Celebrating fusion cooking

Ixta Belfrage. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Ixta Belfrage. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Ixta Belfrage has been obsessed with food since she had conscious thought and a childhood that involved travelling extensively around Italy, but Brazil and Mexico have shaped life.

She describes her book Mezcla as an ode to those three countries, which made her fall in love with food and shaped her as a person and as a cook.

Added to that is her time in Yotam Ottolenghi’s test kitchen, where she had the freedom to create, the guidance to learn how to write recipes and cookbooks and develop her own identity. She first worked for him at his NOPI restaurant.

"There are countless recipes in this book that certainly would not be there were it not for the fact that Yotam revolutionised the way we all cook, and the fact that by some inexplicable stroke of luck, I landed in his test kitchen all those years ago."

All of those influences have inspired her recipes, so there are some that are twists on classics with traceable origins and more often than not, there are recipes that are "unapologetically fusion".

"Recipes that are inspired by an electric mezcla of cuisines and cultures."

Mezcla, the word from which the book takes its name, means "mix", "mixture", "blend" or "fusion" in Spanish, so Belfrage chose it as it reflected how her heritage and upbringing shaped the way she cooked, and those three countries — Italy where she lived as a child, Brazil where her mother is from, and Mexico where she lived herself for a year in her late teens and where her paternal grandfather lived, whom she visited regularly.

Belfrage’s father was born in the United States to English parents, while her mother was from Natal in Brazil. Her parents met in her grandfather’s Mexico home when her mother’s family fled Brazil’s military regime in the 60s.

From that garden they could see the volcano Ixtaccihuati — hence Belfrage’s first name, and, she says, her affinity for volcanoes.

But it is in Italy, where her family moved to live as part of her father’s job working with Italian wine producers, that she first discovered Tuscan food — "arguably the best food".

Her book is broken into two main sections; everyday, easy, achievable dishes, and entertaining, longer recipes which require more time.Within those sections are chapters on fish, vegetables and meat "heavily weighted toward vege".

"We’re all trying to eat less meat and fish these days, aren’t we?"

It finishes with The End, divided into quick fixes, desserts you can get on the table quickly, and and showstoppers that will impress friends and family.

The book

This is an extract from Mezcla by Ixta Belfrage (Ebury Press, $65). All photography by Yuki Sugiura.

Brown butter curried cornbread

Cornbread is usually a supporting act, but this version is good enough to take centre stage at the dinner table and will probably end up being the dish around which you plan the meal. The corn that bejewels the surface is best just out of the oven when it’s a little crispy from the butter, and a little sticky from the maple syrup. That’s not to say you need to eat it all in one go; it will still be delicious the next day, heated up in the oven for 10 minutes.

Serves 6

140g unsalted butter, plus extra to serve

500g frozen corn kernels, defrosted and patted dry

150g Greek-style yoghurt

2 large eggs

1 Scotch bonnet chilli, finely chopped (optional, see notes)

1 spring onion, finely chopped

5g fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

1½ tsp medium curry powder

1½ tsp finely grated lime zest

100g quick-cook polenta

80g plain flour

½ tsp fine salt

6 Tbsp maple syrup, plus extra to serve

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

flaked salt, to serve


Preheat the oven to 200degC fan or 220degC. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a medium heat for 5–6 minutes, stirring often until the butter foams and then turns a deep golden-brown. Add the corn and bubble away for 4 minutes, stirring every so often. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for 10 minutes.

While the corn and butter mixture is cooling, put the yoghurt, eggs, Scotch bonnet, spring onion, ginger, curry powder, lime zest, polenta, flour, salt and 3 tablespoons of maple syrup into a food processor, but don’t blitz yet.

Once cool, set aside 140g of the corn and butter mixture in a small bowl to use later. Add the remaining corn and butter to the food processor, then add the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Pulse about 3–5 times, just until the mixture comes together. Don’t overmix — you want a textured batter with small chunks of corn, not a smooth batter.

Transfer the batter into the prepared tin, then spoon the reserved corn and butter evenly over the surface.

Bake for 20 minutes, then evenly drizzle over the remaining 3 Tbsp of maple syrup and bake for another 15–20 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown on top.

Leave to cool for 15 minutes. If you have a blowtorch, use it to char the corn in places. Drizzle over some more maple syrup (I like a lot!), sprinkle with flaked salt and serve with a slab of butter alongside.


I use a whole Scotch bonnet, and its flavour and heat is quite dominant. I love that, but you can of course add less, removing the pith and seeds, or just add a pinch of regular chilli flakes for milder heat.

Porcini ragu

I’m not sure if you are allowed to call a sauce that doesn’t contain meat, doesn’t start with a soffritto and that only cooks for 10 minutes a ragu, and yet because of the concentrated flavour of the dried porcini, this has all the intensity of a meat ragu that has simmered for hours. Anyone who has made the spicy mushroom lasagne from Ottolenghi Flavour will realise what I’m trying to achieve here: an abridged version of that ragu with the same intensity but without the hours chopping kilos of mushrooms. This recipe is inspired by two of my favourite dishes at Ristorante Pizzeria Acone near where I grew up in Tuscany — penne all’Aconese and tagliatelle alla Beppa.

Serves 2 as a main with leftovers or 4 as a starter

40g dried porcini

4 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra to serve

3 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped (not crushed!)

½ tsp chilli flakes (or less if you prefer)

10g fresh parsley (stalks and leaves), finely chopped, plus extra to serve

⅓ tsp fine salt

1 ½ Tbsp tomato puree/paste

about 50 twists of freshly ground black pepper

250g dried tagliatelle nests

40g Parmesan, very finely grated, plus extra to serve

3 tablespoons double cream


In a medium bowl, cover the porcini with boiling water and leave to soak for 10 minutes. Drain, reserving 75g of the soaking liquid. Very finely chop the porcini to mince consistency, then set aside.

Put the oil, garlic, chilli flakes, parsley and fine salt into a large cold saute pan on a medium-low heat. Very gently fry for 5 minutes until soft and lightly golden, turning the heat down if the garlic starts to brown.

Increase the heat to medium-high, then add the chopped porcini, tomato puree/paste and plenty of pepper. Stir fry for 3 minutes, then set the pan aside while you boil the pasta.

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water for about 6 minutes, until al dente.

Drain, reserving 350g of the pasta water.

Return the saute pan with the porcini to a medium-high heat, then add the 350g of pasta water and the reserved 75g of porcini soaking liquid. Stir, and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, leave to bubble away for 3 minutes.

Add half the Parmesan to the pan, stirring until it has melted before adding the rest. Lower the heat to medium, then stir in the cream, followed by the drained tagliatelle. Toss over the heat until the pasta and sauce have emulsified — about 1 minutes.

Remove from the heat and serve at once, finished with as much extra oil and Parmesan as your heart desires.

Vegan option

You can easily make this vegan by using plant-based cheese and cream.


It’s always good to have all your prep done before you start cooking, but it’s especially important with this recipe, as things happen rather quickly. Make sure you have your porcini soaked and finely chopped, garlic and parsley finely chopped, and your Parmesan finely grated before you turn the heat on.

Sticky coconut rice cake with turmeric tomatoes

This recipe is almost completely hands off and requires very little prep; all you have to do is rinse the rice, crush the garlic, julienne the ginger and chop some spring onions.

Both the rice cake and the tomatoes bake in the oven at the same time and don’t need to be stirred or basted, leaving you to get on with other things. Leftover rice cake slices are great pan-fried the next day, in a little oil, until crispy.

This dish is vegan as it is, but I love it with crispy fried eggs, too.

Serves 4


Rice cake

400g Thai sticky rice (aka glutinous rice or sweet rice), rinsed and drained (see notes)

400g tin of full-fat coconut milk (at least 70% coconut extract)

250g water

2 small cloves of garlic, finely grated or crushed

2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger

2 spring onions, very finely chopped (25g)

1 ½ teaspoons fine salt

Turmeric tomatoes

400g sweet ripe cherry tomatoes, such as Datterini

15g fresh ginger, peeled and julienned

15g fresh coriander, stalks and leaves

3 cloves of garlic, peeled

70g olive oil

2 teaspoons maple syrup or honey

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

1 ¼ teaspoons cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon fine salt

To serve

2 spring onions, finely sliced

5g fresh coriander

1 lime, cut into wedges


Preheat the oven to 230degC (fan/250degC). Line a 23 x 23cm baking tin (or a similar-sized ovenproof dish) with non-stick parchment paper.

Whisk all the ingredients for the rice cake together, making sure to get rid of any lumps of coconut milk. Pour into the prepared tin and flatten the top.

For the tomatoes, put all the ingredients into an ovenproof dish that’s just big enough for them all to fit snugly in a single layer.

Put both dishes in the oven — the tomatoes on the top shelf and the rice on the bottom shelf (or preferably both on the top shelf, if they'll fit). Bake for 30 minutes. The tomatoes should be soft and slightly charred and the rice should be cooked through and golden-brown on top.

Remove both dishes from the oven. Cover the tomatoes to keep them warm.

Leave the rice to rest for 20 minutes. Turn the oven grill to its highest setting.

After 20 minutes, lift the rice cake on to a flat baking tray with the paper.

Tear away any overhanging parchment that could burn under the grill. Grill for 5–8 minutes near the top of the oven, or until the rice is crisp and golden brown on top. All grills are different so this could take more or less time. If you have a blowtorch, use it to crisp up and lightly char the surface a little more.

Leave to cool for 5 minutes before slicing into squares. Serve with the warm tomatoes and garnish with the spring onions, coriander and lime wedges.

Make ahead

Both parts of the dish can be made the day before and reheated in a warm oven


I use Thai Taste brand sticky rice, which doesn’t need to be soaked. If you’re using another brand, check the instructions on the side of the packet, as the rice may need to be soaked overnight.