If there's a cookbook that captures what I hope this summer evolves into, it's Miguel Maestre's Feast. There's a sense of generosity to this book, full of hearty meals to share with friends and family, recipes that elevate easy meals such as jaffles to something special. It's a celebration of many things, of quality produce, of the simple fact that we can now gather people at our kitchen tables.
Exuberant is a word often used to describe Maestre, the "Crazy Bull", a popular co-host of Ten's Logie-winning The Living Room, star of his own cooking shows and winner of 2020's I'm a Celebrity! Get me out of here!
And that's because he is. He talks at lightning speed, his attention jumps, he's quick to laugh and not afraid to reveal emotions.
"Since I started cooking my motive has been to feed people and express my love through food," he says.
"The first rule of cooking food is to cook it for someone you love."
Maestre was born in Murcia in the south of Spain and came to Australia in 2000 when he was 21. A chance meeting with famed Spanish chef Ferran Adria took him back to his homeland where he cooked at El Bulli and that inspired him to open his own restaurant El Toro Loco in Manly, where he remained until 2010. He says Feast is that book that captures his Spanish genetics and his love for Australia.
"Spain and Australia share a lot of similar values," he says.
"It's about sharing and the whole tapas concept really works in Australia, the idea of al fresco eating, when you have a barbecue and everyone brings a plate of different things.
"We love entertaining and hanging out with our mates and that's what Spanish cuisine is all about too."
Feast is his fourth book. In 2018 he co-authored a book with his The Living Room co-host and friend Barry du Bois after du Bois' battle with cancer.
"Helping Baz through that time has made me grateful for everything," he says.
"To me, life is a feast of the senses and all meals should be generous, unique, fun, original and colourful."
- Feast: 100 generous dishes to share, by Miguel Maestre. Plum, $39.99.
Murcian salad classica
Just as the nicoise salad is an iconic dish from the south of France, the Murcian salad is a true staple of the southern Spanish city of Murcia, where I was born. It is on the menu in every tapas bar and every Murcian person knows how to make it.
This dish has everything you want from a salad: substance, flavour, texture and that homemade feel. The secret is crushing the tomatoes to create something between a sauce and a dressing. This is one of the only salads to showcase the humble white onion, as the acidity works in mysterious ways with the richness from the tomatoes.
My mama would make a massive batch of Murcian salad every week for the family to eat at different times of the day - in sandwiches, as a side to a main course or just on its own. We would devour it within days. Every mouthful of this salad - and even just looking at this photo - transports me to my homeland within seconds. It makes me so very proud to share something truly Murcian with Australian readers.
2 large oxheart tomatoes
400g good-quality canned whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 white onion, very finely sliced on a mandoline
185g good-quality canned tuna in olive oil (reserve the oil)
60g pitted black olives extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
1. Boil the eggs for six minutes (for soft-boiled). Remove with a slotted spoon, reserving the water, and immediately place the eggs under cold running water to cool. Peel and set aside.
2. Cut a cross in the base of the tomatoes, then add to the pan of boiling water and blanch for one minute. Remove and cool in cold water, then peel and set aside.
3. To plate up, use your hands to crush the canned tomatoes and their juices into a salad bowl. Halve the eggs and arrange on top, then cut the tomatoes into quarters and add to the bowl. Top with the onion, flaked tuna and oil, and the olives. Dress with extra-virgin olive oil, season generously with salt and pepper and serve.
Tip: Always serve tomatoes at room temperature to appreciate their full flavour.
Maggie is my wife Sascha's mum and my children's granny. She is from Scotland and let me tell you - nobody makes shortbread like a Scot, and especially a Scottish granny. I lived in Scotland for three years so I know this to be true. This recipe was passed down to Maggie from her mother, then Maggie passed it down to Sascha, who will in turn give it to our children, Claudia and Morgan. It is an amazing part of our family's cooking legacy. Maggie is the best granny ever, and she will be really proud to see this treasured recipe included here.
125g icing sugar
250g unsalted butter, softened
250g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
caster sugar, for sprinkling
1. Preheat the oven to 160C (fan-forced) and line a large baking tray with baking paper.
2. Place the icing sugar and butter in a large bowl and beat until smooth.
3. Sift the flours into a separate bowl, then add to the butter mixture and gently knead to bring the dough together.
4. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle about 3cm thick. Taking care not to cut all the way through, score the dough into your desired shape, such as squares, and prick with a fork.
5. Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly golden.
6. Remove from the oven and finish cutting all the way through the shortbread. Sprinkle with caster sugar while still warm, then set aside to cool. The shortbread will keep in an airtight container for up to three days.
Tarta de Santiago
Tarta de Santiago (cake of Saint James) comes from the beautiful Spanish city of Galicia. Traditionally, it is sold along the route of the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail - a delicious burst of energy for the faithful. To qualify as authentic, it needs to be at least 33 per cent almonds and made in Galicia ... well, I guess this can be our Australian version!
I make mine a bit special by putting chocolate chips through the almond filling as a little surprise. For a truly Insta-worthy dessert, make sure you google the Santiago cross, then print and cut one out to make a stencil. Once the cake has cooled slightly, place the stencil on top and dust with icing sugar to get this stunning look.
250g plain flour
75g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
125 g chilled unsalted butter, chopped
3 egg yolks
pinch of salt flakes
double cream, to serve
125 g unsalted butter, softened
50g caster sugar
100g almond meal
1 tsp plain flour
finely grated zest of 1 orange
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
75g dark chocolate chips
1. Sift the flour and icing sugar into the bowl of a food processor, add the butter and process until crumbly. Add the egg yolks and salt and blend until combined. Tip out the dough and press together into a ball, then wrap in plastic wrap and rest in the fridge for one hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 175C (fan-forced). Grease a 24 cm round loose-based flan tin.
3. Roll out the dough between two sheets of baking paper until large enough to line the base and side of the prepared tin. Lift the dough into the tin and gently press into the edges. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
4. Line the pastry with baking paper and fill with uncooked rice or baking beans. Blind-bake for 10 minutes, then remove the paper and weights. Return to the oven for another five minutes or until the tart shell is dry and lightly golden. Set aside to cool completely.
5. Meanwhile, to make the filling, place the butter and sugar in the small bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat until light and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating between additions, then stir in the almond meal, flour, zest and chocolate chips. Spoon the filling into the tart shell and smooth the top.
6. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the tip of a knife or a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool completely, then release from the tin. Dust generously with extra icing sugar and serve with double cream.
The PPP: pici pasta pesto
If you want to get your family involved in making a dish from this book, this is the one! It doesn't matter how thick or thin the pici are rolled, the only thing that matters is the mantecare. This is the magical process of emulsifying the sauce with the residual pasta-cooking water. You need a really big mixing bowl and plenty of tossing and mixing to achieve this, and it is the one thing that will make your pasta perfect. Don't worry about anything else, just enjoy the family working together to create this classic pasta dish.
225g 00 flour or plain flour, plus extra if needed
2 pinches of salt flakes
1 tsp finely grated parmesan
3 tbsp thickened cream
320g mixed mini tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
small basil leaves and grated parmesan, to serve
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 pinches of salt flakes, or to taste
100g freshly washed basil leaves, still wet, roughly chopped
2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
125ml mild extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp finely grated pecorino
3 tbsp finely grated parmesan
freshly ground black pepper
1. Place the flour, salt and parmesan in the bowl of a food processor, add 125ml of warm water and process until the dough forms a ball. It should be smooth with the consistency of modelling clay, so add a little extra flour if needed. Wrap the dough and rest in the fridge so the gluten can relax, making it easier to roll out. Rest for at least one hour, though you can leave it for up to 24 hours.
2. To make the pesto, put the garlic and salt in a large mortar and use the pestle to pound to a paste. Add the basil and pine nuts in batches, and pound to break them up and form a paste. Gradually add the oil and mix until combined, then stir in the cheese. Taste and season with pepper and more salt if needed.
3. Pinch off a 2-3cm piece of the rested dough and place between the palms of your hands. Roll into a log, then roll the log outwards with both palms, applying pressure evenly to form a noodle the same thickness as a fine pencil. Finish rolling on a clean surface (no extra flour) to the width of a fine green bean. Don't worry about being too precise - they are meant to be irregular. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper and repeat with the remaining dough. (Alternatively, you can pat out the dough to a 3mm thick rectangle and cut strips of dough, then roll, pressing lightly on each strip to roll it into a long worm shape about 3-4 mm thick.)
4. When you are ready to cook the pasta, bring a large, wide-based saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and cook for four to five minutes until al dente.
5. Meanwhile, combine the cream, tomatoes and three tablespoons of the pesto in a large mixing bowl. Using tongs, transfer the cooked pici from the boiling water straight into the sauce, add the oil and toss to coat well.
6. Divide among bowls and serve topped with basil leaves and grated parmesan.
Store the leftover pesto in an airtight container, covered with a thin layer of oil. It will keep in the fridge for up to one week.
The amount of salt required for the pesto depends on the type of cheese you use. Some can be very salty so taste as you go. You can use 50g of parmesan if you don't have any pecorino.
Variation: For a chilli prawn pici, peel and butterfly 10 large king prawns, leaving the tails intact and reserving the heads and shells. Melt 60g of butter in a saucepan over medium heat and cook the prawn heads and shells, crushing with a wooden spoon until you get a red-coloured butter. Strain and discard the heads and shells. Add a splash of olive oil to a large flameproof baking tray and cook the prawns over medium heat, without moving, for two minutes. Increase the heat to high, then toss through the pici, the red prawn butter and two finely sliced long red chillies until well combined and heated through. Sprinkle with half a bunch of basil leaves and serve.