With Maltese heritage and a love of Italy stoked by living and working in the country during her early 20s, Julia Busuttil Nishimura describes her cooking as food that slowly weaves its way into the fabric of your daily life – food for living and sharing.
These recipes are from her cookbook Ostro, the Italian name for the southerly Mediterranean wind, which shares roots with the etymology of the name Australia.
"I choose to cook food that is understated, so starting with good-quality produce is paramount," she writes. "I cook this type of food because it doesn't have to be 'special'. It's not food that needs to be placed on a pedestal or admired from afar."
Tagliatelle with beef short-rib ragu
Beef short ribs can be bought in racks cut across the bone, asado style, or cut between the bones into individual ribs. Either is fine; however, if you're using the former, simply cut the rack into more manageable pieces for browning. Ribs benefit from a long, slow cook – they will be incredibly rich, tender and full of flavour. Fresh pasta is a perfect match for this ragu – cooked briefly in the sauce, it will take on all of the richness.
60ml (¼ cup) extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
800g beef short ribs, cut into individual ribs if necessary
250ml (1 cup) red wine
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
680g tomato passata
2 fresh bay leaves
2 oregano sprigs
large handful basil leaves
grated parmesan, to serve
500g fresh tagliatelle
Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over a low heat. Add the onion, celery, carrot and a pinch of salt and saute for 10-15 minutes until soft and caramelised. Transfer to a large bowl and wipe the saucepan clean. Heat the remaining olive oil over a high heat and brown the ribs on all sides. Transfer to the bowl and discard any oil left in the saucepan. Return to the heat, add the wine and simmer for a minute or two, scraping any bits stuck to the bottom. Return the vegetables and ribs to the saucepan, add the garlic, passata and 300 millilitres of water and stir so it's all nicely combined.
Add the bay leaves and oregano. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook for three to four hours until the meat is tender and falling away from the bone.
Remove the ribs from the ragu and shred the meat, discarding any bones. Return the meat to the sauce, along with most of the basil leaves. Simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes until slightly reduced. Remove and discard the bay leaves, season to taste and keep the ragu warm over a low heat while you cook the pasta.
Bring a large saucepan of generously salted water to the boil and cook the pasta for two to three minutes or until al dente. Transfer the tagliatelle to the ragu and toss to combine, adding 60-125 millilitres (1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cup) of the pasta water as needed to thin the sauce. Serve into bowls and scatter with freshly grated parmesan and the remaining basil leaves.
Lovely depth and richness: Barley, cavolo nero and beef broth. Photo: Armelle Habib
Barley, cavolo nero and beef broth
Tough cuts of beef like shin, as I've used here, benefit from a long, slow cook. With a little love, they are the most flavourful and cost far less than the prime cuts. I like to use a dark beer in this broth, something like a stout or a dark ale, which adds lovely depth and richness.
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, roughly chopped
1 × 650g boneless beef shin, cut into three pieces
250ml (1 cup) dark beer, such as stout
200g pearl barley
1 bunch cavolo nero, tough stems removed, leaves washed thoroughly and roughly torn
small handful flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
Melt the butter with half the olive oil in a large frying pan over a low heat. When the butter is foaming, add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook over a very low heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and caramelised. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add the pieces of beef and brown really well on all sides. Pour in the beer and bring to a simmer. Add 1½ litres of water, bring to the boil then turn down the heat to low and simmer for about three hours or until the beef is tender. Check occasionally to ensure the beef is still covered, and top up with more water later if necessary. Remove the beef, set aside until cool enough to handle, then shred into smaller pieces.
Meanwhile, add the pearl barley to the soup and simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until cooked. Add the cavolo nero along with the caramelised onions and shredded beef. Simmer for four to five minutes and season to taste. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve sprinkled with parsley.
This broth is a lovely way to celebrate spring. Photo: Armelle Habib
Chicken broth with wheat and spring vegetables
With its beautiful broad beans, peas and nutty wheat grain, this broth is a lovely way to celebrate spring. Feel free to substitute the wheat for other grains, such as spelt, buckwheat or farro. Similarly, use whichever vegetables are in season; just be sure to keep an eye on them and adjust the cooking times to suit.
200g whole wheat grains
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 leek, white and light-green parts only, finely sliced and washed
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 litre chicken stock
500g skinless chicken thighs
150g shelled broad beans
100g shelled fresh peas
1 garlic clove, peeled
large handful mint leaves
large handful flat-leaf parsley leaves
juice of ½ a lemon
about 100ml extra-virgin olive oil
For the herb oil, finely chop the garlic and herbs together on a board. Transfer to a small bowl, squeeze in the lemon juice and drizzle in enough olive oil to give the sauce a pourable consistency. Season with salt and set aside.
Cook the wheat in a saucepan of boiling water over a medium-high heat for 20-25 minutes or until al dente. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a low heat. Add the leek, celery and a pinch of salt and gently fry for seven to eight minutes until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another one to two minutes. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and add the chicken thighs. Poach the chicken for about 12 minutes until just cooked, then remove and set aside until cool enough to handle. Shred the chicken into large pieces and set aside until ready to use.
Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Add the broad beans, boil for a few minutes, then drain and set aside to cool. Peel off and discard the outer layer of the beans.
Add the wheat to the simmering broth and cook for five minutes so the wheat takes on some of the broth flavour. Return the chicken to the broth and add the peas and broad beans. Simmer for two to three minutes or until the peas and broad beans are just cooked. Season to taste then serve immediately, topped with spoonfuls of the herb oil.
This orecchiette has a lovely fresh sauce that is very quick to prepare. Photo: Armelle Habib
Orecchiette with peas and ricotta
This is a lovely fresh sauce that is very quick to prepare. The pasta water is crucial to creating a silky sauce, so don't be hasty and pour it down the drain.
150g peas (preferably fresh, but frozen are fine too)
375g fresh full-fat ricotta
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
sea salt and black pepper
large handful mint leaves, roughly chopped
Blanch the peas in a small saucepan of boiling water for one to two minutes or until just cooked. Refresh in cold water and drain. Place the ricotta in a large bowl, drizzle with the olive oil and season generously. Stir until smooth and combined and add the peas.
Drain the orecchiette, reserving the pasta water. Add the orecchiette immediately to the ricotta, along with 60-125 millilitres (¼ to ½ cup) of pasta water as needed, a little at a time – just enough to thin the sauce. It shouldn't be too thick but should coat the orecchiette nicely, so don't be shy. Stir through the mint and serve immediately with a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
This is an edited extract from Ostro by Julia Busuttil Nishimura, published by Plum, RRP $44.99, photographs by Armelle Habib.