adores Belinda’s books. She is one of the few cookbook authors he goes back to again and again when he is cooking. I would see a book open on the kitchen bench while he was preparing a meal, and see one of Belinda’s fresh and colourful recipes that are (as Belinda herself says), utterly delicious. I am so glad I pulled all three of the books off the shelf this month and browsed through them. I chose a couple of side dishes for the meal I was preparing: green beans with lemon and anchovies, and crunchy crushed potatoes. All that was missing to make it a meal was a protein, and that is where Frank comes into it.

I remember when Movida first opened in Hosier Lane, a little-known laneway off Flinders Street in the Melbourne CBD. It was 2004 and a good friend from Sydney had moved to Melbourne. She was very much a foodie and took me there for her birthday. This was in the days before I was really into food – a career-woman in the public health care sector with little time for fancy restaurants or even for home cooking. It was all about getting food on the table quickly, so that I could get on with work. But Frank Camorra’s restaurant Movida struck a real chord with me – I still think about that meal back in 2004 (and this was before the advent of good camera phones so I do not have the photos to prompt my memory): Ortiz anchovies were served in their own cute tin, the fried croquetas and a paella quite unlike others that I had eaten, an inky black one with squid and a proper crispy rice base. In 2006 I went through a slight obsession with Spain (it was the days before I started travelling regularly to Italy) and travelled there to a work conference with my friend Nicole. I am afraid we spent a lot more time shopping, eating in tapas bars and dancing on the narrow streets of the Mado district of Madrid than we did at the conference.

I have two of Frank’s books: Movida and Movida Rustica. They were written in the days before there were many restaurants/chefs with cookbooks; they have gorgeous old-fashioned typeface and photos that give the real feel of being in the back streets and old quarters of Spanish towns. The dish I chose to cook was chicken skewers (adobo de pollo): pieces of chicken thighs marinated overnight in a smoky and spicy sauce, with saffron, paprika and oregano and threaded on skewers just before grilling (or barbecuing). The chicken skewers went so well with the potatoes and beans from Belinda’s books. It was such a lovely meal that summer night, as we sat on the terrace, with a bottle of chilled rosè, in that magical hour when you can hear the crickets singing celebrating the fact that the hottest part of the day as well as the working week were over.

Before I get to the recipes, a quick update on what is going on with me:
– TOUR IN ITALY – I am running a tour of my beloved Trieste and the surrounding area from 25-30 September 2018. Click HERE for more information (and I cannot WAIT for this one; I know you will love the area as much as I do)
– WORKSHOP IN COUNTRY VICTORIA – there are still a few spots left for the Photography and Writing workshop that I am running on 11 March 2018 at the Estate Trentham with Paula Hagiefremidis (the Mediterranean Wanderer). Further information is on Paula’s beautiful website – click HERE for more information. We would LOVE for this one to sell out. There are only ten places for a full day of designing photoshoots, learning how to take beautiful photos that tell a story for your website/instagram feed and write the words to go with it. AND share a rustic Mediterranean inspired seasonal feast.
– COOKING CLASSES in Melbourne – my calendar for 2018 is up and includes classes up to November. They are selling fast so have a look HERE if you would like to see what is on offer for 2018. I have uploaded new photos on that page that were taken last month by the lovely talented kate Shanasy.
– my workshop in Sicily that was scheduled to run in May 2018 has been postponed (for the moment). Subscribe to my blog or follow me on Instagram for updates on when I will next be in Sicily.

Adobo de pollo - chicken skewers with paprika and oregano

serves 4 for a main meal
750g skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2cm cubes
1 heaped tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
1 large garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1 tablespoon parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 tsp dired oregano
1/2 tsp saffron threads
1 tsp sea salt
110ml EVOO

Place all the ingredients in a ceramic bowl (mix the other ingredients well to form a paste before adding the chicken) and mix until combined. Cover in cling film and place in the fridge for at least 2 hours (overnight is fine).

Soak bamboo skewers in water for ten minutes (or use metal skewers) and thread the meat onto the skewers. Turn your charcoal grill to high and cook for about 4 minutes, turning regularly until the chicken is cooked through.

(Adapted from Movida Rustica by Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish)

Roasted green beans with garlic, anchovies and lemon

400g green beans
3 tablespoons EVOO
1 garlic clove, peeled and thickly sliced into 3-4 pieces
3 anchovies
1/2 lemon, juice only

Preheat the oven to 220C. Prepare the beans by trimming the stem end, washing, drying and then pacing on a lined baking tray. Toss in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and bake for 10-12 minutes until the beans are cooked through and starting to brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Place the other tablespoon of olive oil, the anchovies and garlic in a medium-sized frypan (that will fit all the beans) on medium heat. Smash the anchovies with a spoon so that they fall part. Allow to cook for a few minutes until the garlic is fragrant. Remove the pan from the heat and remove the garlic. Drop in the cooked green beans and toss them until they are well coated. Drizzle on the lemon juice and then place the lot in a plate to serve.

(Adapted from The Country Cookbook by Belinda Jeffrey)

Crunchy crushed potatoes

750g cocktail (new) potatoes
50ml EVOO
sea salt to taste
sweet paprika (optional)

Place the potatoes in a pot of cold water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and cook them until they are just cooked through (15-20 minutes, depending not he size of the potatoes).

While they are cooking, heat the oven to 230C. Line a tray (that will comfortably fit all the potatoes in a single layer) with baking paper.

Drain the potatoes then return them to the pot (that you have put back on the stove) to dry them out for a minute of two if necessary. Place them in the lined tray and toss them in the olive oil, mixing it though the potatoes with your hands so they are well coated. Now push on each of the potatoes with a kitchen mallet (Belinda suggests a potato masher but I do not have one so I used a meat mallet) so they are lightly crushed and somewhat flattened. Scatter on sea salt to taste and cook for 25-3 minutes until cooked through. They should be crunchy and golden. You can scatter on a bit of sweet paprika if you like to serve.

(Adapted from Utterly delicious simple food by Belinda Jeffrey)

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