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Julia Busuttil Nishimura shares her favourite recipes for entertaining.

30 November 2020

Celebrate the return of warmer weather with these fresh and flavour-packed dishes from one of our favourite home cooks.

Explore


Julia Busuttil Nishimura shares her favourite recipes for entertaining.

30 November 2020

Celebrate the return of warmer weather with these fresh and flavour-packed dishes from one of our favourite home cooks.

Julia Busuttil Nishimura loads spring produce into a Mercedes-Benz GLA 250

Julia Busuttil Nishimura’s new cookbook A Year of Simple Family Food features her signature style of home cooking with a seasonal focus. Image: James Braund.

Late spring often signals an uptick in social dining – more meals out, dinners parties in, coffee catchups, lazy brunches and long lunches in the sun.

So far, almost nothing in 2020 has gone to schedule, but as pandemic lockdown restrictions ease, opportunities to ring in spring are beginning to open up.

With ample caution and an eye to local restrictions, organising an intimate spring-themed soiree could be just the ticket to shake off the chagrin of recent months, eminent foodie and author Julia Busuttil Nishimura says.

Julia’s first cookbook, Ostro, established her as an authority on simple foods prepared slowly and with great care. Her latest, A Year of Simple Family Food, features seasonally inspired examples of her signature style of home cooking.

Despite the absence of many of the larger social occasions that have been cancelled or postponed because of the pandemic, Julia says spring is still a wonderful time to harness an abundance of fresh and flavour-packed produce for smaller groups.

“Spring has that feeling of regeneration that’s really quite appropriate at the moment as things start to open up,” she says.

Preparation for any occasion should start with the source. “When you start with really good quality ingredients you have to do less to them to make the dishes really tasty,” Julia says.

“I like to shop at small delis and fishmongers and nice butchers. Sometimes I go without a shopping list and see what looks good on the day, or I might ask the person behind the counter what they recommend.

“Buy seasonally, try to buy locally, and try to be clever. Buy things that are half-prepared, for example. There’s a prawn salad in my book where I buy the prawns already cooked to save time.”

Julia is always on the lookout for opportunities to showcase seasonal produce in her dishes. In spring, that might mean a starring role for fresh-picked broad beans or raspberries.

“Ingredients like that really put you in the moment. Especially emerging from lockdown when we feel like the year’s been a bit of a blur, buying those seasonal things really puts you in the present. Spring is on, it’s still happening, even if we haven’t been able to do the things we normally do.

“One of the recipes I’m featuring from my new book is like a broad bean dip, served on crostini with some ricotta and mint, and feels really fresh and spring-like.”

When it comes to hosting a spring social gathering, Julia recommends choosing dishes and ingredients that can be mostly prepared ahead of time and quickly assembled prior to serving. “You can even ask your guests for a bit of help, and they feel like they’re part of the making as well as the eating, without much effort,” she says.

“It’s about time management. You don’t want to be making a cake as guests walk through the door and having that in the oven – that’s going to be really stressful.

“Have things [on your menu] that you know will keep well – you could make the dip beforehand or if you’re making chicken sandwiches, you could make the mix beforehand and assemble them when your guests are there.”

“A dessert is something I always like to have ready to go. Once you’ve been eating with your guests and having some champagne, you don’t really want to be back in the kitchen whipping up a dessert. Having that ready to go takes the pressure off.”

Creating a fresh, energetic atmosphere to celebrate the change in seasons doesn’t stop at the food on the table. Julia advises taking inspiration from late spring and early summer blooms for your centrepiece and decorations to set the scene.

“I’m really into linen, so having some linen napkins, and some beautiful ceramics and coloured glassware is a nice way to make it feel quite lively.”

When it comes to matching drinks to your menu, common sense will apply. “We’re coming into warmer weather so things that are chilled are really nice. At the moment I’m really enjoying Lambrusco, there’s a lot of new winemakers popping up from Italy,” she says.

“Chilled light reds are really good, too, and Champagne or sparkling to start is always a winner. Keep it light, have some different offerings and you can’t go wrong.”

Wondering what to dish up at your next spring soiree? Try some of Julia’s favourite spring recipes from A Year of Simple Family Food.

  • New Bigilla Crostini

    New Bigilla Crostini featured in A Year of Simple Family Food by Julia Busuttil Nishimura

    Fresh spring broad beans star in Julia Busuttil Nishimura’s Maltese-inspired New Bigilla Crostini. Image: Armelle Habib.

    New Bigilla Crostini (serves 6-8)

    Ingredients

    1 baguette, thinly sliced
    extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
    sea salt and black pepper
    150 g fresh full-fat ricotta

    New Bigilla
    1 kg broad beans, podded (you’ll end up with about 400 g beans)
    1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
    juice of 1⁄2 lemon
    handful of parsley, leaves picked
    handful of mint, leaves picked
    60–100 ml extra-virgin
    olive oil
    sea salt

    Method
    Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line two baking trays with baking paper.

    To make the bigilla, blanch the podded broad beans in a saucepan of boiling water for 3–4 minutes until tender. How much time they need will depend on their size – young ones will take not much time at all. Drain and refresh in cold water. Place the beans in a small food processor along with the garlic, lemon and herbs. Process for 2 minutes until fairly smooth. Stream in enough olive oil to create a smooth, spoonable dip. Season to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl and set aside.

    Refrigerate if not using immediately.

    Arrange the baguette slices on a tray and drizzle a little olive oil over each slice. Sprinkle with a generous amount of salt and bake for 8–10 minutes, or until golden. Set aside to cool.

    Spread the baguette pieces with the broad bean dip and top with some ricotta. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and serve.

  • Lamb Shoulder with Tabbouleh

    Lamb Shoulder with Tabbouleh featured in A Year of Simple Family Food by Julia Busuttil Nishimura

    Spring lamb slow-cooked and served with fresh tabbouleh featured in A Year of Simple Family Food by Julia Busuttil Nishimura. Image: Armelle Habib.

    Lamb Shoulder with Tabbouleh (serves 6–8)

    Ingredients
    1 x 2 kg bone-in lamb shoulder
    1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted
    1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted
    sea salt
    1 teaspoon sumac
    finely grated zest of 1 lemon
    2 tablespoons extra-virgin
    olive oil
    100 ml dry white wine

    Tabbouleh
    20 g unsalted butter
    100 ml extra-virgin olive oil
    100 g coarse burghul
    200 ml hot water or chicken or vegetable stock
    sea salt
    80 g pitted green olives, roughly chopped
    bunch of mint, leaves picked and roughly chopped
    bunch of parsley, leaves picked and roughly chopped
    1⁄2 bunch of coriander, leaves picked and roughly chopped
    seeds of 1 pomegranate
    50 g sultanas or currants
    50 g (1⁄3 cup) toasted almonds,
    roughly chopped
    juice of 1 lemon

    Method
    Preheat the oven to 150°C. Place the lamb in a deep baking tray so it fits nice and snug.
    Roughly grind the cumin and coriander seeds with a large pinch of salt using a mortar and pestle. Add the sumac, lemon zest and olive oil and stir to combine. Rub all over the lamb so it’s well covered. Pour the wine into the tray along with enough water to fill to a depth of about 1 cm. Cover the lamb with a layer of baking paper and then a layer of foil and roast for 5 hours, or until the meat is falling apart and tender. Increase the oven temperature to 180°C, remove the foil and roast the lamb for a further 30 minutes, or until golden and crisp.

    Meanwhile, for the tabbouleh, heat the butter and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Add the burghul and stir well to coat all of the grains. Toast the burghul for 1 minute, stirring continuously so the grains don’t burn. Add the hot water or stock and a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid and cook for about 5 minutes, or until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Keep covered and leave to sit for 10 minutes. (If you are using finer burghul, be sure to check the packet instructions as cooking times may vary.) Transfer the cooked burghul to a large bowl along with the olives, herbs, fruit and almonds. Whisk the lemon juice and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil together in a small bowl, season with salt and pour over the salad. Toss to combine.

    Pull the lamb apart and serve with the tabbouleh.

  • Simple Butter Cake with Raspberries

    Simple Butter Cake with Raspberries featured in A Year of Simple Family Food by Julia Busuttil Nishimura

    This simple butter cake has been adapted for the season with fresh raspberries. Image: Armelle Habib.

    Simple Butter Cake with Raspberries (serves 8)

    Ingredients

    3 eggs
    200g caster sugar
    1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped, or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
    200 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
    200 g (1 1⁄3 cups) self-raising flour
    125 g raspberries
    icing sugar, for dusting

    Method
    Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a 21 cm square cake tin with butter and line with baking paper.
    Beat the eggs with the sugar for 3–4 minutes, or until very pale and fluffy. This is best done in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the vanilla, then the butter and mix until well combined. Sift in the flour and gently stir until well incorporated.
    Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the tin from the oven and gently press the raspberries on top of the batter – adding them at this later stage stops all the fruit from sinking to the bottom of the cake.
    Cook for another 25–30 minutes until a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the centre. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.
    Lightly dust the cake with icing sugar before serving.

     

A Year of Simple Family Food by Julia Busuttil Nishimura is published by Plum, RRP $39.99. 

By Steve Colquhoun