From lockdown with love: Chefs share their go-to comfort food recipes

Shannon Martinez at home with a bowl of fakes (vegan veg lentils).
Shannon Martinez at home with a bowl of fakes (vegan veg lentils). Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

These are the dishes helping chefs survive lockdown, and some tips and tricks to change our cooking for good.

Lockdowns in 2021 seem different to last year. In 2020 we were hit with the initial shock, but then we hunkered down and made it work however we could.

This year feels different. We're over it. We're ordering in more often because sometimes we're too deflated to think about cooking. Just the thought of trying to decipher the ingredients list is enough to have us reaching for the liquor cabinet even earlier than normal.

Scrolling Instagram a few weeks ago, I came across a post from a dear friend who was clearly having one of those 2021 days and something clicked.

I could go visit some of my favourite chefs, and have them whip up something to shoot that we could all manage to make.

No showing off, nothing fancy; just ingredients we stare at in the cupboard when we declare "there's no food in the house!"

It's food that will get us through this and put a smile on our faces.

– Kristoffer Paulsen

Shannon Martinez, chef at Smith & Daughters and cookbook author

Vegan veg and lentils (fakes)

Advertisement

This recipe's correct name is fakes (pronounced "fah-kehs") and it is a household staple in Greece. Rich, comforting and super healthy, you would never guess, when tasting it, that this dish costs less than $1 a serve. Ready to eat in under an hour, this is a good one to have with plenty of bread while sitting on the couch watching a good movie.

INGREDIENTS

  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
  • 1 brown onion, finely diced
  • ½ bulb fennel, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 stalk celery, finely diced
  • salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 500g green or brown lentils, rinsed
  • water
  • 1 vegan chicken stock cube
  • 1 bay leaf
  • small handful chopped parsley
  • red wine vinegar, to finish

METHOD

  1. Heat olive oil over medium heat and add onion, carrot, fennel and celery. Throw in a big pinch of salt and cook until vegetables are beginning to soften, about 3-4 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and cook for a minute before adding the tomato paste. Cook for a further minute.
  3. Pour in the lentils and enough water to cover the lentils by 2.5cm, then stir in the stock cube.
  4. Drop in the bay leaf and season well with salt and pepper. Simmer over a medium-low heat for 30-40 minutes or until the lentils are cooked but still holding their shape. (Add more water if they're looking dry.)
  5. Once the lentils are cooked, stir through the parsley and check the seasoning. Ladle into bowls and drizzle over the red wine vinegar and some more olive oil. Eat with plenty of bread.

Serves 4

Tips and tricks

  • To increase the health factor, add handfuls of your favourite greens right towards the end.
  • To make it extra lush, top with vegan or regular feta.
  • Toss leftovers through pasta with a splash of pasta cooking water for a quick dinner.

Joseph Vargetto, head chef and owner of Mister Bianco

Drunken one-pot rigatoni, tomato and mozzarella pasotto

My Italian mother used to cook pasta in soup and it would slowly become thick and beautiful. Years later I found out there was a term for this absorption method: "pasotto". A wonderful thing happens when the pasta absorbs the liquid – there's no need to boil a huge pot of water for the pasta, no need for colanders, and no need for a sink! It's the best way to make pasta and sauce if you truly only own one pan.

INGREDIENTS

  • 100ml olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 200ml white wine
  • 400g rigatoni pasta
  • 2 litres vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
  • ¼ bunch of basil, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 300g fresh mozzarella
  • 100g freshly grated parmesan

METHOD

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan-forced (200C conventional).
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large, wide, heavy-based saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  3. Pour in the white wine and allow it to bubble and reduce by half.
  4. Add the rigatoni and allow the pasta to heat through. Add the stock and bring to the boil.
  5. Add the tomatoes and bring it all to a simmer. Gently stir in the basil then season with salt and pepper. Boil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente.
  6. Rip up the mozzarella and scatter it on top, then sprinkle over the parmesan.
  7. Bake in a hot oven to brown for 6 minutes then finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

Serves 4

Tip and tricks

  • Choose a large, wide, heavy-based pot so that when you add the dry pasta it is more or less spread in a single layer.

  • Once you have a pot or deep pan you love working with, always use the same one.
  • The liquids must be at room temperature when you add them to the pot.
  • You can add things like chopped sausage, beef mince or chicken mince when you are frying the garlic.
  • Try red wine instead of white and add rosemary and taleggio instead of mozzarella and basil – it's super tasty but not for the faint-hearted!
  • If you have a barbecue with a lid or an outdoor pizza oven, make this while outdoors soaking up the sun with a spritz in hand.
  • If you can't eat it all in a sitting, use leftovers the next day for "pasta fritto". Simply put whatever is left in a frypan with olive oil and fry until the bottom is extra crisp and finish with more parmesan.

Anthony Femia, chef and owner of Maker & Monger

Bechamel cheese toastie

I spend my life in search of the ultimate toastie. And to me, this the most perfect and foolproof version you can find. Add chopped-up shellfish such as Moreton Bay bugs to the filling to make it epic.

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 leek, finely diced
  • 1 dried chorizo sausage, chopped
  • 200g jar roasted capsicum, finely diced
  • 500ml full-cream milk
  • 8 dried bay leaves
  • 2 pinches crushed black pepper
  • 50g butter, diced
  • 50g plain flour
  • 250g grated mozzarella
  • 150g grated comte or Swiss gruyere
  • 150g grated aged cheddar
  • 1 loaf of bread, in toast-cut slices
  • extra butter
  • salt flakes

METHOD

  1. Warm oil in a frypan on low-medium heat, then add the leek and slowly saute until the leek is beginning to become translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the chorizo and capsicum, stirring constantly for a few minutes before turning temperature right down and continuing to cook gently.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat the milk, bay leaves and pepper on low heat until just below boiling, remove from heat and let steep for 5 minutes, then strain into a jug.
  3. In a large heavy-based saucepan, gently melt the diced butter on low heat before adding the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula to form a roux. Cook for 3-5 minutes before slowly adding the infused milk a little at a time, constantly stirring, to make silky smooth bechamel.
  4. Once all the milk is added, start adding the grated cheese a handful at a time, constantly stirring to ensure it doesn't burn on the base of the pot. Only add a handful once the previous has melted. About halfway through, add the chorizo and capsicum mixture to bechamel to infuse the flavours while you add the cheese. When all cheese is added, take off heat and pour into a baking dish so the cheese is at least 2cm thick. Press a sheet of cling film on top to stop oxidation and place in the fridge to completely cool.
  5. When you're ready to make your toastie, pull out a heavy-based frypan and pre-heat it on medium heat until very hot, about 10 minutes. Take two slices of bread per person, and butter the outsides only. Cut a slice of bechamel mixture to fit the bread. Place on one slice of bread then cover with the second slice, ensuring the butter is on the outside of both slices.
  6. Wrap the sandwich in a sheet of baking paper and place in the hot frypan. Place a kettle filled with water – or something bigger than the sandwich but smaller than the pan – on top to weigh down. Cook for 2-3 minutes then remove the weight and flip the sandwich. Place the weight back on for another 2-3 minutes until the toastie is golden-brown and crisp. Serve with a sprinkle of salt. Repeat this process with the remaining bread and bechamel.

Serves 4-6

Tips and tricks

  • Grated mozzarella is perfect for toasties as it has a great melting point and gives you the trademark stretch and ooze.
  • I love using English cheddar but if you can't get it local vintage cheddar such as Warrnambool Heritage Cheddar and Maffra Mature Cheddar are great alternatives.
  • Use butter (or mayonnaise) on the outside of the bread to ensure a crisp and crunchy toastie. Without either, you run the risk of burning the bread and having a bitter taste in your mouth (figuratively and literally).
  • For a vegetarian alternative, swap the chorizo for 1 tablespoon of seeded mustard and 1 tablespoon of dijon to give a nice kick to the flavour.
  • If you can't find chorizo, Italian sausage is fine. Just make sure it's cooked through with the leek and capsicum.
  • Using baking paper ensures the toastie doesn't stick to the frypan or weight.
  • Never use fresh bread! Yes, it's great for fresh sandwiches but for a toastie it leaves you with a soggy bottom.
  • You can use this bechamel for mac 'n' cheese. For a cheesy experience use a ratio of 2:1 cheese to pasta. For a balanced dish use 1:1. Bring the bechamel to a boil on a low-medium heat, stirring constantly to ensure it doesn't burn. Add freshly cooked pasta, stir to combine and pop it into a baking dish. Cover the top with breadcrumbs and bake in the oven (160C fan-forced or 180C conventional) for 10 minutes.
Tony Tan with his lockdown survival dish, noodle soup with mushrooms.

Tony Tan at his home in Trentham. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Tony Tan, chef and cooking school owner

Noodle soup with mushrooms

So long as you have stock in the house, this nutritious and versatile soup is done within minutes. Which is what we all need in lockdown.

INGREDIENTS

  • 30g dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 150g fresh mixed mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar, or to taste
  • 120g dried wheat egg noodles
  • 1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 red chillies, thinly sliced
  • 2cm knob ginger, finely sliced
  • 150g bok choy, chopped into equal size pieces
  • 1 spring onion, finely sliced

METHOD

  1. Put the shiitake mushrooms in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside for 20 minutes or until softened. Remove the shiitake mushrooms, squeeze dry and discard the stems. Marinate fresh mushrooms with one tablespoon of soy sauce and half teaspoon sugar for 5 minutes.
  2. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, and add the noodles. Cook according to the manufacturer's instructions until just tender. Drain and rinse off excess starch with hot water and divide into two bowls. Keep warm.
  3. Bring the stock to the boil in a saucepan. Add the shiitake, mushrooms, chillies, ginger and remaining tablespoon of soy sauce and half teaspoon of sugar, and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add bok choy and cook for another minute or until soft. Ladle over the noodles and top with spring onion.

Serves 2

Tips and tricks

  • For restaurant-quality clear noodle soup, always cook your noodles in a separate saucepan. To save time, I use two saucepans simultaneously – one to cook the noodles and the other to make the soup.
  • Chicken stock is super easy to make. All that's required is a couple of chicken frames, a knob of sliced ginger and 2-3 chopped spring onions. Add 3 litres of water and bring everything to a simmer – do not cover and NEVER boil and your soup will be crystal clear. Simmer for 2-3 hours.
  • Store-bought chicken stock also works for this recipe.
  • Dried shiitake mushrooms have the best umami hit. Use them as often as you can!
  • Fresh mixed mushrooms such as oyster, enoki and king oyster sold in 150g packets are great for this recipe, though any fresh ones are fine.
  • This recipe is the perfect building block. You can add thin slices of beef right at the end so it gently cooks in the hot broth. Cooked chicken is great to add at the end, too.
  • Any kind of noodle will work for this dish. Use what you have on hand.
  • Although the recipe uses bok choy, any vegetable works.

Martin Benn, chef at Society, and formerly of Sepia (pictured with Vicki Wild)

Negroni rigatoni

​In a cheeky homage to the cocktail, Benn uses a premixed negroni from Four Pillars to deglaze the pan when cooking this reinvention of vodka rigatoni. "It's loosely inspired by the vodka rigatoni from Carbone in New York," Benn says.

INGREDIENTS

  • 60g French shallots (about 2 medium), finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 300ml essential red sauce (see recipe)
  • 2 tbsp Calabrian chilli paste*
  • 50ml pre-mixed negroni
  • 50ml thickened cream
  • 500g rigatoni pasta
  • 50g finely grated parmesan (optional)

METHOD

  1. Fill a large pot three-quarters full with water, add a small handful of sea salt and bring to a rolling boil over high heat.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a cast-iron Dutch oven (or large heavy-based saucepan) over medium heat, add the shallots and garlic and cook until softened and shallots are just starting to brown around the edges, about 5 to 6 minutes.
  3. Add chilli paste and stir to combine, then pour in the negroni and stir together to combine well. Reduce for 1 minute.
  4. Add the essential red sauce and continue to cook, stirring often, until sauce is deep red and starting to brown on the bottom of the pot – about 7 to 9 minutes. Reduce heat to low.
  5. Add the rigatoni to the pot of boiling salted water and cook until al dente (10-12 minutes). Once the pasta is about halfway through its cooking time (5-6 minutes), scoop about ¼ cup (40ml) boiling pasta water from pot using a heatproof measuring cup. Add this to the thickened cream and stir to combine. This will stop the cream from splitting when you add it to the sauce.
  6. Slowly add warmed cream to the sauce, stirring constantly, until the sauce is smooth and glossy. Remove from heat and set aside.
  7. Using a metal spider, remove rigatoni from the water and add to the red sauce. Stir through gently until the rigatoni is coated. Sprinkle over the parmesan (if using) and gently fold through the pasta until it melts and is fully incorporated. Add a little of the pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce, while stirring, if required. You should have a smooth red sauce that evenly coats each piece of pasta.
  8. Drizzle a little more olive oil and toss through the pasta. Serve immediately with sea salt and cracked pepper.

Serves 4

*If you can't find Calabrian chilli paste, a fiery sauce available in Italian grocers, use 1 tbsp chilli oil.

Tips and tricks

  • I use Four Pillars Double Barrelled Negroni. If you don't have it, use vodka.
  • Cook the tomato sauce really slowly on the lowest setting, stirring occasionally, for deep concentration of flavour.
  • Use pasta water to thin the tomato sauce slightly or add more cream to make a saucier sauce.
  • Change the rigatoni to spaghetti and serve with a large dollop of fresh ricotta in the centre of the bowl.
  • Add a sauteed, chopped spicy sausage to the sauce.
  • Saute chopped green prawns until just cooked and toss through the pasta.
  • Add toasted panko crumbs to give the finished pasta some crunch.
  • The tomato sauce alone can be spread thinly over oiled and grilled sourdough as the Spanish do.