Sheet Pan Gnocchi Puttanesca


Look, I’m the first to yell about how SEO has ruined food blogging and I know we probably don’t say “sheet pan” in New Zealand, but sometimes you have to dance with the enemy in order to steal their jewels, and so this recipe is called Sheet Pan Gnocchi Puttanesca in the hopes that capitulating to Big Algorithm delivers me some sweet, sweet optimisation. That modern ugliness aside, what this recipe will undoubtedly deliver you is a delicious, hands-off dinner in little more than half an hour.


We all know what “puttanesca” means (or at least, we know what it translates to, quite what it’s driving at seems to be mildly contentious) and as a pasta sauce it’s usually found wound around long strands of spaghetti and made in a frying pan; here I’ve leaned into the slatternish element of its name by taking almost all effort out of the equation. Just throw some ingredients in a baking tray and shunt it in the oven and that’s it. I give the gnocchi a slight head start on its own — normally when I’m frying gnocchi I add a splash of water or cover the pan (or both) so it steams and crisps up at the same time, and I’ve transferred that method to this recipe. The gnocchi starts off in a shallow bath of stock and olive oil, emerging tender but with a little roasty bite to its surface.


The puttanesca sauce is a riot of salty, well-preserved intensity — meaty shreds of green olive, tiny morsel-ish capers, fiery chilli flakes. I added some roughly chopped pecans in the hopes their smokiness would play well with the other ingredients (it did) and you don’t need me to tell you that if there’s a tin of anchovies in your possession, they absolutely belong here. The joy of this sauce is that, aside from the parsley, it’s made up of ingredients that have a long shelf life, and so once you’re stocked up you can have it cooking away with very little notice at any time of day or night. The supple gnocchi provide the pillows against which this sauce reclines, and the contrast between squishy, dumpling-y pasta and spicy, high-kicking sauce makes a creditable case for their pairing.


Although this recipe is at its most pantry-standby-ish and low-effort with a package of bought gnocchi, if you feel like making this more effortful (but — to be fair — only just) there’s always my recipe for Instant Homemade Gnocchi; I’ve never tried roasting it but I’m sure it wouldn’t fail. There’s also nothing stopping you from panfrying the gnocchi dough and then adding the sauce ingredients from this recipe to the pan afterwards. And if you’re looking for other recipes that you can just throw into the oven you could try my Green Garlic Oyster Mushrooms, my Oven-baked Pearl Couscous with Pumpkin, Sundried Tomatoes, and Feta, or my Forty Cloves of Garlic with Potatoes and Artichoke Hearts.


Sheet Pan Gnocchi Puttanesca

This couldn’t be easier — just tip your ingredients onto a baking tray, shove it in the oven for a while, and there’s your dinner (admittedly the gnocchi is baked on its own for a bit first, but I think we can still call this easy). The sauce is punched up with olives, capers, and chilli — play around with quantities to suit your tastes. Recipe by myself.

  • 500g package gnocchi
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for serving
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) chicken stock
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/3 cup pitted green olives
  • 1/4 cup pecans or walnuts
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes (I used gochugaru)
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/2 cup curly parsley, or as much as you want

1: Set your oven to 200C/400F. Tumble your gnocchi onto a sheet pan (aka a wide, shallow baking tray) separating them out into one layer. Drizzle over the tablespoon of olive oil and pour over the half cup of chicken stock, and then bake the gnocchi for ten minutes. This step helps to cook through the gnocchi, effectively both steaming and frying them, so they’ll be tender with a little bite when you add the sauce ingredients.

2: Remove the sheet pan from the oven and tip in the tin of chopped tomatoes, the two tablespoons of tomato paste, and the tablespoon of capers. Roughly chop the two garlic cloves, the 1/3 cup of pitted olives, and the 1/4 cup of pecans — though you want the nuts and garlic chopped more finely than the olives — and tip all that into the gnocchi as well, along with the half teaspoon of chilli flakes. Fill the now-empty tomato tin with water, swish it around, and pour it into the sheet pan. Stir briefly to disperse the ingredients, then return the gnocchi to the oven for another 15 – 20 minutes, by which point the sauce should be bubbling and reduced down a little. If it’s looking too dry, add another splash of water.

3: Taste to see if it needs extra salt or a pinch more chilli. Drizzle over a little more olive oil — about a teaspoon or so — then roughly chop the 1/2 cup of parsley and scatter it over the gnocchi.

Serves 2-3, or 4 with other side dishes.


  • I used a full stock cube with 125ml water to make up the chicken stock required, figuring that the added tomatoes and water would dilute the saltiness. I was correct, so feel free to do the same.
  • Anchovies are an expected ingredient here so if you’ve got ’em, throw ’em in.


music lately:

Secondo Coro Delle Lavandaie by Roberto De Simone, this song goes SO hard. However hard you’re thinking, no, it’s even more than that.

Forever Close My Eyes by Dälek, this is the kind of pulse-rushingly, lung-fillingly lush song you can catch a ride on all the way up to the stars.

Invalid Litter Dept. by At The Drive In, the sort of music you should first hear age fifteen, or at least it worked for me then but! — still does, with its billowing emotion and bruising oratory and scattershot guitars; I also in all sincerity recommend their performance of One-Armed Scissor on Jools Holland, it is fantastically shambolic and chaotic and both the worst and best imaginable introductions to that song.

Side By Side by Adrian Lester and the 1996 Donmar Warehouse company of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company; this might just be my favourite rendition of my favourite Sondheim musical. Lester is magnificent as Bobby — charismatically isolated, passive and reactive, and look, what’s a more fitting addition to the scene, for a musical from 1970, to have this already-manic number a little more artificially-fuelled than usual?

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours every month. There’s no better time than right now — your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Four-Bean Soup with Kewpie Aioli


It’s the verboten, not-as-intended foods that I’ve always been drawn to — cake batter, cookie dough, pilfered leftovers straight from the fridge, cold canned spaghetti, uncooked 2-minute noodles. To this list, we can add today’s Four-Bean Soup with Kewpie Aioli in its ice-cold, waiting-for-tonight state. Despite the unappetising prospects of congealed barley, I could not stop swiping spoonfuls of it. Luckily for those of you who do not share my deranged tastes, it’s also excellent in the more expected temperature of piping hot — but it does benefit significantly from cooling down before being reheated. In that time the barley hungrily absorbs the murky broth while the beans mind their own business, and the flavour develops from 480p to 1080p in that mysterious way food can do.

When I was a kid every winter would see the stove bearing a bubbling pot of what we called Dog Bone Soup, where some cheap animal limb and a packet of King’s soup mix danced over a low heat, and I marvelled at how much better the soup tasted the next day despite nothing having been added to it — somehow all by themselves the cartilaginous meat, the lentils fuzzed almost into nothing, and the swollen barley all gained so much flavour just by sitting around. You wouldn’t think to look at pearl barley — a greyish-brown grain — that it could have so much power, and yet! Something in its tenderness and rice-fragrant plainness is very comforting and crucial to the success of this dish. I’ve taken the shortcut route with a can of mixed beans, and while there’s nothing stopping you from soaking and simmering each individual variety of dried bean here, the barley does the heavy lifting for making this soup taste like it was cooked for hours with loving, studied intention.

If you don’t have time to let it cool, this soup is still delicious — creamy bumps of beans amidst the barley like the colourwork in a Fair Isle cardigan, the familiar soffrito background of onion, carrot, and celery, and fat cloves of garlic simmered into submission in the soup before being smashed into Kewpie mayo and dolloped continentally into the soup. Although there is a culinary precedent for souping up your soup with aioli, if the idea doesn’t sit right with you it can always be spread over bread for dipping. The sweet lushness of Kewpie and the mellowly simmered garlic, however, add an extra spike of flavour and silky richness as it seeps into the broth. This is simple, soothing food, but not without panache.

I never thought of myself as a soup person but have blogged about it frequently this year — there’s probably some psychological or sociopolitical reason swirling around this decision-making, in the manner of Meryl Streep’s Cerulean Monologue. Whatever it is, soup is good, and should you be of this same mindset there’s also my Tomato and Bread Soup with Fried Carrot Pesto, the Chilled Cannellini Bean Soup with Basil Spinach Oil, and this Roasted Garlic Lentil Soup to consider.

Four-Bean Soup with Kewpie Aioli

A low-stress soup studded with barley and beans, ideal for cold rainy days — it’s all the better if you can let it sit for a while before reheating but if you need it now, it’ll still taste great. Simmering the garlic cloves in the soup before mashing them means their flavour will be softened and any harsh bite removed, without having to roast them. Recipe by myself.

  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried celery
  • 1/2 cup pearl barley
  • 1L (4 cups) water, plus more for topping up
  • 2 chicken stock cubes
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peel on
  • 1 x 400g tin four-bean mix
  • 1/4 cup Kewpie mayonnaise
  • leaves from 2-3 sprigs of thyme
  • salt, to taste

1: Very finely chop the onion and carrot, or — as I did — chop them into a few large pieces then throw them in a blender or food processor and blitz them into mush. An extra dish to wash is a happy trade-off here in my opinion. Warm the two tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan and then tip in the onion and carrot, along with the teaspoon of dried celery. Stir for about a minute over a medium heat.

2: Add the half cup of pearl barley to the pan, then add 750ml (three cups) of the water. Crumble in the two stock cubes, then drop in the five cloves of garlic, still with their peels on. Bring this mixture to the boil, stirring occasionally, then lower it to a simmer and let it bubble away gently until the pearl barley is tender, stirring now and then. This should take between twenty minutes to half an hour.

3: Once the barley is tender, fish out the garlic cloves and set them aside for a minute. Drain the liquid from the tin of beans, and tip them into the saucepan along with the remaining 250ml/cup of water. Let it simmer for another five or so minutes until the beans are warmed through, and taste for seasoning — I added a hearty shake of salt here, and then more after reheating and topping up with water. Meanwhile, squeeze the cloves of garlic from their casings into a small bowl and mash with a fork, then mix in the 1/4 cup of kewpie mayo. You can add a tablespoon of olive oil to thin it down a little if you like.

The soup is at its best when it’s had time to cool down and sit for a few hours, before being heated up again (at which point you will likely need to add another 250ml water). Divide the soup between your bowls with a dollop of the Kewpie aioli and a scattering of the thyme leaves on top.

Serves two with seconds, or three without.


  • You can replace the teaspoon of dried celery with a whole stick of celery (throw it in the blender or food processor with the onion and carrot) or, failing that, a dash of celery salt, bearing in mind the effect on the seasoning
  • If I’d found a five-bean mix then that’s what this soup would’ve been so go right ahead if that’s what is on your shelf
  • If you have an extra mouth to feed, just throw in a second can of beans instead of doubling the entire soup, but you may need more aioli
  • I love the specific Kewpie flavour, but you could replace it with regular mayo or aioli, or use sour cream instead, or very thick yoghurt would work too

music lately:

No. 1 Fan by Majesty Crush, the kind of swirlingly immersive song that consumes you right back.

El President by Drugstore featuring Thom Yorke, speaking of haunting songs with the lyric “kill the president”, those prowling strings are so sinister they could be accompanying a pneumatically powered prop shark named Bruce as he moves into frame.

Oh, Lady Be Good by Cleo Laine. I recently watched the film Lady Be Good (such is my love for Eleanor Powell that I will follow her into the flimsiest of storylines) and the titular Gershwin tune has been stuck in my head ever since; in Ms Laine’s spectacularly buttery contralto it sounds even better.

Eple by Röyksopp, the actual captured sound of shivers going up your spine.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours every month. There’s no better time than right now — your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Oven-baked Pearl Couscous with Pumpkin, Sundried Tomatoes, and Feta


For someone whose music and movie consumption is almost entirely dominated by the increasingly distant past (as a quick scan through the “music lately” section of these blog posts and my Letterboxd diary will corroborate) I am not particularly nostalgic nor am I interested in dwelling on the past. As Logan Roy succinctly stated: it’s just there’s so much of it. However, nothing makes me quite so heart-wrenchingly, Dorothy-watching-the-Wizard-fly-off-in-a-balloon desolate for days gone by as being unable to truly, accurately re-experience the key food product moments of my childhood. Squiggles biscuits aren’t the same, cheap chocolate tastes cheaper but costs more, the sweet, pillowy, sesame-studded special occasion treat that was Country Split bread disappeared into the ether, and Kango biscuits, Boomys and Fruju Tropical Snow were cruelly discontinued. The jury is still out on mock cream buns and Vienettas but while the odds aren’t positive, I’ll keep an open mind. And, perhaps most egregious of all, Wattie’s did something capricious and unforgivable to their canned spaghetti — a staple childhood food group for me, frequently cold, straight from the tin — and now their pasta has no structural integrity and their sauce tastes dim and milquetoast.

So, upon realising I’d accidentally reverse-engineered the flavour of the canned spaghetti of my childhood memories in this Oven-baked Pearl Couscous with Pumpkin, Sundried Tomatoes, and Feta I entered a kind of haunted culinary trance, and once the dust settled and clarity resumed, I realised my dad may have been not entirely in the grips of a conspiracy theory when he’d always insist they padded out their spaghetti sauce with pumpkin in the factory.


If you’re reading this from outside of New Zealand or if you were not someone whose young blood ran orange with canned spaghetti, let me offer some more relevant descriptive context for this dish. Being a food blogger (of terminally Charlotte Lucas means and prospects) in the midst of this avaricious and unceasing cost of living crisis feels rather like being the dog in that meme where the room is on fire and they say “this is fine“. There’s no method of economically cooking your way out of this because everything that used to cost one dollar now costs ten dollars and everything that used to cost ten dollars is now forty dollars and I’m not going to pretend that my recipes are budget-friendly or a way to make something out of nothing. Budgeting is irrelevant when broccoli costs $7 on a good day, to try and budget in this cost of living crisis is like trying to play chess with a football or planting pencil shavings in the ground and hoping a tree will grow from them. That being said! This recipe came about because I was weary of the overpriced, wilted, and often mouldy fresh produce in the chain supermarkets and wanted a recipe that relied on shelf-stable, long-lasting ingredients. The couscous, condensed pumpkin soup, and sundried tomatoes will last indefinitely, unopened packaged cheese generally keeps for ages in the fridge, and the lemon juice comes from a bottle. The herbs are fresh, but the dish won’t suffer much without them (and rosemary lasts hardily and staunchly in the fridge — the stuff in the photos is about three weeks old.)

Sure, this evokes the poignant memory of back-in-the-day spaghetti that has tormented me like a tomato sauce stain on a plastic storage container, but it’s elegant with it — the Rothko-esque red and white of the sundried tomatoes and feta and their bolstering salty richness, the softly bulging beads of couscous bathed in the sweet mellow pumpkin, the coppice-y fragrance of rosemary. The toppings galvanise the dish. But the couscous below, the titular pearls of pasta in miniature, is confidently compelling and gives comfort food without compromising on aesthetics or structure. As well as this, you get a foolproof way of cooking pearl couscous without having to pay much attention to anything other than your clock timer — you can dial this method back to just the pearl couscous and stock in the oven and then use it as a base or stir in anything else you like. Having primarily made pearl couscous on the stove top, I honestly think the oven is the superior way as far as taste, texture, and hands-off ease goes.

And if you’re after ways of using up the rest of that jar of sundried tomatoes, you might consider my Vegan Spaghetti Bolognese or Creamy Gochujang Tomato Pasta. I had it in my head that I had way more recipes featuring sundried tomatoes, clearly I have some making up to do.

Oven-baked Pearl Couscous with Pumpkin, Sundried Tomatoes, and Feta

Near-effortless elegant comfort food made using long-life pantry items and only a couple of dishes. You can use this oven-baked cooking method to cook the couscous on its own and springboard off to other creations. Recipe by myself.

  • 3/4 cup pearl couscous
  • 1 and 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 chicken stock cube, or flavour of your choice
  • 1 x 400g tin condensed pumpkin soup
  • 1/3 cup sundried tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 100g feta (vegan feta recipe here)
  • The leaves from two stems of rosemary

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F. Place the 3/4 cup pearl couscous and 1 and 1/2 cups boiling water in a roasting dish (the one I used has a capacity of 1 litre/4 cups, anything smaller and it won’t fit). Crumble in the stock cube, give the couscous a stir, then cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, by which point the couscous grains should be tender and swollen with all the water absorbed.

2: Gently stir the tin of condensed pumpkin soup into the couscous and return the roasting dish, uncovered, to the oven for another five minutes. While this is happening, blitz the 1/3 cup sundried tomatoes, the two tablespoons of tomato paste, two teaspoons lemon juice, half teaspoon of smoked paprika, and three tablespoons of olive oil in a blender to form a richly-red puree. Depending on the size and speed of your blender this may be super smooth or significantly textured (like mine was), either is fine so no need to stress about it.

3: To serve, drop spoonfuls of the sundried tomato puree onto the couscous and crumble over the 100g feta, and finally scatter over the rosemary leaves from the two stems.

Serves two heartily as a main, or three to four people as a side dish on a well-laden table.


  • You can replace the condensed pumpkin soup with about 1 and 1/2 cups leftover pumpkin puree or mash, bearing in mind that you might need additional seasoning.
  • The condensed nature of the soup is important, texturally, so if you can only find the non-condensed variety that’s more liquidy, you may need to bake it for another ten or so minutes.
  • If you don’t have rosemary, I’d sub basil or fresh thyme leaves instead — both have a similar resiny, fragrant quality. And if you don’t have any fresh herbs then it’ll still taste fine without them, or you could use a slight dusting of dried herbs.
  • You can easily boost this up to 1 cup couscous/2 cups boiling water without changing any of the other quantities (except you’ll need a slightly bigger roasting dish to cook it in, of course.)
  • For the record, my 1/3 cup of sundried tomatoes were pre-chopped in the jar, if you’re using whole sundried tomatoes you might want to make that 1/3 cup a generous one to account for the space.

music lately:

Railwayed by Kitchens of Distinction, kind of tugs on the heart and makes you feel miserable and soaring of spirit at the same time (with an agreeable, and I’m guessing unintentional, hint of The Stairs by INXS.)

What’s Golden by Jurassic 5, a song so excellent and immediately classic-sounding that it could have easily been made five to seven years earlier than its release date.

They Can’t Take That Away From Me, performed by Maureen McGovern — something in that soft, jazzy piano and those drum brushes and that Gershwin cadence is so hypnotic, as though it’s nearing Christmas and Norah Ephron is frantically writing every word that’s about to come out of my mouth in real time. Impossible to mention Ms McGovern and her immense talent without also bringing up Little Jazz Bird where she impeccably harmonises with the flute.

Spik and Span by The Gordons. My brother and I were discussing what the best local album of all time was, of course I immediately said the 1994 New Zealand Cast Recording of Jesus Christ Superstar and he said The Gordons’ first album, and since our tastes tend to overlap (in one direction, no one else I know is listening to this Jesus Christ Superstar album) I took him at his word and as per usual he was correct, this is just the kind of crashingly downcast post-punk type noise that I am always willing to become obsessed with.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours every month. There’s no better time than right now — your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Truffle Mushroom Pasta with Gremolata


As a food writer, truffle oil — the closest I’m getting to that elusive mushroom these days — poses an engaging challenge for my powers of description. Can I get away with saying it has notes of armpit, if said armpit belonged to someone wildly attractive? Can something smell silky? If I say it tastes like running your fingers through the cool, mossy detritus on a forest floor while holding a roasted bulb of garlic in your mouth — without chewing! — will that make sense? That it tastes like being proposed to by a crackling fire in an alpine lodge that’s been in your family for generations?

Either way, you can see how we’re only working with a couple of drops of it at a time here.


That being said, you can leave out the truffle oil and this will still be a fantastically delicious mushroom pasta, so if all that talk of armpits and detritus is too much for your sensibilities, or if you simply don’t like the taste of truffle or you — quite reasonably — don’t have access to a bottle of truffle oil, there’s no need to miss out. Mushrooms themselves are no slouch in the arena of flavour that inspires overcooked metaphors, especially when you have a mix of oyster mushrooms and brown Swiss buttons as I have here — oysters for texture and delicately pronounced fungal richness, brown buttons for barky intensity, along with a sweetening splash of mirin (as with last week’s recipe, successfully taking the place of the wine I would’ve used if I’d had it) plus some herbs that echo the sylvan nature of the mushrooms.


Putting a full stop on all that headiness is a handful of gremolata, that enlivening fluff comprising parsley, lemon zest, and garlic — I sliced my lemon zest by hand with a knife so that tiny bursts of lemon oil would pierce through the sumptuous pasta, and the sheer freshness of the gremolata is an ideal contrast to that which it covers. I was delightedly surprised to find the frilly fettuccine you see in the pictures at the supermarket by San Remo, an everyday workhorse pasta company. A new pasta shape dropping from a bottom shelf brand is like hearing a new planet has been discovered — at least it is in this economy — and I love the way this fettuccine gathers the mushrooms and herbs up in its ruffled skirts. Any long pasta will do nicely here though — regular fettuccine, linguine, bucatini, or that most reliable stalwart workhorse herself, spaghetti.


The funghi component of this recipe is inspired by the mushroom ragout in Nigella Lawson’s seminal text How To Eat, and you could certainly subtract the pasta from the equation and serve these mushrooms, or an expanded quantity thereof, over polenta or mashed root vegetables or in any such capacity as you desire. And should you be needing further mushroom motivation, you could consider Nigella’s Pasta with Lemon, Garlic and Thyme Mushrooms, my Fast Crispy Sweet Chilli Oyster Mushrooms, or my Green Garlic Oyster Mushrooms.


Truffle Mushroom Pasta with Gremolata

A heady mouthful of truffle-tinted fried mushrooms tangled through long pasta, this dish is classically elegant and incredibly delicious — and if you don’t have (or want) truffle oil, just leave it out. The mushrooms can stand on their own two feet just fine. Recipe by myself, though inspired by Nigella Lawson’s mushroom ragout in How To Eat.

  • 150g oyster mushrooms
  • 150g brown button mushrooms
  • 25g butter or 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt for the pasta water, and to taste
  • 200g long pasta (eg fettuccine, spaghetti, bucatini)
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • 1 stock cube of your choice
  • 250ml water
  • leaves from a stem of thyme
  • leaves from a sprig of rosemary
  • A couple drops of white truffle oil
  • 15g Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • zest of a lemon
  • 1 clove garlic, extra

1: Wipe any dirt from the mushrooms with a paper towel and trim the clustered ends from the oyster mushrooms. Slice the oyster mushrooms into strips about 1cm wide, and slice the brown button mushrooms thinly. Heat the 25g butter or two tablespoons olive oil in a large, wide frying pan and tumble in the sliced mushrooms, letting them cook over a high heat, stirring and turning occasionally until the mushrooms have reduced in size, browned in places, and the liquid released from them has evaporated. This took me about twenty minutes — don’t rush this step, as the mushrooms really do need to cook down in their own good mysterious time. While the mushrooms are sizzling, bring a large pan of water to the boil and, once it’s boiling, salt it generously. Transfer the cooked mushrooms to a bowl and set aside. Turn off the heat from the mushroom pan, but leave it where it is.

2: Add the 200g pasta to the pan of boiling water, and cook for ten to twelve minutes or until al dente. While this is happening, finely dice the red onion and crush or dice the first garlic clove. In the same, now-empty pan that you cooked the mushrooms in, gently fry the diced onion and garlic over a low heat for a couple minutes until softened. Stir in the two tablespoons of mirin, letting it bubble up, and then stir in the two teaspoons of flour and then crumble in the stock cube. Slowly add half the water and stir it into the onion mixture, which should become thick and saucy as the flour absorbs the water. Add the remaining half cup of water, or as much of it as you need, if the mixture is too thick. Return the mushrooms to the hot pan, along with the thyme and rosemary leaves, and stir to warm through.

3: Remove the pan of mushrooms from the heat and stir in a couple drops of white truffle oil. Drain the pasta and stir it into the mushrooms. Make the gremolata by roughly chopping the 15g of Italian parsley and finely dicing or crushing the garlic clove, and mix them together in a small bowl with the zest of a lemon.

4: Check the pasta for seasoning, and to see if it wants a little more truffle oil. Divide the pasta between two plates and scatter with the gremolata.

Serves 2.


  • You can play around with quantities and varieties of mushrooms — even if all you can find is white button mushrooms this will still taste good.
  • If you have a bottle of red open, or some Marsala handy, you can absolutely use that instead of the mirin.


music lately:

Bring it On by Organized Konfusion, just two verses and a very to-the-point chorus but those verses pin you to the wall! The way Pharoahe Monche kneads the syntax like it were bread dough and rhymes “lobotomy” with “pottery”!

Sunshine by Alice in Chains, Layne Staley’s voice is as much an instrument as anything else going on here: slinky, gravelly, sinewy, gargantuan.

Mother’s Day sung by Sherie Rene Scott from the Broadway musical adaptation of Pedro Almodóvar’s utterly glorious Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Despite its astronomically stacked cast this musical, for reasons I can’t fathom, was not well-received and didn’t last long. At least we have the cast recording; this number sung by Ms Scott is so wistful and acoustic it could almost be an early-to-mid-90s singer/songwriter track that got to number 37 on the hot 100 charts.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours every month. There’s no better time than right now — your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Green Pesto Risotto


Consider comfort: it’s as much in the mind as it is in the practical application, and what one person finds calming another will shudder at. Ascribing such properties to objects, tasks, sounds, textures, is what makes the world go round and for me, a scholar of Nigella Lawson, I have ended up with a kind of Pavlov’s Comforted Dog reaction to risotto through the frequent reading and re-reading of her cookbooks. The way Nigella writes about this dish and the reassuring joys of both making and eating it has staunchly solidified risotto’s place in my mind as a thing that comforts, and making risotto means It’s Comfort Time, there’s rain on the roof of my soul and a fire crackling in my heart and every fabric touching me is warm and soft. Presumably, if she’d spoken this way about, say, pancakes or steak tartare, that’s how I’d feel about those foods instead, but risotto speaks for itself — the repetitive, methodical stirring, the grains swelling under your spoon like a time-lapse video that hasn’t been sped up yet, the bowl-and-spoon homeliness of the finished dish, the acquiescent rice barely requiring any chewing from you.


My recipe for Green Pesto Risotto takes this amenable framework and turns it bright emerald with pureed spinach and the titular pesto, another immensely comforting food to me. There are films that whenever I rewatch it feels like the first time, I have a similar reaction every time I eat pesto. I simply will never get sick of it! Pesto will always be exciting to me! And so, naturally, a risotto pinging with pesto is especially delightful. This uses a fairly modest quantity, but then you stir in the spinach and suddenly that deep, monstera-coloured panful of rice feels like you’re practically diving into a pool of pesto, like a gluttonous Scrooge McDuck.


Pesto is delicious, rice is delicious, there’s not much more one can say, but nevertheless I will soldier on: this risotto has a delicate richness, supplemented by the gentle sub-onion flavour of the softened leek and the buttery grassiness of the spinach. Not having any wine to hand, I improvised with a splash of mirin and would do it again next time — its sweetness and rice-on-rice dovetailing worked fantastically. The pesto lends instant luxury with its dense basil richness, a scattering of pumpkin seeds provides the final touch of green.


I have no qualms with taking a shortcut by purchasing a tub of pesto from the supermarket, it’s not that this is a super-fast dish (given all that aforementioned stirring involved) but it does still streamline the process, and, more pertinently, buying the individual ingredients for a batch of pesto will probably cost you, without exaggeration, $30 — so you might as well buy the still-expensive but more efficient ready-made stuff. If you’re resolutely committed to making your own then you probably already know how but you might also consider my Spinach Pesto and Three-Nut Pesto recipes.


Green Pesto Risotto

Taking its name not just from the pesto but also the mountain of spinach stirred in, this risotto is luxurious, delicious, and — very — green. There are several notes with this recipe, so I recommend checking them first in case there’s a way you can make this your own. Recipe by myself.

  • 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
  • 1 leek
  • 20g butter or 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
  • 1 cup (roughly 200g) arborio rice, or risotto rice of your choice
  • 3 tablespoons mirin
  • 2 chicken stock cubes
  • 1 litre (4 cups) water, recently boiled
  • 75g baby spinach (about three large handfuls)
  • 1/4 cup hot water, extra
  • 150g tub of pesto
  • parmesan cheese or cheese of your choice to serve (optional)

1: In a large pan in which you’ll later make the risotto — I use a wide nonstick frying pan — toast the three tablespoons of pumpkin seeds until fragrant and lightly browned then tip them onto a plate and set aside. At this point it’s worth dealing with the litre of water that you’ll need later on — either warm it up in another pan on the stove or do as I do, which is to fill up the jug/kettle with water up to the litre mark, switch it on, and then pour it directly into the pan after it’s finished boiling.

2: Finely slice the leek’s white stem, and as much of the tender inner green top as is usable, into half moons, by halving it lengthwise and then making slices horizontally. Heat the 20g butter or two tablespoons of olive oil in the same pan as before, and gently fry the leeks over a low heat until they’ve collapsed and softened, but not browned. Stir in the two crushed garlic cloves.

3: Tip in the cup of arborio rice and stir for a minute to coat the grains in the leek-y butter and to let them toast slightly. Turn up the heat to medium and pour in the three tablespoons of mirin, which should bubble up and smell amazing, and then crumble in the first of your two stock cubes and begin adding the litre of water about 250ml/one cup at a time, stirring the rice steadily and allowing the grains to swell and absorb the water slowly but surely. Once the rice has absorbed the first measure of water, stir in the next 250ml, then the next 250ml along with the second stock cube, and as much of the remaining water as you need, stirring until the rice is completely tender without any granular bite to it. You may not need the entire litre of water — I only used about 850ml — but it’s good to have it there in case you do, and this stirring process should take around fifteen to twenty minutes.

4: Place the 75g baby spinach leaves in a blender with the 1/4 cup hot water (perhaps leftover from the jug that you boiled for the risotto) and blitz till it’s an astonishingly bright green liquid — and it’s fine if there are still some visible pieces of spinach left in it. Stir this green mixture into the risotto, then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the 150g tub of pesto. Taste to see if it needs more salt, or more of anything, and serve scattered with the pumpkin seeds. I also tipped a little olive oil into my empty tub of pesto and shook it around a bit to scrape out every last precious bit of pesto, and then drizzled this oil over the risotto. If you’re using grated parmesan, now would be the time to fold as much as you want through the risotto and to drop more on top of each serving of rice.

Serves 3-4 as a side or light main, serves 2 heartily.


  • If you have a carton of prepared broth or stock then you can use that instead of the 750ml water and two stock cubes, and you can use vegetable or beef here as well — I just prefer the blend of herbs in the chicken stock cubes that I use.
  • I used mirin because that’s what I had and it was great, but you could use the same amount of dry vermouth or dry white wine or, if you don’t keep alcohol in the house, leave it out, in which case the risotto might welcome a squeeze of lemon juice at the end or a little extra stock.
  • If you don’t have a blender or just don’t feel like washing an extra dish, you can finely chop the spinach before adding it to the risotto. The risotto will be more green-flecked than truly green, but it won’t affect the taste.
  • You could certainly add more pesto if your tub is larger than 150g, but I wouldn’t want any less.
  • Chopped pistachios would be wonderful instead of, or as well as, the pumpkin seeds.
  • If you happen to have a stick of celery kicking around in your fridge, finely dice it and add it along with the leeks.


music lately:

Wildflower Soul by Sonic Youth. When a song changes tempo and then builds to a towering crescendo of fuzzy guitars before tapering off again with a sigh and has lyrics that are emotional yet vague enough for me to project anything onto them that suits my current context? That song is made for me!

Throwing Stones by Sneaky Feelings, as perfectly melancholy as a piece of cold toast.

On Friday I saw the North Shore Music Theatre production of Wicked, having been able to purchase a ticket as a birthday present, and as it was my first time seeing a non-replica show I was a little — not apprehensive, but really just curious as to how it was going to play out. Wicked is a hugely involved feat of engineering and sequins that you can’t do low-key! Happily the production was, well, wonderful, I was crying, I recognised riffs and opt-ups and choices, I was entirely swept up in the helter-skelter magic sensory onslaught of it all. I’m actually quite restrained when it comes to favourite performers — for me, Elphaba-wise, it’s Idina Menzel, Julia Murney, and Alexia Khadime, the latter of whom has returned to the role of Elphaba in London thirteen years after she first performed it, and I wish I could be there to see it — Alexia’s first Defying Gravity in 2008 truly rewired my brain, and I can hear it without even needing youtube.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours every month. There’s no better time than right now — your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Pickled Fried Cauliflower and Marinated Tofu Salad with Creamy Herb Dressing


What’s in a recipe title? Whether or not it’s obvious (or indeed, warranted) I cogitate over the titles of my recipes with all the eleventh-hour fervency of Tom Wambsgans and Cousin Greg resolving the “We Hear For You” slogan in Succession, analysing my titles in terms of vibe, aesthetic, syntax, proximity, logical and lexical semantics, global political temperature, whether or not it’s stupider than something Tom and Greg would come up with, and uh, actual accuracy. In the case of today’s Pickled Fried Cauliflower and Marinated Tofu Salad with Creamy Herb Dressing the adjectives and nouns were weaving in and out and around like a high-spirited Jane Austen heroine at a Regency ball. I finally settled on the current iteration but need to include the caveat that nothing here is literally long-term preserved, there’s just pickle brine involved and so the cauliflower is experiencing being pickled in the same way that a TV character might use their surname as a verb and proclaim “you just got [surname]-ed” at another unsuspecting character. The tofu is definitely marinated, though! No vagaries there.


There are three distinct components to this salad: scorched, nutty cauliflower soused in lemon juice with sweet, smoky gochugaru and the rich, fancy taste of toasted fennel seeds; soft chunks of tofu humming with salt and vinegar; and a celadon-hued dressing tinted with the leaves furled around the cauliflower, all held together with flouncy rocket leaves. While it’s not exactly the work of mere moments, this salad in both looks and tastes amply reflects the effort.


With all that vinegar and lemon and marinating it might seem like this salad has set its pickling sights on the inside of your mouth as you eat it, however, it comes together in a bracing but balanced way: the opaque mellowness of the tofu and the tender cauliflower can ably handle that level of tang, and the tangle of leaves diffuses it further. I drew a little inspiration from Sicilian Cauliflower and the concept of brining tofu to make a kind of vegan feta; however in this case I’m happy for it to simply be marinated tofu — I’m bringing its delicious taste and texture to this salad on purpose as opposed to it being a substitution. That being said, if you wanted to crumble some feta into this I’m sure it would be a fine addition, but I’d use it alongside, not instead of, the tofu.


Somewhat infuriatingly for a person like me who doesn’t like to plan ahead, the tofu does taste better the longer you leave it in the marinade — on the other hand, if you’re organised you can keep the main components of this salad separately in the fridge and then breezily merge them together at your leisure; the tofu in one container, the cauliflower in another (it will get a little floppy as it sits in its vinegars and spices but I don’t see this as a problem) and the dressing in a third; the rocket should be added right as you’re about to serve. I’m not talking weeks of forethought here, the morning of the dinner you’re planning to eat this salad at would be perfect. With bread for swiping through the dressing and a dessert to happily anticipate, this would be a charmingly light but bolstering dinner for two; it will of course serve more people if you have other dishes on the table. And if you want to make it a salad tasting flight, or if you live in a country where rocket is called arugula and therefore have different ingredients in season, you might also consider my Lentil, Radish, Avocado and Fried Potato Salad; my Tomatoes and Fried Mint; or Nigella’s spectacular Pea, Mint, and Avocado Salad.


Pickled Fried Cauliflower and Marinated Tofu Salad with Creamy Herb Dressing

A fancy but robust meal of a salad, full of punchy flavour. Prepare the tofu at least a few hours in advance if you can, but it’s still fine if it’s just sitting around while you make the rest of the salad. Recipe by myself.

Marinated Tofu:

  • 300g firm tofu, drained and patted dry with a paper towel
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme or oregano leaves
  • 1 fat garlic clove, peeled and chopped roughly
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon table salt, or to taste

Cauliflower + Salad:

  • 1/2 a large cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon gochugaru, or chilli flakes of your choice
  • 2 tablespoons pickle brine, from a jar of pickles
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • salt, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
  • 100g rocket leaves

Creamy Herb Dressing:

  • 20g tofu (roughly) from the block for marinating
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme or oregano leaves
  • a few of the cauliflower leaves (optional, if they came attached)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

1: First, get the tofu a-marinating by slicing the 300g block of tofu into cubes, reserving about 20g (about 4 cubes of tofu) for the dressing. In an airtight container that is big enough to fit the tofu in, stir together the 1/4 cup of white vinegar, the two tablespoons of lemon juice, the tablespoon each of olive oil and fresh herbs, the sliced garlic clove, and the half teaspoon (or more, to taste) of table salt. Tip in the cubes of tofu, place the lid on the container, give it a gentle shake, and set aside while you complete the rest of the salad. If you’re making this ahead of time, refrigerate the container until needed.

2: Next, the cauliflower — slice your half-cauliflower into small florets, and fry them in the two tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan, letting the florets sit undisturbed for a minute or two to let them brown before turning them. I like to put the lid on the container for a couple of minutes so that they steam as well as frying, but whatever works for you. Once the cauliflower is sufficiently browned and scorched in places, remove the pieces to a large mixing bowl. Turn the heat off the pan, and tip in the fennel seeds, letting them sit for about 30 seconds in the residual heat until fragrant, and then tip the seeds over the cauliflower in the bowl. Repeat with the three tablespoons of pumpkin seeds, clattering them into the still-hot pan and leaving them to toast until fragrant. If your stovetop doesn’t hold its heat forever like mine, you may need to turn up the heat again. Set the pumpkin seeds aside for garnishing later.

3: Add the teaspoon of gochugaru (or chilli flakes) to the bowl of cauliflower, along with the two tablespoons of pickle brine, the tablespoon of lemon juice, and salt to taste. You can cover this bowl and let the cauliflower sit for a couple hours if that’s more convenient than eating it right away.

4: Finally, make the creamy herb dressing and assemble the salad. Place the reserved 20g/few cubes of tofu into a blender along with the two tablespoons of olive oil, three tablespoons of water, the teaspoon each of lemon juice, garlic powder, and honey, the tablespoon of thyme or oregano leaves, the cauliflower leaves (if using) and plenty of salt and pepper. Blitz until you have a smooth, green-tinged puree.

5: Toss the 100g of rocket leaves through the cauliflower. Drain the marinated tofu and gently toss through the salad. Drizzle over a little of the herb dressing, and leave the rest on the table with a spoon for people to add their own. Scatter over the toasted pumpkin seeds, and serve.

Makes two hearty servings. This will serve 3-4 as a side, or more as part of a busy buffet table.


  • You can use spinach or mixed leaves instead of the rocket, but the peppery nature of the rocket is preferable here. If you’re not using rocket you could consider adding a handful of watercress to your leaves.
  • Use another garlic clove in the dressing if that’s easier — sometimes raw garlic can be a bit acrid, hence why I used garlic powder instead.
  • If your lemon juice is coming from actual fruit instead of a bottle, you could definitely add the finely grated zest to this, perhaps with the cauliflower.
  • If your cauliflower comes with its leaves already trimmed, you could add a handful of parsley or basil to the blender for the salad dressing instead, bearing in mind that the basil will add a much stronger (but delightful!) flavour.


music lately:

As by Stevie Wonder, I could no sooner name my favourite Stevie Wonder song than I could identify which particular air particles I enjoy breathing the most. Nonetheless, this is my favourite Stevie Wonder song! The way that chorus shuffles up on you, the way the verses lap in and out like waves, the way it’s really hard to google if you forget what it’s called!

Ridin’ Low by L.A.D. I always assumed, when I’d hear this on the radio back in the day, that the chorus must have been sampled from some 1960s band, as the interpolation of Temptations guitars and Five Satins shoo-be-do-ing would suggest, but after extensive research, it seems that the composers, who I cannot find any credits for, just created one of the most beautiful choruses from scratch for this song and then disappeared into thin air? I need to know more!

Stop by Jane’s Addiction, the kind of guitar riffs that make you feel like you’re falling off a bicycle onto gravel; Perry Farrell’s stainless steel voice is a national treasure.

Brotherhood of Man, from the film adaptation of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Robert Morse’s loose-shouldered no-personal-space fidgety physicality! It has to be said!

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours every month. There’s no better time than right now — your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

Tomato and Bread Soup with Fried Carrot Pesto


One good thing I’ll say about the state of the world right now is that both Yellowjackets and Succession are back with new seasons and the specific effect these shows have on my serotonin levels is indubitably making up for me not receiving serotonin from any other sources. Both are tales of survival and its often gruesome ramifications except the former involves teen girls facing cannibalism in the Canadian wilderness and the latter concerns New York billionaires attending board meetings; both shows are weighing so overwhelmingly on my brain that while in the supermarket shopping for soup ingredients — and being inexplicably unable to locate a single mossy leaf of basil and so pivoting on the spot to flat-leaf parsley — I couldn’t help but congratulate myself for how well I would cope in both the wilderness and in the thrust and parry of the obtuse world of business with such a nimble demonstration of initiative and quick thinking.


(When it comes to such hypotheticals I generally don’t engage in the what-ifs, subscribing to the Kim Cattrall mantra of not wanting to be in a situation even for an hour, but while looking at a flimsy, paper-straw thin supermarket leek and pondering whether or not $6 is reasonable for its purchase, wondering if I will ever behold a single affordable vegetable again in my lifetime or if that will be relegated to the sphere of nostalgia like telethons and the TV test pattern on Sunday mornings, I mean, who needs to imagine threatening fictitious situations?)


I don’t fool myself that I’m even slightly equipped with the necessary girl-scout tendencies that might befit the survivors of Yellowjackets, but I am blessed with an ability to improvise or reverse-engineer a meal into existence based on whatever half-filled bags and scraps are in my kitchen; in the case of this tomato and bread soup, aka Pappa al Pomodoro, it was a can of tomatoes in the pantry and some ciabatta buns in the freezer and the notion that not too much would have to be done to turn them into a soup that’s not only serviceable but based on a culinary precedent (and delicious.)


This soup is an exercise in trusting the process: for the twenty minutes of simmering it appears to be thin and watery and entirely unpromising, but then you drop in the torn-up ciabatta which thirstily reduces and thickens the broth, and the honey which dovetails with the sweetness of the tomatoes, and suddenly — as if you turned up the sharpness and definition on a photo — it becomes a hearty, almost stew-like potage with a gentle depth of flavour from the soft allium presence of the leeks.

Because I am typically incapable of eating soup without some kind of mollifying add-on, I’ve made a pesto (although the name is, well, nominal, as it really bears no resemblance to that Genovese delicacy) out of fried carrots, nutty and rich, blended up with almonds and the aforementioned flat-leaf parsley that I heroically substituted for the basil I couldn’t find. I’ve long been a proponent of frying your carrots (eg, these noodles and this salad) and the salty, caramelised vegetal qualities of the pesto add a dash of intrigue and panache to the otherwise humble soup, though you could add a dollop of actual pesto, or make a stack of cheese toasted sandwiches for dipping into the soup’s red depths. It’s the perfect food for this turn into autumn we at last find ourselves in, but if it’s hotter weather where you are, you might consider this Chilled Cannellini Bean Soup with Basil Spinach Oil instead; if this tomato soup is a soft blanket and a radiator heater, the bean soup is a cold damp cloth to the forehead.


Tomato and Bread Soup with Fried Carrot Pesto

A simple and hearty Tuscan-ish soup, thickened with torn ciabatta and topped with blitzed-up fried carrots, almonds, and parsley. The soup recipe is adapted just a little from the Pappa al Pomodoro in Italian Comfort Food by the Scotto family, the pesto is my own recipe.

Fried Carrot Pesto:

  • 250g (about 2 medium) carrots
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 2-3 extra tablespoons for blending
  • 1/3 cup slivered almonds
  • 15g Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • a hearty pinch of salt

Tomato and Bread Soup:

  • 1 medium-sized leek, stem only
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 800ml water
  • 2 stock cubes of your choice
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 80g (about 1 large or 2 small buns) ciabatta

1: Slice your carrot into batons and heat the first two tablespoons of olive oil in a deep frying pan. Fry the carrot sticks in the hot oil, letting them sit for a minute or two before turning. Once golden brown, remove the carrot sticks to the side to cool down and proceed with the soup.

2: Slice the stem of the leek into half moons and saute it over a low heat in the remaining oil in the same pan that you cooked the leeks in. Once the leeks have softened — which should only take about a minute — add the tablespoon of tomato paste and the two crushed garlic cloves and stir for another minute. Tip in the tin of tomatoes, and then fill up the empty tin twice with water from the tap to achieve your 800ml (or thereabouts) of water, and add this to the pan along with the two stock cubes, crumbled in. Bring this mixture to the boil then allow it to simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, during which time it should reduce a little.

3: After the simmering is up, remove the pan from the heat. Tear the ciabatta into smallish chunks and add it to the soup along with the two tablespoons of honey, give it a stir, and let it sit for ten minutes while you get on with the pesto, by whizzing up the somewhat-cooled fried carrots, the 1/3 cup of slivered almonds, the 15g flat-leaf parsley, the teaspoon of lemon juice, the two to three tablespoons olive oil and the pinch of salt to form a chunky paste. Taste for seasoning (you can also add more olive oil or a splash of water to thin it out if you want.)

4: Bring the heat up again on the soup if it needs it, otherwise divide the soup between two bowls and spoon over the pesto.

Makes two hearty servings, or 3-4 dainty servings.


  • If you don’t eat honey, replace it with about a tablespoon and a half of sugar or brown sugar; you can also replace the almonds with cashews or hazelnuts, honestly, I chose the almonds because they were on special.
  • You can absolutely replace the parsley with basil, and I’d encourage you to do so, as it makes sense culinarily, I simply couldn’t find any at the supermarket.
  • The pesto is best made in a food processor, if you only have a blender then you may need to add even more olive oil and a few tablespoons of water to get it moving and adjust the seasoning accordingly.


music lately:

Never Leave Me Alone by Nate Dogg, the hook is of course unreal, but its beauty would be nothing without Nate Dogg’s immediately recognisable throaty vocals, where he sounds like he’s somehow harmonising with himself at two slightly different low-vibrating pitches. A perfect song.

Andelusia by Savage Republic, I love a no-lyrics number, and this is just the sort of vigorously droning music that makes you want to run down the side of a highway in the rain.

People from the Broadway musical Funny Girl, as performed in 1992 by Laurie Beechman; I have to genuinely limit my listening to her because she makes me so emotional (like, no one needs to be crying while watching her in the incoherent Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat medley at the 1982 Tony Awards and yet! Here we find ourselves) so as you can imagine, when her crisp belt and sensitive interpretation skills are applied to this already stunning song, all bets are off.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours every month. There’s no better time than right now — your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

creamy gochujang tomato pasta


While I’m generally a little suspicious about the baseless seduction of nostalgia and our collective memories being strip-mined and sold back to us in a way that amounts to little more than jingling keys in front of a baby to distract it; I’ve nonetheless found myself sighing nostalgically for the early days of Instagram, where you’d merrily and heedlessly post grainy, filtered photos of a coffee cup or the clouds and it wasn’t an ad-clogged video platform with all the ambience of an abandoned shopping mall. But though Instagram is dimly lit by sputtering fluorescent lightbulbs and there’s a persistent sound of dripping water, there is still joy and inspiration to be found within its murky aisles: specifically, the Creamy Gochujang Tomato Pasta that Bettina Makalintal posted on her fantastic crispyegg420 account. I saw it, I wanted to make it, I made it, it was delicious, and now I’ve begrudgingly said one nice thing about Instagram as a result.


My interpretation of this enticing recipe title involves stirring tomato paste, gochujang, and a finely chopped slurry of sundried tomatoes over high heat, before adding pasta water and coconut cream to soften it up. I was after a minimal sauce that clings to the pasta for dear life as opposed to providing a pool it can swim in, but a heavier hand on the cream will do this no harm (and I can understand if the “creamy” aspect of the title isn’t represented well enough for some of you via this quantity of sauce) nor will increasing the gochujang if you want the fieriness more pronounced.


The gochujang has a dense, layered spiciness — not just heat, but a captivating yet subtle sweetness and tangy richness from the rice paste and its fermentation process. Naturally, it’s magnificent alongside the fresh acidic sweetness of tomato paste, itself caramelised into richness by the pan’s heat. The sundried tomatoes provide the midpoint between the two other red ingredients: intense and savoury, but darkly sweet.


The entire sauce can be made while your pasta is boiling, and the result is comforting without being stultifying, luscious without overwhelming, and immensely layered and flavoursome despite the minimal quantities of ingredients. And — the inspiration continues — as I was chopping the sundried tomatoes it occurred to me that for an even speedier version of this recipe you could simply replace the tomatoes and gochujang with a few heaping tablespoons of vegan gochujang bokkeum. The hardest part of this recipe was locating the particular pasta that I had my heart set on, which turned out to be available at a minimart just around the corner — the jaunty doi-oi-oing springs of fusilli bucati corti make any meal feel like an achievement. A shorter pasta is, I think, all the better here, but there’s really no wrong way to eat this and you certainly don’t need a fancy shape: bowties, penne, even just spaghetti would all be wonderful and benefit from that trois couleurs: rouge (I’m working my way through Kieślowski’s film trilogy if you couldn’t tell) sauce.


Creamy Gochujang Tomato Pasta

Spicy and luscious with caramelised tomato hugging every curve of the pasta. You can of course add more gochujang or cream or grate over a cloud of parmesan; however, this is how I made it and it was delicious. This recipe is directly inspired by Bettina Makalintal’s Instagram post and I recommend following her for further inspiration. Serves 2.

  • 200g short and ridged or curly pasta of your choice (I used fusilli bucati corti)
  • salt, for the pasta water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon gochujang
  • 6 sundried tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup coconut cream, or cream of your choice, plus more to taste
  • Leaves from 2-3 stems of fresh thyme, for garnish

1: Heat a large pan of water and generously salt it once it hits boiling point. Tip in the 200g pasta and let it boil away for 11-12 minutes or until the pasta is tender.

2: Once the pasta is in the water, finely chop the six sundried tomatoes, almost as if you’re trying to turn them into a paste (and if you want this finer-textured, have a stick blender, and don’t mind the extra dishes, feel free to pulverise them into an actual paste that way.)

3: Heat the tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and dollop in the four tablespoons of tomato paste and single tablespoon of gochujang, followed by the finely-chopped sundried tomatoes. Stir this mixture over a high heat for about five minutes — it may appear loose-textured and like it doesn’t want to stick together, but the addition of cream and pasta water later on will turn it into a sauce. The mixture will darken in colour a little as you stir it; this is ideal and adds to the intensity of the tomato flavour.

4: Once the pasta is nearly al dente, remove 1/4 cup of the cooking water and stir it into the tomato mixture, followed by the 1/4 cup of coconut cream. At first the mixture will appear a rather oily and garish orange, but keep stirring and it will grow darker and more richly red as it bubbles away. At this point, it’s up to you whether you want to add more cream to make this (of course) creamier, or a little more pasta water to make it saucier. Remove the tomato mixture pan from the heat, drain the now-cooked pasta, and stir it into the sauce. Divide the pasta between two plates and sprinkle over the thyme leaves.


If you mistime the pasta and have thoroughly cooked it before you’ve started the sauce, just remove half a cup or so of the pasta water, drain the remaining water from the pasta, and tip the pasta back into its still-hot pan (though keeping it off the element it was just cooking on, otherwise it will burn) while you finish the sauce.


music lately:

Hellbound by The Breeders, it sounds very 1990 but also, without too much reaching, like kids with teased beehive hairdos in the 1960s could do elaborate dances to it with names like The Hucklebuck and The Sprained Ankle; needless to say I love it.

I’ve Been Thinking About You by Londonbeat, the way it starts out at 100 miles an hour, the emphatic stab on each word in the chorus, what an eternal masterpiece.

Auto Surgery by Therapy?, like, there’s not much more to it than going quiet then loud then quiet then loud but that’s all it needs! It works!

Les Feuilles Mortes by Juliette Greco, if you haven’t heard of her I recommend spending some time with her Wikipedia page, she truly lived, meanwhile amongst all that living she was also a skilled singer, the simple, exquisite melancholy of this song really does evoke the falling autumn leaves of the title. If you’re feeling gloomy, this will make you feel gloomy but super cool at the same time, and sometimes that’s enough to make it through said gloom.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours every month. There’s no better time than right now — your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

One-pan Fried Chickpeas, Rice, and Greens


You know that phrase along the lines of if I’d had more time I’d have written a shorter letter, apocryphally attributed to Mark Twain but originating with Pascal? It springs to mind, somewhat tenuously, as I try to convince you of this recipe’s simplicity while firing off absolute paragraphs upon paragraphs of instructions — though as a votary of the School of Nigella, I am defiantly defensive of a wordy recipe. (And speaking of attribution, interesting how recency bias and perhaps incuriosity — but also being only human! — lead us to bestow the invention of a recipe to whoever the last person was that we saw making it, much as the glory for this phrase is usually thrown towards Twain. As an ambitious writer I can only but dream of such easy valour!)


Despite all my words this recipe really is simple, and, speaking once more of attribution, it’s little more than an offshoot of the Sunday night pilaf in my 2013 cookbook; fiddled with a little and given creamy-crunchy texture from fried, spice-dusted chickpeas. And I do not lie about it using only one pan! That being said, I’m not overly wedded to a singular pan as a useful framework for recipes — like, if I’m washing dishes then I’m washing dishes, and what you save in pan-space you tend to have to make up for in extra bowls to reserve all the various layers of the recipe — but who am I to argue with the SEO keyword clickable seduction of the words, one-pan. Anyone who’s spent more than one minute on my blog knows that SEO keywords have never been my priority, partially due to my disdain for their effect on the written word and partly due to my own fecklessness but sometimes the stars align!


Anyway, rice, greens, spices, chickpeas, nuts: this is serene, gentle food with a civilised jumble of textures — tender rice, popcorn-esque chickpeas, softly crunchy almonds, almost-melted greens. The spices are fairly calm as well, meant to suggest rather than boldly stride across the palate, but as I’ve mentioned in the notes, you can add more if you want, and if you also want to criss-cross this with sriracha or lacquer it with chilli oil, bravo on your initiative. To make it more luxurious you could add pine nuts or pistachios, to make it cheaper you could use pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, beyond that moment of decision, this is fairly soothing on the wallet to boot, inasmuch as anything can be in our debilitatingly enduring cost-of-living crisis. If greens are also too expensive, as well they might be, I used frozen peas in the original pilaf that inspired this, and they’d definitely be fine here too. Whatever you add or don’t add, perfectly cooked rice plus a little something stirred in will always be delicious.


One-pan Fried Chickpeas, Rice, and Greens

A simple recipe (despite how much I’ve written below) that you can add to or subtract from, as is however it’s delicious, calming, and as promised leaves you one pan to wash. Recipe by myself.

  • 2 tablespoons flaked almonds
  • 1 x 400g tin chickpeas
  • 1 heaped tablespoon cornflour (or cornstarch in the US)
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 tablespoons rice bran oil, or similar
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin, extra
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 500ml/2 cups water
  • 1 stock cube of your choice (or use 500ml prepared stock)
  • 2 large handfuls silverbeet, baby spinach, or other robust green leaves
  • Fresh thyme leaves from 2-3 sprigs

1: Toast the almonds in a large nonstick frying pan that has a lid (although you don’t need the lid until later, and I’m sure some other type of pan would work fine, this is just what I specifically used) stirring the nuts over a medium heat until they become golden-tinged and fragrant. Turn off the heat and tip the almonds into a bowl or some other receptacle and set aside.

2: Drain the chickpeas and toss them in a bowl with the heaped tablespoon of cornflour, half teaspoon of smoked paprika, and half teaspoon of cumin, stirring to lightly dust the beans in the seasoning. Heat the three tablespoons of oil in the same pan as before, and then tumble in the chickpeas. Fry them over a high heat for about ten minutes, stirring only occasionally, until they’re crispy and browned, covering with the lid if the chickpeas become too agitated in the heat and threaten to ping out of the pan. It will take a good ten minutes or so to truly achieve a crispy texture, so patience is key here. Once the chickpeas are where you want them, tip them into a bowl (perhaps the one that had the cornstarch and spices in it before, hastily wiped out with a paper towel), and set aside.

3: Rinse the rice under cool water, and then place it (the rice, not the water) into the same pan as before. Stir for a couple of minutes over medium heat, just to let the residual water evaporate a little and for the grains to toast lightly, then stir in the teaspoon of cumin, the half teaspoon of cinnamon, and the 500ml water and stock cube (or 500ml prepared stock/broth.) Raise the heat, and as soon as the water comes to the boil, clamp the lid on the pan and bring the heat down to the lowest possible setting. Let the rice cook, without removing the lid, for ten minutes (it may take a minute or two longer, but you can cautiously lift the lid at this point and taste to check how al-dente the grains are.) Once the rice is satisfactorily tender, turn off the heat, roughly chop up your greens if they’re larger leaves — or simply leave them as they are if you’ve got baby spinach — scatter them over the rice, and place the lid back on top again to let the greens wilt in the heat and steam, which should only take a minute or two.

4: Remove the lid, stir the greens into the rice, along with the reserved fried chickpeas and most of the flaked almonds and thyme leaves. Taste to see if it needs a bump in seasoning or spices; serve scattered with the remaining almonds and thyme.

Serves 4, although I’d certainly have room for dessert afterwards.


  • These spices are a jump-off point, if you have spices that you regularly reach for which appear, to your palate, to be missing, feel free to add them.
  • A dollop of yoghurt on top, or perhaps yoghurt and feta blended together, is very welcome, this would also be delightful with a tangle of fried onions, a step that you could add in perhaps before the chickpeas but after the toasted almonds, although by this point it might just be easier to use two pans.


music lately:

Come On Feet by Quasimoto, oddly poignant in its psychedelic spaciousness, yet also hopeful; either way, a killer beat.

Teenage Caveman by Beat Happening, another one that makes my heart ache with its upbeat yet plaintive opening hook that strongly echoes the emotional tumult of Classical Gas; weirdly the verses are more poignant than the “we cry alone” refrain of the chorus, I’m not musically clever enough to know why but I’m guessing it’s that minor key up to no good again!

Just Be Good To Me, as covered by Mariah Carey live in Tokyo in 1996; this song is so watertight-excellent that I’m not sure it’s possible to do a bad cover of it but nonetheless this is sumptuously casual and casually sumptuous, a fantastic choice for both the silky and raspy sides of Mariah’s unreal voice, and made glorious by that expansive, full-live-band-and-backup-singer lushness.

(Also, this isn’t the full song but it is, if I’m honest, the part I care most about — the “I’ve come home at last” bit — sung by Tony winner Stephanie J. Block emoting to the back row of as yet undiscovered planets during As If We Never Said Goodbye from Sunset Boulevard, I have watched this clip…many times.)

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours every month. There’s no better time than right now — your support helps me to make all these blog posts!

chilled cannellini bean soup with basil spinach oil


I absolutely did not intend to leave it so long between blog posts, but the circumstances which were in the process of changing dramatically around the time of my last post have now come to fruition, in fact I’d currently describe myself as kind of circumstance-less, and while all of it was out of my control, and has utterly derailed my plans for this blog and also literally everything else in my life, I can only wallow for so long and eventually have to attempt to flourish within my new non-circumstances. (If this sounds irritatingly cryptic it’s because I can’t speak too freely about the old circumstances till the new ones are secured, you know?) The wallowing is important! But it’s also important to be reluctantly practical.

And so, at last, a recipe: simple and soothingly chilled for these unsoothing and unchilled times; although our summer here in Auckland has been a particularly horrendous write-off culminating in the disastrous weather event at the end of January where we received all conceivable rain from all possible timelines all within one day, but with the rain comes humidity, and with humidity, a cold soup comes into its own.


You may look askance at the brief ingredient list: am I truly asking you to just puree some canned beans, and call it a soup? Well first of all, you’re an adult with free will, so you can add what you like to it, but it is — obviously — important to come at this from a place of already loving beans. I find cannellini beans to be truly delicious in a fairly un-tampered-with state (although I do also love a tampered-with bean), you may find that a splash of soy sauce or a crumbled stock cube isn’t even required; you may want to add sauteed shallots and garlic and celery and so on; as the cook and the eater, the recipe as I wrote it works for me. A bracing splash of pickle brine provides a spike of acidity, like dressmaking scissors slicing through velvet, and the opaque creaminess from the blitzed-up beans is luscious and elegant.

Of course, there’s the basil spinach oil to interrupt that unending ivory; basil for intensity of flavour, spinach because I had some in the fridge — dripped over the soup it rather resembles a giraffe’s pattern with the exposure turned up, or a forgotten petri dish, or a scene from the nuclear power plant in The Simpsons. The swirls are more accessibly pretty, but I am fond of the radioactive blob effect. Either way, the basil spinach oil lends peppery, herbal richness to the soup without overwhelming its frictionless calm. And as someone who tends to seek out from and recreate in food what I can’t get from the wider world, un-overwhelmed frictionless calm in a bowl sounds good to me.


Chilled Cannellini Bean Soup with Basil Spinach Oil

Very fast, very relaxed, a cool velvety pool of pureed beans with bright green lily pads of basil-tinted olive oil, and all you need is a blender. Recipe by myself.

  • 2 x 400g tins of cannellini beans
  • 1 teaspoon pickle brine or lemon juice (or caper brine, or red wine vinegar)
  • 1/2 a stock cube of your choice, or a splash of soy sauce, or Maggi sauce
  • 1/3 cup loosely packed basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup loosely packed baby spinach leaves
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt, to taste

1: Place the unopened cans of beans in the fridge a couple of hours before you plan to eat to give them the titular chill — although I also like this at room temperature. Boil the jug (or if you don’t have a kettle, bring a small pan of water to the boil on the stovetop), place the spinach and basil leaves in a sieve, and, holding the sieve over the sink, pour the freshly-boiled water onto the leaves. Immediately follow this up by rinsing them with cold water from the tap, and set aside to drain. This is the fiddliest part of the whole recipe — blanching the leaves helps retain their bright lurid green, and seems to blend them into the olive oil more easily, too.

2: Drain the tins of beans — not too thoroughly and without rinsing, you want to keep some of the can liquid here — and place in a blender, along with the teaspoon of pickle brine or other acid and half stock cube, or splash of soy sauce, or whatever source of salinity you’re using. Fill one of the empty cans about 3/4 full with cold tap water, pour it into the blender with the beans, and blitz everything to a smooth puree. Taste to see if it needs more acid or more salt — I actually like this with pickle brine and lemon juice at the same time, but a little sour goes a long way here.

3: Divide the soup between two bowls and place them in the fridge to chill further while you make the basil spinach oil. Rinse any residual soup from the blender, and press the basil and spinach leaves against the sieve to remove as much water as possible. Blend the leaves, the half cup of olive oil, and a pinch of salt together until the basil and spinach are completely pulverised into bright green liquid, as opposed to oil with bits of green in it.

4: Drop spoonfuls of the basil spinach oil over the soup and either leave them as is or swirl, depending on which option appeals to you, and eat immediately.

Serves 2.


  • A few colour-contrasting splashes of chilli oil or sriracha would be invigorating here.
  • You probably won’t use all the basil spinach oil at once, but any less oil and the blender wouldn’t be able to process it. Store any remaining in the fridge in a jar or sealed container and use within a day or two.


music lately:

Stuck on You by Failure, a song that achieves all it needs to in the first fifteen seconds and yet still gets better; nonetheless, I urge you to let that opening hook giving way into drums wash over you at least once.

Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in my Hand by Primitive Radio Gods. It may just be the sickly lure of nostalgia or the shuffling mid-tempo Beastie Boys-y beat carrying it but one-hit wonders simply do not hit, wonderfully, like they used to! Also, which is a more dated concept right now: needing to use a phone booth, or having money in your hand?

Pace, Pace, Mio Dio performed exquisitely by Leontyne Price, as the youtube account name says, this is coloratura!

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours every month. There’s no better time than right now — your support helps me to make all these blog posts!