FAMILY FOOD IS GENEROUS, unfussy and demonstrates love and care. No matter what busyness the day brings, the act of setting the table and enjoying a simple meal together is comforting and ever-reassuring. Whether it’s a cooling coffee granita to start a summer’s day or the comfort of a hearty baked maccheroni in darkest winter, this is the kind of food you will want to share with your loved ones throughout the year.
Hunter’s Chicken Stew
There are countless variations of hunter’s stew, known as Pollo alla cacciatora – some inbianco (without tomatoes), some without olives or with different herbs or aromatics. Mine is a very simple one, with tomatoes, large green olives and fragrant rosemary and bay. It is a straightforward dish that is even better the next day. Serve it on a bed of soft polenta or simply with bread to mop up the juices.
- 1 x 1.2kg chicken, cut into 8 pieces
- sea salt
- 100g (⅔ cup) plain flour
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 20g unsalted butter
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 125ml (½ cup) dry white wine
- 1 rosemary sprig
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- 400g canned whole peeled tomatoes
- 250ml (1 cup) chicken stock
- 100g whole green olives
- Season the chicken with salt, then dredge lightly in the flour, shaking off any excess.
- Heat the olive oil and butter in a large heavy-based saucepan or cast-iron pot over a medium heat and brown the chicken in batches until golden on all sides. Set aside.
- Reduce the heat to low and add the onion and celery. Gently fry for around 10 minutes and, when beginning to turn golden, add the garlic and cook for a further minute.
- Pour in the wine, scraping up any brown bits left over from frying the chicken. Add the rosemary, bay leaf, tomatoes and chicken stock and break up the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon.
- Increase the heat to medium and, when beginning to simmer, return the chicken to the pan, nestling it into the liquid. Simmer over a medium-low heat for 25 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and the stew has thickened.
- Scatter over the olives and cook for a few minutes more, then season to taste and serve.
Apple and Rhubarb Cobbler
A cobbler sits somewhere deliciously in the middle of a pie and a crumble. The fruit base, made here with rhubarb and apple, is topped with sweet, scone-like biscuits, which are buttery and crisp. Apple and rhubarb are a classic combination, and the strawberries provide some extra
juiciness – swap them out for raspberries or blackberries if you prefer. If you’d rather go the crumble route instead, my fool-proof recipe is equal quantities of butter, flour, oats, and half sugar. Just rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until it resembles a crumble, then sprinkle it over the fruit and bake as below.
- 500g trimmed rhubarb stalks, cut into 1 cm lengths
- 3 granny smith apples (600g), peeled, cored and cut into 3mm thick slices
- 125g strawberries, trimmed and large fruit halved
- 3 tablespoons raw sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
- ½ teaspoon finely ground fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon plain flour
- finely grated zest of 1 lemon
- milk, for brushing
- cream or vanilla ice cream, to serve
SOUR CREAM BISCUIT TOPPING
- 300g (2 cups) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 100g raw sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- pinch of fine sea salt
- 150g chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 200g sour cream
- Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a deep 21 cm round baking dish with butter.
- For the biscuit topping, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times just to combine, then add the butter. Continue to pulse until you have a coarse sandy consistency. Add the sour cream and pulse until the mixture almost forms a ball.
- Tip the mixture onto a lightly floured work surface and gently bring the dough together using your hands. Flatten into a disc, cover, and rest in the fridge for 15 minutes to firm up slightly.
- Meanwhile, combine the fruit in a large bowl with the sugar, fennel, vanilla, flour, and lemon zest. Toss to ensure everything is well coated. Pour into the baking dish.
- On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of 4mm. Using a 5cm circle cutter, cut out rounds from the pastry and arrange them on top of the fruit. You can leave some space in between each biscuit as I have done or overlap them a little for fuller biscuit coverage. Brush the rounds with milk and sprinkle with a little extra raw sugar. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden and the fruit is bubbling.
- Serve hot or warm with dollops of cream or vanilla ice cream.
‘A Year of Simple Family Food’ by Julia Busuttil Nishimura, Published by Plum, RRP $39.99, Photography by Armelle Habib