Sometimes, life takes us on unanticipated adventures. I have never seen myself as a surprise-seeking nor spontaneous person. To be honest, it is difficult to be impromptu with three young children and a community kitchen to run. But somehow, in my mid-life, I have become a magnet for the unexpected. Chance encounters forged into great friendships. Wacky ideas transformed into an immensely enjoyable career. If there is one thing to learn from my experiences of the last few years, it is to just chase and embrace the unexpected.
I guess this paragraph of self-reflection has come after my transformative, albeit brief, jaunt to the 2016 Perth Writer’s Festival. Last week, I visited Australia’s western-most state for just four days (for the first time ever too!) as a guest to speak about food trends, vegetarian cooking and more. Whilst there, I not only met many inspiring food writers, but also incredible authors from all walks of life. Here, at this well-respected arts festival, we motley crew of writers joined together to talk about domesticity, suburban life, icons, crime fiction, Brazil as inspiration, daring to dream and hygge, the new Danish phenomena meaning ‘social cosiness’. In all honestly, I attended this writers-love-in with some trepidation. Who am I to speak in the company of modern philosophers, critical thinkers and revered historians? Who really wants to hear about a salad-obsessed mother-of-three carting salads around on her bicycle? But strangely enough, they did. It was such a thrill to meet the people and discuss the ways of the culinary world, according to my small point of view. And what a hugely humbling experience to meet this group of talented writers from near and far - over minibus banter, green room musings and early evening lychee-martini debriefs, their company and hilarity left me feeling absolutely inspired to cook, write and create. This is exactly the kind of creative reboot we all need from time to time.
When I emerged from my 30 hour plus journey from Perth back to New York City, I was overcome with an overwhelming need to write and cook. In particular, I was yearning for broccolini and cacio e pepe. Two different food hankerings - a craving for green vegetables and a competing desire for pepper with cheese – that I decided to combine into one dish, delivering a bloody cracking salad.
Black pepper with cheese is one of those simple flavor combinations that always blows me away – like tomato and basil, carrot and za'atar or chocolate with cherry. Freshly ground black pepper delivers quite the kick, but this piquancy is further celebrated by the salty goodness of sharp pecorino cheese. For even more attitude, I add lemon juice and zest to warm pearl barley to accentuate the spicy-lemony-salty notes of this salad.
Cacio e pepe broccolini with lemon pearl barley
If you are gluten-free, substitute the pearl barley with millet, kasha or quinoa.
- 454g / 16 oz broccolini, halved
- 1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 30g pecorino cheese, grated
- ¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt
- extra lemon wedges and pecorino, for serving
Lemon pearl couscous
- ¾ cup pearl barley
- Juice and zest of ½ lemon
- extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt
In a medium frypan on medium heat, drizzle some olive oil and add the broccolini spears, garlic and pan fry for 2 minutes on each side, until there is some charring. Season well with sea salt.
Bring a medium pot of salted water to the boil, and add the pearl barley. Cook for 20-25 minutes until the pearl barley is tender. Drain, and return to a medium bowl. While still warm, add the lemon juice, zest, sea salt and oil.
Combine the broccolini with the pearl barley and parsley. Spoon onto a serving plate. Sprinkle over black pepper and grate over the pecorino cheese. Serve with extra pecorino and lemon wedges on the side.