Passionate by design - Sydney Morning Herald

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Guy Mirabella.

Guy Mirabella (right) and chef Leith Baker in the kitchen of Shop Ate Cafe & Store.

Guy Mirabella's latest cookbook offers a big serve of gratitude, writes Jane Holroyd.

GUY Mirabella does not do half-hearted. While you may not have heard of him, his handiwork is likely sitting on a bookshelf in your house. As one of Australia's most highly regarded book designers of the 1990s he left his fingerprints everywhere, including on seminal cookbooks bearing the names of Stephanie Alexander, Christine Manfield and Charmaine Solomon.

In 1997, at the tender age of 44, the designer decided to pursue his passion for cooking and aimed straight for the top. Mirabella applied for a chef's position at the legendary Rinaldo Di Stasio's St Kilda restaurant. He got the job (more on that later).

But it is with his current venture, the Shop Ate Cafe & Store in Mount Eliza, where Mirabella has found his home. Now in its ninth year, it is, like many cafes, a labour of love. ''Every day we open the door [and] every day I just hope we are going to get takings that are going to pay my staff and pay my suppliers,'' he says.

Red Salad (beetroot, peach and radicchio).

Red salad (beetroot, peach and radicchio).

He gave away his 25-year design career after the 1999 Australian Book Design Awards, where he not only claimed top gong for the year's best-designed book (Peter Timms's The Nature of Gardening), but others including best-designed cookbook (Manfield's Spice).

Official recognition was a watershed. ''I had this reputation as a designer who always won awards, but I had never won an award. Then 1999 came and we entered some categories. Lo and behold I win [nearly] every one. I was so shocked. I rang my wife and we were both bawling … My son came home from school and said, 'Dad, you've done it. Now you can open your cafe.' ''

His sixth cookbook, Hungry: Food from my Heart, is Mirabella's thank-you to the people who've helped turn this humble dream into reality. First, there are those who have patronised Shop Ate - many of Mirabella's ''cafe friends'' have been coming since he opened the doors in 2002. Then there are the many cooks who have worked there with Mirabella.

Last - certainly not least - is his family. The influence of his Sicilian heritage is everywhere, scattered through recipes celebrating the robust, seasonal flavours of his upbringing on a small peninsula farm at Somerville, where his parents settled after leaving postwar Europe.

With his artist's sensibility, Mirabella's cafe almost never made it out of the starting blocks.

''I had spent all this time worrying about the design - how it looked and the chairs and the lighting, and it suddenly dawned on me the morning I opened the door, 'What am I going to cook?' We did not have a menu.''

Things got better, of course. Mirabella developed a cooking style that worked in his new environment. Like the fare served in many good cafes, the recipes in Hungry point the way to tasty, relatively simple dishes - quick to prepare, yet beautiful to look at. Some of the recipes, including Merle Kingston's pot pies, are Shop Ate staples courtesy of long-time staff.

Mirabella has taken no part in Hungry's look, instead leaving that to long-time friend Dominic Hofstede and photographer Earl Carter.

He is ecstatic with the result, saying the measure of a good cookbook is its ability to capture the personality of the chef behind the recipes. Put simply, Hungry is high drama - a colourful celebration of Mirabella's love affair with food.

Hungry: Food from my heart, HB, published by Plum, $49.99.

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Red salad (beetroot, peach and radicchio)

INGREDIENTS

200g beetroot, peeled

6 pink-skinned peaches

1 small radicchio (about 300g), leaves separated

½ red cabbage (500g), finely sliced

½ small red onion, finely sliced

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt

4 radishes, finely sliced or shaved

1 pomegranate, cut into wedges

1 tbsp nigella seeds

60g pistachios, toasted and roughly chopped

200g creme fraiche

Zest and juice of blood orange

METHOD

■Shave or finely slice the beetroot and set aside in a bowl of cold water. Slice the cheeks from the peaches and set aside.

■Combine the radicchio, cabbage, drained beetroot, peach cheeks, onion and olive oil in a large bowl and season with the salt. Toss by turning gently just twice.

■Arrange the salad on a serving platter by building it up in clumps, showing all the ingredients. Scatter the radish discs, pomegranate wedges, nigella seeds and pistachios over the top of the salad.

■Place the creme fraiche and blood orange zest and juice in a bowl and mix well. Transfer to a small bowl, add a spoon and serve with the salad for your guests to help themselves.

Serves 6-8

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Artichoke and silverbeet risotto

INGREDIENTS

Juice of 1 lemon

4 globe artichokes

1.25 litres chicken or vegetable stock or water

3 tbsp olive oil

75g butter, plus extra to serve

1 onion, finely chopped

1 tsp fennel seeds, ground

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 fresh bay leaf

4 small silverbeet leaves, finely sliced, stalks chopped

300g carnaroli rice

¼ cup dry white wine

1 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

4 dill sprigs, chopped

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 cup freshly grated grana padano, plus extra to serve

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

METHOD

■Fill a large saucepan with cold water and pour in the lemon juice. Discard the top third of each artichoke. Pull off the dark outer leaves until you reach the lighter-green tender ones in the centre. Trim the stalks to about 5cm from the base.

■Place in the pan with the lemon water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 min until just tender. Drain and cut each artichoke into quarters, removing the hairy choke. Set aside.

■For the risotto, pour the stock or water into a saucepan and bring to a simmer.

■Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, add the onion and ground fennel, and cook until the onion is soft and translucent.

■Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 sec without browning. Add the bay leaf, silverbeet and artichoke, stir gently and cook for 10 min.

■Stir in the rice and continue to stir for 2 min. Pour in the wine and stir until it evaporates, then add a ladleful of the simmering stock and stir until absorbed. Keep adding stock gradually in this way for about 18 min.

■Taste the risotto - the rice should be firm to the bite. If you prefer, cook for another 3-5 min until the rice is tender in the middle but not completely soft.

■Remove the risotto from the heat and add the parsley, dill, lemon zest and juice, grana padano and an extra knob of butter. Season, stir, cover with the lid and rest for 2 min.

■Serve in warm bowls with the extra grana padano sprinkled on top.

Serves 4

06 Sep, 2011


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