Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Making zucchini interesting one ingredient at a time.

"The first zucchini I saw I killed it with a hoe," goes the famous quote, complete with superfluous pronoun.

Presumably the author gave up after his first kill, especially if he were to find Dave Barry's zucchini experience accurate: "You can't grow just one zucchini. Minutes after you plant a single seed, hundreds of zucchini will barge out of the ground and sprawl around the garden, menacing the other vegetables. At night, you will be able to hear the ground quake as more and more zucchinis erupt."

The point is that more boring a vegetable is, the more jokes are written about them. But nobody laughs at the following recipe.

Spiced zucchini stew with chick peas and olives.

Fry a large chopped onion in olive oil until soft.

Add two scored garlic cloves, a tablespoonful of grated orange zest, a teaspoonful of cummin and a half teaspoonful of dried crushed red pepper. Stir until well combined.

Now add about a half kilogram of diced white zucchini, two cans of diced tomatoes with their juice, a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas, and twenty pitted black olives. Salt to taste.

Simmer until the zucchini is tender. Add water if necessary.

Serve over peppered polenta: cook polenta, crack twenty black peppercorns in mortar and add them to the polenta along with salt to taste and grated parmesan cheese.

Garnish the stew with parsley, minced garlic and grated lemon zest.

You won't believe it's a zucchini.


Pick the difference, apart from $1.09.

A. Coles Tuna in Brine, 80c.

B. Dine Tuna Slices in a Light Jus $1.89.

Answer below.

A is normal canned tuna. B is cat food.


Baked pasta shells with three cheeses and spinach.

I usually make lasagna from scratch but of the frozen ones from supermarkets, the Aldi 2kg pack is very good value at $8.99 and looks and tastes like the real thing. The front of the pack proclaims that it 'serves ten', so I put it to the test.

I cut the cooked lasagne into sections and served them, and the children (age 11, 10 and 6) despatched these in minutes. Second serves disappeared likewise. Alex dropped out first, but she hadn't played two hours of football. It was a race to the finish for Thomas and William but William prevailed. The pack served three. Three children. But it was still excellent quality and good value: these children eat like horses. Or is the expression "I could eat a horse"? I can never remember.

Another variation on the baked pasta category is one I have made many times over the years and may have posted once or twice in this blog.

Baked giant pasta shells.

You can find the large ones at Italian delis (such as T-Deli in Sydney Rd, Mediterranean Wholesalers, Gervasi etc).

These shells grow to about two inches from bow to stern once you've cooked them, and you'll need a baking dish large enough to accommodate them. I made 24, boiling until just softening, then draining and running them through cold water to stop them softening any further.

I filled them flat with a mixture of 500g thawed frozen spinach, 500g fresh ricotta, 100g mozzarella, 50g parmesan, two eggs, a good dash of nutmeg and three smashed cloves of garlic.

Set them in the dish and pour in enough napoli sauce to reach almost to the tops of the loaded shells. It's easier to put the sauce in first once you know the plimsoll line of the shells. I baked the foil-topped dish (the lid broke years ago) for an hour on 180, but oven times vary.

Serves three.


The Blogger in the Office Next Door.

I once worked in an advertising agency in a soaring city building that also housed several hundred of the types of corporate accountants and lawyers that you never see, you just know they are there. They must all arrive at 6 a.m. and leave after eight in the evening, because they only people I ever saw in the lift were couriers, lunch delivery people and the lolly lady.

The building had a marble lobby that you entered through one of those rotating doors that always seem to be about to slice you in half, and the agency was on the 27th floor, away from the grime and the noise and the lunchtime joggers.

I had been working there for a few years as a kind of freelance to clean up the on-staff writers' bad writing and do the jobs they didn't want to tackle. Annual report for a national office supplies company? 64-page brochure promoting a self-managed super fund? Give it to the freelancer, they said. Lazy pricks. On the other hand, I spent long periods waiting around for the next job to come in. During the quieter moments, I wrote a blog entitled The Advertising Agency documenting some of the industry's more, er, 'interesting' idiosyncrasies. (No longer online - I'm turning it into a book.) My 'links' list included several weblogs about the industry from all parts of the world including London, New York, Chicago, Rio, Mumbai and Nairobi. One of them was a savagely cynical take on the industry written under the pseudonym of Wrightoff, a pun that had become a metaphor for the writer's career. We regularly commented on each other's posts and we were equally cynical. I didn't know which city Wrightoff was in. Being semi-intelligent human beings, we were usually careful to not divulge the identities of selves or agencies.

One day, I had finished writing a live-read commercial for a hardware store's Christmas opening hours, or a brochure for a bank's fixed-rate loan, or a press ad for a superannuation company run by ex-unionists who had set up an opt-out life insurance scheme to further fleece unwary members – whatever - and I had just checked in at my blog to see if anyone had commented that day.

Just then, the account executive who worked in the next cubicle came into my office, saw my blog masthead on the screen and said, "Oh - The Advertising Agency blog. I read that as well. In fact, its writer has linked to my own blog. Want to see it?" (He had no idea, of course, that The Advertising Agency was my blog. Why would I be reading my own blog?)

He took my mouse and clicked the cursor on a title in my sidebar.

The blog he had clicked on came up on the screen. It was Wrightoff.

"That's your blog?" I asked him, trying not to look shocked.

"Yes," he said, then asked conversationally, "Do you know who writes The Advertising Agency?"

I felt a prickly feeling crawl up my back. Knowing that I had satirised, if not actively offended, 90% of the people in the advertising industry in this city, I had about half a second to decide whether I should reveal my identity. It could be awkward: imagine the conversation at an industry Christmas party if, after a few drinks, someone introduced me by saying, "Did you know that this man writes The Advertising Agency blog?" I could be beaten up by twenty drunk account executives (the last four words being the mother of all oxymorons when it comes to Christmas parties).

"No idea," I said airily.