Irena Macri recipes: Tuscan cabbage; mustard thyme quail; ricotta cheesecake

Tuscan cabbage.
Tuscan cabbage. Photo: Supplied

Tuscan cabbage

Tuscan cabbage, also known as cavolo nero, is another green leafy vegetable to add to your cooking repertoire. It has narrow, wrinkled, dark green leaves and a mild flavour, similar to kale. It's great in soups and salads but I love it sauteed and combined with punchy flavours. 

Serves 2

Ricotta cheesecake with grilled peaches
Ricotta cheesecake with grilled peaches Photo: Supplied

2 garlic cloves, roughly diced
¼ cup macadamia nuts
8-10 sundried tomatoes, roughly diced
1 tbsp grated lemon zest
4 tbsp virgin olive oil
bunch of Tuscan cabbage (about 8 leaves), diced
½ cup verjuice or white wine
⅔ tsp sea salt
pinch of ground black pepper
1 tbsp butter (ghee if avoiding dairy)
juice of ¼ lemon

In a food processor, grind garlic, macadamia nuts, sundried tomatoes, lemon zest and 2 tbsp of olive oil into a crumbly mixture.

Heat the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the nut mixture and saute for 3-4 minutes until fragrant and the garlic is slightly golden brown. Add Tuscan cabbage and verjuice and saute together for 5 minutes on medium heat. Add salt, pepper and butter and cook for a further 5 minutes. Drizzle with some lemon juice just before serving. 

Mustard thyme quail.
Mustard thyme quail. 

This dish can be served with eggs for breakfast or with fish or meat for lunch and dinner. Similar to kale, Tuscan cabbage can also be made into chips or juiced to make green power smoothies.

Mustard thyme quail

My favourite thing about quail is that you can have the whole bird to yourself and pull it apart, biting the succulent, tasty meat right off the bones. Nothing like licking oozing juices off your fingers.

For the marinade

<i>Eat Drink Paleo</i> by Irena Macri.
Eat Drink Paleo by Irena Macri. 

½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 garlic cloves, diced
½ tsp ground black pepper
1½ tsp sea salt
zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp lemon juice
½ cup virgin olive oil

For the quail

5 whole quails
10 sprigs of fresh thyme
5 garlic cloves, peeled
5 slices of lemon
5 pieces of 40cm long butcher's string

Preheat oven to 190C. Place all marinade ingredients in a food processor and process until well incorporated. Smother all over the quail bodies and inside the cavities. Stand aside for 15 minutes.

Stuff two sprigs of thyme, a garlic clove and a slice of lemon inside each quail. tie the legs with butcher's string and place in a deep roasting tray. Cook in the oven for 35 minutes. Remove and leave to rest under aluminum foil for 5-10 minutes before serving. 

Note: You can use the same marinade to roast chicken, spatchcock or pigeon. Bake leeks or carrots on the lower shelf for a perfect side dish.

Ricotta cheesecake with grilled peaches

If heaven exists and it's up in the clouds, this is the cake they serve for afternoon tea - fluffy, light and subtle textures with flavours of tangy, juicy peaches peeking through like rays of sunshine. This cheesecake is primarily high in protein, calcium and vitamin C; and ricotta is a cheese primarily made from whey, which is less problematic than cheeses that contain mostly casein protein. However, if you're avoiding all dairy, you'll have to sit this one out. More for me!

Serves 8

2½ half cups fresh ricotta cheese
7 tbsp green leaf stevia powder
1 tbsp tapioca flour (or similar starch such as potato)
1 tsp vanilla extract or fresh vanilla seeds from the pod
4 eggs, separated
5 tbsp coconut cream (from the top of the can, avoid the water)
3-4 large ripe peaches
1-2 tbsp coconut sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon powder
A few leaves of fresh basil

Preheat oven to 160C. Brush a round 22cm cake tin with melted coconut oil to lightly grease, and line the base and sides with nonstick baking paper.

Beat together the ricotta, stevia powder, tapioca, vanilla, egg yolks and coconut cream. In a separate clean bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then fold into the ricotta mixture. Pour into the cake tin and bake for 50-60 minutes until golden brown on top. 

Meanwhile, remove stones from the peaches and cut them into even wedges. Place on a greased flat baking tray on top of baking paper. Sprinkle with coconut sugar and cinnamon. About half way through the cheesecake baking time, place the tray with the peaches on the lower shelf of the oven to grill.

Remove the cake from the oven and set aside to cool; it will sink slightly. Place the tray with peaches closer to the top grill and increase the heat to 220C to brown and caramelise the tops. Leave to cook for a further 10 minutes or so.

Starting in the middle, place the grilled peaches on top of the cheescake in a spiral shape. Garnish with fresh berries and fresh basil.

Note: You can use a different type of sweetener instead of stevia such as coconut syrup or honey, although it might change the colour of the cake. Any other fruit can be used instead of peaches - fresh berries, kiwifruit, mango and even fresh figs drizzled with a little honey and lemon.