Settling into comfort food

I’m taking a classic French summer dish and turning it into a classic winter dish – all by stealing from my best friend.

clafouti cooked

Rhubarb clafouti is the new darling dessert of The Zin House, it came about because Lesley Russell, the Orange Regional Cook, was telling me about the photo shoot for her forthcoming cookbook and mentioned the recipe. ‘What a great idea!’, said I before promptly putting it on the weekend’s menu.

Now some cooks might think it a bit cheeky to steal your mate’s recipe before she’s even published the book. But I know that won’t be the case with Lesley because she has this quote hanging in her kitchen.

No mean woman can cook well for it calls for a light head, a generous spirit and a large heart.’ Paul Gauguin

We have talked often over the years about how you don’t ‘own’ a recipe, but rather are obliged to share good food, and therefore recipes, as widely as possible. Why would you want someone to cook less well!

The courtesy is to acknowledge the last custodian of an idea, which is why you will find Lesley’s name pop up often when I’m writing about food.

You should also rush out and buy her book when it’s published because unlike me, Lesley measures and that means her recipes will always work!

clafouti batter

Rhubarb is gorgeous at this time of year, the colour is vibrant and it seems to respond well to the cold. I’ve planted it and failed many times so don’t give up, when you find the right spot it will flourish with equal quantities of compost and neglect.


Clafouti is traditionally made with cherries by pouring an eggy batter over fruit. This version is a much better contrast of tart and sweet.

clafouti and cream

Rhubarb Clafouti

  1. 6 eggs
  2. 600 ml cream
  3. 2 extra egg white (optional) 
  4. 1 cup sugar
  5. 1/2 cup self-raising flour
  6. 1/2 cup ground  hazelnuts
  7. Dash of vanilla extract or scraping of a bean
  8. Several stalks of rhubarb, finely chopped
  9. For the pan, butter and  extra sugar 


Whisk all the ingredients 1 -7  together. yep, that’s it!

Now line  your oven proof baking dish really generously with butter, so that there are bits of butter visible. Cover the butter with a good sprinkle of sugar and shake it to coat the butter. This step will create a nice caramel effect in the oven, allowing you to flip the clafouti like an upside down cake. That’s why small teflon pans like the ones I’ve used in the photo are good.

For every person use about 1 kitchen spoon of rhubarb and two of batter. (A kitchen spoon is two tablespoons, or four dessertspoons or 8 teaspoons if you want to do it the hard way.)

Scatter the rhubarb over the base of the dish and cover with the batter. This works best with smaller amounts rather than trying to put it all in a small dish – wide and flat is good.

Because we have so many guests with gluten intolerance I always use a gluten free flour and I think it actually improves this dish.

Hazelnuts (Lesley’s suggestion) are regional for us, use any nuts that are fresh or leave them out.

The extra egg whites are used in my kitchen because we always have surplus from the ice-cream. They give an extra lightness and height to the dish but are not necessary.

This amount will feed at least 10 people but before you half the recipe remember you can keep the batter in the fridge for days and have it on demand. And then you could try it with some other sort of fruit, maybe from your neighbours backyard…


Show us your nettle

After years of reading about nettle dishes I finally decided I wasn’t much of a forager if I didn’t give it a go.

If a chook won’t eat something you’d think that a fair indicator of inedibility. But according to fans of stinging nettles (and Google) my chooks are missing out on excellent doses of vitamins by turning their beaks up at the infestations on their doorstep.

Mistake number one was to think food handling gloves would be sufficient, as I got more enthusiastic in my harvesting and applied more pressure the stings made their way through and also whacked my arms. As a child we were told dock was an antidote to nettle stings but by this stage I just wanted to get back to the kitchen and get this over with.

nettle blanching

I picked the tender tips from the plants and steeped them briefly in boiling water, this is the bit that takes the sting out of them and turns the leaves a vibrant green. The nettles are now ready to be treated in any way you might use spinach.

As an experimenter rather than a convert I decided to make a pesto to top a roast winter vegetable soup, I reckon anything full of olive oil, garlic and parmesan is going to taste delicious regardless of a small weed invasion.

Verdict: herby, green, spinachy, chewy, pleasant enough. A perfect foil to the sweetness of vegetables caramelised by the roasting.

nettle menu

In a world with a million recipes for soup I think it more important to remember the principles rather than any detail. In this instance season and roast with olive oil whatever vegetables you have (I used pumpkin, potato, cauliflower, carrot, sweet potato and loads of garlic and onion). Then put them in a heavy bottomed pot with fresh herbs (I’m likely to have used rosemary, thyme and bay) and cover with good stock. Cook slowly for 20 minutes or so and then mash or puree it all. Adjust the seasoning. Add some cream before serving if you wish. Top with nettle pesto or stir it through.

Stinging Nettle Pesto

1 cup blanched nettles
1 cup rocket &/or parsley
1 cup roasted hazelnuts
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
a few cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon salt flakes
a few turns of a pepper grinder
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil

Combine all of the ingredients, bar the oil, in a food processor and pulse until crumbly. Add the oil in a stream until well combined. Store with a layer of oil on top and add wherever you need a dose of vesty green flavour.

Rosemary’s body

It is often said that  if you name an animal you can’t eat it. That was certainly the case with a pody lamb Bronte called Rosemary. It was years ago, but Rosemary’s memory lingers on in a beer fridge that has never entirely lost the stench of rotting guts.

Rosemary turned up her pretty purple painted toe nails (picture lamb on a matching leash at the picnic races) for not much reason except possibly the embarrassment of it all, and I was left with a poor dead little hairy thing and a distraught eight year old.

It was a drought year and the ground was rock hard, her Dad was due home three days later and it seemed reasonable to me to simply wrap the body in a pink baby blanket and put her in the (beer) fridge for a delayed burial with all the family graveside in a few days time.

What I overlooked was the effect of a decomposing animals internals on the carcass, as a chef  I was used to receiving my carcasses sans guts and assumed a refrigerated animal would hold.

Bronte’s father told me recently he is still unable to drink beer and eat lamb at the same time.

Now if you can put  that unappetising introduction out of your way you might like to try the lamb we cooked on the weekend.

Balsamic glaze

Lamb shoulder, plated

spinach pomegranate

Lamb shoulder slow roasted with Mudgee balsamic

1 bone in lamb shoulder including neck, deeply slashed ( see photo)

Roughly chopped veges – carrot, celery, onion

Fresh herbs – say bay, rosemary, thyme, parsley stalks

One or two whole bulbs of garlic

2 lemons or limes, quartered

Some combination of wine, stock and water to come up the sides about one inch 

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (I use Dave Cox’s Mudgee balsamic which is soft and caramely)

Salt, coarse ground black pepper, olive oil

Place all the veges, herbs and lemons in a large lidded baking dish and then place the lamb on top.

Add the combination of liquid you’re using – it doesn’t really matter which but half each stock and white wine is ideal.

Top with the lamb (note in the photo I’ve tucked the shoulder leg bone underneath to keep it moist) Drizzle the balsamic over the lamb, season generously and finish with a little olive oil.

Pop the lid on and cook at 120 degrees for  six hours or at 150 for about 4 hours – or something in between is ok too. Really you just pop it on and forget it until it falls off the bone. Try to serve it pulled apart rather than carved.

I served this with parsnip mash and a salad of spinach and pomegranate. The mash is made by sauteeing the parsnips in butter and then covering with cream and cooking slowly until really soft. Puree and season.