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


Badly made dinner for a winter's night.

Twenty years ago - or maybe it was thirty - no-one had ever heard of gnocchi until some Italian immigrants started importing shrink-wrapped packs of them and selling them in delis in the inner suburbs.

I bought some of the earliest ones and quite liked them with napoli or bolognese sauce, but these days I make my own, because home-made ones make the manufactured ones taste like Deb instant mashed potato, which essentially is what they are.

Now gnocchi are everywhere, especially in overpriced hipster cafes where I even came across one dish some years ago that was entitled 'gnoccho' because it was literally one on the plate. That was probably the last time I visited a hipster cafe. The sole gnoccho had an injection of arugula walnut pesto on it, and it costed $21, but without the dollar sign, to make it sound cheaper.

But gnocchi are not the only Italian dumplings. There are also 'malfatti', which means 'badly made', because these dumplings tend to take random shapes, unlike their gnocchi cousins which can be fashioned into perfect pillows (although mine are never uniform).

These could take off*. If so, look out for 'malfatto' on hipster cafe menus, and avoid.


Cook a bunch of well-rinsed and drained spinach in a little oil and a chopped clove of garlic.

When the spinach is well wilted, place it in a large bowl and mix it with:

- a cup of ricotta

- a quarter cup of grated parmesan

- a cup of bread crumbs

- a quarter cup of spring onions

- a handful of chopped basil or dried equivalent

- two eggs, and

- a quarter teaspoon of nutmeg.

These ratios are approximate, aiming for a dough that is workable but not too moist.

When well mixed, roll with floured hands into logs.

Cut the logs into one-inch sections and set on a floured surface or baking sheet.

When ready to cook, drop the logs carefully into salted boiling water.

Reduce heat and simmer four to five minutes.

Lift out carefully with slotted spoon, drain and place on serving dishes. Serve with your choice of sauce - good with a simple tomato-based or bolognese sauce. Or lightly fry them in some sage butter and top with parmesan.


*Although they didn't take off when I last wrote about them 11 years ago.


First, catch your escaped salmon.

Farmed salmon is either the best thing you can eat, or environmentally unsound depending on who you ask. Something about encroaching on unfarmed fishes' territory, or their residue spoils the water for the natives, or the farmed fish can escape. In the past a riposte such as the W. C. Fields quote about fish could blow these nonsensical theories out of the water but today any rational reply is met with a sanctimonious gaze through eyes that are slightly unsteady.

Salmon with beurre blanc.

The sauce
Reduce 3/4 white wine to 1/4 white vinegar in a pan with a sprig of tarragon, a bay leaf, ten black peppercorns and a chopped spring shallot. Cool and strain. Place two tablespoons of this reduction into a pan with a tablespoon of cream. Reduce this by half and then gradually whisk pieces of cold, diced butter until thickened slightly. Add the juice of half a lemon, salt and pepper.

The fish
Cook salmon fillets gently in a pan with a little butter and lemon juice.

The vegetable
Cut four peeled waxy potatoes into half-centimetre slices, boil gently until just soft.

Layer potatoes on serving plates, salmon on top, beurre blanc over.

There is great pleasure in being on the sea, he thought, in the unknown and the wild suddenness of a great fish; and there is satisfaction in conquering this thing which rules the sea it lives in.
- Hemingway


Champions 1, Stablemates 1

This is hard to watch, but incredible. Hard because they run the wrong way in Sydney (explanations are vague but New South Wales also tried to sabotage the southern colony by building their railways on a different gauge and playing a different ball game) but incredible because of the outcome.

Either a barrier attendant was holding her late, or the starter let them go before she was settled, or she reared and nearly dropped Hugh Bowman; either way Winx came out four or five lengths behind the field. Her eventual overtaking of seven horses occurs in the last six hundred on the outside, despite being almost outfoxed at the post by stablemate Foxplay. But not quite! In a mirror event, Arrogate failed went down to his stablemate.

Jockey Hugh Bowman repeated how I described Winx on Saturday, but it's hardly a unique claim:

"She's a freak!"


Equine quest for world domination.

Winx v. Arrogate:
Winx hasn’t been beaten for more than two years and, after this weekend, she could even be rated the best galloper in the world if US champ Arrogate has his colours lowered again at Del Mar in California on Sunday morning.
She's a freak:
A recent university study identified Winx’s stride and, to be more precise, the frequency of her stride as a clue to her extraordinary ability. Winx’s stride length was measured at about 6.8m, which is longer than the average. The mighty mare takes about 170 strides per minute — compared to an average racehorse’s 140 per minute — which underlines her ability to sustain top speed for longer than her rivals.
A longer stride at a faster frequency? That's freakish. Could we train humans to do that? Probably not - four legs v. two means there is some kind of a gearing phenomenon at play.


I still see her dark eyes glowing ...

Three Glenn Campbell favourites, all of whom are Jimmy Webb compositions:

1. 'Galveston'

2. 'Wichita Lineman'

and the lesser known:

3. 'Where's the Playground, Susie'

and maybe this as well:

But she'll just hear that phone keep on ringing
Off the wall, that's all

Read Jimmy Webb's tribute to Glenn Campbell.


Six interesting facts about Armenia.

1. Armenia has very nice views.

2. Archaeological surveyors found the world's earliest known leather shoe there in 2010.

3. An Armenian edged out Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan in an 'entertainer of the century poll' in 1998*.

4. Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion thanks to apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew who preached there circa AD40, possibly due to the nice views.

5. Armenia's coat of arms bears an image of Mt Ararat, traditionally the place where Noah's Ark landed.

6. 'Armenian potatoes'. (See below.)


Armenian potatoes is one of the best side dishes you've never heard of. Or maybe you have. Maybe you cook it every week.

But I'd never heard of it until I came across the recipe in an ancient cookbook. It takes old potatoes, dices them, turbocharges them with garlic and pairs the slow, sweet burn of paprika with the acid tang of tomato. Then it all fires up in the oven into a crunch-laden flavour explosion that will make you forget what the main event was.

Armenian potatoes.

One kilogram of old potatoes. They have to be old for some reason to do with chemistry or the water content. Or maybe all potatoes are old in Armenia because they have to travel a long way across the Caucasus Mountains from Russia. I don't know.
Tablespoon of oil
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
One cup water
One teaspoon salt
One teaspoon paprika
Six cloves garlic
One cup parsley, chopped

Peel the old potatoes and cut them into small dice. Chop or mince the garlic. Tumble the chopped potatoes and garlic through the oil and then the tomato paste to coat; then toss through the salt, paprika, parsley and pepper. Place in a casserole and add the water.

Bake in a moderate oven for about three quarters of an hour, then serve alongside rare steaks and pretend you are a dinner guest at the Gugark Hotel in Vanadzor.

*Charles Aznavour.