A basket full of goodness

A Basket by the Door, by Sophie Hansen, Murdoch Books, RRP $45.
A Basket by the Door, by Sophie Hansen, Murdoch Books, RRP $45.
Being on the giving and receiving end of care packages over the years made Sophie Hansen realise how the generosity of others can make a difference in the best and worst of times.

Being left a basket with wine, lamb shanks and an apple pie on her arrival home with her first-born is a gesture the former journalist never forgot and inspired her to write Basket by the Door.

It is a cookbook dedicated to dishes that work perfectly for a basket by the door to mark the big moments in someone's life as well as menus for family get-togethers, camping and picnics.

''While I know a basket of food will never fix everything or anything, it might at least bring the knowledge that someone wants to help.''

Hansen encourages cooks to double recipes so that while they are baking for a friend, they are also putting dinner or afternoon tea in the fridge or pantry for themselves.

''A classic win-win.''

The recipes are paired with photographs she took over a year at their table, on their rural New South Wales farm and her parents' property.

''Every recipe is simple, tasty and seasonal because, while fancy food can be fun, wholehearted food is what we truly crave when life gets tricky.''

The book is divided into seasons, making it easy to find recipes that suit the vegetables of the season you are in.


Apple, fennel and pork sausage rolls

These sausage rolls are excellent for smoko break, lunch or dinner. If serving them as a main meal, add a big salad full of peppery greens and a spicy tomato chutney like the one below. Make up a double batch and freeze them (uncooked) in long logs, ready to bake from frozen, and you'll be ready to feed the hungry hordes in minutes.

Serves 4-6

1 Tbsp (20g) butter
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 Granny Smith apples, cut into small pieces
1 red onion, diced
500g pork mince
1 Tbsp thyme leaves
3 sheets butter puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, lightly whisked
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp sea salt

Quick tomato chutney
1kg tomatoes
4 red onions
2 bird's eye chillies (to taste)
1¼ cups (280g) firmly packed soft brown sugar
1 Tbsp sea salt
⅔ cup (170ml) apple cider vinegar

Melt the butter in a heavy-based frying pan over medium-high heat. Add three-quarters of the fennel seeds and the apple pieces and cook for a few minutes or until softened.

Reduce the heat to low, add the onion and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Heat the oven to 200degC. Line a large baking tray with baking paper.

In a large bowl, mix the pork and thyme with the cooled apple mixture, and season with salt and pepper. Take a third of this mixture and place it on one of the thawed pastry sheets, making a sausage shape along the bottom third of the sheet.

Roll as tightly as you can to create one long sausage. Repeat with the remaining pastry and pork mixture.

If you're freezing the sausage rolls at this point, wrap them in plastic wrap and pop them in the freezer. Otherwise, onwards!

Using a pastry brush (or your fingers if you don't have one), brush the egg over each sausage roll. Sprinkle the sesame seeds, sea salt and remaining fennel seeds over the top.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the sausage rolls are golden brown. Cut into pieces and serve warm or at room temperature with the tomato chutney.

Quick tomato chutney
Chop tomatoes and red onions. Seed and chop the bird's eye chillies. Combine the tomato, onion and chilli in a large saucepan over medium heat.

Stir in the firmly packed soft brown sugar, salt and apple cider vinegar. Bring to the boil and cook, stirring often (so you don't burn the base of the pan), for 40 minutes or until the chutney is thick and glossy.

Divide among sterilised jars and seal. Makes about 4 cups.

Baci di dama

Baci di dama are gorgeous little hazelnut and chocolate biscuits from Piedmont, the northwestern pocket of Italy that I called home for some years.

The area is known for growing beautiful hazelnuts (it claims to be the home of Nutella), and every cafe and patisserie in the region sells baci di dama (ladies kisses) by weight. I remember friends coming over to dinner with little waxed bags of baci di dama to share with coffee.

Bring a bag of these and a coffee to work for an extra nice colleague and it will make his or her day. They are a touch crumbly while still warm, so be gentle with them. Good fresh hazelnuts are the key here.

Makes 20

1 cup (135g) hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
¾ cup (130g) rice flour
2 Tbsp plain flour or gluten-free plain flour
100g chilled butter, cut into cubes
2 Tbsp ice-cold water
⅓ cup (75g) caster sugar
½ cup (75g) chopped dark chocolate

Using a food processor, blitz the hazelnuts into a fine meal. Add the rice flour, plain flour, butter, water and sugar. Blitz for about 10 seconds or until the mixture is just coming together.

Turn out on to a work surface and bring together into a rough dough. Form the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180degC. Line two large baking trays with baking paper.

Pull out a piece of dough about the size of a marble, roll it into a ball between your hands and place on one of the trays. Repeat with the remaining dough. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes or until just golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Spoon a little on to a cookie and sandwich with another cookie, then repeat with the remaining cookies.

Pasta salad with olive and walnut pesto

This is a really tasty pasta salad that packs lots of flavour and tastes great cold. I also suggest making a double batch of the pesto because it goes beautifully with practically anything. Serve it as a dip, with barbecued meats, dolloped on top of a vegetable soup or stirred into a simple brown rice bowl with a few extra vegetables for a fast lunch.

Serves 4

500g wholemeal pasta spirals
2 handfuls baby English spinach
flaked or grated parmesan cheese, to serve
chilli flakes, to taste
Olive and walnut pesto
½ cup (90g) green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
½ cup (60g) walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 handful mint leaves
1 Tbsp white miso paste
juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup (60ml) olive oil

Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.

Meanwhile, for the pesto, combine the chopped olives and walnuts with the garlic, mint, miso paste and lemon juice in a large mortar and pestle or food processor and bash or blitz until you have a coarse paste. Loosen the pesto with the olive oil.

Drain the pasta, reserving a quarter cup (60ml) of the cooking water. Stir the pesto through the warm pasta, adding a little of the cooking water if it looks dry. Fold the spinach through the pasta, season to taste and top with the parmesan and chilli flakes.

Serve immediately or pop in the fridge for up to 2 days.

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