Food Talk | Julia Busuttil Nishimura
We are so excited to share with you the first of our Food Talk series. We'll be talking to chefs and foodies around Australia, sharing their passion for food and also their favourite recipes. We'll also profile chef's in their domain, in the restaurant kitchen - stay tuned! We kickstart the series with the lovely Julia Busuttil Nishimura, who has recently released her first book, Ostro, which focuses on the importance of slowing down and cooking with beautiful and simple ingredients. We caught up with Julia to find out more and also share with you a recipe from her new book.
Hi Julia, tell us a little about your journey to where you are today - have you always been passionate about cooking? I’ve always been interested in cooking, even from a young age. At family gatherings or on special occasions, I preferred to be in the kitchen helping prepare food. For my family, cooking traditional Maltese dishes has always been a really important way to stay connected to our culture and I have very fond memories of being in the kitchen with my mum and dad, making ricotta, cooking rabbit and podding broad beans. Even as a child, I was constantly enamoured with cookbooks and food writing. My mum had a small collection of cookbooks and once I had read all of them, I began to collect my own. Although I’ve always been cooking, I didn’t really start writing recipes until I lived in Italy. I worked for a family in the Tuscan countryside and that was really the turning point. Everyday we would be cooking and eating the most amazing food using fresh, local and seasonal produce. It was the biggest inspiration to me and I really learned so much living there, about cooking but also about how to enjoy it. My blog came soon after, I felt I really had something to share.
Simple ingredients are very important to you, can you tell us why? Simple ingredients are so central to my cooking and are usually always the source of inspiration for new recipes and ideas. Everything in my book or on my blog are dishes I make at home, for my friends and family so ingredients need to be simple and easy to source. There’s no point writing a recipe with ingredients that cost too much or are impossible to find – that’s not really me. Starting with simple and fresh ingredients means I’m in the best possible position to make delicious food.
What are you most passionate about? Food is what brings me the most joy and my passion is of course food but also everything that surrounds those moments of sharing food – family, friends, good conversation and languages. Also, being a teacher, I’m so passionate about learning – I’m always reading to discover more and soak it all in.
What is your earliest and fondest food memory? My earliest and fondest food memory is making ricotta with my parents. I was just four but I can still remember so clearly walking down to the beach to collect sea water, stirring the curds, setting them in iridescent pink cheese baskets on the bench and then the joy of eating it warm with some olive oil and salt.
Your new book Ostro focuses on slowing down and savouring the details - why is this so important to you? It’s so easy to feel hurried in everything we do but in my cooking, I try to savour the small details. Even if it’s making a fast mid-week dinner. The chopping, pounding and stirring is all meditative to me. I’m a thinker and always have so much going on in my mind that when I stop and cook, my focus is completely in the moment and I wanted to pass that on to people.
What are you loving at the moment?
- There’s a bakery near my house called Ovens Street Bakery. It’s on a real industrial street and the bakery itself utilises the tiniest pocket of a massive workshop. They open to the public only on Sundays and everything they make is absolutely incredible. From their sourdough loaves to the doughnuts filled with plum jam that you shouldn't buy because one isn’t enough. You’ll have to line up, but it’s totally worth it.
- Snacks! Lately in a habit of going out for snacks and wine instead of dinner. Most notably at Embla – one of my favourite spots in the city.
- River Cafe 30 cookbook. My very fist cookbook I bought was Two Easy by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers of the River Cafe in London. It was and still is one of the most influential books I own in terms of effortlessness, style and sensibility. They’ve just released a book to celebrate the 30th birthday of the cafe and it’s as to be expected – timeless, impressive and so familiar in the best possible way.
- Fried Chicken. A bit late to the party I know! Nori’s chicken karaage is my favourite but lately have been loving Belle’s Hot Chicken, a Melbourne institution.
- BBC Radio 4: The Food Programme. From stories about food in troubled Venezuela to cooking clubs in Basqueland to Sicilian Oranges it is so diverse and rich. It’s my very favourite food podcast and I listen to it religiously.
Hazelnut, Apple and Ricotta Cake
This cake is simple to make, but the layers of ricotta and apples hiding between the hazelnut cake make it something pretty special. I used to make this in Italy, with ricotta so fresh it was still warm from being made only hours before. Sometimes we would add sultanas to the ricotta or use orange zest instead of lemon. It is truly wonderful served warm, but also quite satisfying for breakfast straight from the fridge with an espresso in hand.
120 g unsalted butter, softened 200 g caster sugar, 2 eggs, 125ml (1/2 cup) full-cream milk, 225 g (1 1/2 cups) self-raising flour, 80g ground hazelnuts
250g fresh full-fat ricotta, 2 egg yolks, 1 1/2 tablespoons caster sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped, finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 large (or two small) granny smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced, juice of 1/2 lemon, 1 1/2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon softened unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon caster sugar, 80g (2/3 cup) chopped hazelnuts
Preheat the oven to 170°C. Grease a 20 cm round cake tin with butter and line with baking paper.
Beat the butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing between each addition. Add the milk and mix well. Don’t be alarmed if the mixture seems lumpy or like it’s not coming together; once the dry ingredients are added, the batter will become smooth. Sift in the our, add the ground hazelnuts and gently fold into the batter until well incorporated. Pour three-quarters of the cake batter into the prepared tin.
For the ricotta and apple llings, combine the ingredients in separate bowls. Spread the ricotta lling over the cake batter almost to the edges. Press the apple into the ricotta mixture, leaving any extra juice and sugar in the bowl. Spread the remainder of the cake batter over the top.
For the hazelnut topping, mix the butter and sugar until smooth. Combine with the chopped hazelnuts and scatter over the cake.
Bake for 45–50 minutes, until the cake springs back when touched. Leave to cool slightly in the tin and then turn out and serve warm. If you’re not serving immediately, keep the cake in the fridge and bring to room temperature before serving.
+ Ostro by Julia Busuttil Nishimura is published by Plum.