Tonight Helene and I are sharing a risotto, one of my all time favourite dishes. We’ve got a good bottle of wine and nattering about the old days when we were both wide-eyed, newly plucked, debutante authors at Hachette Australia in 2010. Helene subsequently catapulted into stardom with Penguin Australia and is celebrating the publication of her fifth book, Safe Harbour.
Helene has always cut a rather dashing figure, living in tropical Queensland, piloting planes for a major Australian airline, writing novels and other acts of derring-do and she’s currently living on a catamaran off the coast of Brisbane, I believe, and writing her sixth novel.
What are your memories of your mothers cooking as a child?
My mum was a ‘meat and three veg’ kind of cook who had boiling vegetables to mush down to an art form! In hindsight she was way ahead of the pack with the types of food she fed us – it would make today’s nutritionist proud – but I have a life long aversion to overcooked broccoli…
What was your favourite dish as a child?
My favourite dish was lamb chops on the brick bbq at the beach house at Currumbin. The bbq had an old wire fridge shelf as the cooking rack. Every once in a while the whole thing would collapse and Dad would dust the sand off the chops, rebuild the bbq and carry on cooking. We got used to a certain amount of grit with our lamb and rejoiced on the days the structure held together…
Do you like to cook?
I love cooking. I started work as a Macca’s fries chick when I was fifteen, moved to Kev’s Diner at Coolangatta for my first summer holiday job after I finished school, and later spent a fun twelve months as the night cook at the Spring Hill hotel. Working in a busy commercial kitchen taught me to be vigilant about prep and to clean as I went. I loved it! Small wonder that Darcy, in Safe Harbour is a chef
Who do you enjoy cooking for?
I love giving dinner parties for friends. We’ve had some memorable occasions including a sit down dinner for thirty in the back yard complete with white linen and crystal glasses. It’s a little more restricted on Roo Bin Esque, but the informality appeals to me. Bowls of food and serve yourself are much more relaxed and friendly.
What are some of your favourite books about food?
I’ve had a Margaret Fulton cookbook for thirty years – the basics never change. I also swear by Stephanie Alexander’s cookbook. Capt G’s idea of recipes is to Google ‘Best Ever …’ He’s had some spectacular successes so I’ve reluctantly given up scoffing…
Is the food in your stories important?
Food always gets a mention. I think if you’re writing stories about fledgling relationships, or families, then eating is central to that. It can add a wonderful erotic tension (and I don’t mean anything kinky like zucchinis or oysters!) as so many people have a first date that involves food – and hot steamy kisses.
Your favourite snack?
What’s your latest book?
What foods do the characters eat?
Fish and chips – because my talented heroine is a chef who’s come home to the fishing village where she grew up to start a restaurant. A girl has to pay the bills some how while she renovates her dream kitchen and what better way to do that than sell fish and chips to the masses?
What do you love most about this book?
Rosie, an aboriginal elder, is one of my all time favourite secondary characters. I cried great buckets of tears for her while I was writing this story and really hope she resonates strongly with readers.
Where can readers find it?
Anywhere that sells good books – and that includes Big W! It’s also available as an e-book with all major retailers.
Share one of your favourite recipes – anything you like, cake, martini, Peking Duck, cheese on toast …
Basic Risotto – courtesy of Jamie Oliver (because he’s a legend at simple food!)
1.1 litres organic stock, chicken, fish or vegetable as appropriate
1 small knob of butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ head celery, finely chopped
400 g risotto rice
2 wineglasses dry white vermouth or dry white wine
freshly ground black pepper
1 knob of butter
90 g Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1. Heat the stock. In a separate pan, heat the olive oil and butter, add the onions, garlic and celery, and fry very slowly for about 15 minutes without colouring. When the vegetables have softened, add the rice and turn up the heat.
2. The rice will now begin to lightly fry, so keep stirring it. After a minute it will look slightly translucent. Add the vermouth or wine and keep stirring — it will smell fantastic. Any harsh alcohol flavours will evaporate and leave the rice with a tasty essence.
3. Once the vermouth or wine has cooked into the rice, add your first ladle of hot stock and a good pinch of salt. Turn down the heat to a simmer so the rice doesn’t cook too quickly on the outside. Keep adding ladles of stock, stirring and almost massaging the creamy starch out of the rice, allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next. This will take around 15 minutes. Taste the rice — is it cooked? Carry on adding stock until the rice is soft but with a slight bite. Don’t forget to check the seasoning carefully. If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked, add some boiling water.
4. Remove from the heat and add the butter and Parmesan. Stir well. Place a lid on the pan and allow it to sit for 2 minutes. This is the most important part of making the perfect risotto, as this is when it becomes outrageously creamy and oozy like it should be.
Eat it as soon as possible, while the risotto retains its beautiful texture.
You can add whatever you want to this – I love mushroom and chicken!